Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gingrich, sharia, and the fundamentalist mindset

Michael Gerson has a terrific column today about Newt Gingrich's crazy alarmism over sharia law. It needs to be quoted at length:
The Republican front-runner set out his argument about Islamic law in a speech last year to the American Enterprise Institute. The United States’ problem, Gingrich argued, is not primarily terrorism; it is sharia — “the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Sharia law, in his view, is inherently brutal — defined by oppression, stonings and beheadings. Its triumph is pursued not only by violent jihadists but by stealthy ones attending the mosque down the street. “The victory of sharia,” he concludes, “would clearly mean the end of the government Lincoln was describing.”

Who else shares this interpretation of sharia law? Well, totalitarians naturally do. Gingrich joins Iranian clerics, Taliban leaders and Salafists of various stripes in believing that the most authentic expression of sharia law is fundamentalism and despotism.

Other Muslims — many other Muslims — dispute this. The varied traditions of Islamic jurisprudence assign different weights to scripture, tradition, reason and consensus in the interpretation of Islamic law. Some assert it is identical to the cultural and legal practices of 7th-century Arabia, creating a real global danger. But others believe it is a set of transcendent principles of justice separable from its initial cultural expression and binding mainly on the individual. Most Muslims respect Islamic law. But the interpretation of sharia varies greatly from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia to Tanzania to Detroit.

The governing implications of Gingrich’s views are uncharted. Would President Gingrich reaffirm his belief that the most radical form of Islamic law is the most authentic?
That last sentence, to me, is key. Gingrich, as a converted Catholic, can't really be said to be a "fundamentalist" in the sense that many Americans use the term. But he's clearly tied into America's fundamentalist mindset. And it seems to me that the people most alarmed about the imposition of a radical form of sharia law in America are, like Gingrich, tied into that fundamentalist mindset. They mock and hold contempt for Christian religious moderates and believe that a more austere form of the religion is true—and they transfer that worldview onto Islam, scaring themselves half to death in the process.

The problem is that, while threats do exist, it doesn't actually paint a realistic view of the world we live in, or Islam as it's practiced by many Americans. Gingrich's alarmism isn't just offensive as a matter of demagoguery—it's also scary because it reveals an apocalyptic worldview that seems dangerous in the hands of a national leader.

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