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Published on September 16th, 2010 | by Daniel Luban

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Prescriptions for an Inquisition

I wrote earlier for IPS about the new Center for Security Policy report “Shariah: The Threat to America,” authored by a team billing itself as “Team B II” (in reference to the 1970s Team B notorious for its alarmist and now-discredited estimates of Soviet military capabilities). The group that produced the report featured a number of the right’s nuttier Islamophobes, including Frank Gaffney, Andy McCarthy, and David Yerushalmi. Given that this sort of thinking is making inroads among congressional Republicans — the report was endorsed by Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) — it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the report’s prescriptions to see just how extreme it is.

The central problem with the report is that the authors identify “sharia” with the most literalistic and brutal versions of sharia, and therefore fail to understand what the term might actually mean to the bulk of Muslims worldwide. (When Matt Duss asked Gaffney at Wednesday’s press conference to name any Muslims scholars or theologians who had been consulted in the writing of the report, Gaffney was unable to produce any names.) As a result their prescriptions would amount in practice to a criminalization of virtually any form of Islam.

Here are some of their policy recommendations (p. 143 of the report):

“…extend bands currently in effect that bar members of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan from holding positions of trust in federal, state, or local governments or the armed forces of the United States to those who espouse or support shariah.”

“Practices that promote shariah – notably, shariah-compliant finance and the establishment or promotion in public spaces or with public funds of facilities and activities that give preferential treatment to shariah’s adherents – are incompatible with the Constitution and the freedoms it enshrines and must be proscribed.”

“Sedition is prohibited by law in the United States. To the extent that imams and mosques are being used to advocate shariah in America, they are promoting seditious activity and should be warned that they will not be immune from prosecution.”

“Immigrations of those who adhere to shariah must be precluded, as was previously done with adherents to the seditious ideology of communism.”

I am not a scholar of Islam, but any competent one will tell you that sharia is a far broader term than the “Team B” authors seem to think it is – it basically refers to Islamic religious precepts in general, to the point of being virtually synonymous with Islamic religious practice. As a result any practicing Muslim, no matter how moderate or extreme, will consider himself or herself to be “sharia-compliant” according to their own understanding of what sharia requires. This does not, of course, mean that they will endorse the brutal hudud penalties that have become the most notorious symbols of sharia to non-Muslims, that they will seek to impose these precepts on others, or that they will seek to make them the law of the land. But to demand that a practicing Muslim to renounce sharia is tantamount to demanding that they renounce Islam itself.

This is precisely what the report’s recommendations demand, whether or not it’s what the authors intend. Any Muslim who “espouses” or “adheres to” sharia – that is, any practicing Muslim – will thereby be banned from government or military service, prohibited from immigrating to the country, and even opened to prosecution for sedition. The only Muslims immune from this witch-hunt are those “who are willing publicly to denounce shariah” – a surefire recipe for the creation of conversos and crypto-Muslims, but hardly one consistent with the First Amendment.

We might be charitable to the “Team B” authors and argue that they’re simply ignorant: not understanding what sharia actually means, they have identified it with its most extreme manifestations, and therefore wrongly believe that by asking Muslims to renounce sharia they are simply asking them to renounce radical Islam. A less charitable explanation would be that they know exactly what they’re doing, and are seeking to outlaw Islam itself.

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About the Author

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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.



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