Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Proposed Legislation in Alabama and Pennsylvania Targets the Sharīʿa

A wave of proposed legislation has targeted the sharīʿa in many states during the last several years. As many commentators have pointed out, what is really at stake in this legislation is identity politics, as opposed to an actual threat. 

In Alabama, an amendment to the state constitution will be considered in 2012. This amendment prohibits the enforcement of any "foreign law" that contradicts state law or the U.S. constitution. Unlike an earlier version, the amendment does not mention the sharīʿa, although it still targets it in spirit.

Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) recently proposed a similar bill (House Bill 2029) in the Pennsylvania legislature. Her bill targets any "foreign legal code or system" that contradicts state or federal law.

"I have read about some other states where foreign law has been creeping into the courts," Swanger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I'm thinking of the Near East, where women are not highly regarded and don't have the same rights as men. If those women come here, I want them to have the same rights that we have," she said.  Swanger worked with an organization called American Laws for American Courts to write the bill, which has been challenged by the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Like bills in other states, House Bill 2029 could create headaches for Orthodox Jews, Catholics and Muslims in Pennsylvania, who follow foreign laws in mundane issues like kosher food, drafting wills, divorces, immigration cases, etc.

In my view, the anti-sharīʿa discourse in the U.S. consists mainly of empty rhetoric rather than informed concern based on substantive arguments. While this may appear obvious to many readers, law makers like Swanger consistently demonstrate astounding ignorance about Islam. Another example: last year, according to Mother Jones magazine, Gerald Allen, a state senator, introduced a bill to ban sharīʿa in Alabama courts. His staffers copied the definition of sharīʿa used in the bill, nearly unchanged, directly from Wikipedia!

Aspiring presidential candidates like Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich continue to make inflammatory statements against the sharīʿa and American Muslims. Newt Gingrich called the sharīʿa a "mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world as we know it."  

I am not asking politicians to become experts on the sharīʿa, but rather I want to call them out for making ridiculous, misleading, exasperating statements about it, at a time when suspicion and division amongst American communities is highly counterproductive and damaging. Sadly, the level of ridiculousness has reached a point worthy of parody on The Simpsons, and the rhetoric against the creeping sharīʿa is likely to intensify during the upcoming election year.

Even worse, are violent, abominable acts which were recently perpetrated in Nigeria in the name of the sharīʿa. I will discuss these atrocities in an upcoming post.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Future of Warfare

Last week, NYU Law School held a forum related to drone technology, entitled "The Morality and Legality of Targeted Killings: From Bin Laden to al-Awlaki."

Some questions that were addressed included: "Does either the U.S. Constitution or international law permit targeted killings, whether or not the target is a U.S. national? Does it matter whether the US government engages in such acts only on a recognized battlefield (e.g., Afghanistan vs. Yemen or Pakistan), uses particular methods (unmanned drones vs. members of the U.S. military), or does so only with the consent of the territorial sovereign?"

Countries like the U.S., Russia, Israel, China, India, Pakistan and Mexico are increasingly relying on drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for different purposes, including targeted assassinations. The Mexican government uses drones to survey drug traffickers. A separate aspect of drone technology is its potential to save lives on the battlefield by evacuating wounded soldiers more efficiently.

Some researchers are in the process of developing fully autonomous drones, which will operate independently without human guidance. It is not clear how long it will take until those drones are fully operational; one scientist argued that it would take at least 50 years to reach that point.

To many, this drone technology brings to mind dystopian science fiction like the works of Phillip K. Dick. An effort has recently been made to prevent an international drone arms race, although no treaty has been signed.