The Crying Shariah Game: Groups Protest Hotel Cancellations

Anti-Muslim activists are crying Shariah again – this time, over the separate decisions of hotels in two cities to cancel anti-Muslim conferences and a former Maryland state lawmaker’s call for the cancellation of a third.

Yesterday, former Maryland lawmaker Saqib Ali issued an open letter condemning an upcoming conference sponsored by Maryland Conservative Action (MDCAN). “Instead of inviting legitimate conservative speakers, MDCAN has instead chosen speakers who are well-known conspiracy theorists, McCarthyites, racists and anti-Muslim fanatics,” Ali wrote in a letter endorsed by Muslim, Latino and LGBT rights groups.

True enough. Among those slated to speak at the conference are Frank Gaffney, who has called Islam “communism with a God”; disgraced former FBI agent turned “counterterrorism expert” John Guandolo, who according to National Public Radio falsely suggested that a Jordanian-American professor had links to terrorists during an Ohio training; and racist columnist Robert Stacy McCain, once identified as a member of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South.

“This [letter from Ali] is standard operating procedure for CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] and other Muslim Brotherhood front groups,” Gaffney told the conservative website Daily Caller. “They are trying to impose what are known as Shariah blasphemy laws, whereby anyone who says anything critical about Islam, no matter how true, is to be silenced. It is actually a capital offense.”

Arch-Islamophobe Pamela Geller said much the same thing last week after a Hyatt hotel in Sugar Land, Texas, cancelled her scheduled appearance after receiving phone calls about her history of anti-Muslim vitriol. “The Hyatt Place in Sugarland [sic] caved to Islamic pressure yesterday and agreed to enforce the blasphemy law under the sharia. Cowards. Dhimmis. Free speech, the cornerstone of our constitutional republic, is in serious jeopardy,” she wrote. (The Sugar Land event was rescheduled for a different venue and went on as planned.)

On Monday, a collection of anti-Muslim organizations learned that their “Preserving Freedom Conference,” which was supposed to take place in Nashville on Nov. 11, had been cancelled by the Hutton Hotel. Among the scheduled speakers are the ever-present Geller and her SOIA co-founder Robert Spencer; Frank Gaffney; Mathew Staver of the hard-line anti-gay Liberty Counsel (which, like many groups on the Christian Right, seems to be tacking anti-Muslim these days); and Tennessee Freedom Coalition founder Lou Ann Zelenik, who made a name for herself with her rabid opposition to the construction of a Muslim community center in Murfreesboro during a failed 2010 congressional bid.

Sponsors include SIOA, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, Joseph Farah’s far-right online publication World Net Daily (WND), and the ironically named Religious Freedom Coalition, which declares itself “dedicated to the equality of all mankind and the freedom of religious expression.” Among the co-sponsors are the Traditional Values Coalition (another relative newcomer to the anti-Shariah bandwagon that has long been listed by the SPLC as an anti-gay hate group); Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, which has been active in pushing anti-Shariah legislation; and Vision America, a network of “Patriot pastors and Patriot Partners” with a history of gay-bashing.

Stephen Eckley, a spokesman for Amerimar Enterprises, which owns the hotel, told The Tennessean that the hotel wouldn’t have booked the event “if this group had let us know what kind of program they were planning and who was involved.”

According to WND, Eckley cited “veiled threats that there were going to be protests that could easily erupt into violence.”

In response to the cancellation, the enraged Tennessee Freedom Coalition issued a press release calling for a boycott and claiming the Nashville hotel was denying “U.S. Christians, Jews and citizens their rights under the U.S. Constitution.” Brigitte Gabriel’s anti-Muslim ACT! for America and Judson Phillips’ Tea Party Nation – one of the most extreme factions of the tea party movement – also joined calls for a boycott.

World Net Daily, whose relationship with reality is flexible at best, is making the most of this new “threat.”

“I don't know how to state this any more plainly: Americans are in danger of losing their precious free-speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment due to pressure and intimidation by the Muslim Brotherhood,” WND founder Joseph Farah wrote Monday. “The ‘Muslim Mafia’ is winning – slowly, but surely, in imposing a kind of soft Shariah law on American society through fear and intimidation.”

The anti-Muslim groups’ talk of First Amendment violations – like most of what they say – is utter nonsense. There is no government censorship involved in a private hotel’s decision to not rent its space to someone.

“The first word of the First Amendment is Congress – ‘Congress shall make no law,’ which is broadly interpreted as meaning the federal government,” UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh told Hatewatch. “Private entities aren’t governed by the First Amendment.”

Volokh, a self-described “center-right, moderate libertarian conservative” who co-writes a legal blog called The Volokh Conspiracy, said that a boycott is also an expression of the First Amendment, one that “has long been a part of American free speech activities.”

That’s not enough for Pam Geller. In addition to her call for a boycott, the siren of anti-Shariah hysteria (who describes Muslims as “thugs” and “savages” even as she calls SIOA “one of America’s foremost organizations defending human rights, religious liberty, and the freedom of speech”) is demanding that the Sugar Land Hyatt “apologize for its capitulation to the enemies of freedom, and to hold sensitivity training sessions for all its employees to teach them the value of the freedom of speech and the truth about the jihad threat facing the U.S. and the West.”

It just so happens, Geller’s press release notes, that SIOA runs “diversity” trainings itself, to “help” “understand the jihad threat in all its different manifestations, including Islamic supremacist cultural initiatives to assert Islamic law and practice in the American workplace.”