Are the Anti-Jihadists More Dangerous than the Jihadists?
This article first appeared at Medill National Security Zone.
Hours before Anders Behring Breivik began his dual attack in Norway on July 22 that killed 77 people he posted a 1,500-page manifesto on the web detailing his plan and his motives.
His hatred cast a wide net—from liberal political parties he called “cultural Marxists” to feminists and multiculturalists.
But no group received more ire than Muslims. According to Breivik, his hours-long rampage, in which he systematically massacred dozens of people, would precipitate a decades-long crusade culminating in the execution and expulsion of Muslims from Europe.
Breivik backed his ideology with numerous quotes from American anti-Islam and Tea Party activists, which he praised as the “the first physical, political manifestation which [sic] indicates there is a great storm coming.”
He also encouraged unity between right-wing groups internationally, and with the recent re-emergence of right-wing militia and anti-Islamic groups in the U.S., the threat of a domestic terrorism incident may be much closer than Scandinavia, say domestic terrorism experts both in and out of the government.
In the Spring 2011 issue of Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Year in Hate,” it reported that the number of right-wing extremist and hate groups in the United States shot above 1,000 for the first time since they began tracking them more than 30 years ago. It also reported that anti-government and militia groups have increased five-fold since the election of the nation’s first black president. Although the prevalence of these groups always surges during a Democratic presidency, the sharpness of this increase is without precedent, the report said.
At the same time, the U.S. has seen a rise in “anti-sharia” groups like Jihad Watch and Society for National Existence, which claim that Muslims in the U.S. are attempting to institute a brutal law enforcement code that would include lashing and stoning.
Asifa Quraishi, assistant law professor at the University of Wisconsin and a comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law expert, said these groups’ inaccuracies start at the very definition of sharia.
“Sharia means ‘the path’ and is the way God asks Muslims to live in the world. The specific details of how to do that are not always answered in the Quran or other writings,” she said.
The human interpretation of sharia is called fiqh—or understanding—of which there are six main schools of thought that vary in specifics.
“Much of it is quite compatible with the rule of law in the U.S., like property rights, rules of inheritance and contracts by mutual consent,” she said.
Yet the anti-sharia movement has gained such a foothold that more than a dozen states have passed legislation banning its use. In Oklahoma, 71 percent of voters chose to ban sharia—although the bill has since been struck down in the courts.
In recent months, Tea Party presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., have signed pledges rejecting “Sharia Islam [sic] and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control.” Fellow presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has also denounced sharia.
David Yerushalmi, whom the New York Times recently called “the father of the anti-sharia movement,” said the threat of sharia is real, citing a case in New Jersey in which a Moroccan woman accused her husband of rape and assault. The judge ruled against her, saying that since they had both agreed to a marriage under Islamic law, she was required to comply with her husband’s demands for sex. The decision was later overturned.
“The very telos [philosophy] of sharia is world domination and a hegemonic political order predicated upon sharia. The methods to achieve that telos include violence as in jihad,” he said in an email interview.
Breivik used language like this, ample in the blogosphere, to justify his actions. He cited Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer 52 times in his manifesto, reprinting full essays on several occasions. He also praised Pamela Geller, who runs the Atlas Shrugs blog and was integral in the campaign against the Park51 Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan last year. Both have denounced Breivik’s actions and any culpability in the attacks.
“If anyone incited him to violence, it was Islamic supremacists,” Geller said on her blog.
Spencer emphasized that he has never advocated violence. Yerushalmi called the idea “patently absurd” and “childish.”
In a recent report on domestic terrorism, the FBI said the greatest threat to the U.S. were so-called lone-wolf terrorists, “who commit acts of violence…without the prior approval or knowledge of these groups’ leaders.”
Although Breivik fits this description, critics also say it isn’t that simple. While leaders of the campaign against Park51 didn’t advocate violence, YouTube videos of the demonstrations show multiple assaults on Muslims and people perceived to Muslim by protestors.
While an act of anti-Muslim domestic terrorism has yet to occur in the U.S., Quraishi believes another lone wolf may have been incited to violence by extremist rhetoric: Jared Lee Loughner, the high school dropout charged with a shooting spree that killed six people and injured 14 others, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“If we allow our conversation to get to that point just on political issues, if that can happen, I worry it could move over to Muslims,” she said. “But I would hope we could see Norway as a lesson and would give us pause. Otherwise we’re no better than the terrorists.”