This post has been updated.
Over at the Nation, I have a piece out about the intra-conservative battles over Islamophobia at CPAC:
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual three-day parade of GOP presidential hopefuls delivering paeans to God, country and capitalism, was this year embroiled in a full-scale, intra-party religious war. The conservative movement, according to a group of Islamophobic activists, has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood, which they claim supports Sharia, “a supremacist program that justifies the destruction of Christian churches and parishioners” and “the replacement of our constitutional republic…with a theocratic Islamic caliphate governing according to shari’ah.”
That charge came straight out of a flyer handed to me by Krista Hughes, an employee of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), whose president Frank Gaffney is one of the principal ringleaders in the rightwing propaganda campaign to strike fear in Americans’ hearts that a fifth column of Muslim extremists seeks to subvert America from within.
At CPAC, Gaffney’s chief target is Suhail Khan, a former Republican House staffer, Bush administration political appointee and current Senior Fellow at an evangelical think tank focused on religious freedom.
RD readers will be familiar with the Frank Gaffney vs. Suhail Khan battle, which I reported on in January. (UPDATE: I’ve uploaded a copy of the ugly flyer Hughes was passing out.) As I discuss in the piece, there was one official and explicitly Islamophobic panel at the conference, the essential premise of which was that shari’ah law is coming to America, beware, beware! The panel included former CIA director James Woolsey, activist-scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and National Review contributor Andrew McCarthy — whose book, How Obama Embraces Islam’s Shari’ah Agenda, was peddled in CPAC’s exhibit hall. On the panel, McCarthy argued, among other things, that “in Islamist ideology, shari’ah is deemed to be the necessary precondition for islamicizing a society . . . . that’s the game plan.”
At one point during the question and answer session, an audience member asked how close was America to being subjected to “shari’ah law,” and did we need a party like Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party in the Netherlands?
In his answer, McCarthy said he was an admirer of the incendiary, far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant Wilders, who has likened the Qur’an to Mein Kampf. Although Wilders’ Freedom Party had one goal of banning the burqa, McCarthy nonetheless suggested that the U.S. should be be “like France” and ban the burqa. Instead, he maintained, the way to “fight” shari’ah (or what he perceives it to be) is to “make them defend it… if you make them defend it, they will be marginalized, and we won’t have to worry about shrari’ah taking over America.” Watch:
Listen to what McCarthy is saying: we’re not France, we wouldn’t ban anything, we’ll only marginalize our fellow citizens based on my own imaginary understanding of what shari’ah law is. He claimed that “there are five or six major tenets of shari’ah that are completely antithetical to American constitutional democracy,” but those “tenets” are based on his propaganda, not scholarship.
As Khan told me in an interview during CPAC, supporters of measures like shari’ah bans “are being sold a false narrative [that] Islam is a threat and that Muslims seek to impose either secretly or overtly a Taliban-like, religious, strict religious code upon all Americans, which is ridiculous.” Honor killings, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and other abuses are “un-Islamic,” he said, adding that there is “no debate among serious Muslim scholars about that.”
As far as fear-mongering that that Muslims seek to supplant the Constitution with shari’ah, Khan noted, “there is room for individual religious practice under the First Amendment and that includes personal and private contracts which can be based on any manner of law including religious law as long as it is consistent with local and state law and the U.S. Constitution.” Jewish law can apply to prenuptial agreements, Khan added, and noted that “if you join Promise Keepers, you agree to arbitrate via Christian arbitration, and that is consistent with the law.”
As I noted in the Nation piece, the anti-shari’ah panel was an “official” CPAC event in large ballroom; it was well-attended and the audience seemed keyed in on the panel’s agitprop. When none other than the former director of intelligence worries aloud about the “creeping erosion of our rights,” the CPAC audience sits up and listens. And they were also listening to someone who thinks that a far-right nationalist in Europe is someone to admire.