The true nature of Islam is on display in the murder trial of a Muslim man in New York who beheaded his wife? That’s the essentialist conclusion of an elected Republican official in Southern California: Lancaster councilwoman Sherry Marquez. Here’s how her local newspaper—the January 27, 2010 edition of the Antelope Valley Press—started a report on the story:
LANCASTER—Councilwoman Sherry Marquez is under fire from a Los Angeles Islamic organization and from the Antelope Valley Muslims for comments she posted on her personal Internet page concerning a Muslim man charged with beheading his wife in New York.
“This is what the Muslim religion is all about—the beheading, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the U.S.A,” Marquez wrote on her Facebook page.
“We are told this is a small majority (sic) of Muslims in America but it is truly what they are all about,” she said.
I actually sat down with Sherry Marquez at her office and talked with her for an hour. This was back in the summer of 2008. I’m an agnostic and I tried to explain to her why I hoped that she would not turn Lancaster’s city council chambers into something that looked like a church (with “In God We Trust” on the wall behind the council members’ seats). I told her that I was a tax paying citizen and that I didn’t think that she, and the other council members, should mix religion with city affairs in this manner. It was disrespectful of the community’s religious and cultural diversity. Her response to me was rather odd. She said that “In God We Trust” wasn’t necessarily a religious affirmation, or an affirmation that excludes anyone because, if you are an atheist or agnostic, then you are your own god and trust in yourself! It was not long after she told me this that the city council voted to add “In God We Trust” to the council chamber’s back wall. Now, here’s what it looks like when you go to a city council meeting in Lancaster, California (the city’s mayor is shown on the left and Sherry Marquez is sitting—appropriately—on the far right):
The “O” in God is large enough to function as a halo to the (self) righteous council members, don’t you think?
Anyway, when I saw this I recalled Alan Dershowitz’s observation of several years back that fundamentalist zealots frequently overplay their hands. I thought to myself at the time that it wouldn’t be long before the council members escalated further, and overdid their public displays of city council religiosity.
And sure enough, they have.
The ACLU is now looking into suing the city for starting city council meetings with sectarian invocations in Jesus’s name. And now, of course, Sherry Marquez’s Chick-tract style bigotry and reductio ad absurdum zealotry has alienated Muslims in our local community. She also, by the way, thinks that Barack Obama is a Manchurian candidate—a Muslim pretending to be a Christian.
Oh, and as for the essentialism and prejudice in Marquez’s comment on Islam, the Valley Press quoted a Lancaster Muslim who spoke at a council meeting. I think he made an admirably astute observation:
Omar Khalifa noted recent news reports about a Texas minister on trial for charges he drugged his wife with sleeping pills, then smothered her so he could be with his mistress. But Khalifa said the Texas killing was not an indictment of Christianity but concerned domestic violence, in which he said statistics show the Antelope Valley leads all areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department other than Lakewood.
Hmm. If Lancaster and the Antelope Valley really are places where a collective faith in God is affirmed—“In God We Trust”—then should we blame the high domestic violence rate on the effects of holding to that collective faith? I think that’s an inference that Sherry Marquez wouldn’t make.
UPDATE: I notice that USA Today picked up the Sherry Marquez story via the AP, but she seems not to be returning calls:
She did not immediately return a call for comment.