Republicans promote paranoia over sharia threat
As potential GOP candidates jockey to distinguish themselves heading into primary season, there seems to be at least one issue on which they widely agree: Sharia law is a continuing threat to the United States.
Invoking Sharia and casting it as a growing danger at odds with American principles has become a rallying cry for conservatives. It’s also quickly becoming an unlikely pet issue among 2012 presidential contenders: Potential candidates have almost unilaterally assailed the Islamic code, making it as much a staple of the campaign stump speech as economic reform, job creation and rising gas prices.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann responded to Osama bin Laden’s death not just by praising the U.S. military. She used the news to remind her followers about a threat she considers alive and well.
“A time to express our deepest gratitude to the U.S. military for taking out Osama bin Laden,” Bachmann tweeted. Expanding on her tweet on Facebook, she wrote, “Osama bin Laden dead! May this be the beginning of the end of Sharia-compliant terrorism.”
While the Al Qaeda leader’s death provides a fresh opportunity to target the Islamic code, Republican presidential candidates have had Sharia in their cross hairs for months.
“Creeping Sharia is a huge issue here in the United States,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told POLITICO.
Sharia represents an “existential threat to America,” Santorum said during a foreign policy speech several weeks ago. “The enemy is motivated by an interpretation of Islam, Sharia, that is antithetical to American civilization.”
The fervor with which the GOP has embraced the alleged Sharia threat has been matched by protests and condemnations from Democrats and Muslim advocacy groups equating the Republicans’ statements with an attack on the Muslim faith.
“Even immediately after Sept. 11, we didn’t see this kind of hatred mainstream in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There seems to be a coordinated effort to both marginalize American Muslims and demonize Islam.”
Critics see the GOP’s preoccupation with Sharia law as a solution without a problem. Bill sponsors interviewed by POLITICO could offer no examples of cases from their home states, instead pointing to a 2010 New Jersey case that used Sharia as a defense, though that decision was reversed by a higher court.
But the cadre of presidential contenders concerned by what they see as spreading Sharia law say it’s not about religion; it’s about the law.
Newt Gingrich was among the earliest potential candidates to bring the issue before a conservative audience.
“We should have a federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States,” Gingrich told the crowd at the conservative Values Voter Summit to a standing ovation. “The law will let judges know that no judge will remain in office that tried to use Sharia law.”
Atlanta businessman Herman Cain was labeled a bigot by CAIR after he pledged not to appoint any Muslims to government posts if he is elected president.
“There is this creeping attempt … to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government,” Cain told the liberal blog ThinkProgress.
Cain later clarified his remarks on Fox News, saying he would nominate only individuals “totally committed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of this United States.”
The exception has been Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who dismissed the idea that Sharia is threatening the United States.
“That’s not coming here. What we have to do is defend our principles,” Paul told Fox News host Sean Hannity late last month. “You have radicals in all religions; if there is some way to incite them, their numbers will grow.”
As presidential candidates continue to speak out against Sharia, lawmakers at the state level are going a step further: Legislators in more than a dozen states have introduced bills proposing bans on Sharia and other foreign laws in American courts, and some have already passed.
Oklahoma voters last November overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to stop the use of Islamic law in state courts, despite opposition from Muslims who claimed the measure amounted to state-sanctioned religious discrimination. A federal judge has blocked the law from taking effect.
Oklahoma GOP state Rep. Sally Kern is spearheading a measure with the same goal that she hopes will circumvent the First Amendment challenges.
“There was a lot of anger and frustration across our state that this federal judge had set aside the will of the people,” Kern said. “It’s just clarifying that we’re going to have American laws for American courts because we are America.”
Legislators in the early primary state of South Carolina are considering two bills on the subject. The state Senate recently adopted a resolution forbidding South Carolina from recognizing foreign law and legal doctrines. A second bill, with more legal force to ban foreign law from courts, is pending in subcommittee.
Texas lawmakers are considering two proposals that would prevent foreign laws from being recognized in Texas courts. Though neither measure names Sharia, GOP state Rep. Leo Berman, who sponsors the House proposal, cites the Muslim religious law as a concern. Both measures are pending in legislative committee.
The bills have created a ripple effect: The more attention various measures receive, the more lawmakers in other states step forward with their own legislation.
Missouri state Reps. Paul Curtman and Don Wells both introduced bills aimed at stopping the use of Islamic law in the state’s courts, though neither could provide evidence that it’s actually happening. That measure passed the Missouri House over opposition from Democrats who said it could make it more difficult for the state’s businesses to enter into contracts with companies from other countries. Wells has likened Sharia to polio, saying it could have a diseaselike influence on secular judicial proceedings.
The Missouri proposal is almost a carbon copy of model legislation, called American Laws for American Courts, put forward by Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi.
Yerushalmi’s language also influenced the Oklahoma proposal and nearly a dozen others across the country. Many of them, like the model, do not explicitly mention Sharia and instead focus on banning judges from using foreign law.
Yerushalmi would not comment but has previously said his legislation is good for civil rights. Yerushalmi himself has ties to a stridently anti-Muslim group.
Most state lawmakers could point to no local examples of Sharia creeping into their courts. But a Florida circuit court judge in March ruled to let foreign law prevail in a lawsuit against a local mosque. That caught the attention of Republican Florida state Sen. Alan Hays, who was already drafting a bill aimed at foreign laws.
“This is not aimed at any specific group of laws. This is aimed at all laws that are not the laws of Florida,” he said.
Tennessee state Sen. Bill Ketron sponsors an anti-terrorism bill that, in its early form, singled out Sharia. But after it stoked tensions surrounding Muslim residents and even incited protests, Ketron amended the bill, removing specific references to Sharia.
“It was obvious they didn’t read the bill,” Ketron said. “If you’re a terrorist, you’re a terrorist. … You could be a neo-Nazi or Timothy McVeigh.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a South Carolina bill on had passed out of a subcomittee in the state’s legislature. The bill is still pending in subcommittee.