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Posted at 11:08 AM ET, 03/31/2011

Debunking the right’s crackpot sharia panic

I’ve got a first look at an important new report that Wajahat Ali and Matt Duss with the Center for American Progress have written debunking the crackpot theories of Islam underlying the GOP’s obsession with the idea that American Muslims are part of a conspiracy to implement Taliban style Islamic law in the United States.

Last year, The Center for Security Policy, a “think tank” run by pseudo-birther Frank Gaffney, issued a report to Congress that purported to outline the threat of sharia, which it defines as a “legal-political-military doctrine” that compels Muslims to seek to establish an Islamic state in the U.S. The report’s conclusion, than any Muslim adhering to sharia would be obligated to help overthrow the U.S., would necessitate that the American national security apparatus treat every religious Muslim as a potential national security threat.

While the report did not appear to have much influence on the federal level, sharia panic has hit the states, with Republicans in at least 15 states seeking bans on sharia. Tennessee actually considered making adherence to sharia a felony and treating it the way the federal government treats material support for terrorism, before the sponsor of the bill met with local Muslims who explained that the law would literally criminalize being a Muslim. The bill had been written by David Yerushalmi, the “sharia expert” Gaffney had consulted for his “Team B” report.

Their interpretation of “sharia” however, is based on an erroneous reading of Islamic religious principles as static and immutable to change. Duss and Ali point out however, that this is completely wrong:

There is no one thing called Sharia. A variety of Muslim communities exist, andeach understands Sharia in its own way. No official document, such as the Ten Commandments, encapsulates Sharia. It is the ideal law of God as interpreted by Muslim scholars over centuries aimed toward justice, fairness, and mercy.

Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting, and not with national laws.

Consider that 33 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal word of G-d. But despite this, American Jews nevertheless resist stoning disobedient sons and Christians do not kill non-Christians, even though this is what Christians or Jews would do if they acted, respectively, on a literal reading Luke or Deuteronomy.

The root of sharia panic is the idea that American Muslims, acting on an obtuse and Medeival interpretation of Islamic principles, will act inconcert with each other to destroy the United States and replace it with an Islamic theocracy. The point of the report is not to deny that harsh, unconscionable interpretations of sharia don’t exist, or that these don’t result in heinous violations of human rights in some Muslim countries. But the sharia panic that is driving state legislatures to try and criminalize Islam, and making GOP presidential candidates fearful of even looking tolerant of Muslims, is based on an understanding of the religion that would be analogous to treating the bombing of an abortion clinic as the only true possible interpretation of Christianity.

As the report points out, despite the fact that America is a mostly Christian country, even the religious right has failed to eliminate the wall between church and state. The notion that American Muslims, who represent less than one percent of the population could possibly do so is ludicrous, an argument that belongs in the same category as doubts about the president’s citizenship.

I’ll bring you a link to the report when it’s available.

UPDATE: The full report is right here.

By Adam Serwer  |  11:08 AM ET, 03/31/2011

 
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