[Marxism] Sinister forces behind (non-existent) Sharia drive

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 31 06:38:21 MDT 2011


NY Times July 30, 2011
The Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement
By ANDREA ELLIOTT

NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s latest woes include high unemployment, 
continuing foreclosures and a battle over collective-bargaining rights 
for teachers. But when a Republican representative took the Statehouse 
floor during a recent hearing, he warned of a new threat to his 
constituents’ way of life: Islamic law.

The representative, a former fighter pilot named Rick Womick, said he 
had been studying the Koran. He declared that Shariah, the Islamic code 
that guides Muslim beliefs and actions, is not just an expression of 
faith but a political and legal system that seeks world domination. 
“Folks,” Mr. Womick, 53, said with a sudden pause, “this is not what I 
call ‘Do unto others what you’d have them do unto you.’ ”

Similar warnings are being issued across the country as Republican 
presidential candidates, elected officials and activists mobilize 
against what they describe as the menace of Islamic law in the United 
States.

Since last year, more than two dozen states have considered measures to 
restrict judges from consulting Shariah, or foreign and religious laws 
more generally. The statutes have been enacted in three states so far.

Voters in Oklahoma overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment 
last November that bans the use of Islamic law in court. And in June, 
Tennessee passed an antiterrorism law that, in its original iteration, 
would have empowered the attorney general to designate Islamic groups 
suspected of terror activity as “Shariah organizations.”

A confluence of factors has fueled the anti-Shariah movement, most 
notably the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near ground 
zero in New York, concerns about homegrown terrorism and the rise of the 
Tea Party. But the campaign’s air of grass-roots spontaneity, which has 
been carefully promoted by advocates, shrouds its more deliberate origins.

In fact, it is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five 
years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known 
lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of 
controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his 
lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to 
exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah.

Working with a cadre of conservative public-policy institutes and former 
military and intelligence officials, Mr. Yerushalmi has written 
privately financed reports, filed lawsuits against the government and 
drafted the model legislation that recently swept through the country — 
all with the effect of casting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to 
American freedom since the cold war.

The message has caught on. Among those now echoing Mr. Yerushalmi’s 
views are prominent Washington figures like R. James Woolsey, a former 
director of the C.I.A., and the Republican presidential candidates Newt 
Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, who this month signed a pledge to reject 
Islamic law, likening it to “totalitarian control.”

Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem 
more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims 
are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, 
Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where 
multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an 
overaccommodation of Islamic law.

“Before the train gets too far down the tracks, it’s time to put up the 
block,” said Guy Rodgers, the executive director of ACT for America, one 
of the leading organizations promoting the legislation drafted by Mr. 
Yerushalmi.

The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread 
of an alarmist message about Islam — the same kind of rhetoric that 
appears to have influenced Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the 
deadly dual attacks in Norway on July 22. The anti-Shariah campaign, 
they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on 
the margins of American life.

“The fact is there is no Shariah takeover in America,” said Salam 
Al-Marayati, the president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, one of 
several Muslim organizations that have begun a counteroffensive. “It’s 
purely a political wedge to create fear and hysteria.”

Anti-Shariah organizers are pressing ahead with plans to introduce 
versions of Mr. Yerushalmi’s legislation in half a dozen new states, 
while reviving measures that were tabled in others.

The legal impact of the movement is unclear. A federal judge blocked the 
Oklahoma amendment after a representative of the Council on American- 
Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, sued the state, claiming the 
law was an unconstitutional infringement on religious freedom.

The establishment clause of the Constitution forbids the government from 
favoring one religion over another or improperly entangling itself in 
religious matters. But many of the statutes are worded neutrally enough 
that they might withstand constitutional scrutiny while still limiting 
the way courts handle cases involving Muslims, other religious 
communities or foreign and international laws.

For Mr. Yerushalmi, the statutes themselves are a secondary concern. “If 
this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not 
served its purpose,” he said in one of several extensive interviews. 
“The purpose was heuristic — to get people asking this question, ‘What 
is Shariah?’ ”

The Road Map

Shariah means “the way to the watering hole.” It is Islam’s road map for 
living morally and achieving salvation. Drawing on the Koran and the 
sunnah — the sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad — Islamic 
law reflects what scholars describe as the attempt, over centuries, to 
translate God’s will into a system of required beliefs and actions.

In the United States, Shariah, like Jewish law, most commonly surfaces 
in court through divorce and custody proceedings or in commercial 
litigation. Often these cases involve contracts that failed to be 
resolved in a religious setting. Shariah can also figure in cases 
involving foreign laws, for example in tort claims against businesses in 
Muslim countries. It then falls to the American judge to examine the 
religious issues at hand before making a ruling based on federal or 
state law.

The frequency of such cases is unknown. A recent report by the Center 
for Security Policy, a research institute based in Washington for which 
Mr. Yerushalmi is general counsel, identified 50 state appellate cases, 
mostly over the last three decades. The report offers these cases as 
proof that the United States is vulnerable to the encroachment of 
Islamic law. But, as many of the cases demonstrate, judges tend to 
follow guidelines that give primacy to constitutional rights over 
foreign or religious laws.

The exceptions stand out. Critics most typically cite a New Jersey case 
last year in which a Moroccan woman sought a restraining order against 
her husband after he repeatedly assaulted and raped her. The judge 
denied the request, finding that the defendant lacked criminal intent 
because he believed that his wife must comply, under Islamic law, with 
his demand for sex.

The decision was reversed on appeal.

“It’s wrong to just accept that the courts generally get it right, but 
sometimes get it wrong,” said Stephen M. Gelé, a Louisiana lawyer who 
represents a nonprofit organization that has promoted Mr. Yerushalmi’s 
legislation. “There is no reason to make a woman play a legal game of 
Russian roulette.”

While proponents of the legislation have seized on aspects of Shariah 
that are unfavorable to women, Mr. Yerushalmi’s focus is broader. His 
interest in Islamic law began with the Sept. 11 attacks, he said, when 
he was living in Ma’ale Adumim, a large Jewish settlement in the 
Israeli-occupied West Bank.

At the time, Mr. Yerushalmi, a native of South Florida, divided his 
energies between a commercial litigation practice in the United States 
and a conservative research institute based in Jerusalem, where he 
worked to promote free-market reform in Israel.

After moving to Brooklyn the following year, Mr. Yerushalmi said he 
began studying Arabic and Shariah under two Islamic scholars, whom he 
declined to name. He said his research made clear that militants had not 
“perverted” Islamic law, but were following an authoritative doctrine 
that sought global hegemony — a mission, he says, that is shared by 
Muslims around the world. To illustrate that point, Mr. Yerushalmi cites 
studies in which large percentages of Muslims overseas say they support 
Islamic rule.

In interviews, Islamic scholars disputed Mr. Yerushalmi’s claims. 
Although Islam, like some other faiths, aspires to be the world’s 
reigning religion, they said, the method for carrying out that goal, or 
even its relevance in everyday life, remains a far more complex subject 
than Mr. Yerushalmi suggests.

“Even in Muslim-majority countries, there is a huge debate about what it 
means to apply Islamic law in the modern world,” said Andrew F. March, 
an associate professor specializing in Islamic law at Yale University. 
The deeper flaw in Mr. Yerushalmi’s argument, Mr. March said, is that he 
characterizes the majority of Muslims who practice some version of 
Shariah — whether through prayer, charitable giving or other common 
rituals — as automatic adherents to Islam’s medieval rules of war and 
political domination.

It is not the first time Mr. Yerushalmi has engaged in polemics. In a 
2006 essay, he wrote that “most of the fundamental differences between 
the races are genetic,” and asked why “people find it so difficult to 
confront the facts that 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 has also railed 
against what he sees as a politically correct culture that avoids open 
discussion of why “the founding fathers did not give women or black 
slaves the right to vote.”

On its Web site, the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil 
rights organization, describes Mr. Yerushalmi as having a record of 
“anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry.” His legal clients 
have also drawn notoriety, among them Pamela Geller, an incendiary 
blogger who helped drive the fight against the Islamic community center 
and mosque near ground zero.

A stout man who wears antique wire-rimmed glasses and a thick, 
white-streaked beard, Mr. Yerushalmi has a seemingly inexhaustible 
appetite for the arguments his work provokes. “It’s an absurdity to 
claim that I have ever uttered or taken a position on the side of racism 
or bigotry or misogyny,” he said.

When pressed for evidence that American Muslims endorse the 
fundamentalist view of Shariah he warns against, Mr. Yerushalmi argues 
that the problem lies with America’s Muslim institutions and their link 
to Islamist groups overseas. As a primary example, he and others cite a 
memorandum that surfaced in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land 
Foundation for Relief and Development, a Muslim charity based in Texas 
whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of sending funds to Hamas.

The 1991 document outlined a strategy for the Muslim Brotherhood in the 
United States that involved “eliminating and destroying the Western 
civilization from within.” Critics emphasize a page listing 29 Muslim 
American groups as “our organizations and the organizations of our 
friends.” Skeptics point out that on the same page, the author wrote, 
imagine if “they all march according to one plan,” which suggests they 
were not working in tandem.

Nevertheless, a study by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center to be released next 
week found that only a minority of American Muslims say that domestic 
Islamic groups represent them. It also concludes that American Muslims 
have as much confidence in the judicial system as members of other 
faiths and are more likely than the other groups to say that elections 
in the United States are “honest.”

“There’s a conflation between the idea of Islam being a universalist, 
proselytizing religion and reducing it to a totalitarian movement,” said 
Mohammad Fadel, an associate professor specializing in Islamic law at 
the University of Toronto. “All good propaganda is based on half-truths.”

Reaching Out

The movement took root in January 2006 when Mr. Yerushalmi started the 
Society of Americans for National Existence, a nonprofit organization 
that became his vehicle for opposing Shariah. On the group’s Web site, 
he proposed a law that would make observing Islamic law, which he 
likened to sedition, a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. He also 
began raising money to study whether there is a link between 
“Shariah-adherent behavior” in American mosques and support for violent 
jihad.

The project, Mapping Shariah, led Mr. Yerushalmi to Frank Gaffney, a 
hawkish policy analyst and commentator who is the president of the 
Center for Security Policy in Washington. Well connected in 
neoconservative circles, Mr. Gaffney has been known to take polarizing 
positions (he once argued that President Obama might secretly be 
Muslim). Mr. Gaffney would emerge as Mr. Yerushalmi’s primary link to a 
network of former and current government officials, security analysts 
and grass-roots political organizations.

Together, they set out to “engender a national debate about the nature 
of Shariah and the need to protect our Constitution and country from 
it,” Mr. Gaffney wrote in an e-mail to The New York Times. The center 
contributed an unspecified amount to Mr. Yerushalmi’s study, which cost 
roughly $400,000 and involved surreptitiously sending researchers into 
100 mosques. The study, which said that 82 percent of the mosques’ imams 
recommended texts that promote violence, has drawn sharp rebuke from 
Muslim leaders, who question its premise and findings.

Mr. Yerushalmi also took aim at the industry of Islamic finance — 
specifically American banks offering funds that invest only in companies 
deemed permissible under Shariah, which would exclude, for example, 
those that deal in alcohol, pork or gambling.

In the spring of 2008, Mr. Gaffney arranged meetings with officials at 
the Treasury Department, including Robert M. Kimmitt, then the deputy 
secretary, and Stuart A. Levey, then the under secretary for terrorism 
and financial intelligence. Mr. Yerushalmi warned them about what he 
characterized as the lack of transparency and other dangers of 
Shariah-compliant finance.

In an interview, Mr. Levey said he found Mr. Yerushalmi’s presentation 
of Shariah “sweeping and, ultimately, unconvincing.”

For Mr. Yerushalmi, the meetings led to a shift in strategy. “If you 
can’t move policy at the federal level, well, where do you go?” he said. 
“You go to the states.”

With the advent of the Tea Party, Mr. Yerushalmi saw an opening. In 
2009, he and Mr. Gaffney laid the groundwork for a project aimed at 
state legislatures — the same year that Mr. Yerushalmi received more 
than $153,000 in consulting fees from Mr. Gaffney’s center, according to 
a tax form filed by the group.

That summer, Mr. Yerushalmi began writing “American Laws for American 
Courts,” a model statute that would prevent state judges from 
considering foreign laws or rulings that violate constitutional rights 
in the United States. The law was intended to appeal not just to the 
growing anti-Shariah movement, but also to a broader constituency that 
had long opposed the influence of foreign laws in the United States.

Mr. Gaffney swiftly drummed up interest in the law, holding conference 
calls with activists and tapping a network of Tea Party and Christian 
groups as well as ACT for America, which has 170,000 members and 
describes itself as “opposed to the authoritarian values of radical 
Islam.” The group emerged as a “force multiplier,” Mr. Gaffney said, 
fanning out across the country to promote the law. The American Public 
Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed that year by a 
political consultant based in Michigan, began recruiting dozens of 
lawyers to act as legislative sponsors.

Early versions of the law, which passed in Tennessee and then Louisiana, 
made no mention of Shariah, which was necessary to pass constitutional 
muster, Mr. Yerushalmi said. But as the movement spread, state lawmakers 
began tweaking the legislation to refer to Shariah and other religious 
laws or systems — including, in one ill-fated proposal in Arizona, “karma.”

By last fall, the anti-Shariah movement had gained new prominence. ACT 
for America spent $60,000 promoting the Oklahoma initiative, a campaign 
that included 600,000 robocalls featuring Mr. Woolsey, the former C.I.A. 
director. Mr. Gingrich called for a federal law banning courts from 
using Shariah in place of American law, and Sarah Palin warned that if 
Shariah law “were to be adopted, allowed to govern in our country, it 
will be the downfall of America.”

Also last fall, Mr. Gaffney’s organization released “Shariah: The Threat 
to America,” a 172-page report whose lead author was Mr. Yerushalmi and 
whose signatories included Mr. Woolsey and other former intelligence 
officials.

Mr. Yerushalmi’s legislation has drawn opposition from the American 
Civil Liberties Union as well as from Catholic bishops and Jewish 
groups. Mr. Yerushalmi said he did not believe that court cases 
involving Jewish or canon law would be affected by the statutes because 
they are unlikely to involve violations of constitutional rights.

Business lobbyists have also expressed concern about the possible effect 
of the statutes, as corporations often favor foreign laws in contracts 
or tort disputes. This is perhaps the only constituency that has had an 
influence. The three state statutes that have passed — most recently in 
Arizona — make corporations exempt.

“It is not preferable,” Mr. Yerushalmi said. “Is it an acceptable 
political compromise? Of course it is.”




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