Lee Smith considers the concept and implications of sharia in his latest column for Tablet:
With a recent CNN poll showing that 68 percent of Americans oppose the plan to build a mosque in lower Manhattan, close to Ground Zero, it is difficult not to conclude that Americans have begun to take a referendum, not necessarily on their Muslim neighbors, but more generally on what they see as the problems posed by Islam to U.S. liberal democracy. In Washington, Newt Gingrich put a name to it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute when he identified the problem as “sharia,” or what is commonly translated as Islamic law.
Stealthy jihadis and violent ones, said Gingrich, are “both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of sharia.” After quoting the Gettysburg Address, Gingrich concluded, “I would argue that the victory of sharia would clearly mean the end of the government Lincoln was describing.”
You’d think the party of Lincoln was made of stronger stuff, but many on the right have taken up the former Georgia congressman’s call to arms. Gingrich, wrote Andrew McCarthy on National Review Online, “has crystallized the essence of our national-security challenge. Henceforth, there should be no place to hide for any candidate, including any incumbent. The question will be: Where do you stand on sharia?”
By making sharia the focus of his fulminations, Gingrich has taken an almost hopelessly abstract concept and weighted it with an existential presence that it has never had in 1,400 years of Muslim history. Sharia is not a concrete legal code; it is the idealized notion of God’s law. Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word “sharia” necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhummad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition.
Read the rest here.