by David J. Rusin
February 13, 2012
Resistance to a new bill aimed at limiting foreign law in Pennsylvania courts serves as a case study of how Islamists and their allies operate: peddling falsehoods about Shari'a, painting Muslims as victims, and denying that anyone seeks to institutionalize aspects of Islamic law — even as they vigorously promote that very agenda. With similar legislation being debated across the U.S., understanding their tactics is critical.
At issue in Pennsylvania is House Bill (HB) 2029, which stipulates that "a tribunal shall not consider a foreign legal code or system which does not grant … the same fundamental liberties, rights and privileges" as guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions. Introduced in November, it follows the American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model and makes no mention of Shari'a. A preliminary memo sent to legislators last June in the name of Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, HB 2029's chief sponsor, does highlight Islamic law, but she later said that it had been circulated accidentally. Regardless, concerns about Shari'a are warranted due to its many provisions that conflict with the standards of American jurisprudence. For example, it disadvantages women in terms of inheritance, divorce, child custody, and other areas of family law. Shari'a already has shaped numerous cases nationwide, including in Pennsylvania, where one state court decided how assets should be distributed according to Islam.
Pushback against HB 2029 has been led by the Philadelphia office of the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-PA) and was punctuated by an interfaith press conference (video here) at CAIR-PA headquarters on December 14. The overall campaign reflects CAIR's usual recipe of distortion, victimology, and contradiction between words and deeds.
Attacks on bills like HB 2029 begin by sowing confusion about Shari'a. Because Islamic law encompasses virtually every facet of life — governing personal activities such as eating and worship, but also forming an oppressive social and legal structure — suit-and-tie Islamists work to emphasize its unthreatening pieces whenever possible. CAIR-PA executive director Moein Khawaja's suggestion that Shari'a should worry Pennsylvanians no more than halal gyros is a fine example of this technique.
Others brazenly misrepresent the unsavory components, as Haider Ala Hamoudi, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, did when he was interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hamoudi insisted that women and children would suffer if judges could not consider Shari'a — a stretch, given how it discriminates against women, including in disputes over children. Moving beyond the types of cases that are adjudicated in U.S. courts, he depicted the requirement of testimony by four male witnesses to convict someone of adultery as an exemplar of Islamic enlightenment that protects against false accusations. In practice, however, it can be a nightmare for women in those Muslim countries where the same scriptural passages are interpreted as mandating four witnesses even to prove rape. Robert Spencer further explains, "If the required male witnesses can't be found, the victim's charge of rape becomes an admission of adultery," too often leading to her imprisonment.
Hamoudi also contended that harsh punishments used in Iran and elsewhere, like cutting off hands for stealing, have little to do with Shari'a and are "more a matter of identity politics" in response to Western influence. The man deserves credit for artful misdirection, as it is not every day that brutal penalties prescribed by the Koran itself are chalked up to blowback from cultural imperialism.
When distortion of Shari'a is insufficient, Islamists and their collaborators characterize Muslims as the targets of a shadowy cabal of "Islamophobes." Hence, Pennsylvanians were treated to Marwan Kreidie, a major figure in the Philadelphia Islamist scene, describing Swanger's faith-neutral bill as "an exercise in discrimination" and claiming that "there's a conspiracy afoot here." CAIR-PA's Khawaja followed up by taking the ad hominem route, trashing HB 2029 as the brainchild of "anti-Muslim, white supremacist David Yerushalmi." See Yerushalmi's recent article for a reply to the typical assaults on his character.
Yet no hyperbole topped that of Rabbi Linda Holtzman, who played the Nazi card at CAIR-PA's press conference. "The echoes for me are strong of Germany in the 1930s," she said, "when repeatedly Jewish law was brought forward and defamed in the courts as a means of defaming all of Jewish tradition." Aside from the sheer ugliness of the analogy, Shari'a could be "defamed" only by spreading inaccuracies about it. HB 2029 does not reference Islam or Islamic law, while the memo correctly labels Shari'a as "inherently hostile to our constitutional liberties." Sometimes the truth hurts.
Islamists also maintain that bills such as HB 2029 are unnecessary because, they say, there is no attempt by adherents of Islam to undermine the American legal system, but their actions away from the cameras inevitably belie their soothing words. Indeed, not long after it issued a press release dismissing concerns about the advance of Shari'a as "conspiracy theories" to be "mocked," CAIR-PA announced that its 2012 banquet will be headlined by two men who have expressed support for transforming the U.S. into a Shari'a-run state: Siraj Wahhaj and Sherman Jackson.
Wahhaj, a radical imam who appeared on a federal prosecutor's "list of unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators" in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, has warned that "unless America … accepts the Islamic agenda," it will fall. He has talked positively of Islamic law supplanting the U.S. Constitution and opined that "if only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate."
Jackson, now a professor at USC, has been equally explicit. Calling him "an outspoken proponent of the Islamist subversion of Western civilization," Cinnamon Stillwell explains that in a book Jackson coauthored, he "proposes that American Muslims approach the 'difficult task of penetrating, appropriating and redirecting American culture' … to 'influence the legal order in America.'" He writes that "once this is done, there are no Constitutional impediments to having these [Islamic] laws applied in the public domain." Jackson even muses about how gradual "changes in American culture" could result in the normalization of barbaric punishments such as stoning and flogging.
In short, Islamists do not merely insult the character of those who back bills like HB 2029; they insult the intelligence of all through claims that turn reality on its head and are contradicted by their own actions. Nothing less should be expected. They obfuscate Islamic law and portray Muslims as victims because the facts about Shari'a simply are not palatable to most Americans. Moreover, stealth jihadists shamelessly say one thing and do another because they have faith that the mainstream media will not hold them accountable.
How to proceed? Education neutralizes falsehoods, so Americans need to continue the long-term project of informing themselves about Shari'a and the challenge it presents; useful resources may be found at this website. Likewise, all politicians must learn to speak more precisely about Islamic law, carefully distinguishing between practices that are protected by the U.S. Constitution and those that are not, thus minimizing the confusion that Islamists exploit. As for individuals who equate Nazism with defending Americans from foreign laws that infringe on fundamental rights, they should be called out for affronting both history and decency. Citizens also must encourage legislators to press on with these bills despite Islamist propaganda, biased media, and the occasional scolding from their multiculturalism-obsessed counterparts; readers wishing to contact the primary sponsor of HB 2029 may do so here.
Finally, as Islamist groups often argue against restrictions on foreign law by denying the existence of any campaign to insinuate Shari'a into American society, their own records of participating in this very movement should be hung around their necks for all to see. Given that much of the opposition to ALAC-inspired efforts throughout the U.S. has been helmed by branches of CAIR — an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, which dreams of implementing Islamic law worldwide and describes its mission in North America as "eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within" — the letters, op-eds, and blog posts can practically write themselves.
While it is important to wade into the details and answer specific criticisms of bills to curb foreign law, the best defense may be a good offense. Just as Islamists make the supporters of such legislation an issue by smearing them as bigots, those supporters must make the opponents an issue by exposing their rank dishonesty and jihadist objectives, which comprise exactly the kind of subversion that these bills are designed to thwart.
David J. Rusin is a research fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.