NEW YORK // Muslims in the United States are trying to impose Sharia law by exploiting the nation's legal system, says a new report by a group of former government officials and right-wing intellectuals.
"Sharia is about power, not faith," said Andrew McCarthy, a former chief assistant US attorney, at a news conference in New York City on Tuesday for the release of Sharia: The Threat to America. "There is no other more toxic and hateful project on the planet today."
Mr McCarthy, who prosecuted Omar Abdel Rahman and others involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, joined Frank Gaffney, the former deputy assistant defence secretary under Ronald Reagan, and president of the Washington-based Center for Security Policy think tank.
"Our report is meant to provide cover for opinion-shapers to speak the truth without being branded racist," said Mr Gaffney.
The news conference attracted few, if any members of New York's mainstream media, but drew an enthusiastic crowd of middle-aged supporters who applauded the speakers throughout the session.
Although the report was published in September, the control Republicans gained in the House of Representatives from last week's congressional elections have made its authors more hopeful of disseminating their message.
A news release spoke of the report's "ground-breaking findings about the totalitarian, politico-military-legal programme [that] mainstream Islam calls 'Sharia'."
The aim of the report is described as illuminating "the role Sharia is playing in both animating the violent attacks being mounted against this country and in insinuating - through stealthy, 'pre-violent' means - this unconstitutional legal programme into the United States."
Sharia is an Islamic legal code that governs many personal status issues, such as marriage and child custody, and that many Americans associate with harsh punishments and intolerance.
Much of the report's evidence stems from a 1991 Muslim Brotherhood in North America document, which speaks of "civilisation jihad" to promote Islamic supremacy.
Voters in Oklahoma would seem to agree with the report, even though there has been no effort to introduce Sharia to the state's courtrooms. They voted last week to approve a new amendment to the state's constitution that would prohibit state courts from considering Islamic or international law when deciding cases.
A federal judge has prohibited implementation of the amendment until further hearings are held. Meanwhile, legal scholars have pointed out one possible unintended consequence - judges might have to ignore the biblical Ten Commandments, as they are also the product of a foreign culture.
Fear-mongering about the "Islamist threat" emerged from the right-wing, conservative fringe and into mainstream US discourse this summer because of opposition against an Islamic centre and mosque planned near the downtown Manhattan site of the attacks of September 11, 2001.
At the news conference, Mr Gaffney said the Islamic centre was called a "triumphalist mega-mosque" planned on a "sacred ground".
Under oath, and in testimony given earlier this year to support opponents of a mosque planned in Tennessee, Mr Gaffney admitted he was not an expert in Sharia law. But he is well-connected in Washington, including having close ties with pro-Israel lobbyists, such as the United Against Nuclear Iran campaign group, pushing for tough sanctions on Tehran.
Mr Gaffney introduced those at the news conference to David Yerushalmi, his colleague on the Sharia report, as "one of the finest experts on Sharia outside of Islam".
Mr Yerushalmi, a lawyer, said while Muslims in the United States had the first amendment right to practise their religion, support of Sharia meant an embrace of sedition or even acts of war. He said global opinion polls showed a majority of Muslims wanted to impose Sharia and bring about a global caliphate.
He was particularly worried about the rise of Islamic finance in the West that he attributed to large outflows of capital from the Gulf. One consequence, he claimed, was that Islamic scholars with questionable anti-terrorist credentials now have access to the boards of companies in New York and London.
To support their argument that American Muslims were trying to impose Sharia by stealth, the report's authors provided additional information on 10 legal cases, which mostly dealt with divorce and child custody.
They said there were many cases that had yet to be publicised, but repeatedly returned to the one that made the headlines earlier this year. An appeals court overturned a New Jersey judge's refusal to grant a restraining order to a wife whose Muslim husband forced marital relations on her.
The judge had favoured the husband's argument that his expectation of marital duties "was consistent with his [religious] practices". But the appeals court cited a Supreme Court precedent in which a Mormon man was not allowed to practise polygamy because US law trumped religious belief.
In Oklahoma, the Sharia ban has been challenged in court by Muneer Awad, a lawyer and the executive director of the state's chapter for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said the measure "would enshrine disapproval of Islam in the state constitution".
If his case wins a definitive victory, it might reinforce the fears of the anti-Sharia activists. In Europe, they believe Islamists have found a weak spot in the authorities' unwillingness to defend their territory and allow extremists to flourish in self-imposed ghettos.