Thursday, July 23, 2015

Location, location, babbling racist paranoia

Sometimes, all you can do is ask: Why does Fox News hate free enterprise? WHY DOES FOX NEWS HATE AMERICA??? But there's so much packed into this frontpage tale that it's worth exploring in a little depth:

A proposal in Seattle meant to increase homeownership among Muslims by offering financing compliant with strict Islamic law -- known as Sharia -- is gaining ground in the latest test for local leaders trying to accommodate diverse religious beliefs.

Well, that's not quite what the story at The Fox Nation (borrowed from the Puget Sound Business Journal) said last week:

For some Muslims, it can be hard to buy a house, and Mayor Ed Murray plans to do something about it.

On Monday, Murray's housing committee released its recommendations for ways the city can increase housing in the city.

Pesky homeownership! Certainly less interesting than Fox's take on ... what's that, The Fox Nation commenters?

Why not look for a way to accommodate Christians who do not want to bake gay wedding cakes. The rest of us have to pay interest on loans... banks are a business and they must treat all equally. but lets find a why for banks to get around it for Muslims?

Hold that set of misapprehension for a second while we return to today's Fox story:

"We will work to develop new tools for Muslims who are prevented from using conventional mortgage products due to their religious beliefs," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said during a press conference July 13.
"Sharia," which comes from the Koran and means "the right path," prohibits the payment of interest -- the primary way lenders earn. Many of Seattle's 30,000 practicing Muslims, therefore, are hard-pressed to find Sharia-compliant financing options when buying homes, making large purchases or starting a business.

"Sharia" doesn't mean "the right path." It means "sharia." OK, maybe it comes from a noun in the phrase Pickthall translates as "a clear road of commandment," but we're hyper-exoticizing when we stroke our chins and say, hmm, These People have a word for "religious law" that means "approach to a water hole*."

The bigger point, getting back to the lede, is that "Sharia" doesn't mean "strict Islamic law" either, but Fox can claim clean(ish) hands on that one. The AP Stylebook added "Shariah" in 1994, defining it as "the legal code of Islam," but in 2002 -- do you wonder if these things happen by accident? -- changed it** to "the strict Islamic law." The following year, it became just "Islamic law" again, but you can see how Fox finds some solace in practice here. 

Anyway, back to the Seattle real estate market: How "many" of those "30,000 practicing Muslims" might be affected by the Quranic constraint on usury? Conveniently, the local business journal actually addressed the question:

Based on what he called "rough anecdotal evidence," Bukhari estimated a couple hundred people aren't borrowing money for houses due to their religion. He said this includes even high-wage earners, such as the more than 1,000 Muslims who work for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MFST) and more than 500 (Nasdaq: AMZN) employees.

Which is hardly the scimitar-waving spectre Fox has in mind:

A Seattle housing committee suggested community and business leaders find a way to help them, a push the mayor endorsed. Seattle is just the latest to explore financing options for devout Muslims -- following in the footsteps of Chicago as well as national financial firms and lenders like Bank of America. But the move to offer Sharia-compliant financial products has drawn fire. Critics have warned that it opens the nation's financial system to Islamic radicals and terror groups, providing a mechanism for money laundering.

So the "latest test" of the lede is two cities, rather than one. ("Gaining ground," without some sort of evidence, would probably be what we call a "complete fabrication.") But let's get right to those critics!

In 2008, conservative lawmakers in Congress went after American International Group for offering Sharia-compliant insurance programs.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and then-Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., sent AIG then-Chairman Edward Liddy a strongly worded letter that argued Sharia financing could be manipulated and used by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hamas to launder money.

"You may defend your decision to offer Sharia products and will probably state that they have no real ties to Sharia law, and therefore pose no threat. You are wrong," the lawmakers wrote in the Dec. 18, 2008 letter. "Like Britain, the way to America's legal code is through its wallet, and if Sharia law gains a strong footing in the United States, it will be through Sharia finance and Sharia products."

Yes, the Sue Myrick; she was pretty much batshit insane back when she was mayor of Charlotte but didn't really come into her own until she reached the national stage. And she was in such good company:

The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that promotes conservative Christian values, sued then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Federal Reserve in 2008 over AIG's actions. The suit argued that it was unconstitutional for AIG to offer Sharia-compliant products because the federal government had bailed out AIG with $170 billion in taxpayer money, and that by promoting Sharia products, it forced Americans to comply with Sharia law. The suit failed.

Some also claim that adjusting existing regulations to benefit one group -- in this case, Muslims -- essentially is reverse discrimination.

Well -- let's go ahead and give Fox credit here for doing something that the local paper didn't do, which is explain how the whole Sharia-inducing thing might work. (That's if you didn't look up "Islamic banking" in some reference work and find that people have often gotten around the usury thing by, oh, ignoring it; as Cyril Glasse puts it, "the general practice in modern times has been to accept the requirements of economic necessity and disregard the question of interest.") "Regulations" don't even need that much adjusting, to hear Fox tell it:

Here's how a Sharia-compliant sale might work between a bank and a Muslim homebuyer: The bank agrees to buy and hold clear title to the house, then enters into a contract to sell the house at an agreed-upon mark-up price that includes profit. The buyer agrees to pay the sale price in installments, or one lump sum. The markup rate is calculated  to compete with prevailing interest rates, so the buyer's monthly payment is roughly equal to what a traditional lender might charge for a loan that combines principle and interest.

Pretty much exactly what Glasse described more concisely in 1989, except he didn't misspell "principal." See above under "Why does Fox hate capitalism?"

This really is pretty close to racism in the classic "Birth of a Nation" sense, right down to the sinister stock photo: instilling fear based on some fabricated group demand not just for the beleaguered majority's money but for its entire way of life. Fox manages to make it look like journalism; it has sources and critics and a "here's how" paragraph, and lots of people still have those post-9/11 AP Stylebooks. But in the end, it really doesn't matter where you buy your linens; when you cut eyeholes in the pillowcases, we know who you are.

* That's from Wehr and Cowan, 4th edition
** And added one of those genuinely bizarre AP twists, in which the final consonant is transliterated differently depending in whether it's a noun or an adjective. This also vanished the following year.

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