Last weekend saw a veritable who's who of conservative luminaries hit Washington at a conference bearing the Orwellian appellation of "The Value Voters Summit." Now, in addition to the usual anti-Democrat, anti-Obama stuff that's about par for this type of gathering, the other big booga-booga trotted out by speaker after speaker after speaker was the clear and present threat Islam represents to America, culminating in our friend Newtie exhorting his audience that, "we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law."
To which I'm pretty sure most American Muslims reacted the same way I did: "Uh...what?
I mean, even leaving to one side how a relatively benign concept like Sharia -- Islamic jurisprudence -- has been transmogrified into the new Face of Evil on the Right, who's even talking about enacting Sharia in this country? Because I know I'm not, nor is anyone I know, nor is anyone in the media, nor is anyone in politics -- but nonetheless, we have to stop it. To hear Gingrich & Co. slam that podium, the many-headed monster of Obama, liberalism, and the Park51 Center have coalesced Blob-like into the singular threat of encroaching Sharia (or, put another way, "The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming!"). Steven Benen at The Washington Monthly said it best (under a post with the title of "Gingrich Demands Legislation To Address Imaginary Threat":)
I was disappointed he didn't also call for a federal law that says, under no circumstances, will Bigfoot be allowed to run for Congress. Also, unicorns must not be permitted to roam the streets, and flying saucers must not land within 100 yards of a school. We must think of the children, you know.
Also, while I'm no Constitutional scholar, I'm fairly certain the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment licked this way back in the 1860s. So why the alarm bells over a non-existent, vaporous threat that's already been addressed in our country's most sacred of documents? Well, why else? We know that nothing quite energizes the hardcore Republican base than having their fear tanks filled to the brim, and how better to do that then trot out a foreign-sounding concept like "Sharia." It's coming for you -- and everyone you love! (For maximum impact, read that last part like Don LaFontaine.);
Still, the current bombast, which some would say really kicked into gear thanks to Pamela Gellar's "Ground Zero Mosque" hysterics, actually goes back much further and has roots that go much deeper. As Talking Points Memo has found, when you do a little digging, it's the same Three Tenors of Islamophobia that it's always been: Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer (aptly described by one commenter as "chronically terrified, emotionally stunted bed-wetters who could find a conspiracy in a kindergarten class").
So the real problem isn't Gaffney, et al. doing what they've always done. Rather, it's that their mix of racial, ethnic, and religious animus has found mainstream expression thanks to the perverse Imperial Nativism that's overrun the GOP in its current configuration. Gingrich may simply be the most vocal, granted, but he's hardly alone, and that toxicity is trickling straight down to the Republican rank-and-file, a scary number of whom seem to be functioning under the impression that every Muslim in America is a "stealth jihadist" waiting to flip the switch from "good" to "evil" like the Clone Troopers in Star Wars.
It's actually a brilliant rhetorical dodge that allows one to discount the words and actions of the vast majority of sensible, reasonable Muslims the world over, and it's working at least well enough to spark a standing ovation following Gingrich's remarks (not to mention nonsense like this from July). The real "stealth jihad" these folks should worry about is the one occurring within their own party, making it acceptable and even concomitant upon them to hate and fear an entire segment of their fellow countrymen. This is the kind of rhetoric that will sit and ferment, the full effects of which will continue to be felt long after the cynical electioneering that initially engendered it has receded into the distance.