The Non-Issue of Sharia

At a time when Western democracies face a terrible surge in terrorist attacks on their own soil perpetrated chiefly by radical Islamists of the al-Qaida and Islamic State brands, an American group has decided to organize protests against… Sharia.

Over the weekend, ACT for America staged marches and rallies in cities across the country to demand that Sharia, Islamic law, be banned in the United States. They claim that Muslims who abide by Sharia cannot be good Americans because Islam itself promulgates un-American beliefs and practices.

The ACT activists came armed not only with megaphones and angry anti-Sharia rhetoric, but with assault weapons as well. The message was undeniably provocative, and resulted, not surprisingly, in violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators in some places.

In St. Paul, Minneapolis, seven people were arrested during demonstrations at the state capitol, though no injuries were reported. In Seattle, police used pepper spray to “break up a large fight” and arrested three people.

In New York, nearly 100 people traded insults with a larger group of counter-protesters. The anti-Sharia demonstrators shouted “Commies” at their opponents, who shouted “Fascists!” back at them. Police barricades kept them apart.

Similar scenes were enacted in Chicago, Denver, Atlanta and elsewhere. Counter-demonstrators were better organized; they outnumbered (and presumably outshouted) the ACT activists.

The group’s leaders deny charges that they are anti-Muslim bigots. The official rhetoric is couched in political correctness: “We are not anti-Muslim. We are anti-radical Islam,” said a March Against Sharia speaker outside City Hall in Seattle.

However, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors the activities of hate groups nationwide, is not persuaded that ACT for America makes such fine distinctions. Heidi Beirich, a spokeswoman at the SPLC, said the group is meant to “defame Muslims and Islam as a whole. They spew hate,” she said.

And last week, ahead of the demonstrations, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups sent a joint letter to mayors of 29 cities urging them to denounce ACT.

Islamic terrorism is a real threat to America, Europe and Israel — everywhere it raises its head. The support for countering it with all available means — diplomatic, economic and military — is broad and getting broader all the time, as over and over again the terrorists make plain their intention to spread murder and mayhem at every possible opportunity.

Sharia, by comparison, is not an issue in the United States. Those who wish to live by Islamic law, to marry, conduct business or settle disputes in accordance with those religious beliefs, are entitled to do so under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

The fear that Sharia somehow threatens public safety, or may serve as a vehicle for Islamic takeover, is simply delusory.

ACT for America has proposed anti-Sharia law initiatives in some state legislatures. But such efforts are equally delusory, as legal experts have clearly said that neither Sharia nor any other religious law can override U.S. law. In the event they come into conflict — if, for example, an Islamic court rules one way and a U.S. court rules against it, legally the Islamic court has no standing whatsoever.

Furthermore, should a law be passed proscribing Sharia, it could then threaten the practice of other religions — Judaism, for one. If un-Americanism can be found in the religious laws of one group, and cause them to be outlawed, it can just as well be found in those of another and cause them to be outlawed.

Today, Jewish citizens are free to take their legal disputes to a beis din and settle them there, and as long as the parties sign an arbitration agreement (shtarei berurin) prior to the proceedings, in most cases the decision of a beis din is legally binding and recognized by U.S. courts. Anti-Sharia law could easily be extrapolated to anti-Torah law, chas v’shalom. It would add to the ever-present agitation against shechitah and bris milah.

Surely, ACT for America leaders have been informed of these legal realities. Why, then, do they persist in their campaign against Sharia?

Perhaps it’s because they cannot go into the legislatures and into the streets to campaign against Muslims as a group. They would risk much stronger condemnation and even prosecution for hate speech. They would forfeit the mantle of Americanism they so proudly wear.

To be anti-Sharia, on the other hand, sounds legitimate. Nothing against the people, you understand, only their un-American religious beliefs. This is especially effective given that most Americans have little or no knowledge of what Sharia contains, making it relatively easy to demonize.

But that, too, is un-American.