Photo courtesy of Michael Vadon / Flickr

Islamophobia, Not Islam, Is Antithetical to America

“Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shari’a law, which is antithetical to the U.S. Constitution?”

Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro’s comments on Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar’s Muslim faith sparked controversy last month, resulting in several advertisers such as Allergan, Letgo, NerdWallet, and Novo Nordisk pulling out of her show. Fox News stated: “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”

Shortly after, she issued a weak defense, claiming, “My intention was to ask a question and start a debate, but of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution.” Her show Justice With Judge Jeanine was replaced by alternate programs for two consecutive weeks, but Fox News declined to clarify whether this was an official suspension or not.

Pirro made her return last Saturday, with no mention of her alleged suspension. Pirro’s first guest back on the show,Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani,  hinted at her absence, stating, “I’m glad you’re back…we need your common-sense voice.” The host quickly brushed over the statement, moving on to discuss the Mueller investigations.

In her opening statement, she referred to the investigations as an “attempted coup of the United States government,” claiming that they “claimed lives, reputations, and families.” She continued, calling ex-CIA director John Brennan a “snake” and “swamp scum,” as well as referring to FBI director James Comey as a “pious, condescending, holier-than-thou cardinal.”

Pirro’s incendiary rhetoric and Fox News’s failure to address her commentary encourages scapegoating of Muslims and normalizes blatant racism against immigrants and people of color. Though she didn’t explicitly say Islam was un-American, she implied that those who wear the hijab, who practice Islam, and who believe in shari’a are inherently acting in contradiction to the Constitution.

Shari’a law, in fact, requires its followers to adhere to the law of the land wherever they live, allowing and encouraging Muslims to follow Constitutional guidelines, which have granted them the freedom to practice their faith and express themselves freely. Grounded in personal conscience and interpersonal relations, the law necessitates fasting, praying, wearing the hijab, and following certain marriage and business rituals. In many ways, its practice is similar to Judaism’s halakah and Christianity/Judaism’s Ten Commandments.

The interpretation of Shari’a that Pirro evokes is simplistic: just as in other world religions, human interpretation of texts and religious guidance is critical and ever-present. Furthermore, Shari’a is not a legal system, it’s a moral code. Just as the Ku Klux Klan’s racism and violence are not representative of most Christian practice, the criminalization of gay sex and implementation of patriarchal laws are interpretations of Shari’a, often manipulated in authoritarian leaders’ struggles for power.

Demonization and otherizing of Muslims—especially those in power—remains relentless. Just weeks before Judge Jeanine’s criticisms of Rep. Omar, a poster depicting her in front of the burning Twin Towers was displayed in the West Virginia legislature. Text reading “Never Forget” and “I am the proof—you have forgotten” likened the politician to a terrorist, causing a fight to break out within the statehouse. Omar responded on Twitter: “Look no further, the GOP's anti-Muslim display likening me to a terrorist rocks in state capitols and no one is condemning them!”

Following the recent shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, now is the time to stand in solidarity with the world’s Muslim brothers and sisters known. But hyperboles coming from figures like Pirro and influential politicians are frequently excused under the guise of First Amendment rights. The complexity of this type of narrative makes it so difficult to address restrictions on hate speech and false advertising, which have been repeatedly protected by the Supreme Court in cases such as Snyder v. Phelps in 2011 and Matal v. Tam in 2017.

It’s difficult to determine whether something can be understood as directly inciting violence or if it is instead pure rhetoric. American citizens thrive from their rights to express themselves freely and censorship is hard to justify, especially in cases as blurry as these. However, one thing is clear: Islamophobic comments and actions are inexcusable and cannot be ignored. It’s imperative that we change the dialogue around Islam, build safe spaces, stand up in protest, and educate ourselves (and each other) on what it truly means to be Muslim.

السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ

(As-salamu alaykum— “Peace be upon you”)

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