Panic about “creeping Shariah” has never been anything more than a modified version of McCarthyite red-baiting, updated to stoke fear of Muslims instead of left-wing intellectuals. Such was the case with tonight's episode of Fox News' The Five, which continued Fox's tradition of wedding right-wing paranoia about “activist judges” to xenophobic coded language about Muslim immigrants and outright misinformation regarding the nature of Shariah. Watch below:
The only original contribution The Five had to offer was its now-trademark amateurish production values. But what made this segment remarkable was its awful timing: just the day before Bolling and company decided to fan the flames of Islamophobia some more, The New York Times published a long profile that exposed just how insubstantial “creeping Shariah” conspiracy theories really are.
Here's The New York Times on the man behind the Shariah panic:
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.
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.
And here's the Times on Shariah itself:
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.
“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.
Given how devastating this article is, it's more than a little jarring to see The Five blithely charge into more Shariah panic without even acknowledging Yerushalmi's existence. It's a little like watching a dispatch from some kind of alternate universe -- one in which radical Muslims are “infiltrating” our court system, and only courageous truth tellers like Eric Bolling stand in their way.