November 24, 2017

The Rise of American Sharia in Alabama

by Stanley A. Weiss

An Islamic fundamentalist, using his faith as a club, declares his belief that faith should override secular rule of law and advocates for a form of Islamic law, called Sharia law—which some Muslims interpret as commanding that drinkers of alcohol be whipped and homosexuals and those who criticize the faith be put to death. In the face of such extremism, voices in western countries harshly criticize Muslim leaders, asking why there isn’t a loud chorus within the faith to shout him down.

We’ve wondered how people could tolerate and support extremists in positions of power who ignore civil law in the name of their radical religious values. What many Americans don’t realize is that it has happened here—and if we are not vigilant it will happen right here again: religious fundamentalists, much like the ones we criticize in the Middle East, who use their faith to subvert our Constitution.

The latest example is the Republican nominee for the United States Senate from Alabama, Roy Moore.

Moore is a former judge who was twice removed as a justice from the Alabama Supreme Court for his refusal to uphold the civil laws of the U.S. he swore to defend, choosing instead to apply his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. On December 12, he may very well take those views to Washington as Alabama’s United States Senator.

Some call him an extremist. Some call him a pariah. But it’s time we call Moore—who evangelizes a twisted interpretation of his faith to repress and vilify others, while denying science, disparaging dissent, demonizing the U.S. government, and advocating the institutional repression of women—what he really is: an advocate for American Sharia. And the silence of Christian leaders in the face of it—indeed, the embrace of some Christians because of it—is precisely the same kind of abdication that we routinely accuse Muslims of in the face if similar extremism.

Moore has made a career out of stoking fears about the U.S. falling under Sharia law but what he has done in office and advocated over the years is no different. If Moore had his way, Alabama—and the rest of America—would abandon its tradition of secular governance and embrace the supremacy of religious principles—exactly what Moore claims Sharia law would do to the U.S.

Moore has a long history of pointing fingers at Muslims. In 2006, Moore called on Congress to refuse to seat Minnesota representative Keith Ellison, because he was a Muslim, highlighting the barbaric practices of some Muslim communities as justification for why a follower of Islam could not act in accordance with the Constitution.

In truth, Roy Moore is no different from the radical Muslim leaders and clerics he disparages. He once refused to remove a granite sculpture of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judiciary Building despite a federal court ordering him to do so. After the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage, Moore said his faith barred him from compliance. Both times, he was ordered to back down by legal institutions enshrined in the Constitution, and both times he refused in the name of religion.

Moore’s examples illustrate why the US has a tradition of secular governance. When extremists of any faith cloak themselves in religious values, they’re free to interpret those values as they choose and may often shield powerful people from personal accountability. Nowhere is that more clear than in the recent allegations about Moore’s personal conduct—and the response of his supporters. The Washington Post reported that in 1979, when Moore was a powerful 32-year-old attorney in a small Alabama town, he assaulted a 14-year-old girl. Since then, at least seven other young women have come forward to accuse Moore of similar sexual misconduct or impropriety.

Yet, just like the Muslim clerics Moore and others accuse of repressive actions in the name of the Quran, many of Moore’s backers have been silent or supportive. Indeed, a new poll shows that 37 percent of Alabama’s evangelicals support Moore even more after the Washington Post revelations. Alabama’s state auditor even compared Moore’s relationships with young women to an adult Joseph and a teen-aged Mary becoming the parents of Jesus.

Roy Moore says “Sharia law is a little different from American law; it is founded on religious concepts.” But looking at his fervent belief in the Christian foundation of our law, his willingness to override the Constitution, and his use of religion to shield himself from consequences, it’s clear there’s no difference between what he’s advocating and what he’s opposing. No person of any faith who believes their faith overrides our laws belongs in our government.

If Roy Moore wins in the December 12 general election, and if the Senate does not remove him, America will be one step closer to resembling the autocracies that use Islam to repress those they deem political threats. We will look slightly more like Pakistan; whose religious courts still maintain the legality of child marriage under Sharia law. Or Turkey, whose President, Recap Tayyip Erdogan, used Islam as a blunt instrument to jail or discredit perceived dissenters in the aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup.

The greatest threat the west faces today is Islamic fundamentalism. But it can be any extremism, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or any faith that uses religion as a cudgel to destroy our secular values.

Hopefully, voters in Alabama will oppose American Sharia on December 12. I’m not holding my breath.