The Roots Of ‘Sharia’ Hysteria

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"The Roots Of ‘Sharia’ Hysteria"

Rachel Sladja over at TPM Muckraker has a good report looking into the roots of the Sharia Peril hysteria that, over the past year, has moved from the right-wing fringe into the mainstream conservative discourse, courtesy of people like Newt Gingrich. This nonsense went into a higher gear last week with the neocon Center for Security Policy’s release of a new “Team B II” report, Sharia: The Threat To America.

In addition to being based on a deeply tendentious and unscholarly rendering of Islamic sharia law as a monolithic and singularly interpreted legal doctrine (which Lee Smith picked apart here), Sladja finds that the main piece of “evidence” for the looming sharia threat is a 1991 strategy paper written by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, telling followers they “must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.”

Twenty years later, I think it’s safe to say that this strategy has not been a smashing success. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the organization that, according to Team B II, is on the cusp of prying the barbecued pork rib from my cold, dead hand.

In an article last week, Carnegie’s Nathan Brown recalled a meeting in which Muslim Brotherhood members struggled to remember the name of their current religious guide. “How disciplined and well-organized can an international organization be,” Brown asked, “when followers struggle to recall their supreme leader’s name?”

In press interviews, personal meetings, and material designed for their own members, Muslim Brotherhood leaders in various Arab countries refer very respectfully to the Brotherhood way of doing things but almost never to the authority or even existence of the international organization. Yet increasingly, awareness of Islamist movements in the West has lead to some dark talk of an international Brotherhood that serves as a cover for all sorts of missionary, political, and even violent activity. From a solid core in the Arab world, the Brotherhood’s tentacles are said to be reaching out from Oslo to Oklahoma City. [...]

At a global level, the Brotherhood is no Mafia. Nor is it a rigid and disciplined Stalinist-style Comintern. It most closely resembles today’s Socialist International: a tame framework for a group of loosely linked, ideologically similar movements that recognize each other, swap stories and experiences in occasional meetings, and happily subscribe to a formally international ideology without giving it much priority. There is every reason to be interested in the Brotherhood’s myriad (and surprisingly diverse) country branches, but there is no reason to fear it as a menacing global web.

This is the organization that Team B II leader Frank Gaffney and his gang would have us believe represent, “if anything, an even more insidious ideological threat” than did the Soviet Union.

Are there Muslim missionaries in the U.S. right now who want to get Americans to adopt Islam? Yes, just as there are Christian missionaries in Indonesia who want to get Indonesians to worship Jesus. Christianity and Islam are both evangelizing religions. Spreading the faith is part of the program.

Are there also radical Muslims in America right now trying to find ways to turn the U.S. into a religious state? Most likely, yes, and we should be on guard against it. It’s worth noting, however, that the Christian Right has failed at this for decades, in a country where over 75% of people identify as Christian. So good luck with that, radical Muslims.

To put it plainly, the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is making “real progress…in insinuating shariah into the very heartland of America through stealthy means,” as the Team B II report claims, is preposterous. And, probably needless to say, it’s utterly unsupported by any real evidence.

But the real goal here, of course, isn’t to accurately describe the threat of Islamic radicalism, it’s to help conservatives regain power. As Gaffney himself wrote earlier this year, “Even if a robust security-policy platform were not, on the merits, the right stance for the right, it has proven repeatedly to be the winningest stance politically, especially in times when our countrymen properly feel insecure.” The goal of “Team B II,” as with the rest of the neoconservative faction, is to make sure that now is one of those times.

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