Reading Authority: The Oklahoma Sharia Amendment and the Framing of a Muslim Threat

TitleReading Authority: The Oklahoma Sharia Amendment and the Framing of a Muslim Threat
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Bowe, B. J., F. Allard-Huver, and E. Candel
Affiliation (1st Author)Michigan State University
Section or WGMedia, Religion and Culture Working Group
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodeMRCS1a
Slot Code (Keyword)MRCS1a
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleClash of Cultures: A case study in Islam and the West
Submission ID6601

In 2010, Oklahoma voters were presented with a ballot question to decide whether to enact a constitutional amendment to forbid courts from using "Islamic" or "sharia" law. This ballot measure was the opening salvo in what has become a growing movement opposed to sharia in the US. The increased attention toward sharia is indicative of the still unsettled position of Islam in the U.S. and other (mainly Western) countries, and it also demonstrates a long-standing tension in American jurisprudence as it relates to religious issues. This study, based on a discourse analysis of letters to the editor submitted to the two largest Oklahoma newspapers during the sharia ban campaign, considers the framing of Islam in the contemporary American public sphere. Such framing can provide insights into what American society is saying about itself at the level of moral conviction and religious practices (including freedom of religion), and how threats to these issues are framed in the public arena. Further, the paper analyzes how the public reacts to such media framing within the media structure, by criticizing and commenting the newspapers’ and journalists’ analysis of the law. In the letters to the editor, the debate over the anti-sharia legislation in Oklahoma was framed as a struggle between authoritative texts — the US Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the Bible, and the Qur'an. Furthermore, the debate was framed as a response to a creeping threat, carried out by mythologizing recent events and reifying the notion of a Muslim “other.” The shaping of “otherness” is one of the strongest ways, anthropologists say, to build a group. The contributors often recall both general and abstract arguments and mix them with personal ones and testimonial rhetoric. These references act together as a blurry, unclear reference thesaurus. They do not need to be detailed and distinguished one from the other because they are just ways of building the community by shaping its Other.

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