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ROBINSON: The phantom sharia menace

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

Editor’s note: David Broder is on vacation. His column will resume next week.

Boy, one thing I really hate is when American judges try to impose harsh Islamic sharia law. You know, with all those grisly lashings, stonings and beheadings. What’s that you say? No such thing is happening, and you wonder where I got such a crazy idea? Why, Newt Gingrich told me.

On Saturday, speaking at the conservative Values Voter Summit, Gingrich issued a thunderous call for action against an imminent threat that exists only in his fevered imagination — or, perhaps, in his political machinations.

“We should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States,” Gingrich declared, to a standing ovation.

OK, but would this include Judge Judy? Because I’ve always suspected that when she gets really mad, and she snaps the heads off both the plaintiff and the defendant, she might be slipping a little sharia into the American subconscious — you know, preparing an unsuspecting nation for the real deal. Maybe we need another law that covers fake judges on daytime television, with punishments for violations that begin with flogging.

But seriously, folks, Newt said we have to halt the insidious encroachment of sharia law, and we have to halt it here and now. In July, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, he went on at great length about the supposed sharia menace, which he sees as part of a “stealth” campaign to impose Islam on all of us.

“Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools; violent jihadis use violence,” Gingrich said at the AEI. “But in fact they’re both engaged in jihad and they’re both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of sharia.”

He threw in a perfunctory disclaimer — that there is “a sharp distinction between those Muslims who live in the modern world and those Muslims who would radically change the modern world” — and then proceeded with a speech that essentially paints Islam as the new Red Menace. The “stealth jihadis,” I suppose, must be like the “known communists” on the list in Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hand.

Along the way, in the July speech, Gingrich painted liberals as a bunch of fellow travelers. “How we don’t have some kind of movement in this country on the left that understands that sharia is a direct mortal threat to virtually every value that the left has is really one of the most interesting historical questions,” he said.

Where to begin? First, I guess, by stating the obvious: There is no left-of-center movement dedicated to fighting the steady, stealthy insinuation of sharia into America’s legal system because no such thing is happening. Gingrich invents an enemy and then demands to know why others haven’t sallied forth to slay it.

Gingrich and the Islamophobes have found one solitary case to bolster their “sharia is here” theory. In June 2009, a family court judge in Hudson County, N.J., denied a restraining order to a woman who testified that her husband, a Muslim, had forced her to have non-consensual sex. Judge Joseph Charles Jr. said he did not believe the man “had a criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault” his wife because he was acting in a way that was “consistent with his practices.”

The judge was clearly in error, as a state appeals court ruled two months ago in reversing his decision. The man’s religious beliefs, the court ruled, do not exempt him from state laws. Thus ended the one and only instance of stealth sharia that anyone has been able to find.

Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, cited that case in a column last month blasting Gingrich’s “sharia-phobia.” Silow-Carroll pointed out two things: First, the system worked — the judge made a boneheaded call, and he was overturned. Second, our system already allows some civil matters — but not crimes — to be settled through other means of arbitration. “Among those alternative mechanisms is the beit din, or rabbinic law court,” Silow-Carroll wrote. “Every day, Jews go before batei din to arbitrate real estate deals, nasty divorces and business disputes.”

If Newt were aware of this, would he blow a gasket? Somehow, I doubt it. His objection seems to be faith-specific.

And his purpose seems to be political. If Muslim-bashing draws a rise — and apparently it does — then he’s not going to be outdone. Watch out, Judge Judy. He may be coming for you next.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. E-mail him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com.