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What Do Muslims Want?

A White House adviser defends sharia.

12:00 AM, Oct 20, 2009 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Dalia Mogahed has enjoyed a varied career. Born in Egypt, she was brought to America as a child and climbed a fairly ordinary professional ladder. She earned a master's in business at the University of Pittsburgh and pursued success in corporate life. But she became an American Muslim celebrity after joining Georgetown professor John L. Esposito, a tireless defender of radical Islam, in producing a controversial study, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. With its wildly overreaching subtitle, the volume was based on polling by the Gallup Organization, where Mogahed gained a post as Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

All of which was rather banal in Washington's subculture of Muslim advocacy, until President Obama named Mogahed to his Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Mogahed is now a prominent Obama satellite, and, as noted here last month, she appeared at a Pentagon iftar, or Ramadan fast-breaking event, alongside a noted Saudophile, James Zogby of the Arab American Institute.

Early in October, Mogahed gave a telephone interview to a British Muslim fundamentalist television network, IslamChannel. The program also interviewed Nazreen Nawaz, a female representative of the ultra-radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), or the Islamic Liberation Party, as a live guest. HT calls for a global Islamic regime (the "caliphate"), under sharia law, and the destruction of the West. The show was posted on Sunday, October 4, to HT's UK website here. While television debate between sharply-opposed individuals has become a dominant form of public communication all over the world, Dalia Mogahed made no effort, in her encounter with an extremist advocate, to establish any distance between their views.

Rather, Mogahed delivered a defense of sharia law, and, in particular, its application to women. She alleged that "the perception of sharia and portrayal of sharia has been oversimplified even among Muslims," and called for sharia to be viewed "holistically" (a meaningless cliché.) According to her, "the majority of women around the world associate sharia with 'gender justice.'" Presumably, her broad reference to "the majority of women," rather than Muslim women, was a slip of the tongue. But there is no doubt that in her perspective, sharia as public law guarantees Muslim women a dignity absent in the West.

Mogahed further declared that Muslim women support "universal values of justice and equality" but reject "Western values," which she associated with sexual promiscuity and male disrespect of women. As projected by Mogahed, the views of Muslims are either fundamentalist or confused. Their attitudes toward Islamic law are divided, in her terms, only between supposedly wanting sharia to be the sole source of governance and seeing it as one source of legislation among various canons. But for her, even this distinction is less important than proclaiming the satisfaction of Muslim women with sharia.

Mogahed cited "one woman in Malaysia" who "specifically" told the pollsters "she felt sorry for Western women because she felt that they always felt that they always needed to please men." As if choosing individual voices out of a putative billion were not absurd enough, Mogahed drew on another single citation to portray Muslim women abroad as complaining that Western women lack social status.

HT spokeswoman Nawaz endorsed the Esposito-Mogahed poll but then gave herself over to a wholesale attack on democracy and denunciation of "man-made law" as inferior to sharia. HT stands out for its anti-Jewish rhetoric, and is banned in some countries, such as Germany and Turkey, but operates legally in others, from the U.S. and Britain to Indonesia. HT has escaped wider suppression because it preaches, but does not practice, violence.