THE BLOG
05/24/2011 01:58 pm ET Updated Jul 23, 2011

Islamophobia: Increasingly Ordinary and Therefore Most Terrible

In "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," Leo Tolstoy scathingly wrote of a protagonist whose life was "most ordinary and therefore most terrible." Such may also be said of the ruling put forth by Tennessee judge Robert Corlew, who made the unremarkable determination that "Islam is a religion," thereby permitting the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to move forward with plans for construction under the same terms given to other houses of worship.

Yes, a party brought suit to stop the center by claiming that Islam was not a religion. Were this not enough, the site of the future Islamic Center was (in a different set of incidents) set on fire and vandalized, protested and delegitimized in the community.

The judge's ruling was quite mundane. But it showed just how fearful others had become of Islam as a religion, in attempting to deny a Muslim center the same legal designation as its church and synagogue counterparts.

Yet even as Judge Corlew ruled in favor of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, his statements were hardly complementary of Islam. He noted, "While we have previously noted the dangers, inadequacies and inappropriateness of Sharia law, there is inadequate evidence in the record which supports this plaintiff's contention of a casual connection between the teachings of Sharia law and the actions of the county government."

Apparently, even in his relatively favorable ruling, the judge associated sharia with "dangers, inadequacies and inappropriateness."

It seems easy to delegitimize sharia these days, as demonstrated by the fact that bans on sharia are a real possibility in a dozen state legislatures. Too many assume that any form of religious law must somehow run contrary to American law or undermine its credibility in the eyes of adherents. But there are hundreds of thousands of traditionally observant American Jews who adhere to a system of religious law (halakha) and questions about their loyalty have long ceased being tolerated. Religious legal systems are not necessarily cause for fear.

Judge Corlew also alluded to other fears in his ruling: "The fears that the church building may be used as an arsenal for jihad or for some other clandestine purpose, or even for the teaching of Sharia law, is not demonstrated by the record and, at least at this point, remain speculation under the law."

Why should a judge need to qualify his statement? There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the Islamic Center and no reason to suspect there will ever be. It is speculation through and through.

How could the mundane -- a house of worship -- bring forth the most terrible -- rage against a religion -- manifesting itself in a lawsuit to block a house of worship and (in a separate turn of events) possible arson on the site of its future construction? And how could the best legal outcome for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro be couched in statements that sound so problematic?

It would seem that singling out the Muslim community is becoming increasingly ordinary. It is therefore most terrible. We must not become desensitized to it.