Originally posted on May 24th by Mother Jones.
Larry Smith, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent running for sheriff in Smith County, Texas, has a unique plank in his platform: He has pledged to protect this deep-red border county from the creeping menace of Islamic religious law, or Shariah.
Outside of science fiction, this Texas county—which voted for John McCain at a 70 percent clip—doesn’t seem the most likely place for an Islamist takeover. After all, creeping Shariah is mostly a myth. The issue might come up in civil cases if both parties to a contract have accepted an agreement based on religious law, but the Constitution bars religious law from superseding civil law.
Despite his out-there Shariah stance, Smith has earned the endorsement of the county’s local paper. And local Democrats aren’t even fielding a candidate in the sheriff’s race. That means next Tuesday’s Republican primary—which includes four candidates for the county’s top law enforcement post—will likely decide whether Smith County’s next sheriff devotes time to worrying about a Shariah takeover.
Two of Smith’s rivals say Shariah shouldn’t be an issue in the race.
“We hear [about Shariah] on the national media, but here specifically in Smith County, Tyler, in the state of Texas, I’m not seeing that this is going to be a big problem,” says Chris Green, a former game warden running in the primary. “I don’t think it’s gonna occur, especially here; it may in some of the more liberal states.”
Another candidate, Bobby Gorman, Smith County’s chief sheriff’s deputy, suggested Smith was just trying to provoke a controversy over nothing. “Running for sheriff, you always want to get somebody’s attention,” Gorman says.
Anwar Khalifa, a local homebuilder, Muslim leader, and lifelong Republican who speaks with a slight drawl, says he was “shocked” when he heard about Smith’s campaign vow. Before that moment, Khalifa says, he was “actually supporting Larry.” An Egyptian immigrant who moved to Texas when he was eight, Khalifa says that Smith County is a welcoming and tolerant place, but the last few years there has been an influx of anti-Muslim speakers at local churches offering dark warnings about an Islamic takeover.
“They cloak it and say we’re only talking about radical Muslims, but they don’t differentiate,” Khalifa says. “This is anti-Islam.”
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