The New York Times quotes a Tennessee legislator in the lead to a story on the man behind the “anti-Shariah movement” nationally. Excerpts:
NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s latest woes include high unemployment, continuing foreclosures and a battle over collective-bargaining rights for teachers. But when a Republican representative took the Statehouse floor during a recent hearing, he warned of a new threat to his constituents’ way of life: Islamic law.
The representative, a former fighter pilot named Rick Womick, said he had been studying the Koran. He declared that Shariah, the Islamic code that guides Muslim beliefs and actions, is not just an expression of faith but a political and legal system that seeks world domination. “Folks,” Mr. Womick, 53, said with a sudden pause, “this is not what I call ‘Do unto others what you’d have them do unto you.’ ”
Similar warnings are being issued across the country as Republican presidential candidates, elected officials and activists mobilize against what they describe as the menace of Islamic law in the United States.
Note: The man behind the movement, David Yerushalmi, said in an interview back during the legislative session, that he drafted what critics called the ‘Shariah bill’ that was introduced in the Tennessee legislature and ultimately passed — after revisions that included any mention of Shariah law.
More from the Time:
In fact, it (the movement) is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah.
Working with a cadre of conservative public-policy institutes and former military and intelligence officials, Mr. Yerushalmi has written privately financed reports, filed lawsuits against the government and drafted the model legislation that recently swept through the country — all with the effect of casting Shariah as one of the greatest threats to American freedom since the cold war.
The message has caught on. Among those now echoing Mr. Yerushalmi’s views are prominent Washington figures like R. James Woolsey, a former director of the C.I.A., and the Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, who this month signed a pledge to reject Islamic law, likening it to “totalitarian control.”
Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead, they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.
Andrea Zelinski takes a look back at transformation of an “anti-terrorist bill” from terrifying Muslims and civil libertarians to something that had everyone proclaiming victory.
Proponents say they’re happy with the final form of the bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, while Muslim activists, civil libertarians and other critics are breathing easier with many of the most worrisome elements of the bill scrapped — including specific mention of “Sharia Law” and dramatic expansion of the government’s power to designate people as terrorist and to punish those who in any way support them.
“It’s a sigh of relief knowing that the most controversial and most dangerous portions of the bill ultimately came out,” said activist Remziya Suleyman, policy coordinator for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, which opposed the bill.
Under the bill that passed, material support of terrorists would bring the same punishment as manslaughter, sexual crimes, burglary and drug crimes — a 15- to 60-year jail sentence and up to a $50,000 fine. The crime would be a Class A felony, more serious than the current Class B designation, punishable with eight to 30 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The more serious punishment would cost an average of $369,000 per inmate.
Also, from Bobbie Partray of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, there’s this take on the end result in her end-of-the-session roundup.
First you choose the PERFECT sponsors…..Once more we want to Praise God for the multiple times that He intervened on behalf of this legislation and to express our deep appreciation to Republican Senate Caucus Bill Ketron (Murfreesboro-left) and House Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny (Tullahoma-right) for their courage and tireless efforts to see this important legislation through to victory. There were days when it seemed that we were in ‘hand to hand’ combat, but they never ‘blinked’. We are indeed blessed to have such men serving the State of Tennessee.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), May 21, 2011 – The State Senate today voted 26 to 3 to approve an anti-terrorism bill that updates the Tennessee Terrorism Prevention Act that was passed shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and was approved unanimously in both the House and Senate. The “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011” now makes the provision of “material support” a Class A felony and helps to close the prevention gap left by the 2002 statute.
“After discussions with all interested parties the bill was rewritten to achieve a fiscally responsible way to cut off “material support” that assists those planning to commit terrorist acts in Tennessee since it is the support that typically makes the acts more likely to occur,” said Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), sponsor of the bill. “This bill is very timely, in view of the fact that an August 2010 background report showed 21 U.S. citizens were charged in terrorist cases in 2009 and another 20 were charged in 2010 between January and August.”
The trajectory of cases of homegrown terrorism includes actors such as Memphis Carlos Bledsoe who attempted to firebomb the home of a Nashville rabbi and went on to murder 24-year old Private William Long in Arkansas. Secretary Janet Napolitano has called out to states to become more active and engaged in counter-terrorism measures.
The new amendment eliminates designation of terrorist entities by the state authorities and instead, defers to designations already made by the U.S. Secretary of State and the Department of the Treasury. The bill supports the work of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in continuing the collaboration between federal and state law enforcement authorities.
Ketron said the bill is an even handed and non-discriminatory counter-terrorism measure. The bill specifically declares that it does not target the peaceful practice of any religion. It, however, prohibits using religious doctrine as a justification for terrorist acts in Tennessee.
“It should be a priority of ours to protect the citizens of our great state – there will be no prosperity without security,” he concluded.
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House has passed a watered-down version of a bill that originally sought to make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma was later stripped of references to specific religions. The House approved the bill on a 75-16 vote Friday night. (It’s on the Senate agenda for Saturday.)
Matheny’s bill would also no longer authorize the governor or attorney general to decide whether a person or group is a terrorist organization, leaving that authority with the federal government.
Matheny said the bill aims to fight terrorists. It increases penalties for supporting a terrorist organization. “They’re hidden all around us,” he said.
The bill (HB1353) carries a projected price tag of $40,000.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee proposal that would let local authorities declare a person or group a terrorist organization has been amended to more closely resemble a federal law.
The state legislation initially gave that authorization to the governor and attorney general. But the version that passed the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday would authorize local district attorneys to make the designation and then contact federal officials.
The measure also increases the penalty for knowingly providing “material support” to a designated terrorist group.
Sponsors said the legislation builds on the Terrorism Prevention and Response Act of 2002, which passed the Tennessee General Assembly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The House version was placed behind the budget, meaning it will be revisited if any money is left after the state’s budget is set. But sponsors of the legislation expect it to pass this session.
Chas Sisk has written a political profile of Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron and some of the bills that have gained him a lot of media mention lately. Subjects covered include Ketron’s interest in running for Congress and his acknowledgment that the first version of an anti-terrorism bill should not have referred to Shariah law.
Excerpts on those two topics:
Ketron has spoken openly about his interest in joining Congress.
Ketron opted against running for the 6th Congressional District seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon last fall, choosing instead to run for re-election to the state Senate. But he is weighing a run for Congress next year, even if it means taking on an incumbent Republican. That might happen if the 4th Congressional District is redrawn to include Rutherford County.
“I’d probably have to,” Ketron said of taking on a Republican opponent.
(Note: The 4th District seat is now held by Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Rutherford is now in the 6th District, where the incumbent is Ketron’s predecessor as Senate Republican Caucus chairman, Diana Black.)
…Supporters describe the bill as an anti-terrorism measure that will give Tennessee officials the power to stop terrorist plots by cutting off resources to the groups behind them.
But in its original form, the measure focused exclusively on groups that follow Shariah, or Islamic law. Such a broad definition could be applied to any Islamic organization that abides by Shariah, which covers topics ranging from the rules of warfare to worship rituals, Muslim and civil liberties groups say.
Ketron says he did not have time to read the bill, which was written by an outside group, before meeting a cutoff date to file legislation. He says he erred by introducing a bill that took aim at Shariah specifically and it was not his or Matheny’s intent to upset Muslims.
“This is more about material support to those who want to create homegrown terrorist organizations,” he said.
Apparently, no one involved in the push for passage of HB1353, promoted as an anti-terrorist bill, has talked with officials state Department of Homeland Security about how they would be involved in the envisioned terrorist prosecution process.
But Andrea Zelinski did.
“I don’t fully understand the process that would be used for us to designate the person,” said Rick Shipkowski, the deputy director of the state’s homeland security office.
Under the bill, the Department of Safety and the Department of Homeland Security could recommend individuals or entities for classification as terrorists. If the governor and attorney general then sign off on the recommendation – confidential information is explicitly authorized for use in decision-making – then an array of consequences ensue, ranging from prompt seizure of assets to imprisonment for a Class B felony.
As introduced, the bill specifically referred to following Shariah law as potential targets. That’s been removed by amendment and now any organization organization suspected of terrorist activity would be covered.
More from Andrea’s TNReport, which includes some Q&A with Shipowski:
Right now, twenty percent of tips and reports about possible terrorist activity the state receives are unfounded and thrown out, Shipkowski said.
“I actually had someone tell me one time that a convenience store owner was suspicious because he was Middle Eastern and he smiled all the time. Well, you know that’s not a crime in Tennessee, it’s good for business,” Shipkowski said.
Information the state receives is shared with the Tennessee Fusion Center, a facility jointly operated by the state Office of Homeland Security and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with analysts from the departments of correction, probation and parole and military. The FBI and the US. Office of Homeland Security also play a role and create a total staff of 38 people at the Center.
The remaining 80 percent of cases are handed over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and are further explored there. Shipkowski declined to release the actual number of cases the office takes on, but said “very few” of those reports of possible terrorist activity ever prove legitimate.
…Shipkwoski said he doesn’t know exactly how or when his department would recommend the state label someone a terrorist given that the FBI traditionally does the heavy lifting in determining who fits the bill.
(Note: Updates, expands and replaces earlier post.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A contentious proposal that would authorize the governor and attorney general to decide whether an entity is a terrorist organization advanced in the House on Tuesday after assurances from the sponsor that the measure does not target Muslims.
The legislation (HB1353) sponsored by Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny of Tullahoma passed the House Judiciary Committee 12-4 on Tuesday and now goes to the House Finance Committee.
The companion bill was approved later in the day, 6-3, by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A Columbia Muslim says a state lawmaker’s e-mail response to a constituent’s criticism is further proof his faith is under attack on Capitol Hill, according to the Columbia Daily Herald.
State Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, called Islam in the e-mail a “political-militaristic-religion” responsible for 10 out of the last 11 terrorist attacks on Americans.
Womick wrote he has studied Islam and its code known as Shariah for nine years, and he advised others to do the same before turning a blind eye and accusing others of intolerance.
“Ignorance is bliss, and stupidity can get you killed,” Womick wrote. “I suggest you educate yourself on both sides of the issue.”
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would authorize the governor and attorney general to designate an entity “a domestic terrorist” or “a foreign terrorist organization.” Initially, the measure mentioned Islam and Shariah by name, but it was later amended to strip any reference to a religion.
Daoud Abudiab, a Columbia Muslim whose mosque was torched by white supremacists in 2008, said Womick’s written remarks show lawmakers are really wanting to target the state’s Muslims, despite their assurances that is not the case.
By Joe Edwards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A neatly folded T-shirt sits on a table in the outer office of state Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro. In red, white and blue letters, it proclaims: “Welcome to America. Now Speak English.”
Inside his office, Ketron is told by a visitor that some Capitol Hill reporters have suggested him as a good profile subject because he’s interesting.
“Maybe it (the recommendation) is because I concentrate on tough issues,” the 57-year-old Republican says.
Indeed, it’s some of his legislative proposals that have drawn attention to Ketron, the Senate’s GOP caucus chairman.