US anti-Islamic bills create ‘environment of fear’

Proposed legislation targets Islam as anti-Muslim discrimination soars in the United States, rights groups say.

US Texas Muslims protest
Muslim Americans hold a protest in Texas against Islamophobia [File: Jeffrey McWhorter/AP]

A state politician’s bill to bar foreign laws, including Islamic law, from South Carolina’s courts is an unnecessary move that fuels anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, rights groups say.

Introduced by State Representative Harry “Chip” Limehouse, a member of the right-wing Republican party, the bill proposes to bar Islamic jurisprudence and other forms of international defences in state courts. 

Limehouse’s bill was passed by a vote of 68-42 in the House branch of South Carolina’s legislature. In order to become law, it still needs to be passed by the state Senate. 

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The bill comes at a time when several other states are considering similar bills, and just months after at least 31 states vowed to block Syrian refugees from resettling within their respective borders. 

Robert McCaw, a spokesperson for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), explained that South Carolina’s bill is part of “a state and federal trend for support for legislation, which seeks to make the religious principles of Islam illegal”. 

There were at least six anti-foreign law bills introduced in state legislatures across the country in 2015, while a similar bill barring Islamic law from federal courts was reintroduced in Congress last July. 

“These bills overall are designed to stigmatise Muslim communities by seeking to ban state courts from using foreign laws, including Sharia [Islamic] law,” McCaw told Al Jazeera. 

“The supporters of these laws fail to mention that American courts are already constitutionally obliged to follow American law.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera by telephone, state legislator Limehouse defended the bill. “We welcome everyone to the US: Christian, Muslim, Jew,” he said. “But they are going to operate and live under our laws when they get here – and hopefully prosper.”

Limehouse argued that people who immigrate to the US, including Muslims, should “take up the American culture. This includes the law of the land … by which we run our courts and businesses and everything else”. 

He added: “Sharia is not an accepted form of justice in the United States.”

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With anti-Muslim sentiment already high, CAIR’s McCaw explained that elected officials and candidates have created an “environment of fear” in order to push for discriminatory programmes and bills.  

“It’s obvious that this is an incredibly toxic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim environment, and that it has impacted our state and federal legislatures,” McCaw said. 

“We have politicians playing off public fears of terrorism to get votes. I want real legislation that keeps us safe and not phony legislation that gives us a false sense of security.”

US leaders, among them influential presidential candidates, have been accused of stoking anti-Muslim and anti-refugee fears. 

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In December, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump called for Muslims to be banned from travelling to the US after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, California, during an attack carried out by Muslim suspects.

Less than a month earlier, the presidential candidate said mosques should be put under surveillance and that he supported implementing a database to track American Muslims.

Those comments came in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks – carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group – that killed 131 people, after which several mosques and Islamic religious centres were vandalised in the US. 

Wade McMullen, an international human rights lawyer at the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said that legislation banning foreign laws could cause legal complications for people who are party to business, marriage or adoption contracts drawn up in courts abroad, for instance. 

“Any piece of legislation that targets Muslims is anti-democratic, unconstitutional and goes against US values,” McMullen told Al Jazeera. 

“Political scapegoating of minority groups is nothing new in this country,” he said. “Unfortunately, American Muslims are among the prime targets of this political posturing today.”

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_ 

Source: Al Jazeera