One of the more striking things about the current anti-sharia craze is how often state legislators who introduce anti-sharia bills can’t answer basic questions about Islamic law or why they see it as a threat.
In Alabama, for example, when the state senator who sponsored an anti-sharia bill was asked by a reporter to simply define sharia, he responded: “I don’t have my file in front of me.” In Florida, anti-sharia bill sponsors couldn’t name a single case where Islamic or international law had been used in a troubling way in U.S. courts. When, on Wednesday, I interviewed a Nebraska state senator behind a similar bill, I asked him about what cases were causes of concern to him. He responded: “I’m not in my office to look them up.”
How could all these legislators be so uninformed about their own bills? A big part of the reason is that most of them did not actually write the legislation in question. Rather, many of the anti-sharia bills being considered around the country are either based on or directly copied from model legislation created by an obscure far-right Arizona attorney and activist named David Yerushalmi. …
The Nebraska case is instructive. State Sen. Mark Christensen introduced a bill (.pdf) in January to bar the use of any foreign law in Nebraska courts. When I spoke to Christensen on Wednesday, he acknowledged he did not have a deep understanding of the issue, referring me back to his office when I asked him what cases involving sharia or foreign law were troubling to him.
He summed up his reason for sponsoring the bill: “This is America. We use America’s law.” (For more on what sharia actually is, see here and here.)
It turns out Christensen introduced the bill after his office was approached by the head of the local chapter of the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America, Christensen aide Dan Wiles told me. ACT! for America is a Florida-based group led by Brigitte Gabriel. In a profile last month, the New York Times detailed Gabriel’s strategy of selectively quoting the Quran to paint most or all Muslims as violent extremists. (More)