Senator Sam Brownback had an interesting exchange with Michael Mukasey in the course of the latter's committee hearings to become attorney general.
BROWNBACK: I want to take you to the trial of—the blind sheik trial of 1993, the World Trade Center bombing and related terrorism plot. The lead co-defendant, Abdul Rahman, sought to introduce expert testimony to show that his actions were governed by Islamic law. You, properly, I believe, excluded the testimony on Islamic law as irrelevant to the criminal charges and potentially confusing to the jury. The Second Circuit explain in affirming your ruling it would not constitute a defense that Abdul Rahman was justified within the framework of Islamic law. I believe you remember this piece of that case.
MUKASEY: I do. And the point of the ruling was that the issue before the jury was not what Islamic law provided or didn't, but, rather, what was in his mind when he made statements that were proved at trial to his followers about what they should do and what was appropriate for them to do and that his obligations were not—under Islamic law were totally irrelevant for that. The issue wasn't Islamic law, the issue was what was in his mind and what wasn't.
BROWNBACK: And that's the issue that I want to get at, if we can. And it may be a difficult thing to discuss or get at. But certain countries' courts have held that sharia, or Islamic religious law trumps civil constitution. There's been a case in Malaysia. There was a case earlier this year in Germany, there a Frankfurt presiding judge over a divorce court involving two Muslim Moroccan residents in Germany put aside German divorce law and ruled, instead, on the basis of her understanding of the Koran. Case aroused considerable controversy in June. The Justice Ministry and the German state that she resided in, the judge did, decided against disciplining the judge. What would be your thoughts on this were this to arise in the United States—in a court of law in the United States?
MUKASEY: I think we should not create, anywhere in this country, enclaves that are governed by any law other than the law that applies to everybody. We live in this country under one system of laws. And whatever may be the religious requirements of any group, we don't create enclaves where a different law applies, a different law governs and people don't have the rights that everybody else has outside that enclave. I would resist that very firmly—the creation of any such enclave.
BROWNBACK: Good. And I think that's the right way to look at it. It just—it's troubling to a number of people and it's troubling to me that you see these sorts of thoughts starting to come forward—and in western countries, that they move forward—that the Constitution is the law of the land and it governs all of us and the laws that proceed out of it that are built here.
Comments: (1) It is good to see the subject of Shari'a raised, then dealt with so firmly. (2) This issue may seem remote and arcane right now, but soon enough it will be close and familiar. (October 17, 2007)