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The Great Sharia Conspiracy

Recent efforts by right-wing groups and individuals to hype the purported threat to the United States posed by shariah law cap a summer of attacks on Islam in the U.S.

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Inter Press Service

A new report denouncing the threat to the U.S. from sharia, or Islamic law—which was repeated by Newt Gingrich during this weekend’s Value Voters Summit—marks the latest development in a summer filled with intensifying attacks on Islam in the United States.

Several Republican members of Congress endorsed the new Center for Security Policy (CSP) report, "Shariah: The Threat to America", at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol last week.

The report proposes the alarming conclusion that many apparently-lawful U.S. Muslims are waging a "stealth jihad" to impose sharia on the U.S. through peaceful means, and that virtually all major Muslim-American organisations are affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni fundamentalist organisation.

Critics charge that the current alarm over sharia is rooted in paranoia, bigotry, or simple ignorance of Islam. But this school of thought has made increasing inroads into mainstream conservatism in recent months, and last Wednesday's press conference illustrated the ways in which it has captured the ear of prominent Republican politicians.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who is the influential ranking member of the House intelligence committee, attended the press conference to show his support, as did Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican who heads the House Tea Party Caucus, also sent a letter in support.

At the conference, CSP president Frank Gaffney warned of Muslim radicals "destroying Western civilisation from within", aiming to impose sharia through force if possible but through "a more stealthy technique" if necessary.

"If we…convey the idea we are submitting to those who espouse sharia, we are signaling to them that it is now practicable to revert to the more forceful way of achieving their ends," Gaffney said. He warned that the resultant attempt "to impose sharia upon us through force" could make the Sep. 11 attacks "look like a day at the beach".

Suggesting that sharia is "the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time", the report offers far-reaching – and to critics, draconian – proposals for how to combat it.

These include banning Muslims who "espouse or support" sharia "from holding positions of trust in federal, state, or local governments or the armed forces of the United States". The report similarly recommends prosecuting those who espouse sharia for sedition, and banning immigration to the U.S. by those who adhere to sharia.

Few scholars of Islam would agree with the report's conception of "sharia". The word (typically translated as "the way") is a broad term referring to Islamic religious precepts, and thus there are as many interpretations of sharia as there are interpretations of Islam.

Even moderate practitioners of Islam, like all religious believers, strive to adhere to their conception of what sharia requires. This does not, however, mean that they necessarily aim to impose sharia, much less a fundamentalist version of sharia, on others.

"Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like assuming that all Catholics follow 9th century canon law," writes Sumbul Ali-Karamali, author of "The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing". "Being Muslim does not require a governmental imposition of something called 'sharia law', any more than being a Christian requires the implementation of 'Biblical law'."

Because adherence to some form of sharia is common to all practicing Muslims, critics of the anti-sharia movement charge, discriminating against those who "espouse or support" sharia amounts to discriminating against Muslims as such.

The CSP report, by contrast, insists that "there is ultimately but one shariah. It is totalitarian in character, incompatible with our Constitution and a threat to freedom here and around the world."

When asked for the names of Muslim scholars or theologians whom the team had consulted in preparing the report, however, Gaffney did not provide any.

The debate over sharia has heated up in large part due to this summer's controversy over the planned construction of the Park51 Islamic centre in lower Manhattan – what critics have dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque".

Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, is credited by many with giving increased mainstream visibility to the anti-sharia movement. In a Jul. 28 statement he issued against the Park51 centre, Gingrich linked its construction to the problem of "creeping sharia in the United States", making him the first prominent politician to speak out against the perceived sharia threat.

While Gingrich was widely criticised for his statements, alarm over sharia seems to have gained significant popular traction on the right. A Newsweek poll from late August found that 31 percent of respondents, and 52 percent of Republicans, agreed with the statement that U.S. President "Barack Obama sympathises with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world".

This allegation echoes charges made by Andrew C. McCarthy, a co-author of the CSP report, who argues in his new book "The Grand Jihad" that President Obama is a "neocommunist" whose administration is aiding Muslim radicals in their attempt to impose sharia in the U.S.

The CSP report was billed as a work of "Team 'B' II". This was a reference to the 1970s "Team B", a group of outside analysts that was given access to classified intelligence by the CIA and which argued that official U.S. intelligence estimates downplayed Soviet aggression and military capabilities.

The original Team B's conclusions have been widely criticised for overstating Soviet capabilities and for making predictions that were subsequently shown to be unfounded.

The "Team 'B' II" that produced the sharia report was not given access to classified material, but Gaffney and other supporters portrayed the group as offering a similarly- needed corrective to an administration that was unwilling to reckon with the magnitude of threats to the U.S.

If his views draw charges of bigotry or Islamophobia, Gaffney suggested, then so be it.

"The traditional approach of the Muslim Brotherhood, when confronted by people like us or by facts like those we're presenting, is to use those sorts of ad hominem attacks," Gaffney said.

"Precisely because, as we make clear in the report, one of the great vulnerabilities of our society is our multiculturalism, our political correctness, our unwillingness to be seen to be giving offence to anyone."

Daniel Luban writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/). 

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