Sharia paranoia and religious accommodations for Jews
08/27/2010 - 08:31
James Besser

Here's another thing I don't understand about Jews who oppose the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan: aren't they concerned about the impact of this debate, and a rising paranoia about efforts to impose Sharia law on a hapless America that has fed off the mosque controversy, on the religious accommodations that so many observant Jews feel are critical to their own lives in America? (For a good analysis of the Sharia issue, check out this Washington Post story).

I mean, really: how can we demand special accommodations for Shabbat observers, for those who keep kosher, for Jews who need to celebrate important holidays, for putting up eruvim, and at the same time live in dread that every time an Islamic group builds a mosque or asks for foot baths in airport bathrooms to serve Muslim taxi drivers, it's one more step down the road to making America an Islamic state?

For the last few decades, Jewish groups have worked hard to expand public accommodations of religion. The focus has been on all religions, not just Judaism; the idea has been that a pluralistic, democratic America, where freedom of religion is supposedly guaranteed, sometimes needs to make accommodations for people whose religious obligations fall outside the American norm.

Jewish sabbath observers are obvious beneficiaries, and workers who need days off without penalty to fulfill their religious obligations. We expect, as a matter of course, that White House and State Department lunches for Jewish leaders will accommodate those who need kosher food, and complain mightily if they don't.

This isn't a matter of trying to impose Jewish law on this mostly Christian nation – although there are plenty of anti-Semitic groups that, in an unsettling echo of the mosque debate, have argued it is. It's a matter of recognizing the religious pluralism that is supposedly part of our democratic character, and making allowances for those outside the religious norm.

So why are we so afraid of the growth of Islam in America, and efforts to accord Muslims the same rights we demand for ourselves? This is a minority even smaller than the Jewish community; it's absurd to think they are on their way to conquering us by building community centers and mosques and asking for recognition of their special religious needs.

Yes, I know: it's easy to find Islamic extremists who blather about imposing their will on the world. Well, guess what; you can find Jewish extremists who say all kinds of ridiculous things (just take a look at Yehudah Mirsky's scary article about a new debate over religious extremism in Israel ). There's not a shred of evidence that this reflects the view of a majority.

If you believe that Islam is different because it's an expansionist religion that wants to control the world...well, that's pretty much the same thing anti-Semites have been saying for years about Jews as they fight the religious accommodations we want for ourselves.

It's hard for me to believe the current surge of paranoia about Sharia law, and growing hostility to any kind of accommodations to our Muslim minority, won't ultimately unleash forces of intolerance that will undercut our own hard-won games as a religious minority with special needs.

This also touches on the issue of religious land use, which I blogged about the other day, and the idea that the surge of hostility to Islam that is already resulting in fierce resistance to mosque building projects across the nation will almost certainly come back to bite us.

In response to my last blog, a Jewish Week commentator wrote this: “ The constitutional rights that we have, such as freedom of religion or freedom of commerce, are not absolutes. Local ordinances and community standards determine whether a property or activity is appropriate for a given locality. Political commentator, Noel Nikpour gives the example; 'you wouldn't allow a liquor store to be built next to a Betty Ford Clinic or a strip joint next to Disney world.' Likewise it is not useful to discuss this matter of the Mosque with broad generalities of constitutional rights without specific applications to local conditions and community standards.”

So does this mean that objections to the construction of a synagogue in a religiously mixed neighborhood are legitimate because the synagogue doesn't meet “local conditions and community standards?”

Isn't this exactly what Jewish groups ranging from the Orthodox Union to the Reform movement were fighting when they worked tirelessly to pass the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 (RLUIPA)?

Religious freedom, these groups argued, trumps “community standards” that are often biased against religious minorities, and zoning rules that have in the past been used to keep Jews out of certain neighborhoods.

Guess we'll have to repeal RLUIPA, or amend it to say it applies only to certain religions. Or else agree that the religious freedom measures that have been core goals of Jewish groups for years are meant to protect unpopular religions, not popular ones. Lest we forget, Judaism is still pretty unpopular in some parts of this diverse country of ours.

This week an official with the American Family Association, a Christian right group, blogged this on the AFA site: "Permits should not be granted to build even one more mosque in the United States of America, let alone the monstrosity planned for Ground Zero."   Do we somehow believe this kind of thinking, now so prevalent around the country, won't eventually return to its traditional focus on the Jews?

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the elephant in your argument's room is in the glaring atrocities islamists regularly commit even against their own people with the full backing of their hadith surras. even the the most hopeless idiot should feel apprehension at a cultural relativist suggestion that our society should allow sharia courts or hate laws concocted which would make illegal any criticism of religion, like what almost happened at the u.n. recently. as mentioned by earlier posts here, we don't see jews honour killing their women, beheading apostates, blowing up places of worship,etc. i'm not defending judaism, as i feel religions in general have nothing to do with whatever creator exists, however i will defend my culture against threats like islam.
The difference is Jews respect and tolerate the other while Islamic philosophy/ideology/religion opposes anything different than Islam. Your article is at best foolishly naive and dangerously oblivious to islamic principles and doctrines.
Quote: "I mean, really: how can we demand special accommodations for Shabbat observers, for those who keep kosher, for Jews who need to celebrate important holidays, for putting up eruvim, and at the same time live in dread that every time an Islamic group builds a mosque or asks for foot baths in airport bathrooms to serve Muslim taxi drivers, it's one more step down the road to making America an Islamic state?" Well, provided Jews don't send out people to blow up airplanes and tube-trains, then I guess Shabbat etc won't be a problem to Gentiles. Around the time SIOE had its annual 9/11 demonstration outside Harrow mosque in London in 2009, four Muslims planning terrorist attacks in England were sent to prison. They came out of Walthamstow mosque, which is still open. Not long after, more Muslims were convicted and sentenced for the same offence in Manchester. Their mosque is still open. Over half the mosques in England are reportedly "radicalised". They are still open. Not only should no more mosques be built in the West (at least until we see a synagogue in Saudi Arabia and Jews returning to Afghanistan), but those "radicalised" mosques should be closed down.
"why are we afraid of the growth of Islam" Are you insane?
"We expect, as a matter of course... ...democratic America, where freedom of religion is supposedly guaranteed... afraid of the growth of Islam in America... is a minority even smaller than the Jewish community..." James, are you foolish or taqiyya pushover ! FROM JOSEPH FARAH'S G2 BULLETIN 20-year strategy plan to undermine U.S. Posted: August 04, 2003 ! ! !
Useful Idiots, The difference between Jewish religious law and Sharia Law is that Jewish law does not demand the destruction of western civilization while Sharia Law demands that its followers wage war on the infidel Jew and Christian (Kufaar) until they submit to Islamic rule. Tarek Fatah A Canadian Muslim (not an Islamist)