"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

New Email Address:

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Islamist Challenge to the U.S. Constitution

More dangerous than another of the irredentist movements by groups within the U.S. is that of proposed internal Muslim enclaves on North America. History and contemporary European events have demonstrated that this is one of the first steps toward Islamification and eventual take over of a host culture.

First in Europe and now in the United States, Muslim groups have petitioned to establish enclaves in which they can uphold and enforce greater compliance to Islamic law. While the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right to religious freedom and the prohibition against a state religion, when it comes to the rights of religious enclaves to impose communal rules, the dividing line is more nebulous. Can U.S. enclaves, homeowner associations, and other groups enforce Islamic law?

Such questions are no longer theoretical. While Muslim organizations first established enclaves in Europe, the trend is now crossing the Atlantic. Some Islamist community leaders in the United States are challenging the principles of assimilation and equality once central to the civil rights movement, seeking instead to live according to a separate but equal philosophy. The Gwynnoaks Muslim Residential Development group, for example, has established an informal enclave in Baltimore because, according to John Yahya Cason, director of the Islamic Education and Community Development Initiative, a Baltimore-based Muslim advocacy group, "there was no community in the U.S. that showed the totality of the essential components of Muslim social, economic, and political structure."

Baltimore is not alone. In August 2004, a local planning commission in Little Rock, Arkansas, granted The Islamic Center for Human Excellence authorization to build an internal Islamic enclave to include a mosque, a school, and twenty-two homes. While the imam, Aquil Hamidullah, says his goal is to create "a clean community, free of alcohol, drugs, and free of gangs," the implications for U.S. jurisprudence of this and other internal enclaves are greater: while the Little Rock enclave might prevent the sale of alcohol, can it punish possession and in what manner? Can it force all women, be they residents or visitors, to don Islamic hijab (headscarf)? Such enclaves raise the fundamental questions of when, how, and to what extent religious practice may supersede the U.S. Constitution.

The Internal Muslim Enclave

The internal Muslim enclave proposed by the Islamic Center for Human Excellence in Arkansas represents a new direction for Islam in the United States. The group seeks to transform a loosely organized Muslim population into a tangible community presence. The group has foreign financial support: it falls under the umbrella of a much larger Islamic group, "Islam 4 the World," an organization sponsored by Sharjah, one of the constituent emirates of the United Arab Emirates. While the Islamic Center for Human Excellence has yet to articulate detailed plans for its Little Rock enclave, the group's reliance on foreign funding is troublesome. Past investments by the United Arab Emirates' rulers and institutions have promoted radical interpretations of Islam.

The Islamic Center for Human Excellence may seek to segregate schools and offices by gender. The enclave might also exercise broad control upon commerce within its boundaries—provided the economic restrictions did not discriminate against out-of-state interests or create an undue burden upon interstate commerce. But most critically, the enclave could promulgate every internal law—from enforcing strict religious dress codes to banning alcohol possession and music; it could even enforce limits upon religious and political tolerance. Although such concepts are antithetical to a free society, U.S. democracy allows the internal enclave to function beyond the established boundaries of our constitutional framework. At the very least, the permissible parameters of an Islamist enclave are ill defined.

The greater American Muslim community's unapologetic and public manifestation of belief in a separate but equal ideology does not bode well. In September 2004, the New Jersey branch of the Islamic Circle of North America rented Six Flags Adventure Park in New Jersey for "The Great Muslim Adventure Day." The advertisement announcing the event stated: "The entire park for Muslims only." While legal—and perhaps analogous to corporate or other non-religious groups renting facilities, the advertisement expressly implied a mindset that a proof of faith was required for admission to the park. In his weblog, commentator Daniel Pipes raises a relevant and troubling question about the event: because it is designated for Muslims only, "Need one recite the shahada to enter the fairgrounds?"

While U.S. law might give such Muslims-only events the benefit of the doubt, flexibility may not go both ways. There is precedent of Islamists taking advantage of liberal flexibility to more extreme ends. Canada provides a useful example into how Islamist groups can exploit liberal legal tolerance. In 1991, Ontario, Canada, passed a seemingly innocuous law called the "Arbitration Act." This act permitted commercial, religious, or such other designated arbitrators to settle civil disputes outside the Canadian justice system so long as the result did not contradict Canadian law. Like U.S. authorities are beginning to do now, Canadian legislators decided to give religious groups the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they would still hold national law to be paramount...

The Enclave under U.S. Law

Existing U.S. legal precedent, though, may provide some grounds for handling expansive demands for Islamic enclaves. U.S. legal views of internal enclaves derive from the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled the concept of separate but equal to be unconstitutional. While the case revolved around the right of black children to attend white schools, it promulgated a concept that is anathema in today's world of multiculturalism: neither the state nor any constituent group could claim equality through separation.
Enclaves can exist, though. As courts have ruled on issues relating to equality under the law and upon the autonomy of religious practice, two distinctive features of internal U.S. enclaves have taken shape: first, the boundaries of the enclave should be recognized by local inhabitants. Second, the enclave cannot supersede the constitutionally protected rights of the citizens of a state.

Because most rights secured by the constitution are protected only against infringement by government action, the Supreme Court has avoided establishing a bright-line test as to the limits of religious liberty. Any religious group or individual seeking to establish an internal enclave has the right to limit residency, promulgate local rules, and perhaps even collect fees or taxes to support nominal community services.

Such enclaves do not hold final sway over the rights of non-residents, however. In Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Compan, and Flagg Brothers v. Brooks, the court outlined constitutional protections for private citizens in which any entity, religious or otherwise, exercising governmental authority over private citizens remains subject to the provisions of the First and Fourteenth amendments. In both cases, the court affirmed that citizens of a state retain their right to "due process of law" under the Fourteenth Amendment, even when inside an enclave. These holdings, however, do not prevent enclaves from restricting the individual freedoms of their inhabitants.

The Supreme Court has ruled upon the limits of religious liberty. In Cantwell v. Connecticut, the court outlined the circumstances in which the government could act to restrict religious independence. The court held that the free exercise clause "embraces two concepts—freedom to believe and freedom to act. The first is absolute, but in the nature of things, the second cannot be. Conduct remains subject to regulation for the protection of society."

Christopher L. Eisgruber, professor of law at New York University, explained. He argued that, "the Constitution permits government to nurture ideological sub-communities founded upon premises inconsistent with the constitution's own commitments." He maintained that such dissident sub-communities can provide important "sources of dissent" and asserted that even if an enclave embraced ideals contrary to constitutional ideals, it should still be granted the right to pursue its own vision of good. For example, he wrote:

[Though] it is regrettable that young women in Kiryas Joel [a Satmar Hasidic enclave] will grow up in a starkly sexist culture, and it is regrettable that the Amish children of Yoder will find it very hard to become astronomers or lawyers … it would also be regrettable if the United States were not home to any sub-communities which, like the Satmars or the Amish, rejected principles of justice fundamental to the American regime.

According to Eisgruber, tolerance of the intolerant is fundamental to the freedoms espoused by Western liberal democracy. While Islamists might use such logic to argue for the permissibility of Shari‘a communities, such tolerance has limits. Enclaves do not have carte blanche to act. Both the state and national legislatures must retain control over the extent of accommodation, and there should be no subsidization of the enclave by the government. Such limits ensure that the government can constrain those sub-communities that might espouse more radical, violent, or racist views.

It is usually when the U.S. government moves to uphold the rule of law that most Americans first learn of an internal enclave. Few Americans knew of the philosophy espoused by anti-government activist Randy Weaver until 1992 when the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms raided his compound at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, killing Vicki Weaver, their infant son, Sam, and the family dog. Nor did many Americans know about David Koresh and his religious views until a raid the following year on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in which a resulting fire killed fifty adults and twenty-five children under the age of fifteen. While tragic, such events involved cults or political splinter groups. The growth of Muslim enclaves raises the specter of such conflicts occurring on a much larger scale.

While the court has interpreted the establishment clause to empower the government to constrain dissident sub-communities when necessary to protect public safety, it has been wary of addressing legal issues requiring intrusion upon the religious polity. Because the First Amendment provides for religious freedom, the court has confined itself to ruling upon three basic issues: property disputes between national religious hierarchical organizations with affiliated breakaway entities; accommodations under the free exercise clause; and the prohibition against the establishment of a state religion. New challenges, though, may lead to new interpretations....

A chilling and dangerous first step. Are of the residents of Baltimore and Little Rock aware of the decisions made by their elected officials and the unpleasant surprises of their proposed new neighborhooods?Read every word.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home