The Parallel Universe of the Sharia Alarmists

Last week, Matt Duss took to the pages of National Review to urge the magazine to dissociate itself from the anti-Islam polemicists David Horowitz and Robert Spencer. Duss pointed out that National Review had first established itself as a voice of mainstream conservatism by denouncing the far-right conspiracy theorists of the John Birch Society, and noted that “David Horowitz, Robert Spencer, and the rest of the Islamophobes we name in our [Center for American Progress] report are the modern version of the John Birch Society.” It was an apt comparison; just as the Birchers alleged that President Eisenhower was a closet Communist working to impose Soviet domination on the United States, so today’s Islamophobes suggest that President Obama is working hand-in-glove with the Muslim Brotherhood to impose sharia law in America. (Spencer and his cohort received mainstream notoriety in recent months when they were extensively quoted in the manifesto of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.)

Today, National Review Online‘s David French leapt to the defense of Spencer and Horowitz. His aim is to show that far from being Islamophobic, they and their allies are simply applying the same standards to Islam that we would apply to any other religion. To do so, he resorts to a familiar kind of thought experiment, asking how we would respond if Christians posed the same sort of threat to the U.S. that Muslims ostensibly pose.

But French’s “thought experiment” is perhaps more revealing that he intended. Its astonishingly hyperbolic portrayal of the extent of the “Christian” (i.e. Muslim) threat only reinforces the conclusion that he and his allies hold a hysterical and alarmist view of Islam.

French’s imaginary account of the “Christian” menace is too long to reproduce in full here — read the full post for that — but the gist is: “Christians” (i.e. Muslims) have launched 10,000 terrorist attacks against the United States in the span of a decade. They control five states “in whole or in part,” having wrested sovereignty away from the U.S. government, and are fighting a violent insurgency to take control of California. Anti-blasphemy laws are enforced “at rifle point,” members of other religions are crushed under tanks, and the last synagogue closes as Jews have been expelled from the United States.

Clearly, French expects readers of this fantasy to nod in knowing recognition. How clever, they are meant to think to themselves — he’s precisely described the Muslim threat to America! And to be sure, much of what he describes is modeled on recent events in various Middle Eastern countries.

But for the thought experiment to make sense — and for his defense of Horowitz, Spencer et al to hold water — one must believe that these events are a plausible account of the threat posed to America by radical Islam. And here the paranoia on display becomes so over-the-top as to be laughable.

After all, have Muslims launched 10,000 terrorist attacks in America? Have they launched 1,000? Have they launched 100? Do radical Muslims control five American states, “in whole or in part”? Do they control a single state? Do they control a single county? Has a Muslim anti-blasphemy law been passed by even a single jurisdiction in the United States? Has even a single Christian or Jewish religious congregation been forced out by Muslims? (This last notion is especially ironic, since French’s allies have been dedicated to preventing Muslims from opening mosques throughout the country.)

There is nothing wrong, of course, with faulting the governments of many Muslim-majority countries for their illiberal practices. But to suggest, as French seems to, that Muslims are on the verge of imposing an Islamic Republic in America is frankly insane. (Once again the Bircher parallel holds: it was perfectly justifiable to denounce the brutality of the Soviet regime, but it was lunatic to suggest that a Soviet takeover of America was imminent.)

French may have intended to clear Horowitz and Spencer from the charge of Islamophobia. Instead, he has given yet another demonstration of the depths of anti-Muslim paranoia prevailing on large segments of the right.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. When is the US going to apply the same standards to Israel as we apply to Islam?

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