Other Muslims -- many other Muslims -- dispute this. The varied traditions of Islamic jurisprudence assign different weights to scripture, tradition, reason and consensus in the interpretation of Islamic law. Some assert it is identical to the cultural and legal practices of seventh-century Arabia, creating a real global danger. But others believe it is a set of transcendent principles of justice separable from its initial cultural expression and binding mainly on the individual. Most Muslims respect Islamic law. But the interpretation of Shariah varies greatly from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia to Tanzania to Detroit.
Yet Gingrich insists: "Shariah in its natural form has principles and punishments totally abhorrent to the Western world." With due respect to the speaker and his recent reading, what qualification does he have to identify Shariah's "natural form"? In America, public officials respect the conscience of citizens while protecting them from violence. The proper role of government is to aggressively fight terrorism, not to engage in theological judgments.
The governing implications of Gingrich's views are uncharted. Would President Gingrich reaffirm his belief that the most radical form of Islamic law is the most authentic? Would he tell American Muslims that to be good citizens they should renounce Shariah? Would he argue in his inaugural address, as he has argued before, that "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization"? No strategy would be more likely to produce resentment, alienation and radicalism.
And how would President Gingrich deal with predominantly Muslim nations if the war against terrorism were transformed into a struggle against Shariah? Wouldn't every Muslim friend and ally be discredited and undermined by having a relationship with the anti-Shariah superpower? Wouldn't imams across the world feel compelled to condemn a Catholic president's simplistic interpretation of Islamic theology? Wouldn't Islamic radicals welcome the civilizational struggle that Gingrich offers? No strategy would be more likely to undermine the cause of America and the safety of its people.
Of course, none of this is possible. As president, Gingrich would be forced to repudiate his previous views out of strategic necessity. But those views demonstrate a disturbing tendency: the passionate embrace of shallow ideas.