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Bills of Imitation: Who is Behind the Anti-Sharia Movement?

Brian Schultz • Apr 21, 2011

In a previous post, I discussed the Islamophobic sentiments that have recently swept the legislative corridor of the United States. Though it has become a common populist interest, this movement is certainly not a spontaneous phenomenon. Anti-Muslim arguments have gained popular traction through a number of groups and persons, but the most concerted effort has arisen from the network of affiliated lobbyists and policy writers at the helm of the anti-Sharia movement.

Composing its “grassroots” wing, Act! for America and its founder Brigitte Gabriel are arguably the most influential parties in this effort. Having established chapters all over the United States, Ms. Gabriel and her organization arrange speaking events and conferences for an American populace purportedly frustrated by the “tyranny of radical Islam.”

While it specializes in these on-the-ground efforts, Act! for America also includes a formal lobbying component; in 2010 it spent $45,000 coaxing voters to pass Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia referendum SQ 755, and another $30,000 while encouraging federal legislators to oppose “Shariah Compliant Finance transactions.”

Ms. Gabriel has shared a stage with—and vocally supported—U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC-9), founder of the Anti-Terrorism Caucus and organizer of the “Moderate Muslim Summit” of 2010. Rep. Myrick has a history of likening Sharia to terrorism and endorsing legislation popular among Islamophobes; she also contributed to “The Menace of Islam” issue of The Social Contract Journal, a publication founded by white nationalist John Tanton and edited by Council of Conservative Citizens collaborator Wayne Lutton.

“…their arguments neglect the fact that fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia are not the only interpretations, and that any form of extremist orthodoxy undermines loyalty to one’s country.” (from below)

Myrick’s legislative experience has directly benefited Act! for America, who has hired several of her former staffers: Hal Weatherman, formerly Myrick’s Chief of Staff, is Act! for America’s Communications Director; and Myrick’s former Legislative Director, Lisa Piraneo, is now its full-time lobbyist—the same lobbyist through whom Act! for America has poured thousands of dollars into its anti-Sharia efforts on Capitol Hill.

Certainly, without the legislative aspirations of the movement, the grassroots efforts would go unnoticed. Thus, the other crucial element to organized Islamophobia is its legal wing, represented by possibly its most prolific advocate, David Yerushalmi.

Loosely affiliated with Act! for America, Mr. Yerushalmi is a lawyer hailed as “an expert on Islamic Law.” At the behest of the American Public Policy Alliance, he wrote the model legislation that eventually became Tennessee’s HB 3768/SB 3470 and Louisiana’s HB 785—the oft imitated anti-Sharia bills that have been signed into law.

His recent successes have been undergirded by a legacy of anti-Muslim efforts. In 2006, Mr. Yerushalmi founded the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), who equated the “leftist” reaction to the Tennessee law to “crocodile tears.” He has participated in several reports authored by the Center for Security Policy (for whom he is General Counsel) posing Sharia as a threat to the United States’ security: one coauthored with the McCormick Foundation in 2008 and another in 2010.

Mr. Yerushalmi also represented Stop the Islamization of America’s controversial bus advertisement campaign opposing a proposed mosque “near” the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, resulting in a lawsuit against the City of New York.

Publicly, these efforts always toe the line between patriotism and exclusionary nationalism, and rarely are they recognized for what they actually are.

Of course, no one in their camp wants to be called an Islamophobe, instead dissimulating support for—in the words of SANE—“peaceful worship by law abiding Muslims.” They insist that these measures qualitatively support Islam in general, only pursuing those “advocating violent sharia” and those “planning to engage in terrorism.” But despite what Act! for America and David Yerushalmi claim, their arguments neglect the fact that fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia are not the only interpretations, and that any form of extremist orthodoxy undermines loyalty to one’s country.

It goes without saying that these anti-Sharia activists understand their audience well; whether or not they would support it, if any of them conjured legal recourse to fundamentalist Christian bias they’d be laughed out of Congress. No one’s pushing legislation to curb these hard-liners, who all too easily hide behind the Enlightenment-era deism of the Founding Fathers.

So is it really about protecting America from extremism, or is it about excluding people that don’t seem to fit a “national character”?

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