Saturday, July 16, 2016


In The New York Times today, pundit and Harvard law professor Noah Feldman does a good job of explaining how Newt Gingrich distorts the meaning of "sharia." Yesterday, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg also explaining Gingrich's distortions well. Feldman notes that sharia, to devout Muslims, is " God’s blueprint for human life"; it's not a legal code ("another Arabic word, 'fiqh,' refers to the interpretation and application of Shariah in the real world," Feldman writes). Feldman and Goldberg both note that interpretations of sharia vary widely across the Muslim world. Goldberg adds that Israel is so unafraid of sharia that it allows Muslims to take personal matters to sharia courts, which are funded by the Israeli government.

It's good to have this pointed out in the press. But I wonder if Feldman and Goldberg realize that right-wing sharia demonization is hardly limited to Gingrich. Goldberg's piece is titled "Sharia Does Not Mean What Newt Gingrich Thinks It Means," and he doesn't mention any other conservative attempt to portray sharia as evil. Feldman, whose piece is titled "A Lesson for Newt Gingrich: What Shariah Is (and Isn’t)," cites one other right-wing attack on sharia and makes a vague allusion to others:
ISLAMIC extremism and terrorism justified by Shariah have given fuel to American efforts to say that Shariah or Islam itself is the fundamental source of the problem. In 2010, Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting its courts “from considering or using Shariah law.”

The measure was legally unnecessary, since the establishment clause of the United States Constitution would already have prohibited civil courts from applying religious law. And in 2013, a federal district court rightly struck it down as an unconstitutional effort to single out Muslims and Islam.
From this you'd assume that the Oklahoma law was an isolated example, one we don't really have to worry about because the federal bench dealt with it years ago.

In fact, sixteen states have attempted to ban sharia law, according to Mother Jones and Top Right News. And efforts to ban sharia didn't end with that 2013 federal court ruling. Alabama voters approved a referendum to prohibit the use of sharia law in state courts in 2014; the Texas legislature attempted to pass an anti-sharia law for the third time in 2015; earlier this year, the South Carolina House approved a bill to ban sharia in state courts, though the bill was narrowly defeated in the state senate.

From the Goldberg and Feldman pieces, you'd never know that sharia is an obsession on the right, where it's widely believed that only conseravtive vigilance prevents the displacement of U.S. law by Islamic law. Here are some typical Fox News headlines:

* "Do Muslims Believe Sharia Law Supersedes the U.S. Constitution?"

* "Is There a Danger of Sharia Law Creeping into US?"

* "Sharia Law Comes to New Jersey?"

* "Documentary Reveals Some American Muslims Want Sharia Law"

* "America's on a Slippery Slope to Sharia Law"

* "'I Have Feared for Some Time That Sharia Law Is Already Here'"

From the Feldman and Goldberg pieces, you'd think that Gingrich's call for a "sharia test" for American Muslims was uniquely out of bounds. But here's former FBI assistant director James Kallstrom on Fox News making a similar proposal with regard to arrivals from overseas:
KALLSTROM: Anybody that comes in here from nations that practice Sharia law should go through some sort of Sharia test and if they’re Sharia-type people and they want to practice that, they should be turned around to head back where they came from.
"Sharia" is, to the right, anything Muslims say or do that makes Real Americans uncomfortable. The near-universal assumption on the right is that a large percentage of Muslims want Americans and other Westerners to be forced to comply with whatever-sharia-is by law. If Muslim want to go to religious courts to work out the terms of their own divorces, that's seen as an imposition on the rest of us. If they themselves want to live by the tenets of their faith and say that's complying with sharia, right-wingers think they want to force that faith on everyone.

Gingrich took all this a step further, but he didn't invent it. Media elitists need to understand that, and need to report on it regularly. Right-wing dogma is delusional, and it's widespread. America needs to know that.

I'll leave you with a right-wing kneeslapper, first posted in 2014:


Charon04 said...

Details, details.

What actually matters is keeping folks riled up for the glorious Clash of Civilizations/Holy War.

Having an enemy is important. What the enemy really is like, not so much.

Philo Vaihinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Philo Vaihinger said...

How many times have you read of a gay rights activist, cheered by an American court decision, insisting to entirely appropriate liberal applause that “our basic rights should not depend on the whims of a majority vote”?

But their rights and those of women, non-Muslims, and ex-Muslims are all dependent on the whims of majorities in Muslim counties where democracy reigns but constitutions do not guarantee those rights by keeping Islamic – and any other – religious mandates out of the law.

And that is the real significance in Muslim countries and in any country with a significant Muslim population of the question of enacting Shariah into the law, of making the government enforce as its own law Muslim religious law.

It is true that in America for the most part and even in Europe to some extent the question is a bogeyman exploited for effect by right wing politicians and anti-immigrationists.

But on the global scale and in Muslim countries the issue of Shariah is the same as the issue of Islamism.

No, not all Muslims are Islamists, but wanting to write Shariah into the law is a defining trait of Islamism.

And no, not all Islamists are Jihaders or terrorists, but Islamism in any form is opposed to gay rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, and freedom to reject religion.

And that is because Shariah is an enemy of our basic rights.

Philo Vaihinger said...

As is, of course, traditional Christian sexual morality, and as are those who would like to write it and Christianity back into our federal and state laws, reversing our sexual and secularist revolutions and making American government, society, and culture as Christian as they were in 1950.

petrilli said...

Of all people, Mike Brezinski summed Newt up best in three words on this subject. "He knows better" In her context she and guest, Kieth Ellison meant "Knowing better" as that Gingrich knows very well what Sharia is. Of course, when it comes to being a pandering amoral dick, Newt doesn't know better.

Victor said...

Our "Christians" don't want Sharia Laws!

They want THEIR versions of the same laws!!!

PJDurda said...

Just substitute biblical for Sharia and voila (excuse the French) you have what right wing evangelicals want to be the law.

Ten Bears said...

They all bow down to the same damned dog.