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The latest fairy tale to emerge from the paranoid right is the idea that the United States legal system is haunted by the specter of Shariah law. Although strict Islamic legal codes are the rare exception even among Muslim-majority nations, anti-Muslim groups and individuals — including well-known politicians like Newt Gingrich — are now warning with straight faces that mullahs could soon be caning American schoolchildren if they get caught chewing gum.
Among the groups decrying this make-believe threat, a relatively new organization called Veterans Against Jihad (VAJ) seems particularly well positioned to benefit from the current Shariah hysteria. Founded last spring by two retired Marine Corps veterans, the goal of VAJ is to “to encourage Veterans to more actively respond to challenges threatening our Constitution [and] awaken American Citizens to Islam’s Jihadist religious mandate, which dictates the teaching of Shari’ah law, and how Shari’ah Law will impact our way of life.”
Toward this end, the group is asking all veterans to “renew and retake The Oath of Enlistment, reaffirming their loyalty to our Constitution, our Country and it’s [sic] citizens.” But the VAJ’s understanding of that loyalty is an unusual one; its manifesto specifies the kinds of orders its members can respect as well as what sort of authority it deems legitimate. The VAJ code promises only to cooperate with those officials “legally enforcing, and/or preserving our nation’s security.” Judging from the VAJ site, it is clear the group does not consider that the current Democratic White House fits the bill.
The VAJ’s distaste for religiously flavored law, however, is selective. Among the far-right groups and individuals linked to on its site is Reclaim America for Christ, which is on a mission to “educate our pastors, legislators, educators, students and all citizens as to the truth about America’s Christian Heritage and the role of fundamental, Biblical Christianity in the establishment and function of our legal, legislative and educational systems.”
While the VAJ works to protect America from Allah and reclaim it for Christ, it sees the menace of Shariah everywhere, including law firms that offer consultations on the (private) intricacies of Islamic estate planning. But as this article in the New Jersey Jewish News notes (referenced in this Eugene Robinson column), there has in the entire history of the republic been only one instance of an actual crime (domestic abuse) being forgiven by a U.S. judge on grounds of “Islamic practices” — and this ruling was swiftly overturned by another judge.
“Talk of Shariah law taking root in our country is just a way of stirring up nativist fears,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It would require throwing out the entire Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. Obviously, no such effort would have the remotest chance of success.”