The solution, for many Fundagelicals, is to have the desert states of Arizona, Texas and Utah secede from the Union. The theory appears to be that States whose business leaders eagerly welcome Saudi oil sheiks and their embrace of enforced wahabi Islam will somehow save themselves from encroaching Sharia law if they get even closer to their Saudi oil buddies.
It is easy to mock the “Sharia is falling” Chicken Littles as they bleat their bigotry. But it might do us well to reflect on history. Fifty years ago, the same bigots were stridently warning us that the election of John F. Kennedy would guarantee that our government would be ruled by the Roman Pope. And everyone knew then that the pope was really the anti-Christ and the handmaiden of Satan.
Sentient Americans scoffed at the threat of a Catholic takeover of our government. But in less than fifty years, our Supreme Court was devoid of Protestant Justices and was under the firm control of extreme right wing Catholic ‘justices’ whose pro-corporate agenda might well be described as Satanic. With this precedent, can Sharia law be far behind?
It’s actually difficult to understand the right wing apprehension about Sharia law. As they describe it, Sharia law means brutal repression of women. It means violent imposition of narrow interpretations of one minority’s religious beliefs on the whole population. It means opposition to education and a disbelief in science.
Each of these is a core tenet of the Fundagelical faith. So what’s the problem?
The people most concerned about Sharia law are also outspoken about the need for our nation to return to life as it was lived in better times. Times when women weren’t allowed to practice law. Times when racial minorities had statutorily defined places, and knew enough to stay in them, or risk prosecution. Times when teachers could force Jewish and Moslem, and Hindu and Buddhist students to recite Christian prayers in the classroom.
But the Fundagelical fear of Sharia rests on a misunderstanding of our nation’s fascinating history of changing legal systems. Decades before the Pilgrims landed at Plymoth Rock, Spain began colonizing the Carribean, Florida and what would become Latin America. The Spanish colonies instituted Spanish law. At the same time, French explorers spread west and south from their Canadian colonies, using the great rivers of the Midwest as highways.
Cities like Dubuque, Jolliet, LaSalle and Marquette remind us of the French colonization and the French legal systems instituted long before there was a United States. The French territory reached from Canada to the French named New Orleans, located on the shoreline of Louisiana, named after the French king, and ruled by French law. The French established settlements along the Mississippi and developed trade with the growing Spanish settlements in Texas, all of which were governed by the Spanish legal system.
In 1763, after the Seven Years War, France ceded some of its New World territories to Britain and some to Spain. Britain accepted Spanish rule and Spanish law in the territories ceded to Spain. Then Napoleon Bonaparte reacquired the Spanish Louisiana territory in 1800. The new United States did not dispute either Spanish or French claims to the territory, nor the use of French and Spanish law. The Louisiana territory extended from the mouth of the Mississippi to Canada, and was larger than the entire collection of ex-British colonies along the east coast. The legal system in the territory was a mixture of French and Spanish, and varied from place to place.
In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. The Spanish/French government of the Louisiana Territory continued for some time. There wasn’t even a formal transfer ceremony for the northern part of the Territory, until March of 1804, when flags of the old and new rulers were exchanged, at St. Louis, a French named city, but at that time using mostly the Spanish legal system.
While the United States was buying control of the Louisiana Territory from France and Spain, Florida remained a Spanish territory. In the 1783 Treaty of Versaille, which ended the American Revolution, Americans agreed that Florida was Spanish. It wasn’t until 1819 that Spain and the U.S. agreed to transfer Florida to the United States. As part of the same agreement, the United States renounced any claim to Texas.
So, when the United States took over what would become the states of Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, they each had non-English legal systems. Their citizens lived under and were used to legal procedures and rules developed by the French and the Spanish governments.
One of the features of Spanish law in Louisiana, Texas and California, was community property. Under English common law, which governed the original colonies making up the United States, women had few or no legal rights when they married. Their husbands took control of their property. They couldn’t go into Court without his permission. What income came in during the marriage belonged to the husband.
But in the Spanish system, women could own their own separate property before, during and after marriage. Incomes from both husband and wife were considered to be the property of the marital community. Women could contract and could take actions in Court, during the marriage.
Under the Spanish and English systems, husbands could be drunken abusers of their wives and children. But under the community property system drunken abusive husbands were less able to abandon their abused wives in poverty, to become wards of the rest of the taxpayers.
The entire United States has now adopted some form of community property law. In every state, because of the influence of Spanish law, women have greater rights and greater protection for their own property than they ever had under English common law. This evolution of law models the American dream. We accept the best that the world has to offer, and become a better society by doing so.
But the process advances in fits and starts. Some of our founding fathers had lived in colonies which had official, government sanctioned and enforced religions. They saw their tax dollars being used to prop up lavish lifestyles for corrupt clergymen while ‘official’ churches used their authority to suppress other religions. So when they set up our new national government, they built in protection against official religions and oppression of dissenting voices.
Over time, those in power sought to use religion to reinforce their power, despite the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. And for-profit clergymen continued to seek official sanction for religious oppression and bigotry. In the past few decades, leaders of the far political right have made huge personal fortunes by getting states to fund expensive campaigns to force religious indoctrination in schools, courthouses and other public buildings. They have sought to enforce religious restrictions on the rights of women, school children and gays. And now they want to spread fear and enmity to a religious sort of law that restricts the rights of women, school children and gays.
But a marvel of the United States is our commitment to a system that is flexible enough to learn from and adopt good ideas from other systems, such as community property, and strong enough to understand and resist bad ideas, such as the worship of individual greed, championed by the devotees of Ayn Rand or Joseph Smith.
Sharia isn’t coming to America. It isn’t going to replace the Bible, or the Constitution, or the pronouncements of Saint Limbaugh, or the sermons of Bishop O’Reilly. The campaign to demonize Sharia law for embracing the same beliefs as 99% of American Fundagelicals is simply another part of the commercial effort to extract as much wealth and political fear from the illiterate as possible, for the benefit of for-profit preachers and other businessmen.
Posted: Tuesday, 20 November 2012