I read with great interest both Matthew Schmitz’s attack on the anti-sharia movement and Andrew Bostom’s response. As a JAG officer who lived in the crosshairs of sharia during my deployment and as a civilian lawyer who works to defeat Islamic “lawfare” against the United States and Israel, I feel like I’ve seen some version of this debate dozens of times. I must confess that I grow weary of statements like Schmitz’s “anti-Muslim bigots and their public apologists must be vigorously opposed by Americans who recognize the value of a religious voice in the public square . . .” We can have a debate about the nature and extent of the sharia threat without resorting to the “b-word.” And I’ve never met an anti-sharia activist who failed to recognize the “value of a religious voice in the public square.” In fact, much of the motivation for their activism is maintaining a robust religious voice. Travel where sharia reigns (like my little corner of Iraq during the surge), and the last thing you’ll find is any kind of religious liberty.
At any rate, I think that Mr. Schmitz would agree that there exists a vicious, violent, and totalitarian form of sharia that motivates, empowers, and even compels the conduct of our jihadist enemies and their sympathizers. I would agree with Mr. Schmitz that the chances of this form of sharia becoming formalized in the U.S. are quite remote. But it hardly follows that the efforts of anti-sharia activists are destructive.
First, we have to understand our enemy. That means understanding his laws, customs, and goals — including goals (like sharia domination in the U.S.) that they’re highly unlikely to achieve. As we saw on September 11, even a small number of radicals can accomplish great disruption in our national life and destroy the lives of thousands.
Second, we have to understand the enemy’s reach. This is the primary point of domestic ideological conflict, with many millions of Americans — raised from infancy on the mother’s milk of relativism and multiculturalism — desperate to believe that jihadism (and the sharia that motivates jihadists and accompanies their rule) is the product of a “few extremists.” Yet if the democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring are teaching us anything, aren’t they teaching us that Islamism and its variants are in fact quite popular across vast reaches of the Muslim world? Ask Egypt’s Copts how democracy is working for them. Ask non-Israeli Middle Eastern Jews (if you can find them anymore) whether there’s widespread respect for tolerance or liberty in the Muslim world.
Third, we have to deal with the enemy. Rather than applauding American institutions for responding with military and legal restraint in the face of at least 33 years of jihadist aggression (since at least the Iranian hostage crisis), too many Americans wish to label as “bigots” those who have a less idealistic view not merely of our enemies but also of Islam itself. Laws like the one passed in Kansas (text here) are in fact rather benign and provide minimal intrusion into the freedom of contract — operating, as a practical matter, only to prevent extreme outcomes that would potentially also violate common-law protections against contract terms that violate public policy.
In defending religious liberty (the other prime focus of my civilian career), we have to be careful not to idealize religion. Without question, Islam has an extraordinarily widespread problem with radicalism, sharia is a vital component of that problem, and we should be very, very careful about labeling as “bigots” those who seek to understand the problem and advocate a vigorous response.