Monday, March 07, 2011

Tennessee's Shari'a Law

Adam Serwer calls attention to a provision of Tennessee's law banning shari'a:
"A few months ago, there was a big dispute over the construction of an Islamic community center in Murfeesboro, Tennessee. Opponents of the project sued in court, where they actually tried to argue that Islam wasn't a religion, using the kind of language contained in the new Sharia proposal, which suggests that Sharia directs Muslims to overthrow the United States government. One of the people who testified was Frank Gaffney, whose associate, David Yerushalmi, is the author of the new Tennessee bill. The opponents of the Murfeesboro Islamic center argued that the builders had a secret agenda to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the U.S...

"The law essentially allows Tennessee to have its own counterterrorism policy, empowering the state attorney general to freeze the assets of any organization designated a 'Sharia organization,' much in the same way the federal government goes after the financial transactions of designated terrorist groups...

"So instead of having to put forth their ridiculous arguments before a judge in order to block the construction of Muslim religious buildings, Muslim-haters in Tennessee would simply have to persuade the state attorney general to designate the local congregation a 'Sharia organization' and freeze their assets. No need to get the courts involved when the state can arbitrarily declare you a terrorist for practicing your religion."

Two days ago I argued that some conservative leaders were stoking baseless fears of shari'a in the United States as a stalking horse leading to broader anti-Muslim prejudice. I also pointed out that shari'a is not a cut and dry legal code, but rather a code of life for Muslims, whatever you believe its tenets consist of. Banning shari'a is therefore tantamount to banning Islam. Serwer's post goes on to mention something I did not know, but should have guessed, and which makes this point soundly. Among the targets of the bill's authors are Muslim religious schools operated by the network associated with Fethullah Gulen, the most influential Muslim leader in Turkey, and probably the entire Turkic world. Perhaps also supporting my suggestion that demonization of Islam goes hand in hand with the conspiracy theory which holds that President Obama is a secret Muslim, one conservative activist claims the entire Race to the Top program is to promote these Gulen schools, which are then cast as a catspaw for an Islamist takeover.

I have personal experience of the Gulen Movement, which had an active branch at the University of Wisconsin when I was in graduate school. Even calling them "Islamist" robs the term of most of its meaning. I invite readers to peruse his web site and Twitter feed. Frank Gaffney accuses him "stealth jihad." Gulen addresses jihad here:
"Derived from the root j-h-d, jihad means using all one's strength, as well as moving toward an objective with all one's power and strength and resisting every difficulty. This latter definition of jihad is closer to the religious meaning.

"Jihad gained a special characteristic with the advent of Islam: struggling in the path of God. This is the meaning that usually comes to mind today. Jihad occurs on two fronts: the internal and the external. The internal struggle (the greater jihad) is the effort to attain one's essence; the external struggle (the lesser jihad) is the process of enabling someone else to attain his or her essence. The first is based on overcoming obstacles between oneself and one's essence, and the soul's reaching knowledge, and eventually divine knowledge, divine love, and spiritual bliss. The second is based on removing obstacles between people and faith so that people can choose freely between belief and unbelief. In one respect, jihad is the purpose of our creation and our most important duty. If the opposite were true, God would have sent Prophets with this duty."

Notice how he shifts the idea of the "lesser jihad" almost entirely away from military matters altogether in favor of an idea of "material" struggle, as becomes explicit later. Anyone who lumps him in with al-Qaeda and company is either a deceiver or deceived.

Tennessee's proposed law is a symptom of a cancer eating away at American conservatism, one which preys on fear and ignorance of which they will one day be ashamed to acknowledge.

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