It’s been a week of pants-on-fire-level, anti-Muslim rhetoric: Days after a U.S. Senate candidate made ridiculous claims about Sharia law being implemented in the American heartland, President Donald J. Trump recirculated a widely discredited trope about brutal war-time treatment of Muslims.
Both claims earned the top “Pants on Fire” rating from the fact-checking website PolitiFact. And both claims only served to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment as the country is still reeling from the hate-filled events in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
On Thursday, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Spain, Trump tweeted: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”
Trump apparently was repeating the myth that U.S. Army Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing dipped bullets in pig blood and fatally shot Filipino insurgents who were Muslim during the Philippine-American War a century ago. Since many Muslims avoid pigs and pork, they supposedly would be so horrified at the idea of dying this way that it would keep radicals in line.
But as PolitiFact and any number of other sources will tell you, there’s no truth to the tale. Trump should know that because this urban legend was debunked more than a year ago after Trump proffered it while on the campaign trail.
AU on Thursday condemned Trump’s statement as a reprehensible encouragement of bias toward Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, back in February 2016 after Trump’s first known use of the Pershing story, said: “Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric has crossed the line from spreading hatred to inciting violence. By directly stating that the only way to stop terrorism is to murder Muslims in graphic and religiously-offensive ways, he places the millions of innocent, law-abiding citizens in the American Muslim community at risk from rogue vigilantes.”
Is it any wonder that three-quarters of American Muslims surveyed recently by the Pew Research Center said Trump is seen as unfriendly toward Muslims? I suspect those respondents would have a similar reaction to former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore, who also made a spurious, anti-Muslim claim this week.
President Trump continued to fan the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment this week.
Monday, on the eve of becoming the top Republican vote-getter in Alabama’s special primary election to fill U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated U.S. Senate seat, Moore made a ridiculous claim that Sharia law is usurping secular laws in the United States.
“There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois,” Moore told reporter Jeff Stein from the news website Vox.
Stein was understandably skeptical and pressed for more information, but Moore didn’t have any specifics: “Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana – up there. I don’t know.”
When Stein replied, “That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make,” Moore responded, “Well, let me just put it this way – if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not.” (Oh, well that explains it, then.)
PolitiFact talked to a bunch of experts on the matter – the Illinois attorney general’s office, professors from three universities and the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. All said Sharia law has not been established anywhere “up there.” PolitiFact was blunt: “We found zero evidence of it.”
In these days of alternative facts and our president regularly tweeting outlandish things, it might be tempting to brush off Trump’s and Moore’s obviously inaccurate claims. But the problem is that some will take these comments seriously and fan the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment.
As Americans United has repeatedly expressed when state lawmakers consider bills to ban Sharia law, there is no actual risk that Sharia or any religion-based law would replace American secular law. The U.S. Constitution prevents any religion from taking precedence in our courts or in our government. (Ironically, many of those who scream most loudly about Sharia law are far-right fundamentalist Christians who are trying to merge their religion with government!)
AU wrote to lawmakers in several states this year, including Arkansas, Iowa, Montana and Texas, explaining that the anti-Sharia proposals are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. A variety of groups, from the American Bar Association to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), also have denounced these anti-Sharia bills.
The fake news of Sharia law gaining a foothold in the U.S. feeds into the false narrative of all Muslims as a dangerous, organized group of extremists plotting to take over America. Meanwhile, as the white supremacists who chanted racial and other slurs while inciting violence in Charlottesville over the weekend aptly demonstrated, there are much more immediate, realistic threats to American freedoms.
But organizations like ACT for America – considered by the Southern Poverty Law Center to be a hate group – continue to use the threat of Sharia law to organize anti-Muslim, anti-immigration marches that draw support from the same racist ilk that rioted in Charlottesville.
With hate crimes against Muslims already on the rise, it is irresponsible for anyone – let alone the president or someone seeking office in the Senate – to make illogical, blatantly false claims about Muslims. Public officials are supposed to unite, not divide, our people.
Americans United will continue to advocate for religious freedom for everyone, including Muslims. In addition to educating lawmakers that anti-Sharia bills are a solution in search of a problem, we also are fighting Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban in court and standing with our allies to show support for the Muslim community.
You can help. Earlier this year, we teamed up with Kristin Garrity Şekerci from Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative to present resources on how non-Muslims can learn more about Islam and how to be allies to our Muslim neighbors. And you can sign up for our emails and stay tuned to au.org, Facebook and Twitter for updates on other ways you can help.