The conspiracy-minded conservatives with the Center for Security Policy lashed out at the global Islamic community on Wednesday with the release of a report that uses a narrow and radical definition of Islamic law to argue that the United States is threatened by a global Islamic “mafia” that is waging a “stealth jihad” through American organizations like the Muslim Student Association and the Islamic Medical Association.
The authors liken their mission to a team of Cold Warriors who re-evaluated the threat of global Soviet Communism under then Director of Intelligence George Bush Sr. in the late 1970s, and the right wing is eating it up as controversies involving Muslim Americans continue to make headlines.
The report, titled “Shariah: The Threat To America,” attempts to show that, like Marxist-Leninism for the Soviets, the tenets of Islamic law hold Muslims to the task of totalitarian world domination. The radicals in al-Qaeda and the Taliban are only America’s visible enemies, while the rest are secretly operating among the moderate Muslim population:
Few Americans are aware of the diversity and success to date of such efforts to insinuate Shariah into the United States — let alone the full implications of the mortal threat this totalitarian doctrine represents to our freedoms, society and government. Fewer still understand the nature of the jihad being waged to impose it here.
The report constantly refers to the Muslim Brotherhood, a global and well-established Islamic organization that originated in Egypt during the early 20th century. Gaffney and his team attempt to show how the Brotherhood has become an international “mafia” bent of the “destruction of western civilization.” As part of the Brotherhoods shadowy “civilization jihad,” the organization set up front groups like The Muslim Community Association and the Muslim Association of Scientists and Engineers.
Presumably because these groups are complicit with the global jihad, Gaffney and his cohorts failed to consult any of them, or any Muslim scholars or legal experts, for that matter, as revealed by reporters with ThinkProgress.
“It’s the Red Scare all over again,” said Alejandro Beutel, a government liaison with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
According to Gaffney’s team, MPAC is another shadowy front group for the global jihad. Beutel, however, told Truthout that MPAC openly rejects theocracy and supports interfaith understanding, explaining that Christians, Jews and Muslims all come from the same God. He also said that MPAC does not receive money from overseas governments or organizations. Apparently, MPAC may not be part of any vast conspiracy to destroy Western civilization.
Beutel explained that Gaffney’s team used a definition of Shariah that’s accepted only by radicals such as Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and that the report is “bigoted,” “factually wrong” and is simply “painting the entire Muslim world with a broad brush.”
Beutal and his fellow forward-thinking MPAC members may not be the stealth-jihadist puppets of the international Muslim mafia after all. In a report for the Council on Foreign Relations, analysts Stephens Brooke and Robert Lieken echo Beutel in explaining that, like the world of Islam, members of the Muslim Brotherhood hold a wide variety of opinions and beliefs and are, if anything, allies in the struggle against militant radicalism:
Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy. These positions seem to make them moderates, the very thing the United States, short on allies in the Muslim world, seeks.
Lieken and Brooke admit that the Muslim Brotherhood is conservative and is often at odds with US foreign policy, but they point out that the wide range of political factions that make up the Brotherhood mainly reject jihad and totalitarianism:
The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy.
All this makes the authors of the Shariah report seem like paranoid fanatics, but many of them are former intelligence and military officials.
Beutel suspects the timely release of the report has a lot to do with recent media controversies. “There is no question that this [report] is political opportunism at its worst,” Beutel told Truthout.
The Real Shariah
The debate surrounding the nature of Islam has been a mainstay of the American political discussion since former President George W. Bush declared his war on terror following the terror attacks on September 11.
The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, supposedly to find al-Qaeda and the other perpetrators of the attack, came with more restrictive measures at home as well. Racial profiling at airports and in other public areas became a common experience for many American Muslims, and the 2001 Patriot Act allowed for increased surveillance of Muslim groups considered a possible threat.
Most recently, anti-Islam rhetoric has reached fever pitch as the discussion of the Ground Zero Muslim community center has been punctuated by the threat of Koran-burning, and President Obama’s alleged allegiance to Islam continues to be a central topic of debate.
In this atmosphere, conservative ideologues like the Center for Security Policy have argued that Islam is by its nature a violent religion, and America must have a zero-tolerance policy toward it.
But according to a Truthout interview with Laith Saud, instructor of Islamic World Studies at Depaul University, this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam and the application of Shariah law within Islamic scholarship.
The report’s assertion that proponents of Shariah law are “Muslim supremacists” waging “civilization jihad” along with the Islamist terrorists is a total overstatement and contradicts the very nature of Shariah, he contended.
Rather than being a set of iron rules violently enforced, Saud said that Shariah law can be most easily compared with the Hebraic law followed by Jews.
“Sharia should not seem so exotic to Westerners as this report wants to make it seem,” Saud said. Depending on the society in which it exists, Shariah can range from a directive of spiritual to secular rules.
In Islamic societies like Saudi Arabia there are Shariah courts to enforce laws, but in a more pluralist society like America, Sharia is not expected to play this role, Saud says. Because Sharia law is a historical law, it is subject to constant reinterpretation, which makes it very amenable to the nature of the society within which it is based.
“Since modern times, Sharia has become increasingly spiritual in its connotations and jurisdiction,” al-Saud said, which has made it increasingly compatible with democracy in the West for the estimated 48 million Muslims living in the Western world.
“If you want to find thinkers that say that Islam validates the use of violence against non-Muslims, you can find Muslims that do that. But Jewish terrorists in the Irgun used the Torah the same way,” noted Saud, citing the famed Zionist paramilitary group that carried out a number of terrorist attacks in British-occupied Palestine. “That phenomenon is universal to all religious traditions, and to pretend that it is exclusively Islamic is incredibly misleading, it’s incredibly discriminatory and it comes from a political agenda, not from a historical analysis.”
Rabbi Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, said that the application of Jewish law for different people involves a wide range of nuance. “Not all Jews see Jewish law as authoritative with a capital ‘A’,” said Balinsky, noting that Islam also has a wide range of different trends that understand Islamic law in different ways.
In the United States, Jewish courts function alongside American courts in civil matters for the Jewish community, he said. For example, two Jewish business partners may choose, as Balinsky did, to place a clause in their contracts noting that they will attempt to settle any disputes in a Jewish court, known as a Beit Din, before they bring them to a secular court of law.
“What the civil court is doing is not accepting religious authority but recognizing it as a mediator,” Balinsky explained. The Jewish community only uses religious courts in matter of civil laws, not criminal cases.
This compatibility with American democracy is, according to Saud, how Shariah law would function if implemented. As it stands, however, there are no Shariah courts in the United States and those who follow Shariah law are religiously opposed to pushing it onto other individuals, Saud says, due to the religious directive against proselytizing.
Unless Balinsky and al-Saud are somehow operatives for the underground “stealth jihad” noted in the report, then it appears Gaffney and his team failed to understand — or bother to ask anyone about — the realities of Islam and Shariah. Their report, with strong undertones of provocation and intolerance, ignores religious fact and perhaps something even more important: reality.