Why is it that Minneapolis, of all places in the United States, faces the eruption of controversies over Sharia law? From the Somali taxi drivers who refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol to the Target cashiers who refuse to ring up pork products and the flying imams testing airport security, something’s happening here. In today’s Wall Street Journal Cross Country column, Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten draws the connections (subscription required):
What’s going on? It appears that both local circumstances and activists with a big-picture agenda play a role. Take the taxi drivers. Minnesota is home to tens of thousands of Somalis, most recent immigrants. Behind the scenes, moderate local Somali leaders are engaged in a power struggle with national Muslim organizations that seek to exploit this vulnerable population. Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol but not its transportation, say Somalis who reject the taxi drivers’ stance. Yet in June 2006, the Muslim American Society’s (MAS) Minnesota chapter issued a “fatwa” forbidding drivers here from carrying alcohol to avoid “cooperating in sin.”
Hassan Mohamud, one of the fatwa signers, praised the two top-light proposal as a national model for accommodating Islam in areas ranging from housing to the workplace. But according to Omar Jamal of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, MAS is “trying to hijack and radicalize the Somali community for their Middle East agenda.”
Ahmed Samatar, a recognized expert on Somali society at Macalester College in St. Paul notes that “There is a general Islamic prohibition against drinking, but carrying alcohol for people in commercial enterprise has never been forbidden.” Similarly, Islam prohibits consuming pork, but not touching or scanning it, according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the American Society for Muslim Advancement in New York. It is, or should be, “a nonissue.”
In Washington, the Democratic leadership is likely to seek passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, of which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called herself, in 2004, a “proud” cosponsor. Both MAS and CAIR are stumping for the bill, which would bar airport security personnel from disproportionately questioning Muslims or people of Middle Eastern descent. Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, the nation’s first Muslim Congressman, told me that the imams’ situation reflects a misunderstanding of Muslim prayer and will be sorted out in court, while the other matters stem from the normal process of immigrant adjustment.
The events here suggest a larger strategy: By piggy-backing on our civil rights laws, Islamist activists aim to equate airport security with racial bigotry and to move slowly toward a two-tier legal system. Intimidation is a crucial tool. The “flying imams” lawsuit ups the ante by indicating that passengers who alerted airport authorities will be included as defendants. Activists are also perfecting their skills at manipulating the media. After a “pray-in” at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., one credulous MSNBC anchor likened the flying imams to civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The comparison is misplaced: Omar Shahin, leader of the detained imams, has helped raise money for at least two charities later shut down for supporting terrorism. From 2000 to 2003, he headed the Islamic Center of Tucson, which terrorism expert Rita Katz described in the Washington Post as holding “basically the first cell of al Qaeda in the United States.” CAIR has long been controversial for alleged terrorist ties, while the Chicago Tribune has described MAS as the American arm of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which “preaches that religion and politics cannot be separated and that governments eventually should be Islamic.”
Kathy’s reporting has played a crucial role in getting underneath the surface of these controversies, a task that has been anathema to her colleagues in the local and national press — with the exception of the Washington Times’s Audrey Hudson, who has played a similar role in the case of the flying imams. In today’s Washington Times, Hudson has a page one story on legislative developments triggered by the discimination claims asserted against the John Doe defendants in the flying imams’ lawsuit. Hudson notes yesterday’s announcement by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty that it will defend any of the John Doe defendants for free. Hudson concludes: “Attorneys with two Minnesota law firms — Faegre & Benson LLP and Barna, Guzy and Steffen Ltd. — are offering to defend the passengers pro bono, and the American Islamic Forum for Democracy in Phoenix is offering to help raise funds to offset legal fees.” Faegre & Benson’s Gerry Nolting writes: “The outpouring of support on behalf of the John Does has been incredible. I’ve received dozens of calls and emails from everywhere and folks from all walks of life offering support.”
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