Arizona Congressman Trent Franks is no theologian. But he wanted the U.S. government to parse Islamic doctrine and survey Muslim religious leaders in an amendment that failed on Friday morning in the House of Representatives.
Franks added the amendment Thursday to a Defense Department spending bill. The draft language would instruct the Pentagon to identify "violent or unorthodox Islamic doctrine" for the purpose of combating extremism. Franks' proposal also would have directed the Pentagon to identify Islamic thought leaders associated with doctrines that support extremism.
No Democrats supported the measure, and 27 Republicans broke ranks to defeat the amendment, 217-208. Even though the amendment failed, critics say its underlying rationale invites discrimination against Muslim communities, at home and abroad, and dances with a violation of the First Amendment.
Robert McCaw, the government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), applauded the amendment's defeat.
"Whether it targeted one religion or three, it’s inappropriate for the U.S. government to assess and qualify what is good and bad religion," he told Phoenix New Times. "It’s a victory for the American people that Congress stands by that principle of not elevating or marginalizing one faith community."
A spokesperson for Rep. Franks did not respond to a request for comment.
Congressman Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who opposed the amendment, was enthusiastic, too. He wrote on Twitter, "Good happens — even in Congress! Franks Amendment singling out Muslims rejected; Congress declines to 'abridge free exercise' of religion."
Franks' assumption that Islam and terrorism are inextricably linked is literally everywhere in ultraconservative circles. And now, under the Trump administration, these ideas have the president's ear.
We can see shades of Islamophobia everywhere: President Trump's endless, semantic refrain that the U.S. must use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," except, of course, when it suits him, such as his visit to Saudi Arabia; the call to shut down immigration from Muslim-majority countries; and the appointment of noxious White House advisers like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, whose white nationalist ideas are barely hidden.
As for Franks, he's no stranger to the anti-Muslim fringe.
In 2009, Franks and three other House Republicans breathlessly warned of spies masquerading as Muslim interns in Congressional offices and committees. Their theory was based on a book called Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America, which gives you an idea of the book's wild-eyed tone. Just two years ago, the Center for Security Policy, founded by prominent anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, honored Franks at its annual awards ceremony.
It's indicative of the alternate universe where anti-Muslim and ultraconservative ideas reside – a negative zone where the greatest threat to America is creeping Sharia jurisprudence, never mind that hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed since 2015.
Of course, congressional leaders like Franks are only being rational. If their base and donors support proposals targeting Islam, amendments like this should come as no surprise.
McCaw said, "There is a huge Islamophobia industry that is well-funded and can direct attention to elected representatives like Franks."
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