Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barbarians at the Gate

If you heard about the legislative efforts in Oklahoma, Tennessee and elsewhere to ban Islamic sharia law, you may have asked yourself, as I did: What. The. Fuck. Are they seriously concerned that sharia law is somehow threatening to engulf the American heartland? Did al Qaeda land some seats in the Tennessee state legislature? Have the Taliban opened a campaign office in Oklahoma? Whence, precisely, arises this imminent danger?

Tracing the history and personalities of this phenomenon, today's New York Times piece, "The Man Behind the Shariah Movement", paints a troubling picture of anti-sharia hysteria in the US. The author, investigative reporter Andrea Elliott, "has reported extensively on Islam in a post-9/11 America", according to the Times.

Elliott tracks the anti-sharia scare to the offices of one man, Brooklyn attorney and Chabad Lubavitcher David Yerushalmi. In 2006, Yerushalmi founded the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), dedicated to fighting a "war against Islam and all Muslim faithful". SANE's platform is anti-sharia, anti-immigration, and anti-Muslim, even proposing that promoting sharia law (perhaps by selling halal meat, for example? It's hard to say) should become a "felony punishable by 20 years in prison".

Common sense suggests a reasonable level of concern with the rise of Islamism around the world and its propensity for oppression, violence, and fanaticism. Furthermore, it's important to recognize the problem of mainstream Muslims in the US who preach co-existence and tolerance, yet offer political, moral, and financial support to terrorists overseas. (More on them in a moment.) But Yerushalmi and his ironically named organization have crossed the bright line from thoughtful awareness into paranoia and racism.

According to the ADL, Yerushalmi has written that "most of the fundamental differences between the races [are] genetic," and that African-Americans in particular are a "relatively murderous race killing itself". Unsurprisingly, he has also suggested that liberal Jews, such as your humble blogger, are "anti-American". Even more shocking, for an organization founded by a Jew, is SANE's recommendation that undocumented immigrants be detained in "special criminal camps" for three years before deportation.

So we've learned that Yerushalmi is a bad guy, and that SANE is anything but. But that doesn't mean we should close our eyes to the kernel of truth hidden within their giant pile of manure.

Early in the 2800-word article, for instance, the author refers to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The unstated irony is that what Yerushalmi would have us believe is true of virtually all American Muslims may in fact be true of CAIR. Painting itself as a civil rights defender, CAIR stands accused of working for the benefit of Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. For example, according to the century-old human relations organization, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), CAIR "undermines efforts by federal law enforcement authorities to stem the flow of funds from this country to terrorist organizations".

(By the way, kudos to Elliott for her description of CAIR as a "Muslim advocacy group", disregarding the phrase "civil rights organization" used by CAIR and too often parroted by the press. While even "Muslim advocacy group" doesn't paint nearly as dark a portrait as CAIR deserves, it is, at least, technically accurate.)

Elliott also quotes a handful of Islamic studies scholars. But an examination of the funding and organization of Islamic studies in the US suggests that a certain amount of skepticism is definitely warranted. At the University of South Florida, a former Islamic studies scholar went on to lead a Palestinian terror organization. Yale's faculty includes two of the leading American proponents of the Iranian regime. The influence of Islamists in American universities is as undeniable as it is disturbing.

At the end of the day, it appears that everybody agrees that the barbarians are at the gate. But exactly who are the barbarians? Islamic extremists, bent on dominating and, ultimately, destroying Western society? Or the xenophobic, alarmist, religious fundamentalists raising the alarm? Rational Americans are fighting a two-front war to defend our values and our way of life against these opposing threats.

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