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The Republican Party has descended on Tampa, Florida for the coronation of Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate, and will meet this week to pass an extreme platform. The GOP platform will likely include a plank that opposes “foreign law” being used in courts–a position that takes aim at the imaginary threat of sharia law in the U.S and stokes anti-Muslim sentiment.
Last week, Talking Points Memo’s Ryan Reilly reported on the inclusion of this plank. Kris Kobach, an anti-immigrant activist and the Secretary of State in Kansas, explained in Tampa that “in cases involving either spousal abuse or assault or other crimes against persons, sometimes defenses are raised that are based in Sharia law…I think it’s important for us to say foreign sources of law should not be used as part of common law decisions or statutory interpretations by judges in the lower state courts as well.”
Video of Kobach’s remarks posted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) shows that Kobach’s suggested amendment was included and was not opposed by anyone working on the platform. The exact language of the platform has yet to be released, though Politico posted portions of it (sans the foreign law amendment). Watch Kobach’s remarks:
The Republican Party will pass their platform this week during the convention. CAIR is calling on the GOP to “reject a newly-adopted platform plank that includes a section supporting a ban on foreign law, which its sponsor admits targets the religious principles of American Muslims.”
“It’s really, in many ways, a smokescreen for anti-Islam sentiment. That’s all there is to it,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s national legislative director, in a phone interview.
There is no push to institute sharia law in the U.S., as anti-Muslim activists assert. The term sharia refers to a complex set of moral codes based on Islam, and is interpreted differently around the world. Courts in the U.S. have considered sharia law in a variety of cases, just as they have done with Jewish (halakhic) law. But as CAIR government affairs coordinator Robert McCaw said in a statement, “the plank is irrelevant, since the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause ensures that no foreign law can replace it.”
The inclusion of the anti-sharia plank in the party platform comes after a years-long push to institute statewide bans targeting Islamic law. According to CAIR, “in 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Islamic religious practices were considered in 31 states and the U.S. Congress.” The Kobach amendment is similar to a bill passed in Kansas that did not explicitly mention Islam, though a Kansas City Republican said that proponents of the foreign law ban “presented this as protecting us against Sharia law. Despite the fact that this doesn’t mention Sharia, that’s how this whole issue was presented.” That’s likely the tact the GOP will take if they include Kobach’s plank in their platform.
The push against Islamic law in the U.S. can be largely traced back to one man, David Yerushalmi (pdf profile of him here), a lawyer and a far-right Hasidic Jewish anti-Muslim activist who is allied with Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney. Yerushalmi’s organization, the Society of Americans for a National Existence, advocates for criminalizing the practice of Islam. He wrote a model bill, titled “American Laws for American Courts,” that has influenced many of the attempts to target Islamic law in the country. Yerushalmi once lived in the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and is an ardent right-wing Zionist. He also once wrote that “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote.”
“It’s disturbing that the work of a notorious Islamophobe is making its way into the GOP platform,” said CAIR’s Saylor, referring to Yerushalmi. “Why the GOP wants to have anything to do with that is a serious question that needs serious answers at the top.”
But the top of the GOP–Mitt Romney–could have stopped the bigoted amendment from being introduced. The Romney campaign has played a role in crafting the Republican Party platform. For example, the Romney campaign ensured that the platform would include a plank voicing support for the two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
There’s a reason why the Republican Party and the Romney campaign isn’t bothering to hide its animus towards Muslims: it plays well with their base. A recently released Arab American Institute poll makes clear the extent of the antipathy towards Muslims within the GOP. About 47% of Republicans view both Arab and Muslim Americans unfavorably, with the unfavorable rating going into the 50s when the question is asked without the “American” term included.