In the evolving race for the GOP presidential nomination, the Islamophobic right has been given no short thrift. The state-by-state nominating process has generally allowed certain candidates to craft a national campaign out of a patchwork of anti-Islamic messages delivered to mostly local audiences.
Much of the groundwork for this campaign was laid by one group working to promote so-called “anti-Sharia” legislation in various state capitals.
Ever since the public outcry over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in Manhattan, state legislatures across the United States have debated a flurry of “anti-Sharia” measures designed to restrict the implementation of Islamic and other “international” laws in U.S. courts. While the movement has been aptly described by the American Civil Liberties Union as a “solution in search of a problem” and by the Anti-Defamation League as “the stuff of pure paranoia,” it has nonetheless enjoyed, according to the New York Times, an “air of grass-roots spontaneity” that “shrouds its more deliberate origins.”
“In fact,” continues the Times, “it is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration, and Islam.”
The lengthy Times profile details how, with funding from right-wing outfits like Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy (where Yerushalmi serves as general counsel), Yerushalmi has made a career out of authoring scurrilous reports hyping the use of Sharia law in U.S. courts and crafting model legislation to curb it. Through Yerushalmi’s association with Gaffney, his work has reached a broad network of Islamophobic activists, including GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and former CIA director R. James Woolsey, as well as bloggers like Pamela Geller, who led the anti-“Ground Zero mosque” charge in early 2011.
Yerushalmi is the founder of the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which serves as his primary anti-Sharia vehicle. Think Progress has noted that, while Yerushalmi has claimed curiously to have “never written anything that calls for discrimination against Muslims,” SANE’s website calls explicitly for 20-year prison penalties for those who “support the adherence to Islam,” a declaration of war by the U.S. Congress against “the Muslim Nation or Umma,” the expulsion of all non-citizen Muslims in the United States, and the denial of visas to all Muslims wishing to visit the United States.
The Times profile notes that when Yerushalmi and Gaffney were unable to get much traction for their anti-Sharia platform with the federal government, they shifted their efforts to state governments, where provincial attitudes toward Muslims and foreigners were more easily exploitable. So far, at least three state legislatures have passed laws inspired by Yerushalmi’s “American Laws for American Courts” template, and voters in Oklahoma approved a like-minded resolution last November, though this has been temporarily blocked pending a court challenge. Similar legislation has been considered in several other states.
With a relative dearth of examples documenting the actual triumph of Sharia law over constitutional law in even domestic relations or commercial courts in the United States—to say nothing of the utter lack of “pro-Sharia” organizing by Islamic groups—such efforts amount, at best, to a waste of time. At their worst, especially given Yerushalmi’s body of racialist scholarship and Gaffney’s lengthy neoconservative track record, they represent an effort by Islamophobes to keep American Muslims at the margins of society and to build support for a militaristic, anti-Islamic foreign policy.