Georgia Lawmaker Withdraws Bill Targeting Islamic Veils After Backlash

State Rep. Jason Spencer cited the “visceral reaction.”

A Georgia lawmaker withdrew a bill Thursday that would have criminalized Muslim women wearing religious face coverings in public after it received widespread condemnation.

House Bill 3 would have amended an anti-mask rule originally intended to keep Ku Klux Klan members from wearing hoods to commit anonymous hate crimes. Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), who authored the bill, wanted to change the law to include women wearing veils — like the niqab or burqa.

“After further consideration, I have decided to not pursue HB 3 in the upcoming 2017 legislative session due to the visceral reaction it has created,” Spencer said in a statement. “While this bill does not contain language that specifically targets any group, I am mindful of the perception that it has created.”

Members of Georgia’s Council for American-Islamic Relations said support from interfaith partners helped stop the bill.

“First of all, we want to thank Rep. Spencer for doing the right thing by withdrawing the bill,”Edward Ahmed Mitchell, Georgia CAIR executive director, told The Huffington Post. “We thank our coalition partners, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who stood up for religious freedom. It was reassuring to see the Georgia community uniting so quickly to say that this is not acceptable.”

Linda Sarsour: Why this has been the worst year for American Muslims since 9/11

The number of hate crimes against members of the Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities has dramatically increased. There is a growing disconnect between freedom of speech and the freedom to practice religion without fear or intimidation: Increasingly, irresponsible and rhetorical bullying is leading to violent acts against a vulnerable minority.
Recent articles have questioned the shady practices of FBI counterterrorism strategies: Informants have been sought out and coerced through torture; fictitious entrapment scenarios have been created; and in the midst of this there are still many unanswered questions about the shooting of a black Muslim man under surveillance by a joint terrorism task force in Boston. Where was law enforcement when a white man from Georgia plantedProtesters a bomb in a city park in order to sow fear against Muslims?

Georgia GOP candidate Jody Hice: Muslims not protected by the First Amendment

June 23, 2014

A Republican candidate seeking to represent Georgia’s 10th U.S. House district believes that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty does not apply to followers of Islam.

“Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” Rev. Jody Hice wrote in his 2012 book It’s Now Or Never, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

The House candidate also believes the Muslim Brotherhood is secretly infiltrating the United States in a plot to impose Sharia law on the entire country, a conspiracy theory he shares with Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX).

“Most people think Islam is a religion, it’s not. It’s a totalitarian way of life with a religious component. But it’s much larger. It’s a geo-political system that has governmental, financial, military, legal and religious components. And it’s a totalitarian system that encompasses every aspect of life and it should not be protected (under U.S. law),” he told members of the Coweta County Tea Party Patriots in 2011, according to The Citizen.

“This is not a tolerant, peaceful religion even though some Muslims are peaceful. Radical Muslims believe that Sharia is required by God and must be imposed worldwide. It’s a movement to take over the world by force. A global caliphate is the objective,” he added.

Lawmakers ask Obama for religious diversity summit

Nearly 40 members of the U.S. House, among them Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday (July 17) urging him to convene a “Religious Diversity Summit” and do more to fight discrimination against religious minorities.

“The targeting of religious minorities in America is reaching a crisis point and we believe your leadership is crucial to stemming this rising tide of violence,” the letter writers said.

The letter comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the Aug. 5 attack by a white supremacist on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., that killed six worshippers. Muslim advocacy groups say there has been an increase in attacks against mosques and Muslims since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.

All 37 signatories were Democrats, including Buddhist Hank Johnson of Georgia, Hindu Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Muslims Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, and Jews Jared Polis of Colorado, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, and Henry Waxman and Alan Lowenthal, both of California.

“The terrible and very public episodes of violence this country has seen over the past several years deserve a response, and as elected leaders we have an obligation to be a part of that response,” wrote Arizona Democrat Raul M. Grijalva, one of several Christians to sign the letter.

Georgia Newspaper Column Calls On U.S. To Send Muslims ‘Back To Their Native Land’

A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.

In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.

Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”

From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.

The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”

Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.

 

Nation of Islam leader Farrakhan says blacks should curb spending, pool resources, buy land

Nation Of Islam.JPEGCHICAGO — Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan on Sunday called on blacks nationwide to curb economic disparities by cutting back on excessive spending, pooling resources and investing in land — an action plan he laid out during a three-hour speech at the movement’s annual Saviours’ Day convention.

The 79-year-old leader has often used the annual keynote address — part sermon, part lecture — to discuss current events and politics on a national platform, particularly after the election of the nation’s first black president. But Farrakhan focused most of his new message on the Nation of Islam followers in the audience.

“Even though one of our own has reached the highest pinnacle of the American political system, his presence has not, cannot and will not solve our problems,” Farrakhan told the crowd of men wearing navy uniforms and women dressed in white shirt suits and matching hijabs.

Roughly 10,000 people attended the convention at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an event that drew followers from around the globe and capped off three days of workshops.

The Nation of Islam has more than 1,500 acres of farmland in Georgia. Ishmael Muhammad, the religion’s national assistant minister, told The Associated Press that the group is looking to buy thousands more acres in the Midwest.

State legislatures reignite war over religion in schools

Visit almost any school in America and you’ll find students sharing their faith, reading their scriptures, saying grace before lunch and, in high schools, meeting in religious clubs.

But in a growing number of state legislatures around the country, lawmakers want more.

Barred by the U.S. Supreme Court from turning the clock back to the days of state-sponsored prayers and devotional Bible reading, state legislatures are discovering creative new ways to get more religion through the schoolhouse door.

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law encouraging local school boards to create a forum at school-sponsored events for students to offer inspirational messages. Although the state can’t require students to give a prayer, critics of the legislation say “inspirational message” is a euphemism for prayer  and student-government leaders charged with deciding who speaks will inevitably favor the majority faith.

Texas passed the first of what opponents dub “prayer bills” in 2006. Other state legislatures, including Oklahoma and Tennessee, are currently debating similar legislation.

Creating a “free speech” forum at school events may indeed be constitutional, but lower courts remain divided on where to draw the line on student speech before a captive audience.

Georgia, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina already have “Bible bills” — and other Bible Belt states are likely to follow suit.

A proliferation of Bible courses in public schools, taught by unqualified teachers using the Bible as a history textbook, will be a boon for lawyers — but a legal quagmire for school officials.

Critics of these bills charge that this nationwide effort to change science education is another attempt by the Christian Right to undermine teaching the well-established theory of evolution — and a back-door way to promote religious views as science in public schools. Supporters counter that opening the science curriculum to other views promotes critical thinking.

Anti-Shariah movement loses steam in state legislatures

The wave of anti-Shariah legislation has broken in recent weeks, as bills in several states have either died or been withdrawn, raising questions about whether the anti-Shariah movement has lost its momentum.

At this point in 2011, 22 state legislatures had either passed or were considering bills to prohibit judges from considering either Islamic law, known as Shariah, or foreign law in their decisions.

What a difference a year can make.

According to Gavel to Gavel, an online newsletter that tracks state laws affecting courts, similar bills have also recently died or are likely to die in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, and New Mexico, although at least a few of them could be revived next year.

Last year, anti-foreign law bills died in the Arkansas, Maine, Texas, and Wyoming legislatures, and were not revived this year, according to Gavel to Gavel.

“There really wasn’t much time or interest in discussing this,” said John Schorg, a spokesman for Indiana’s House Democrats.

While the anti-Shariah movement may be losing momentum, it certainly hasn’t gone away. On March 12, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed an anti-foreign law bill, joining Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Tennessee in passing such laws.

And in Florida, Democratic state Sen. Nan Rich, the minority leader, acknowledged that practicality, not principles, is what undid the anti-foreign law bill there.

Newt Gingrich ramping up rhetoric on Islam

After a month of sparring with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Gingrich has returned to more comfortable territory — criticizing President Obama with language more incendiary than his rivals would dare to use.

In Georgia Tuesday, he called Obama “so pro-Islamic that [he] can’t even tell the truth about the people who are trying to kill us,” the latest in a series of recent attacks on the White House as excessively friendly to Muslims.
In last week’s debate, he used his opening remarks to promise that “no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again.”

The focus on Islam is a return to form for Gingrich, who in May of last year warned of a United States “potentially . . .dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” In 2010, he compared Muslims hoping to build an Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site to Nazis.

Republican candidates “believe they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by pandering to anti-Islamic bigotry,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s always been under the surface, ready to pop up at any moment.”

But it’s not certain that this strategy will win Gingrich votes so much as headlines. His May 2011 comments were not followed by a surge in polls.

NY Times Book Review: The Not-So-Invisible Empire

Imagine a political movement created in a moment of terrible anxiety, its origins shrouded in a peculiar combination of manipulation and grass-roots mobilization, its ranks dominated by Christian conservatives and self-proclaimed patriots, its agenda driven by its members’ fervent embrace of nationalism, nativism and moral regeneration, with more than a whiff of racism wafting through it.

The Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, they called it. And for a few years it burned across the nation, a fearsome thing to ­behold.  In “One Hundred Percent American,” Thomas R. Pegram, a professor of history at Loyola University Maryland, traces the Invisible Empire’s meteoric rise and equally precipitous fall. The ’20s Klan was born, he explains — or more precisely was reborn — on Thanksgiving evening 1915, when 16 Southerners trooped up Stone Mountain, in Georgia, for a bit of ritual bunkum inspired by D. W. Griffith’s incendiary film “The Birth of a Nation.”

At the end of the book, though, Baker steps back from her texts. Suddenly her analysis becomes more pointed. Yes, the Klan had a very short life. But it has to be understood, she contends, as of a piece with other moments of fevered religious nationalism, from the anti-Catholic riots of the antebellum era to modern anti-­Islam bigots. Indeed, earlier this year, Herman Cain declared that he wouldn’t be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet. It’s tempting to see those moments as Pegram does the Klan: desperate, even pitiful attempts to stop the inevitable broadening of American society. But Baker seems closer to the mark when she says that there’s a dark strain of bigotry and exclusion running through the national experience. Sometimes it seems to weaken. And sometimes it spreads, as anyone who reads today’s papers knows, fed by our fears and our hatreds.