An anti-Muslim rally. Photo via Islamophobia Watch

Silencing Protests Gives Bad Ideas An Upper Hand

Shutting down this weekend’s anti-Sharia rally would give it more credence than it’s worth.

Come Saturday, at City Hall Plaza, there’s going to be a rally dubbed the “March Against Sharia.” It’s one of 20 such rallies to be held across the county, the self-described aim of which is to raise awareness of the threat that Muslim theocracy law (Sharia) poses to America’s institutions.

The rally, like most previous anti-Sharia efforts, is baldly absurd. As Casey Jaywork reports, under questioning, organizers fail to cite any example of Sharia law overriding legal norms in the United States. That is, while rally organizers may point out that extremists have found justification in the Quran for despicable acts such as spousal abuse or female genital mutilation, they fail to produce any evidence that those acts are somehow becoming permissible in this country under the name of religious tolerance.

No, this march is not about defending secularism or disavowing extremism. It’s about stoking fears about Muslims. As security analyst Jeffrey Thomas writes in his book Scapegoating Islam, “Many Americans [falsely] believe some of the harshest interpretations of Sharia—the forced marriage of underage girls, the stoning to death of women for adultery, and amputation of limbs for thieves—are required by Islamic practice. Since 9/11, anti-Muslim activists have taken advantage of this popular perception to misrepresent Islam as a religion and to stoke fear that Muslim-Americans seek to impose a violent and intolerant version of Sharia on the country.”

Given these intentions of the march, the reaction from Seattle’s Muslim community to it is worth underlining, and commending. Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Washington, makes clear to us that he respects the ralliers’ right to gather. “It’s free speech,” he says, adding that there will be allies of CAIR-WA at the rally to distribute more accurate information about Muslims in America than the marchers can be counted on to provide. Likewise, Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, tells us that anyone who joins them in counter-protest Sunday should come ready to be respectful to the other side. In sum: Don’t try to silence them.

A few years ago, that may not have counted as a bold stand. Of late, though, “silence the opposition” seems to have become the go-to tactic of any and all political debates in our society. We’ve seen this down at The Evergreen State College in recent weeks. In case you’ve missed all the insipid drama there, it began when a white biology professor objected to a “Day of Absence” that invited white students and faculty to an off-campus event about institutional racism. Video of students shouting down that professor went viral in conservative media, where it was trumpeted as proof of leftist intolerance of ideas. Last Thursday, a man phoned Evergreen to say, in part, “I am gonna execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of. You have that? What’s going on there? You communist, scumbag town.” On Friday, campus was locked down. What could have been a boisterous but somewhat productive debate about the nature of racism has now been shut down as chants begat shouts begat violent threats. In the end, everyone was silenced.

The breakdown at Evergreen had plenty of antecedents. At UW on Inauguration Day, as people yelled at people yelling about Milo Yiannopoulos, one of them pulled out a gun and shot another. In Portland, a man upset over men upset over his bigotry stabbed three. YouTube is full of videos of recent protests in which dialogue breaks down, punches get thrown by both sides, and everyone plays the victim.

This needs to stop. Not only does this dynamic give the upper hand to whomever is willing to take the physical confrontation furthest; it also allows bad ideas to thrive, since these political slugfests seem intent on addressing everything except the issues at hand. The ideas espoused at the March Against Sharia cannot stand up to intellectual scrutiny. Only when counter-protesters try to shout them down, or worse, will the bigots be granted a moral upper hand that allows their hate speech to become oppressed speech, and thus a martyred cause entirely detached from whatever bogus ideology is at its root. Instead, those who show up at City Hall should follow the lead of Afzali and Bukhari: Meet hate with reason, screams with literature. Become a living example of why our Muslim neighbors are not threats to liberal democracy, but intolerance is.

editorial@seattleweekly.com

This editorial has been updated to reflect the fact that organizers have changed the location of the rally.

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