How Islamophobia swayed vote in Oklahoma elections

Cory Williams, a Democratic state representative from Stillwater, expected his opponent in the recent election to label him a free-spending liberal allied with President Obama. He did not foresee that he would be accused of trying to subject Oklahomans to Islamic law.

Mr. Williams was one of 10 Democrats who voted against putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would forbid state judges from considering international or Islamic law in deciding cases. He considered the idea unnecessary, since the First Amendment already bans state-imposed religion.

His Republican challenger sent out mailers showing him next to a shadowy figure in an Arab headdress. On the other side, the flier said Mr. Williams wanted to allow “Islamic ‘Shariah’ law to be used by Oklahoma courts” and suggested that he was part of “an international movement, supported by militant Muslims and liberals,” to establish Islamic law throughout the world. “At the end of the day, it was just fearmongering,” Mr. Williams said.

He won by 280 votes, but many of his fellow Democrats failed to hold their seats. The amendment passed with 70 percent of the vote and helped drive record turnout in Republican strongholds. For the first time in the state, Republicans will now control the governor’s office and have veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

New York Times, 14 November 2010

See also “Poll shows majority of Oklahomans have unfavorable view of Islam”, Tulsa World, 14 November 2010