A small but significant group of Americans seem to be suffering from Chicken Little Syndrome. We all remember the story: Chicken Little was walking along when an acorn fell on his head. He misunderstood this to be the sky falling and went on to convince his friends of the coming catastrophe, resulting in undue panic and, eventually, misfortune.
The many marchers this past weekend who participated in “anti-Sharia” rallies indeed believe the sky is falling and, like Chicken Little, they want to alert their friends to this non-existent danger.
The anti-Sharia rallies were organized by ACT for America (considered the largest anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), which has waged a campaign against the introduction of Sharia law in the US for several years (despite the fact that no Sharia law has been introduced in this country). One should not dismiss the campaign as simply the delusions of a fringe organization as it has nearly half a million members, and anti-Sharia bills have been introduced in more than 13 states over the last few years.
At these anti-Sharia rallies, protesters held signs like “Ban Sharia,” “Sharia abuses women,” and “No more Muslims,” and organizers were heard saying that they are “against female genital mutilation, honor killings, throwing gays off of buildings, stoning people to death,” and “Sharia is a barbaric system that the Islamic State is trying to impose in our country.” Some went as far as to say they “don’t believe in having Muslims in the United States” and “we understand what Islam is, and we say ‘no’”.
Despite the urgency expressed at these rallies and by ACT for America, experts know (or any reasonable person at all familiar with the constitution, for that matter, knows) that the introduction of Sharia law is not an actual possibility in the United States since our Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The sky is not falling after all.
Yet, the anti-Sharia disciples continue to wage their unnecessary and unfounded war and continue to stoke fear and strike horror in the hearts of Americans. As the two-term Georgia Republican senator running for governor, Michael Williams, said to the crowd (which included armed men brandishing rifles): “We all need to... unite together to fight Sharia law. We do not need it in our country. Overseas in Europe and other places, they’re throwing people off of buildings, they’re decapitating people because they do not believe the things they believe.”
One could take apart their examples one by one and address them. For instance, female genital mutilation is not a Muslim practice nor is it codified, in any way, in Sharia law; there are passages in the Bible and the Torah that reference beliefs about homosexuality or women that do not reflect current beliefs or practices in these religions. I could go on. But I won’t. Chicken Little was convinced that the sky was falling and I doubt that it would’ve done much good for Ducky Lucky or Turkey Lurkey to tell him otherwise.
I also won’t argue in defense of Sharia. Having grown up in Pakistan, I have seen how the façade of religious law can be used to the detriment of vulnerable populations. But going into the details of Sharia and how it might affect various groups presupposes that such a possibility ― that Sharia could trump our Constitution ― exists in the first place.
The sky is not actually falling.
Instead I want to focus on what the consequences of the Chicken Little Syndrome might be for our country. As a professor of sociology, I teach my students the Thomas theorem: when we define situations as real, they become real in their consequences. The sky wasn’t actually falling on Chicken Little, but he believed it was. And the consequences of his belief were very real: he and his friends entered Foxy Loxy’s lair, never to be seen again.
Fear, in other words, leads to our undoing.
Edward Said, in an interview about his book Orientalism, once said:
“This idea that somehow we should protect ourselves against the infiltrations, the infections of the Other, is, I think, the most dangerous idea...”
Most wars can be traced to this simple but calamitous idea. It is this very sentiment that the anti-Sharia rhetoric tries to provoke in people and it is this sentiment that will be the undoing of our multicultural society. For it is not Sharia law that these protestors fear; it is the very presence of Muslims and Islam that they want to protect against.
A similar lesson can be learned from how France has treated its Muslim citizens and the fractures it has caused in French society. Joan Wallach Scott lays out a clear warning regarding such fear-mongering and Othering in her book The Politics of the Veil: “A worldview organized in terms of good versus evil, civilized versus backward, morally upright versus ideologically compromised, us versus them, is one we inhabit at our risk... By refusing to accept and respect the difference of these others we turn them into enemies, producing that which we most feared about them in the first place.”
Fear leads to our undoing.
What if Chicken Little didn’t believe that the acorn was the sky falling on him? What if, instead, he understood that the acorn is simply a part of the life cycle of the farm? Given time and nourishment, it will grow into a beautiful strong oak and will become part of the farm that Chicken Little calls home. And then Chicken Little would see that the acorn wasn’t a threat at all. Instead, it had the potential to add to the beauty and splendor of his farm.
That’s a lesson that today’s Chicken Littles have yet to consider.
Afshan Jafar is an associate professor of sociology at Connecticut College.