The dual-allegiance charge against Jews was enshrined in the most notorious anti-Semitic document, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which claimed that Jews would always place the interests of world Jewry over that of their host country. After the birth of Israel, Jews were sometimes accused of putting Israel’s interests before America’s, such as when some critics of the Iraq War suggested that Jewish neoconservatives were pushing the nation into a foolish conflict to advance Israel’s foreign-policy goals. More recently, American Muslims have been most subject to the dual-loyalty charge, something that Omar, as a trailblazing Muslim woman, should consider.
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In the case of Muslims, the slander has come in the form of the campaign against Sharia, the broad body of Islamic law. The anti-Sharia efforts have maintained that American Muslims—like American Catholics—must abide by a foreign law created by a foreign religion in a foreign land. Brigitte Gabriel, the leader of ACT for America, has argued that if you’re a devout Muslim, you by definition cannot be a loyal American: “A practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day—this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
Emphasizing the influence of the law enabled opponents to strip Islam of its legitimacy as a religion. “Islam is a political ideology … It definitely hides behind being a religion,” Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, once said.
And being a political system—controlled from abroad—means it does not merit First Amendment protection. “Far from being entitled to the protections of our Constitution under the principle of freedom of religion,” declared a report by the Center for Security Policy, Sharia “is actually a seditious assault on our Constitution which we are obliged to prosecute, not protect.” Conservatives who criticize Omar for her divided-loyalty comments but then also support the anti-Sharia crusade are applying a double standard.
Of course, dual-loyalty slanders are usually constructed around an element of truth. American Jews often do support Israel, Catholics often follow the teachings of the Church on important issues, and Muslims do observe elements of Sharia at odds with majority culture (such as eating halal foods). It’s totally fair to point out that these religious minorities—like all other Americans—are subject to cross-pressures.
But dual-allegiance charges go much further than offering a polite disagreement on policy. They imply not only that a group is un-American, but that its adherents have no agency. They cannot be patriotic, because they are thoroughly under the influence of a foreign power or code. And when the spell is being cast by a religion, it is deemed an especially powerful form of mind control. If you’re a good Catholic, you have no choice but to follow the pope. If you’re a good Muslim, you have no choice but to follow Sharia (and therefore support terrorists).