The Atlantic

The Denationalization of American Muslims

For years, Republican leaders treated Frank Gaffney as a pariah. But his dark warnings about Sharia law taking over America found an audience among grassroots conservatives—and now, in the White House.

Source: Larry Downing / Reuters

On March 6, the zoning board in Bayonne, New Jersey, turned down a request to convert an old warehouse into a mosque. Such denials are happening with increasing frequency in the United States. In the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the Justice Department intervened seven times against local communities that prevented Muslims from building mosques or other religious institutions. In the six years between 2010 and 2016, that number jumped to 17.

At the zoning board meeting, one woman called Islam a “so-called religion.” Residents claimed the Muslim Brotherhood would control the mosque. The Facebook page of the group “Stop the Mosque in Bayonne” features a man holding a sign that says “Democracy or Sharia Law.”

This is the language of Frank Gaffney. For a decade and a half, Gaffney, a former Reagan administration Pentagon official who heads a small Washington think tank called the Center for Security Policy, has been making two interrelated arguments. First, that the Muslim Brotherhood—which he claims seeks to replace the United States Constitution with a Caliphate based upon Sharia law—secretly controls most American mosques and Muslim organizations. Second, that Islam is not actually a religion. It is a totalitarian political ideology. Thus, its adherents should be treated not like Christians or Jews, but like American Nazis during World War II.

For years, Washington conservatives ridiculed these arguments and stigmatized Gaffney for making them. In 2003, after Gaffney attacked two Muslim staffers in the Bush White House, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist banned him from his influential “Wednesday meeting” of conservative activists. In 2011, according to sources close to the organization, the American Conservative Union informally barred Gaffney from speaking at CPAC, the ACU’s signature event. In 2013, the Bradley Foundation, which had backed the Center for Security Policy since 1988, cut off funds. That same year, Gaffney lost the Washington Times column he had been writing since the late 1990s. As late as December 2015, The Daily Beast declared that, “Frank Gaffney has been shunned by pretty much everyone in conservative intellectual circles.”

Yet less than 18 months later, America is led by a president, Donald Trump, who has frequently cited the Center for Security Policy when justifying his policies towards Muslims. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called Gaffney “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions—who has said “Sharia law fundamentally conflicts with our magnificent constitutional order”—in 2015 won the Center for Security Policy’s “Keeper of the Flame” Award. Trump’s CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program more than 24 times since 2013. Sebastian Gorka, who runs a kind of parallel National Security Council inside the White House called the Strategic Initiatives Group, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program 18 times during that period. He’s called Sharia “antithetical to the values of this great nation” and recently refused to say whether he considered Islam a religion.

In truth, conservatives never actually marginalized Gaffney’s ideas. Even when shunned in Washington, they grew steadily on the grassroots right in response to conservative disillusionment with America’s post-9/11 wars. Gaffney’s theories represent an effort to “denationalize” American Muslims—to strip them of their national identity and legal protections—with chilling precedents in American and European history. And although these theories have opponents, as well as supporters, in the Trump administration, they are already changing the relationship between American Muslims and their government in frightening ways.

If you squint hard enough, you can see how Gaffney reaches his conclusions. The Muslim Brotherhood, which Hassan al-Banna created in Egypt in 1928, was indeed founded to spread Islam around the world and revive the Caliphate. Although scholars debate how much the movement has changed—and the variations between different Brotherhood-inspired parties

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