Fox News incited Islamophobic fears in its reporting on a weekly swim class at a YMCA facility that ensures the privacy of Muslim girls learning to swim, framing it as evidence that “Sharia law is now changing everything.”
In October, a St. Paul YMCA in partnership with the local police department decided to offer an hour long swim practice once a week to give Muslim Somali-American girls between the ages of 5 and 17 an opportunity to learn basic swimming skills, making considerations for the girls' modesty and religious beliefs. On the December 2 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox's Heather Nauert framed this story as evidence that “Sharia law is now changing everything”:
NAUERT: Well the minority becoming the majority at one community pool. Sharia law is now changing everything. A YMCA in Minneapolis-St. Paul is starting a swim group for Muslim girls but special considerations have to be made to keep with their religious beliefs. Now this means during the one-hour class, the pool is being shut down, the men's locker room is being locked, and female lifeguards are being brought in. Similar classes are now starting at towns across the Midwest. We'll keep watching this story for you.
Fox's use of an hour-long swim lesson for girls to push the myth that Sharia is taking over is disconcerting to say the least. For many Muslim girls, this class represents their first opportunity to learn these basic skills, and the Star Tribune noted that this is an important and much-needed program for the community, and that "[s]pecial considerations have to be made to address modesty concerns":
Special considerations have to be made to address modesty concerns so that the Muslim girls can swim and not reveal too much of themselves.
St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith had discussions with Britts to let the Y know that, through the department's connections with the Somali-American community, they had learned that such a group was needed.
“I think this is just a great opportunity for them to learn basic skills that we take for granted,” said Sgt. Jennifer O'Donnell, who has worked with the Somali community regularly during her time with the department.
“We have to have privacy,” said Ubah Ali, Dhamuke's mother.
For years, Ali said she has been trying to find a place where her daughter could swim, but nothing seemed to work. Not knowing how to swim is a safety risk, especially in the state of 10,000 lakes, Ali said.
Fox News' decision to cite this story as evidence of “Sharia law” spreading through the country fits with the network's history of pushing Islamophobia and the myth of “creeping Sharia.” In recent history Fox has led a smear campaign against Park51, an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center, claiming it would potentially be a haven for terrorists. The network has also been known to invite discredited anti-Muslim guests on its shows to push fears about Muslims. Fox's pattern of Islamophobia has now reached the new low of presenting swimming lessons for young girls as a problem so worrisome that Nauert promised to “keep watching this story.”