Bobby Jindal doesn't know what he's talking about

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Story highlights

  • In Britain, Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks of "no-go zones," places where Sharia law supposedly trumps British law
  • Jay Parini says the GOP governor, on a fact-finding mission, needs to get his facts straight
  • Let's hope Jindal learns how not to say idiotic things that cause a good deal of offense or harm, Parini says

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has just published "Jesus: The Human Face of God," a biography of Jesus. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Gov. Bobby Jindal has been speaking in London recently, and he startled quite a number of people in the House of Commons when he talked about "no-go zones" in Britain, places where Sharia law trumps British law.

Jay Parini
He announced confidently to a group that included a number of British parliamentarians that the police in the United Kingdom don't dare to tread in these zones, where Sharia law is widely used. "Nonassimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can without regard for the laws of the democratic countries which provided them a new home," he said.
This is the sort of ill-informed fantasy that plays well in certain right-wing circles. This probably works for Jindal back home in Louisiana.
    Oddly enough, Fox News got into trouble recently on the "no-go zone" nonsense, too, as when Steve Emerson, a so-called terrorism expert, explained to the American masses that Birmingham, a major British urban center, was populated entirely by Muslims and that "non-Muslims just simply don't go in."
    British Prime Minister David Cameron correctly labeled him "a complete idiot," and Emerson's remark caused a spokesperson for the network to admit that Muslim "no-go zones" don't actually exist, not in Britain, not in Europe.
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    Needless to say, there are places where a lot of Muslim immigrants live in close proximity, and outsiders might feel uncomfortable walking around. The same would be true for parts of America where you might feel uncomfortable walking around if you were, say, black or white -- it would depend on the neighborhood. (An African American colleague of mine recently told me that her sons, in their 20s, often feel threatened in white neighborhoods, and I don't doubt the truth of this.)
    It's not unusual for socio-economic, even racial or ethnic, groups to cluster. My own grandparents came to the United States as immigrants in 1912, and they lived for some years in Italian ghettos in New York. Most immigrant groups start in ghettos somewhere, and many of them never get out.
    But the question of Sharia law is interesting. Unofficial Sharia courts will be found in Europe, here and there. But these arbitration bodies don't trump the legal system of the country where they occur. An article in The Economist noted, in fact, that there have long been rabbinical courts in Jewish neighborhoods in Britain -- not a dissimilar sort of thing.
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    There are even places in the United States where Christians can work out their disputes in a kind of extrajudicial manner. Family law, for instance, is often the issue here, and there are cultural values that play into the need for this kind of culturally inflected arbitration. That in some Muslim neighborhoods there might be an accommodation to Sharia law seems not surprising, and this doesn't mean that sooner or later we can expect adulterous women to be stoned to death in Birmingham or thieves to have their hands lopped off in East London.
    Blasphemy will not soon lead to the gas chamber in Europe -- indeed, capital punishment is not legal in any European country (or any civilized country, for that matter, except for the USA).
    Getting back to Gov. Jindal, one has to wonder what prompted his ignorant outburst. Was this a lame attempt to play into the broad public fears of radical Islam that have arisen in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings? If so, that's not good enough for a politician with any shred of integrity.
    In my view, Jindal immediately disqualified himself from ever holding a national political office by making such a bizarre statement, though it hasn't stopped any number of American politicians with bizarre notions from winning major national offices in the past. Such behavior does, however, embarrass this country in the court of world opinion.
    The British, and most European countries, have struggled to accommodate Muslim immigrants, but they have nevertheless welcomed them in large numbers. For the most part, these immigrants have behaved well, despite the fear of their traditions and beliefs that leads to crazy exaggerations by politicians such as Jindal.
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    There have been isolated and gruesome incidents of terrorism -- the murder of a British soldier, Lee Rigby, in the spring of 2013 comes to mind, or the vicious attacks in London of July 7, 2005, which left 52 dead and over 700 injured. The British have had to confront terror, and they've done so without vilifying large parts of their own population. Indeed, they've been forced to come to terms with what I would call British Exceptionalism -- the old imperial feeling that nobody who is not British can possibly lead a civilized way of life. (As Americans, of course, we struggle with our own feelings of exceptionalism, preferring to think that our ways are always the best and truest ways.)
    Jindal was apparently on a 10-day "fact finding" mission designed to bolster his credentials for a possible run at the White House in 2016. He's not as stupid as he sounds, in fact. (Indeed, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, where he must have learned something.)
    Let's hope that he is a quick study, and that he learns how not to say idiotic things in public that cause a good deal of offense, if not harm, to unsuspecting people, fueling hatred rather than coming to terms.