Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Understanding 'The Sharia Threat'

Despite their 2010 mid-term success, the Republican National Committee will probably not spend 2012 banging the socialism drum again to the same degree. Sure, their mid-term victories supposedly "stopped Obama," but the administration's policy juggernaut also raced forth with all the horsepower of a kid riding a big-wheel with one of those plastic handbrakes jammed in the "on" position.

Scaring people with socialism again will be a tougher sell because it's a retread and because the specter of taxing wealthy people to create government jobs for a stagnant economy isn't so spooky in states that have suffered over 10% unemployment and staggering underemployment. A safety net won't so easily represent doom to those still falling. Thankfully, based on the rousing success of "THEY'RE COMING TO THE GROUND ZERO MOSK," the latest lurking horror to send you screaming for the Party of Reagan is "Sharia." Don't take my word for it. Take theirs.

As was the case with the Objectivist dating site, a few months back I had an interesting bad idea. I registered a couple dozen email addresses at so I could vote for Michelle Bachmann in their presidential straw polls. (I figure it's easier for Democrats to defeat Crazy, and, even if America loses, the ride into the national apocalypse will be awesome.) What I did not expect was that this action would translate into 50+ newsletters per day, highlighting not just daily Townhall offerings, but individual columns, columnists, upcoming articles and content from their magazine. (The contributors list reads like a who's-who of leeches plucked from the Taint of Humanity.) One such article was "The Shariah Threat," from which the above-right image was taken.

It's a beautiful, stunning image. It's the kind of instant iconography that we associate with the sketches of reedy blood-stained cowled "Jew" figures from Julius Streicher's crazed children's primers of the 1930s. I'm not the slightest bit afraid of Muslims, but that image is viscerally arresting even to me. What is that? What's under that? It's like Darth Vader, but without the ready assumption that there's a genial white grandpa-like figure under there who will absolve Luke Skywalker. It works perfectly. For a naive or undereducated reader, already bewitched or frightened by the perpetual Muslim "other," it must be devastating.

The article itself isn't nearly as damning. Sharia isn't sinister once you explain that it's a kind of religious law that can, in fact, act in concert with civil law in Western countries. There are already men in black outfits with long beards and strange dietary habits who maintain a rigid form of complementary religious law in America (with the consent of the relevant parties), and they're called Hasidic Jews. (The Halakha and Sharia can be very similar.) You can see episodes about their rabbinical law and practices in episodes of Law & Order and even The X-Files. Stuff this basic isn't very scary.

Unfortunately, "The Shariah Threat" is an extremely basic piece of work. The tag appending it informs the readers that its author Kathy Jessup "is an award-winning, veteran journalist in Michigan whose writing career has focused on government, politics and criminal justice." Authoritative-sounding stuff, until you remember that the "award" and "veteran" bits technically apply to your entire college newspaper staff, half of whom you've probably seen doing nude gravity-bong hits. Still, it was put there for a reason: the editors wanted you to know that you needed to take the writer very seriously, as a very serious person with a very strong command of this very serious material.

It's a bummer, then, that editor Meredith Jessup, who posted the above-linked version of "The Shariah Threat" shares a last name with the author and is cited at the bottom as being a relation. From the age discrepancy, Kathy Jessup is probably her mom or aunt.

Apologies for publishing a link to The Blaze, another right-wing blogosphere tax-writeoff reprint factory. Ironically enough, right-wing blogosphere tax-writeoff reprint factory Townhall does not have a copy of this article on their website. In fact, depending on the time of day and (one assumes) Townhall's page-loading ability, searching for it brings up suggested links to stuff about Shakira. For more information about Townhall, you can go here or here, but really, it's just an aggregator of wild-eyed syndicated paleoconservative othering/Chicken Littleling/demonizing from the sort of people who should be sewed into canvas hammocks with two cannonballs and heaved over the ship to drown, standing up, at the bottom of the sea.

Now, being related to other people in positions of authority isn't always bad. Sometimes it can get you elected as the 43rd American president. What does hurt you, however, is writing an article on a socio-political-religious issue, being an "award-winning" journalist and being so obscure that people have to jump through hoops to figure out who you are on a Google search for your own name. For instance, you have to watch this embarrassingly shitty Youtube video — wherein, apparently, their editorial staff consists of inarticulate girls still so close to the 21st birthday that you could probably do a tequila shot out of their cleavage if you could just find whatever intern-choked Beltway-cretin watering hole they frequent — to figure out that Kathy Jessup also wrote this mawkish vomit about the glorious humanity of the American soldier. From there, you can click to Kathy's archive, check the picture, then check it against this Linkedin profile, and there's your award-winning newshound with the skinny on legal infiltration plans for the Muslim takeover of America. (Although she is from Michigan, home to the greatest percentage of Muslim Americans, so at least the rest of her chum-bucket white-flight panic has an origin story.)

When staring at someone who looks like she was cut early from auditions for the mom on That '70s Show, the fact that "The Shariah Threat" reads like a book report suddenly explains itself. Ordinarily, her substantially relying on "non-fiction" by Dick Morris to prove her point would seem merely vile. In fact, relying on Dick Morris for anything other than "showing what poisonous shit Harvey Fierstein would have turned into if you'd locked him back in the closet," is not merely vile but also moronic. But here, Kathy's leaning on old Dickie-Bird just feels like camp, like the sweet old retiree lady who has an old gentleman friend and doesn't know what "fag hag" means.

But this is getting ahead of things a little bit. Although, at over 3,000 words, "The Shariah Threat" is far too long to merit a full Fire Joe Morgan treatment, let's look at some of the finer bits of scaremongering analysis and disingenuous "I'm just asking questions!" framing that make this the most life-altering 10th-grade civics report anyone has ever cribbed out of four or five library books:

A judge refuses a protection order for a woman raped by her Muslim husband, ruling the man’s abuse is allowed under Shariah law.... [This] occurred recently in the United States.
Kathy Jessup opens with a bang, and it's a great lede. The above ellipsis separates a lot of terrifying one-line facts and the ominous conclusion that these things happened in America. Less felicitous for Kathy's psychological pantsing of the USA is the fact that the above judicial ruling was immediately reversed on appeal and derided. As a proof of creeping Sharia presence in the United States, it sucks. As proof of the justice inherent in American due process and its refusal to subjugate criminal and civil law to a First Amendment violation of the provision against an establishment of religion, it's fantastic.

This really is the perfect lede in every way. Divorced of actual context — i.e. presented in the ideal format for any conservative ready to judge something that the creepy Darth Vader picture and the title word "threat" already tells him he should hate — it emotionally motivates with stunning ease. When fleshed out to tell the full story, it impeaches the thesis of her entire article. If you've got something else to do, you can literally stop here. This is the case for, and against, the GOP Sharia Threat talking point in 31 words. That's it. We're done.

Can or should Shariah law co-exist with the Judeo-Christian foundations of U.S. jurisprudence and the Constitution? Will imposition of Islamic-based edicts, enabled by so-called religious tolerance and political correctness, open the door to radical forms of the religion in Western democracies?
Here's an answer: no. Further answer: ahahaha, fuck no.

Apart from the slimy insinuation that political correctness is an oppressive rather than inclusive and positive policy, there's really no point to this paragraph other than the line, "The Judeo-Christian foundations of U.S. jurisprudence and the Constitution." Kathy's argument and her audience need her to question-beg the notion that America is a "Judeo-Christian nation" for a couple of reasons. One, it validates their attitudes. Two, it immediately excuses the rest of her article from being a factual abortion. If we accept that America is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian nation, then it stands to reason that any form of Islamic justice must be anathema, because it traduces the immutable word of Our God about what America is.

Kathy begs the question about our nation's foundational legal concepts because any open examination explodes every feelgood "USness" that emanates from her subsequent words and only accidentally validates "THEMness." Even forgetting that the word "God" appears nowhere in the Constitution, and even after conceding the abominably dumb notion that this is a Christian nation, it does nothing to eliminate our legal and moral antecedents from pre-Christians like the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and Frankish tribal/common law (inherited by England, forming our common law precedent), to say nothing of the Arabian scholars who inherited the writings of Aristotle and passed them on to the West, along with the glosses of their philosophers. Fuck, even Mr. Laffer Curve himself acknowledges that ibn-Khaldun beat him to the concept of reducing taxation on the producing classes to increase revenues.

In fact, merely taking the above quotation on its own terms doesn't make any sense. Judeo-Christian legal foundations can't actually preclude the inclusion of parts of Sharia, since Islam itself acknowledges its reliance on the history of Hebrew prophets (of whom Jesus is considered one) and considers both faiths to be "of the book." If Judeo-Christian foundations that Sharia shares are ipso facto good, then aspects of Sharia must be as well, since it rests on them too. Kathy would then have to start making legal distinctions that take into account these facts, but then that would wander dangerously into the realm of history, which is where Real Things Happened.

A growing number of states are drafting constitutional amendments to prohibit state judges from applying Islamic or international law in deciding cases. But even the 70 percent of voters who passed Oklahoma’s measure in November hasn’t settled the issue for Sooners.
"That's because something called 'due process' has been set into motion, whereby those seeking to redress errors made in creating laws then appeal to courts to rule on those laws, within the parameters of legality established by this country's legal precedent. As you can see, this only lays the groundwork for theocracy. We start carpet bombing universities at 05:00. No one will be awake then."

When the director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) challenged the amendment in court, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction, ruling the amendment could be interpreted to single out Shariah law and discredit Islam, violating the First Amendment.
This is the second point at which this article should have ended, because it has reached its natural, legal conclusion.

Kathy then goes on to mention a bunch of really scary countries that employ Sharia law as civil and criminal law. It's worth noting that, apart from Iran, they're all America's unquestioned allies and exactly the sorts of countries that, as soon as we aren't talking about SPOOKY SHARIA, are countries we can't consider important enough bulwarks against the bad sorts of Arabs. This is what's great about GOP Terror '12: when you're talking about energy or Middle East security policy to people who don't live in cities but think they're the next bomb target anyway, Saudi Arabia can't be a better friend; when you're trying to scare those same people shitless about domestic policy, Saudi Arabia on American Soil couldn't be a more dire vision of tyranny and contempt for humanity. Then again, these are the same people who revere Ronald Reagan, a man who wouldn't even survive a Republican primary today.

Then she tells some scary anecdotes about Muslims who did terrible things in accordance with Sharia law and were then punished by the United States' criminal justice system, in accordance with United States criminal law, before resting at this damning statistic:

The deaths of at least 10 women in the United States and Canada have been linked to so-called Islamic “honor killings” in the last seven years.
The problem has gotten so bad in the last seven years that it has happened to (weasel word alert) at least ten women. In the United States.

And Canada.

That's some devastating stuff the Muslims are doing, once we add Canada. They got up to the minimum number required for double digits.

On the other hand, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, whose job is to track drug abuse and criminal-justice statistics for research and funding purposes, notes that 1,000-1,600 women in the United States are killed by their male partners every year. So, let's crunch the numbers, and let's be generous. Let's say that, over seven years, those 10 "honor killings" all took place in the United States and were all Sharia-related deaths and not, in fact, contemptible religious excuses for murders that had other motivations. Let's then also take the NCJRS' lower annual estimate of women murdered by their male partners in America. That yields a ratio of 1 "Sharia" killing to 700 other domestic murders of women. That's 6,990 more women killed by things that are "Not Sharia."

But criminalizing being a Muslim of deep faith is easier than the alternatives. It's more politically expedient. Muslims scare more voters; Arabs don't look white, and fusing the idea of race and religion together makes us huddle in a monochromatically American fear-based voting bloc. Besides, even if one were to play off the liberal assumption of where all these women's domestic deaths come from, no American liberal honestly following civil libertarian precepts would consider it constitutional or reasonable to criminalize NASCAR and domestic canned beer. As for the American conservative assumption of where all these domestic deaths come from and how to correct them — well, Federal legislation guarantees that they can't criminalize "black people" again, so they're shit out of luck.

Kathy follows this up with a lot of vague financial hand-wringing about zakat, which she doesn't seem to understand, as well as neat stuff about how some Middle East investments went to groups that were labeled as terrorist-funding by the US government. This is real, heady living-history stuff if you've never done any history work pertaining to the United States in the last century and run up against comical intelligence classifications of secrecy and enemy status. It's even laughable if you've lived anywhere in Florida in the last 10 years and watched the full might and fury of the Federal justice system and domestic intelligence apparatus fight a nobody professor at a mediocre college to a humiliating standstill. Terrorist funders. Neat.

To her credit as a campfire nightmare-spinner, Kathy mentions Hamas and Hezbollah. Also to her credit, she doesn't mention how over 90% of Hamas' activity involves social-welfare actions for people living in a hellhole cordoned off by an ethnocracy that is condoned by religious justice. Parallels and sympathy and perspective have no place in the global jihad against jihad.

In a 2008 article titled “Jihad Comes to Wall Street,” Alex Alexiev, vice president for research at the Center for Security Policy, called Shariah-compliant investing “an essential part of radical Islam’s efforts to insinuate itself into Western societies in order to destroy them from within.” ... Dow Jones severed ties with Usmani after the Center for Security Policy detailed some of Usmani’s writings... The CSP identified another paid Shariah investment advisor, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
What a sad fate Bowling-Shoe Mom's book report has come to. First it was question-begging right-wing "constitutional" boilerplate. Then it was Dick Morris' deep-throating rasp. Now it's the Center for Security Policy. The CSP represents the stone hard luck of the well-funded right-wing echo-chamber blogger just looking for the big important break. No matter how hard she tries, she'll run up against the fact that she's quoting someone from the essential-flame foundation who can't even accuse Barack Obama of being Satan without failing. Or, worse, she'll throw down the "YOU'RE A RADICAL MUSLIM" charge against someone, on the Center for Security Policy's recommendation, because he might know or be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Does the terrorist know Grover Norquist personally???? Those crazy Islams are everywhere, Islammin' it up.

Janet Levy, a prolific writer on Islam and national security, asks why Islam “is sacred, supreme and beyond reproach” in the United States, while other religions are “freely criticized, lampooned in cartoons and denigrated in artwork?” She concludes America is already embracing de facto Shariah law.
Why is it that the blacks get BET (Black Entertainment Television), but if we started WET, we'd be the racists? When will white people get their own TV channels? Why is it that I can't call black people the N-word, but they can? And what about kike? I hear my Jewish friends say that to each other, too, but it's bad when I say it? It's just a word! It's like they seem to think half a millennium of unparalleled material prosperity and global dominance for us white people, coupled with the enslavement of blacks for our benefit, and a nearly complete genocide against the Jews (on top of centuries of pogroms and exploitation) has made it so that we have to sit down and shut up when other people get a totally economically and historically insignificant advantage over us in conversation or social situations! THAT'S NOT FAIR.

This existential panic is of a piece with Kathy's introductory bits about the horrors of political correctness. In Levy's and her conception, political correctness is an oppressor's tool. It doesn't try to prevent bigoted, hateful or exclusionary language by trying to find terms that each ethnic and religious group can admit are, at worst, non-insulting. Instead, it follows the GOP boilerplate of transforming universal respect into a totalitarian program whereby white people are kept down by "elites" and "the man," who just have it in for old whitey.

Here's something fun, though: Janet Levy is such a prolific writer on Islam and national security that you would have to hunt to find her on the internet. She's so prolific that her credentials are a mystery. Her archive of columns and articles on her Islam and national security brief is apparently strung throughout the internet, in a series of re-blogs by forgettable and virtually content-free conservative copy-paste fests. In fact, one of the few concrete things she's done is show up on this Youtube video, speaking to The Social Contract Press. What's a Social Contract Press? God knows. But its founder was profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a virulent nativist with ties to neo-Nazis and personal endorsements for eugenics. Not terribly surprising why he wanted to hear from Janet Nobody on the state of praying beards that can't stop erupting into bombs.

Anyway, the important point is that political correctness is ruining America.

Something also gets jumbled in the translation when East/West cultures talk about democracy and its relationship with religion.
Right as we near the home stretch of the book report, we find out that Kathy doesn't understand what words mean. She cites polls of Egyptian citizens who overwhelmingly want democracy but also want some form of established Sharia on personal conduct. She literally does not understand that these desires, when demonstrated by a majority, are not inconsistent with democracy. She thinks that the Bill of Rights is democracy, when it's nothing of the sort. It's a list of abridgements of the power of a republic, to which a nation has consented. That nations are different things is, well, totally foreign to her worldview. In reality, democracy is just a tool, a vector for cultural and philosophical values, not some mythologized storehouse of them. In her mind, modern GOP social and political standards are indivisible from a general concept of "democracy." (Never you mind that a constitutional originalist will point out that our republican democracy was founded on the idea that she couldn't vote, many men couldn't vote, and black people just sure weren't full people yet. Whatever. Democracy is timeless, like Stevie Nicks and herpes.)

To her, the idea that Egyptians might want a democracy and an establishment of religion is mutually contradictory, despite the fact that the two conditions don't actually address the same concerns. But don't stop there. You might miss the money-shot. After coming so far by faithfully cribbing shit-for-brains ideas from academic nobodies, she feels that she's finally built up enough factual credibility to bury an op-ed at the end of the piece and get away with it:

The U.S. Constitution does not assign superiority to a particular religion. However, the idea that liberty is man’s God-given—not government-granted—right is a Judeo-Christian principle. America is exceptional because the people—regardless of how or whether they embrace God—allow government limited power.
Wow, that's a lot of bad thinking for so few words! But that's what's cool about being dumb: it's a part-time job. Learning by reading is a lifetime commitment, but staring into the magic mirror on Romper Room to spy on what Thomas Jefferson was doing in private can occupy as much time as the space between commercial breaks. Let's look at those dumb words, but add things that are terrifying to dumb people—numbers.

1. "The idea that liberty is man’s God-given—not government-granted—right is a Judeo-Christian principle."
A complete conceptual dog's breakfast. We could make an argument about how Christ told us to render all unto Caesar (an emperor) that which was his, because worldly concerns were irrelevant. We could mention how the "Judeo" part of the Bible is riddled with kings and completely bereft of Knessets. We could talk about the Christianization of the Roman and Byzantine empires, where slavery was accepted. We could talk about the 12th-17th century conception of a Divine Right of Kings, where men were considered obliged to live in service to a figure who originated and radiated all law, to say nothing of previous centuries of less codified feudal variations on the same theme. We could talk about nascent ideas of liberty that tied the worth of a man's labor and voice to his land ownership. Old Tom Paine made a hash of that, but no one really listened to him then, and he was an atheist anyway. So much for God-given rights. Then there's that whole problem of Judeo-Christians enamored of liberty and enslaving people, despite God's gift of liberty. And Jim Crow, too. It's really funny, because the people they were keeping down really love God. But whatever. This point makes no sense.

2. "America is exceptional because...."
If the land of America were really an exceptional place, then the people who were here before white assholes wouldn't have been exterminated in one of the most systematic and disgusting genocides in human history. There's nothing more exceptional to America than these three things:
it's full of natural resources;
it's bordered by about 12,000 miles of oceans, keeping other people out;
the people who were already here were really easy to kill.
The next time a friend tries to tell you that America is an "exceptional" place, take him to a graveyard full of Indian names, then show him a picture of a dude who lives in Marseilles and who blogged about fucking your friend's wife, then tell him to row a boat over there to beat Frenchy up. What makes America so singular gets a lot clearer.

3. "The people—regardless of how or whether they embrace God—allow government limited power."
Here, at the last, we find yet another point at which the article should have stopped, Mom Cub Reporter should have gone home, and the whole idea should have been abandoned. If this last precept she holds dear is true, then every looming menace described in "The Shariah Threat" is false, a vapor, clutching gnarled hands that a wind dispels and reveals to be a branch's shadow on the bedroom wall.

It's tough to come this far writing an article shallower and less informative about Sharia than its Wikipedia entry. It's tougher, too, to think you can credibly shoehorn editorializing into the final grafs. But it's damn near impossible for anyone who's not an earth-shattering dimwit to introduce a last-minute opinion about the fundamental nature of the American polity that not only makes establishing Sharia impossible, it also completely precludes outlawing it too.

For more on this topic, please continue to "INFOGRAPHIC: 'IS THE SHARIA THREAT REAL?'"