Happily, there have been a few examples of standout coverage in Kansas and Missouri. The Post-Dispatch has given a recurring column to Ghazala Hayat, a St. Louis University professor and Islamic community leader; she gave her thoughts on an earlier Missouri anti-Sharia bill in a 2011 column. Last summer, longtime Kansas City Star religion editor Helen T. Gray, who has since retired, wrote a strong, substantive feature article offering some background on Sharia law and reactions to the Kansas ban from the Muslim perspective.
By far the best example of coverage in Kansas or Missouri this year was a May 22 segment on Kansas City public radio station KCUR. Central Standard host Brian Ellison spent an hour discussing the meaning and practice of Sharia, as well as the origin and impact of anti-Sharia legislation, with Raj Bhala, the KU law professor; Ryan Boyer, a law student who has written a soon-to-be-published article on the Sharia bans; and Mahnaz Shabbir, past president of the Heartland Muslim Council.
Boyer detailed the long-term, coordinated national campaign to ban Islamic law. Bhala discussed the legal problems with the bans and offered a cultural overview of sharia. Shabbir discussed the ways that Sharia informs her everyday life—daily prayers, food, and dress—and she rejected the premise, which drives the Yerushalmi movement, that “creeping Sharia” is threatening to take over the U.S. legal system.
“Right now Islam has a target on the back,” she told Ellison. “… And what we have to do, and I’m glad you wanted to do this show, is the way that we can address fear is by education.”
KCUR producer Suzanne Hogan told me that the goal of the program was “demystifying Sharia” for listeners. “We didn’t want it to be a debate, necessarily, more just a basic education about what is sharia, first of all, and what is the significance of this legislation,” she said.
While the KCUR program may have lacked “balance,” it did accomplish what Sana Saeed, senior editor of Islawmix.org, envisioned when praising Zakaria’s op-ed: “a greater discussion on these bans which [focuses] on the tangible human effects as opposed to just pinning these bans aside as fringe legal moves of little to no consequence.”
For now, however, much of the media has not joined this “greater discussion.”
“With rare exceptions like KCUR and others, the media has not taken the issue … seriously enough,” Bhala told me. “In my personal opinion, officials in Kansas who have supported the anti-sharia legislation, and approved of it, have been given very nearly a ‘free pass.’ “
The media will have no shortage of opportunities for better coverage. In Kansas and five other states, Sharia bans are on the books for the foreseeable future, and the consequences have only begun to manifest themselves. In Missouri, Nixon’s veto is at risk of an override by the Republican supermajority—and failing that, expect to see another version of the ban moving through Jefferson City in 2014.
“If history is any indication, I think we will see these bills coming back,” Toh told me. “This is a persistent trend that is not likely to go away.”
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