Editorial: Standing Up to Fear Mongering

While our state economy is recovering at a snail’s pace from the dread recession caused largely by greed and market manipulation (practices utilized by many raised and well-versed in the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition, the relevance of which should become obvious below), more than 100 members of the Missouri House of Representatives have chosen to spend their time forcing a vote of Missouri’s citizens to deny judicial consideration of legal precepts of “other nations and cultures,” specifically including “international law or Sharia law.” (See text in sidebar.)

Here are just three of many observations about this extremely dangerous effort:

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1. It’s fear mongering and political pandering at its vilest. How would you feel if you were a law-abiding Muslim and the entirety of your divine law – which, by the way, is not defined the same by all Muslims, and has any number of different interpretations in different Islamic cultures and countries (sound a little like Judaism?) – was condemned in one fell swoop?  

By singling out Islamic law, the sponsoring legislators are condescendingly drawing a line between Muslims and the rest of our population.  This just as the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights is holding a hearing entitled,  “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.”

Good move, Missouri House members, you have succeeded in giving the Islamist Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood types another arrow in their quiver – “those Americans don’t like us, don’t understand us, and you will never be treated as an equal in their land.”  Just what we need to combat extremism? We don’t think so.  

This is the equivalent of Middle Eastern dictators (or for that matter, militant Islamists) pointing at the United States as the dread enemy, trying to distract the Arab world from the true danger of corrupt leadership and violent terrorism.  It’s sick and perverted sleight of hand, and it is patently offensive.

Yes, we are well aware that there are homophobic, misogynist and violent aspects of Islamic law, just as there are in other religions’ books of divine guidance (including ours, including those of Christians), and we condone none of it. We just don’t choose to slam 100 percent of the observances of a world religion’s population to demonstrate our disgust with those who attempt to destroy the fabric of civilized society.

2. It is patently unconstitutional. Have any of these legislators, charged with observing the laws of Missouri and United States, read the equal protection clauses of the state or federal constitutions? Do they really believe that one religion’s law may not be cited or considered and another religion’s law may?  If this proposal over Sharia were to be adopted, any challenge could result in NO mention of ANY religious treatise or philosophy passing muster in Missouri courts.  That means goodbye to all of the following, among others:

a. The Ten Commandments

b. The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or Talmud, or Mishnah, or other Jewish texts

c. The New Testament

d. Religious philosophers (e.g., Aristotle, Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Buber, Martin Luther King, Jr. or atheists such as Richard Dawkins)

Is this really what we want? The underpinnings of Western law being stuffed in a closet because some political hacks want to look good to their scared constituents by pointing at “those people”? Well, that’ll be the outcome, because our law (fortunately) does not allow us to play favorites between and among religious and nonreligious thought.

Moreover, there are some issues here particular to Jews. Orthodox communities utilize beit dins (religious courts) to resolve certain conflicts. While we are on record as condemning any private court as a substitute for criminal proceedings, in the civil context (suits between individuals and entities for damages or injunctive relief), these kinds of alternate dispute resolution methods are properly used all the time, and courts are utilized to enforce provisions of voluntary, binding arbitration agreements. If courts are allowed to interpret and enforce private arbitration agreements between non-religious parties but not between religious parties such as Orthodox Jews, there’s yet another equal protection violation.

3. Don’t kid yourself. If you’re a Jew, Mormon, Catholic, Hindu or any minority religious population, watch out – to quote Yogi Berra, it’s “déjà vu, all over again.”

Remember 1838? It wasn’t a great year in Missouri, if you happened to be a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. That year, rabid mobs forced over 10,000 Missourians from their homes for the crime of being Mormon. (Interesting too that those who claimed to hold the upper moral hand against the Mormons were mostly accepting of lawful slavery, while it was opposed by most Mormons; we don’t consider the defense of slavery to reflect the highest aspirations of Judeo-Christian tenets).

Some Jews might find it offensive to compare something like the Missouri Mormon War with, say,  Kristallnacht, but honestly, no minority that’s treated like second-class citizens gets to wave its hand mightily and scream that its oppression is worse than some other group’s. If you’re the religious minority being attacked, persecuted, vilified, it feels exactly the same.

For those who think we’re making a mountain of a molehill, turn to Alan Dershowitz’s column in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. He was recently rebuffed in three efforts to speak about Israel to universities in Norway because of their blatant anti-Israel, anti-Semitic stances. Do we want to have Muslims believe that the U.S. is to Muslims what Norway seems to be to Jews? We’d hope our nation applies a different and more open-minded standard of openness and fair discussion and debate than the closed minded, deliberate assault exhibited in that Scandinavian nation.

Rarely do such things come straight at you – those who would persecute minorities, and do it effectively, so often have a way of making it look innocent, or even worse, highly patriotic and protective.

But it’s not.

Our guess is that many of the more than 100 legislators listed below come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds within the quiltwork of American citizenry, many of which were persecuted at one time or another. Yet from their bully pulpit they cannot even see, let alone understand, that to hold one religion up to chastisement holds up all of us. To ridicule one people’s observance diminishes all of us. To stand outside one barn with burning pitchforks is to stand outside all our homes.

As Jews – one of the most consistently persecuted minorities in American history – we are saddened and angered by this misguided and offensive legislation, which is truly an insult to the United States Constitution, the Statute of Liberty and every symbol of our nation’s purported commitment to freedom from tyranny and oppression.

Below is a list of those legislators who have signed on in support of this bill. We strongly encourage our readers to contact their Missouri legislators and decry this effort at promulgating hate under the banner of purported decency.