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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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The New York Times And Shariah Law

The Jewish Press has regularly noted the efforts of the politically correct crowd to place concerns about Muslim fundamentalism beyond the reach of normal discourse. Thus we had something to say about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s claim that any questioning of the efforts to build a mosque at ground zero was ipso facto bigoted and violated the sponsors’ right to free speech.

 

We have also contrasted the tendency of some in political and media circles to resist linking Muslim perpetrators of various violent crimes to the teachings of Islam with the haste exhibited in presumptively tying non-Muslim perpetrators with right-wing or Christian zealotry.

 

And we have expressed dismay over efforts to delegitimize as incendiary the investigative hearings of Congressman Peter King into the possible role of American Muslim insularity in promoting homegrown terrorism.

 

We haven’t yet addressed the growing concern across America with attempts to insinuate Sharia (Muslim religious) law into our legal system. To be sure, our courts have occasionally sought guidance from other legal systems in analyzing problems and they enforced decisions of religious courts sitting as arbitration panels when agreed to by the parties as long as the legal rules do not violate fundamental American values.

 

Although Shariah law is often profoundly inconsistent with U.S. law and values, there is a growing phenomenon of courts applying Sharia law to Muslim litigants without prior agreement – and this has created a firestorm of debate.

 

Perhaps not unexpectedly, The New York Times has now weighed in with a major story not addressing the issue but instead pooh-poohing its significance.

 

This past Sunday the Times ran a front page story headlined “Behind an Anti-Shariah Push/ Orchestrating a Seemingly Grass-Roots Campaign.” Centrally pictured was one David Yerushalmi, replete with yarmulke and beard. The caption read, “David Yerushalmi has quietly led a national movement.”

 

In pertinent part, here is what the Times story had to say:

 

Tennessee’s latest woes include high unemployment, continuing foreclosure and a battle over collective-bargaining rights for teachers. But when a Republican representative took the Statehouse floor during a recent hearing, he warned of a new threat to his constituents’ way of life: Islamic law .Similar warnings are being issued across the country as Republican presidential candidates, elected officials and activists mobilize against what they describe as the menace of Islamic law in the United States.

 

Since last year, more than two dozen states have considered measures to restrict judges from consulting Shariah, or foreign and religious laws more generally. The statutes have been enacted in three states so far .

 

A confluence of factors has fueled the anti-Shariah movement, most notably the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York, concerns about homegrown terrorism and the rise of the Tea Party. But the campaign’s air of grass-roots spontaneity, which has been carefully promoted by advocates, shrouds its more deliberate origins.

 

            In fact, it is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah .

 

The Times story went on to opine (and remember, this is a news story, not an editorial) without any substantiation:

 

           Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.

 

So for the Times, the focus on Shariah law is at best a diversion from the real concerns of our nation. No matter that “more than two dozen states” have adopted legislation addressing broad uneasiness about resort to Shariah law. And in any event, the worrisome nature of Shariah law is only the narrow work product of some Jewish guy in Crown Heights.

 

We suggest it does no one any favors to ignore the special challenge to our country posed by Islamic fundamentalists who seek a transformation of America into their image.

             This is an unprecedented, but not a necessarily insurmountable, problem. It would help if institutions like The New York Times, rather than hide behind an impenetrable fa?ade of political correctness, would begin facing up to reality.

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