Explaining Shariah Law, From One Neocon to Another

Paul Woodward of War in Context posts this video of an interview that Glenn Beck conducted at the end of August with neoconservative Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, the organization that authored a recent report titled, “Shariah: The Threat to America:”

Gaffney, who has said that President Obama “may be” a Muslim and who fancies himself as an expert on Islam apparently, defines shariah as “a political program that the authorities of Islam have long believed, a millennium or so, must be imposed over the entire world, to be ruled by a theocracy, a caliph and to impose Shariah as the rules.”

Well, not really.  Lee Smith, who himself is an ardent supporter of Israel and a fellow at the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, had an surprisingly informative piece in Tablet magazine in mid-August, responding to the right’s fulminations over the creeping “threat” of shariah coming to America (if anyone can recommend a better explanation from a non-neocon source, please do so in the comments section) :

Sharia is not a concrete legal code; it is the idealized notion of God’s law. Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word “sharia” necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhummad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition…

If to Gingrich sharia stands for everything wrong with Islam, Muslims associate it with all that is best about Islam—justice, accountability, the rule of law, and even democracy. That is to say, it’s a highly idealized version of reality that has little basis in fact. For most Muslims (moderate and non-moderate alike), sharia is a catchall phrase for legal principles that have rarely, if ever, existed in actual Muslim societies, where the law of the land is not God’s but the ruler’s. It is not abstract notions of “sharia” but the actual application of the ahkam al-sultaniyya, or laws of the ruler, that have shaped the reality of most Muslim societies over the last millennium.

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