Hysteria on Shari‘ah and the rise of US fascism

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zainab Cheema

Jumada' al-Ula' 27, 1432 2011-05-01

Special Reports

by Zainab Cheema (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 3, Jumada' al-Ula', 1432)

In the Republican Party’s latest homage to fascism, conservative politicians and media networks are spreading hysteria about the “invasion of Shari‘ah” in the United States. As Glenn Beck, the Tea Party’s weepy evangelist described it on his Fox News show, Shari‘ah is a form of “stealth jihad” that is “working to destroy America from within.”

In the Republican Party’s latest homage to fascism, conservative politicians and media networks are spreading hysteria about the “invasion of Shari‘ah” in the United States. As Glenn Beck, the Tea Party’s weepy evangelist described it on his Fox News show, Shari‘ah is a form of “stealth jihad” that is “working to destroy America from within.” Chuck Norris of Walker, Texas Ranger fame has also entered his word-smithing talents into the debate, eloquently noting that Shari‘ah is invading the United States like “a frog boiled in a kettle by a slow simmer.” And since the ratcheting up of Islamophobia always follows election cycles with uncanny faithfulness, it should be noted that the histrionics are more or less timed with Barack Obama’s declaration of his re-election campaign for the US Presidency in 2012.

As Glenn Beck, the Tea Party’s weepy evangelist described it on his Fox News show, Shari‘ah is a form of “stealth jihad” that is “working to destroy America from within.”

Let us turn back to Chuck Norris’ comment here, for it seems to express a basic truth about the conservative bobble heads styling themselves as America’s defenders. Conservatives have been snarling at US “multiculturalism” for quite some time now, blaming it for the nation’s decay. Norris feels that multicultural tolerance stinks like slow boiled frog and that the US melting pot is fetid, which is exactly in line with fascist narratives that link the nation’s loss of power and prestige with the “others” contaminating its racial purity. “Fascism tends to celebrate masculinity, youth, mystical unity, and the regenerative power of violence,” writes political scientist Matthew Lyons, “it [often] promotes racial superiority doctrines, ethnic persecution, imperialist expansion, and genocide.” That just about covers the checklist at the RNC headquarters.

Comments like Chuck Norris’ are also a hop, skip and jump from saying that the gloves are off on the touchy-feely spiel about civil rights and human rights, and that the Ku Klux Klan head-gear should come out. Glen Beck tells his audience that “we are morons” because “we are taking our own country down” with our tolerance. “Christianity is being dethroned and denied public expression,” moans Janet Levy in the American Thinker, “while Islam is being unabashedly and openly promoted in what has been a Christian country for over two hundred years.” (Fascists are as muddled about history as they are about reality — the founding fathers were determined secularists). Meanwhile, Beck insists that “we try not to be hateful” and that “this is not about hate.” As Shakespeare would say, methinks thou dost protest too much.

During the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, the fear mongering about Shari‘ah in the United States first began to spill out on the airwaves. However, conservatives judged that they had enough ammunition to storm Congress with Feisal Abdur Rauf’s interfaith center, and the issue was kept in reserve. The fact is, Shari‘ah has long had a legal presence in the United States — as has Jewish Halacha law and Catholic canon law. There are numerous cases where US law consults with and recognizes the religious law for various minority communities residing within the United States. According to the principles of religious tolerance coded in the US Constitution, minorities are to be protected from oppression of the majority. Courts accept rulings on marriage, birth, and community life, as long as they don’t conflict with the Constitution. For instance, Jewish law has an established institutional presence in the United States — rabbinical courts like the Beth Din have adjudicated on commercial disputes, business, personal matters, and community issues for over 50 years.

Smearing “Shari‘ah” as a figure of evil is an interesting tactic, considering the range of issues that this opens up for targeting. Invoking Shari‘ah, the conservative attack-pack has rung alarm bells on principles of tolerance for Muslim women wearing hijab in the workplace; prayer rooms in middle schools; field-trips to masjids; establishing Islamic schools; building masjids; Shari‘ah -compliant financial tools; giving zakah to Islamic charities; halal products in the marketplace, and more. In the wheels of the neocon spin machine, Shari‘ah is being processed as a code word for every public or private practice of Islam in the United States. Getting kosher hot dogs at the baseball stadium or choosing the Lent-inspired restaurant entree is a genuine choice. Buying a halal frozen dinner at Whole Foods might be a criminal felony.

This is hardly hyperbole. Last week Tennessee state legislators introduced the SB 1028 bill that makes “material support” for Islamic law punishable by 15 years in prison. As Tim Jones writes in Mother Jones, “even seemingly benign activities like re-painting the exterior of a mosque or bringing food to a potluck could be classified as a felony.” Nearly 20 states are considering such legislation, codifying Islamophobia into the law of the land.

GeorgeW. Bush may have launched Islamophobia as a bona fide national discourse, but there are critical differences between Bush Jr.’s rhetoric and the current fear-mongering. Bush justified his policies by making the distinction between “the good Muslim” and “the bad Muslim.” Now, Islam wholesale is the problem. Conservative blogger and anti- Shari‘ah cheerleader Pamela Geller — think Ann Coulter 2.0 — was put on the spot by The New York Times “if someone is a devout Muslim, meaning if he or she is practicing and believing in the tenets of Islam, they cannot in your view be a political moderate?” Her answer was a categorical no. That is, to be a practicing Muslim is to be an anti-American extremist and potential terrorist.

It only takes a modicum of reason to see how moronic the logic is. There are plenty of people in the US public sphere still possessing that modicum. Even Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic, a former writer for The Jerusalem Post and a certified Islamophobe, scoffs at Gingrich, Geller et al, noting that we can next expect them to declare a “war on babaghanoush.”

The ringleader for this circus is the Center for Security Policy in Washington — a small think tank funded mainly by US defense contractors, far-right foundations, and right-wing Zionists,” as Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service puts it. The Center was established by a Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney, who has penned a 2009 article in The Washington Times calling Barack Obama America’s first Muslim president. Its National Security Advisory Council is a who’s-who of the neoconservative cabal, which has seemingly remobilized after being tarnished by Iraq War scandals. It includes Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, and Richard Perle, to name some of the architects for Iraq’s invasion by the Bush administration.

David Yerushalmi serves as the Center’s General Counsel. Yerushalmi is a Zionist neoconservative lawyer who has penned the majority of the anti- Shari‘ah legislation making its way in US states. Tikun-Olan, a progressive Jewish blog, calls Yerushalmi “a devout Jewish fascist.” Mother Jones calls him “an Arizona-based white supremicist who has previously called for a ‘war against Islam’ and tried to criminalize adherence to the Muslim faith.” Yerushalmi’s own organization is called SANE or Society for National Existence, though the acronym is contradicted by colorful behavior like writing articles that explain how whites are genetically superior to blacks, and infiltrating a Virginia masjid to prove that its imam is pro-jihad.

Let us turn to the man’s own words. “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones,” he expounds in a 2006 essay. The only thing he seems to be leaving out is a Nazi salute. Fascism is always compelled to glorify the cult of uber-racial masculinity, which seems to be in full play in Yerushalmi’s none-too rational thinking. But while insanity might be a private affair, law can make madness become a mass-syndrome. With the rise of the National Security government under Bush Jr., the First Amendment has taken quite a beating. With Yerushalmi’s work, the First Amendment increasingly resembles Swiss cheese rather than the bastion of free speech. The bills that Yerushalmi drafts don’t specifically mention Shari‘ah but rather cast a wide net by banning “foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines.” As he explains in an article for the New English Review, the language is “facially neutral,” thus achieving the result of an anti-Muslim witch hunt while “avoiding the sticky problems of our First Amendment jurisprudence.”

Of course, there is a method behind the madness. Republicans want to keep Obama out of the White House in 2012 and the anti- Shari‘ah racket does the neat trick of furthering their religious crusade against Islam while pillorying the hapless Barack. Donald Trump who recently announced his intention to run as a Republican candidate for President, has spearheaded the birther campaign demanding that Obama show his birth certificate, implying that he is both a “foreigner” and Muslim. Of course, on Obama’s side, it must all be rather trying to be pinned as a Muslim when he has served the interests of the US military industrial complex so faithfully. But the battle for “America’s honor,” as Glen Beck once described it, is about destroying the empty symbolism that Obama stood for — multicultural inclusion and limited reconciliation with the Muslims. They’ve decided that two terms are too much to accede to the “good cop” and that it is time for the bad cop to take the reigns once more.

But electoral victory is whipped cream on the pie. As US power declines, the domestic Muslim scapegoats offer a means to sweep political mistakes under the rug. Channeling popular anxiety into hysteria toward American Muslims is infinitely easier than taking accountability for the policies that have crippled the United States. These of course include Republican initiatives to slash education and public services, tax reforms absolving the richest one percent of the country while burdening the shrinking middle class, and a war-budget on steroids. Fascism is about easy political rewards, sweeping away the frightened population with fire and brimstone rhetoric about the big, bad Other — the more defenseless the scapegoat, the better. On a deeper level, Republican fascism demonstrates a deep-seated need to criminalize Islam, stemming from its roots of religious evangelicalism. If all American Muslims learned how to do under G.W. Bush was endlessly apologize for their existence and prove they are not the “bad” Muslims, then what will they do when its open-duck season on Islam itself?

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