Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Warshal: Sharia law and anti-Islam animus

11:54 a.m. EST, January 24, 2012
The conservative Center for Security Policy recently issued a warning that Sharia law was being implemented in American courts. Its spokesperson said that Islamic religious demands are arriving mostly through rulings involving cases where foreigners are the principals and he commented that "Sharia enters U.S. courts through the practice of comity to foreign law."

I shall discuss comity in a moment, but first let me share with you the reaction to this assertion regarding Sharia law. The wonder of the Internet is that it allows reader reaction. There were 237 postings the day that I received this email. Here are some examples: any judge within the United States who invokes the use of any foreign laws should be locked up for treason; wake the hell up America; not only is Sharia not the law of the United States of America, it is the law of the Devil and against the law of God; and my favorite, sent in capital letters — ELIMINATE ALL MUSLIMS THAT ARE FORCING ISLAMIC LAWS AND THEIR DEATH CULT RELIGION.

This hysteria is fueled by conservative politicians. Newt Gingrichhas called for a federal law outlawing Sharia law, declaring, "Sharia law is a moral threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it." Such a law has been proposed in the House of Representatives (H.R. 973). The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed a law that states that Sharia promotes "the destruction of the national existence of the United States." More than a dozen other states are considering a similar law.

Now it's time to discuss the concept of comity to foreign law. The United States has no bilateral treaty, nor is it a signatory to any international convention that requires our courts to recognize or enforce foreign judgments or laws. However, an American court can enforce a foreign judgment if it feels that it is compatible with American standards of fairness and procedural legitimacy. An example: An Israeli couple living in America can enforce a divorce decree from a religious court in 
Israel based on Jewish law or aSaudi couple can enforce a divorce decree from a religious court in Saudi Arabia based on Sharia law — if, and this is a most important if, the court decides that either divorce decree is reasonable based on American legal standards.

Another way that Sharia law legitimately can be implemented in American courts is through the use of arbitration. Arbitration is often used in business disputes to avoid expensive and time-consuming court litigation. Both parties agree to be bound by the arbitrator's decision and such decisions can be enforced by a court of law. Two Muslims can decide to use a court that applies Sharia business standards and its decision would be enforceable under the American legal system. There is nothing sinister here. It's their business dispute and it's their American right to decide it as they wish.

I am compelled to share with you a piece written on the blog TPM (Talking Points Memo) by Josh Marshall: "In our investigation into the growth of Sharia Law in the USA we came across some surprising findings. Numerous American cities now have one or more Muslim religious courts in operation where believers go to adjudicate family law disputes, real estate transactions and various other matters according to Sharia law by binding arbitration. These religious court verdicts can then be enforced by civilian American courts. Various states have also passed laws to codify Muslim dietary laws, though a few of these laws have been struck down. And numerous national corporations now process foods to suit Muslim dietary standards. Finally, one jurisdiction in New York has been settled entirely by devout Muslims: no candidates run for office except those approved by the local imam; road signs in the town are all printed in both English and Arabic; and various local practices have been brought into line with Sharia.

"Actually, there's one detail I didn't mention. The law here isn't Sharia; it's Halakhah, Jewish religious law. And all of the above are true if you change 'Muslim' to 'Jewish' and 'Arabic' to 'Hebrew.' (Actually, Yiddish written in the Hebrew script, to be specific.)"

Marshall then comments: "All true. And yet I think it's a pretty good example of the fact that the kinds of things (with Muslims) that are supposed to make us run around with our hair on fire, are already happening and have been for decades with Jews and no one seems to care because, frankly, why should they?"

The American Muslim community is predominantly middle class, eschews terrorism and votes Democratic. (Maybe that's the reason the Republican conservatives target it) A recent poll by the highly respected Pew Research Center shows that Muslims exhibit the highest level of integration among major American religious groups, expressing greater degrees of tolerance toward people of other faiths than do Protestants, Catholics or Jews. It also indicated that nearly 80 percent of American Muslims rate their communities a good place to live, despite the existence of anti-Islamic rhetoric. This highlights the absurdity of anti-Sharia law agitation.

Not only do we do an injustice to American Muslims, but we do harm to America. The Yale historian Eliyahu Stern has written: "In the 20th century we thrived by promoting a Judaic-Christian ethic, respecting differences and accentuating commonalities among Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Today, we need an Abrahamic ethic that welcomes Islam into the religious tapestry of American life. Anti-Sharia legislation fosters a hostile environment that will stymie the growth of America's tolerant strand of Islam. The continuation of America's pluralistic religious tradition depends on the ability to distinguish between punishing groups that support terror and blaming terrorist activities on a faith that represents roughly a quarter of the world's population."

In less academic and more visceral terms this sentiment was expressed by a local Muslim, as reported by theSun Sentinel, in response to Congressman Alan West's attack on Islam: "It's sleazy politics to whip up fear of Muslims. It's a dirty, sleazy tactic to attack a religion."

Since I am writing in a Jewish newspaper, I cannot conclude without mentioning a recent study by the Center for American Progress which shows that seven foundations have spent more than $40 million in the last 10 years to spread misinformation about Muslim Americans. The Forward editorially commented, "And who leads those efforts? Far too many Jews." It goes on to name Pamela Geller, David Yerushalmi, Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson, who even criticized 
President George W. Bush and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for being soft on Muslims.

Neocon Jews, a small percentage of our community, bring disgrace upon our liberal Jewish traditions, and they do so under the misguided belief that by denigrating Islam they somehow support Israel. And yet these people are invited to speak in synagogues (primarily Orthodox) and at Jewish Federation functions and are accorded respect. They should be labeled what they actually are: Hate mongers. There is no place in Judaism for that.

Rabbi Warshal is the publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal and the author of "Provocative Columns: A Liberal Rabbi Reflects on Beliefs, Israel and American Politics." He can be reached atbrucewarshal@comcast.net.

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