Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Just to be on the safe side, voters in Oklahoma this month overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that prevents the Talibanization of the Sooner State. Henceforth, there will be no public stonings in Ponca City, no forced burqa wearing in Bartlesville, no Shariah law in Lawton.

Even supporters of the referendum -- which forbade state courts from considering Shariah in their deliberations -- admitted that the threat from Oklahoma's 30,000 Muslims couldn't be called "imminent."

"It's not a problem and we want to keep it that way," explains state Sen. Anthony Sykes. Shariah law, according to state Rep. Rex Duncan, is a "cancer that must be removed with a pre-emptive strike."

This is a novel use of American law -- not to actually address a public problem, but to taunt a religious minority. The Oklahoma amendment purports to "Save Our State" from disputed practices and beliefs within Islam. But the precedent reaches more broadly. Perhaps San Francisco could declare itself a "crusade-free zone," just in case some of those intolerant Catholics are reading Urban II. If they resist being singled out, they must be pro-crusade. Or maybe Congress should pass a constitutional amendment forbidding suttee -- the historical practice of widow burning -- just to put Hindus on notice. It's not a problem, but, hey, we want to keep it that way.

What Oklahoma has done is faith-baiting -- taking the least attractive elements or excesses of a religious tradition and symbolically legislating against them. A federal judge has predictably blocked implementation of the amendment, which raises a variety of practical questions about the enforcement of wills and the recognition of marriages performed in other countries.

But the problem with the anti-Shariah movement runs deeper. In its purest form, it is strangely consistent with Islamist beliefs and Islamist purposes. Anti-Shariah activists argue that Shariah law controls every area of a Muslim's life -- that the only valid interpretation of Shariah is the oppressive Taliban or Saudi model -- and thus that Islam itself is incompatible with American democracy. Radical Islamists would nod in agreement to each of these claims. The accusation of the anti-Shariah activists and the fondest hope of Osama bin Laden are identical: that every serious Muslim is a recruit for sedition.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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