As Rep. Peter King (R-NY) led his latest hearing about the radicalization of Muslims in the United States last week, it turns out a radical of a different sort, based in Brooklyn, was plotting to spread his anti-Muslim message across the United States.
The New York Times revealed on Sunday that a Brooklyn attorney named David Yerushalmi has spearheaded the movement across the country to rid the United States of Sharia -- the traditional Muslim law -- notwithstanding that except in some private contracts, Sharia is irrelevant in this country.
The Anti-Defamation League has described Yerushalmi as having a record of "anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black bigotry." Still, supported by conservative policy organizations, Yerushalmi has written reports, filed lawsuits and drafted model legislation that has so far encouraged fifteen different states to propose laws that would ban the use of Sharia (and international law) from being applied in their states. The Times recounts that his movement, assisted by hawkish neoconservative policy commentators such as Frank Gaffney (who argued that President Obama might secretly be Muslim), has influenced such prominent political figures as former CIA director James Woolsey and Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann recently signed a pledge rejecting Islamic law and its "totalitarian control."
The anti-Sharia movement has even inspired the actor Chuck Norris to take up the cause, writing on WorldNetDaily that Sharia is quietly creeping into the United States "like a frog boiled in a kettle by a slow simmer."
In fact, Sharia has no influence whatsoever on state or U.S. law; the U.S. Constitution prohibits that. Religious people have always had the option of using Sharia - or Jewish or Christian religious laws, for that matter -- as the basis of their private contracts if they so choose, so long as it doesn't violate civil laws. Banning the use of Sharia would not only be blatantly discriminatory against one religious group -- as a federal court in Oklahoma recently concluded -- but could disrupt major commercial transactions between U.S. corporations and those in Islamic countries.
More importantly, the anti-Sharia movement sweeping across the country is whipping up a dangerous anti-Islamic fervor, exacerbated by King's hearings.
The consequences were evident when the Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Breivik bombed Norway government buildings and massacred nearly 80 children in a summer camp, and U.S. journalists immediately assumed it was the act of Muslims.
On Fox News, Laura Ingraham said it "appeared to be the work, again, of Muslim extremists."
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote: "This is a sober reminder for those who think it's too expensive to wage a war against jihadists."
As Stephen Colbert observed: "By going with their guts, these journalists were able to get the story they wanted by scooping reality."
Pushing the story they want regardless of reality seems to be the direction some in Congress are taking today. Last week, Reps. King and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) called for a new "9/11 Commission" to investigate the "growing threat" of "domestic radicalization." Judging by the focus of the three hearings he's held on the subject already, King clearly meant Muslim extremism, though he was careful not to say it.
Yet how seriously do King and his fellow House members really take this threat? While railing about the problem in public, as Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) noted at King's hearing last week, Congress is simultaneously threatening to slash funding for local law enforcement programs that work with Muslim-American communities across the country to prevent just such radicalization.
Meanwhile, a Department of Homeland Security report on the dangerous growth of right-wing extremism in the United States was withdrawn following an outcry in 2009 from conservative politicians and pundits. DHS reportedly gutted its domestic terrorism analysis unit shortly afterwards.
Held hostage to the radical politics of certain of its members, the current Congress is unlikely to investigate the spread of right-wing extremism that's promoting destructive anti-Sharia laws across the nation and encouraging the sort of hateful ideology that is so readily consumed by murderers like Anders Breivik.
Fortunately, the Times has begun to do just that.
Follow Daphne Eviatar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/deviatar