The Buzz

The Politics of Sharia

Seldom do we see non-sequiturs as stark as the lead in Mohamad Bazzi’s New York Times book review of Sadakat Kadri’s Heaven on Earth: A Journey through Shari’a Law From the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World. Bazzi, a New York University journalism professor, says America has “succumbed to a peculiar form of Shariah-phobia” stirred by fears that Muslim immigrants will agitate for consideration of Islamic law in U.S. jurisprudence and otherwise seek to supplant Western ways with Islamic conventions. “According to this narrative,” he writes, “[a] caliphate will rise on the ashes of the Constitution, Americans will be forced to pray in mosques and judges will mete out stonings and amputations.” He then quotes Newt Gingrich decrying what he sees as a stealth effort on the part of domestic jihadis to push Sharia law in America. 

Then comes the non-sequitur: “To Gingrich and his supporters, Shariah is a monolithic system of medieval codes, set in stone and bent on world domination. But…Sadakat Kadri challenges the notion that Shariah is based solely on cruelty and punishment.” The book, he explains, explores two distinct versions of Sharia law—one austere and harsh, the other more tolerant.

But it doesn’t really matter which version of Sharia we’re talking about. Either one, if pushed into American cultural and legal institutions, represents a cultural clash on the American home front. With his straw-man argument and non-sequitur ploy, Bazzi subtly debunks the notion that there might be a real issue here. 

He notes that Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the use of Islamic law in legal proceedings, and, while a federal court blocked the amendment, other states have considered such legislation. The question raised by such actions and concerns is whether there really is an issue in America regarding the insertion of alien principles into American customs and procedures. We know that in Europe, where the Muslim population is considerably larger in relative terms than here, such matters stir serious cultural frictions. Bazzi’s use of a book review to debunk that concern is clever—but ultimately transparent.