Of all of Mark Twain’s great quotes, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” has always stuck out to me as especially insightful.
In the wake of House Bill 2029, this quote is even more relevant. This bill, proposed by Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, aims to prevent “the application of foreign law which would impair constitutional rights.” Behind those carefully chosen words lies the real goal: to ban Sharia law.
To most Americans, Sharia law is some terrifying and foreign thing. That’s because, quite frankly, they have no idea what it is. Political science professor Sean Yom who specializes in the region, gives a great explanation.
“At heart, [Sharia law] is a set of principles that cover personal conduct, such as criminal punishment and family matters,” Yom said. “It is not a freestanding ‘code’ like we assume in the West. There is no ‘book of Sharia law’ because little is written in stone.”
Furthermore, there is no system of implementation in America.
“Because the supreme law of America is predicated upon the Constitution, no judge–even if he were a conservative Muslim trained in Sharia law–could ever promulgate Sharia law into existence,” Yom said.
So if a ban on not only Sharia law but all “foreign law,” as Swanger calls it in her bill, is inherent in the American legal structure, why is it necessary to legislate it? She argues that one of her primary objectives is protecting the rights of women.
“My main concern is rights for women because I know that under some foreign law, women certainly don’t have the rights that they have here in our country, under our Constitution,” Swanger said in an interview with Philadelphia Weekly.
While this may sound pleasant and appealing, it merely masquerades behind those pretenses.
“A symbolic bill against foreign laws does nothing to protect the millions of women in this country who are raped and beaten by American citizens, not foreigners,” Yom said.
The excuses that American law needs to be granted supremacy over Sharia law or that women need to be protected clearly have no reality behind them. There is only one reason why this bill was proposed, and it is as ugly as it is simple: Prejudice still exists in America.
Let us not forget that the past decade has been bursting at the seams with examples of American action in the Middle East. When the average American adds all this up, they come to only one conclusion: America is really at war with the entire Arab world.
When Mark Twain said “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” he was absolutely right. As has frequently happened during wartime, the title of “enemy of America” has been handed out and there are some willing to act under the guise of patriotism. What we are seeing right now is history rhyming with German-Americans being forced to buy war bonds to prove their loyalty in World War I and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
If you think that this kind of thing is impossible in our modern day, then look no further than the recent protests over the TLC show “All-American Muslim.” Some “Christian-values” organizations such as the Florida Family Association, have written thousands of letters to advertisers to get them to pull funding. They believe it is “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”
Here, let me paraphrase. “I believe all Muslims are terrorists. This show portrays most Muslims as not terrorists. Quick! Get it off!”
What truly angers me is that I can guarantee that I know what the people of FFA or Swanger think they are doing. They probably believe that they are “defending America” from some sort of threat. When they look in the mirror, they probably see a hero.
I saw the real face of xenophobia when I was in the fifth grade. There was a Muslim girl in our class, and I remember a time when she didn’t come to school for several days. Our teacher sat the entire class down and explained that her family had gone to McDonalds, where they were called terrorists and told to leave. Those who didn’t partake applauded when they left.
I remember trying to figure out what the difference between her and me was. Everything I thought of just seemed so superficial.
Introducing a bill to ban Sharia law or protesting a show on the same channel that brought us “Sister Wives” may be to a different degree, but it is still the same motivation as what that poor girl was forced to bear.
We live next door to Muslim-Americans. We shop at the same grocery store with them. We sit next to them in our classrooms. And now, it is time to stand beside them and demand that the ignorant people who speak the loudest do not speak for all of us.
Americans today regret our actions towards our own brothers during World War I and World War II. History has once again rhymed and presented us with a situation to avoid making the same mistake. If we don’t, and instead allow the spreading xenophobic attitude to curtail Muslim-American rights, it will go down in history as another black eye for this country.
Zachary Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.