Do U.S. law and sharia conflict? How?

One of the men that the recently killed Anwar al-Awlaki worked with was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He's the guy known as the underwear bomber, after his attempt to take down a Detroit-bound plane two Christmases ago. And you can thank the U.S. response to that failed attempt for the nudie scans and freedom fondles you receive at airports these days. Well, in a surprise move yesterday, Abdulmutallab pled guilty to all of the charges against him. It had been a bit of a crazy trial prior to that, with Abdulmutallab considering guilty please and firing his attorneys.

I was following some religion reporters yesterday on Twitter who wrote that Abdulmutallab read in English from a lengthy statement saying he was guilty under U.S. law but not under sharia. I had hoped that next-day reports would explain a bit more about Abdulmutallab's views on sharia as well as what Muslims who don't support terror have to say about that.

As this Associated Press story was updated, some of these things were fleshed out. Here's how it ran in the New York Times:

Abdulmutallab calmly answered the judge's questions and read a political statement warning that if the United States continues "to persist and promote the blasphemy of Muhammad and the prophets," it risks "a great calamity ... through the hands of the mujahedeen soon."

"If you laugh at us now, we will laugh at you later on the day of judgment," he said.

The article quotes his court-appointed lawyer talking about how Abdulmutallab prayed before his decision to plead and in general, there's a lot of discussion of religion. But it's unfortunately pretty shallow. Take this, in a section about how passengers on the plane felt about the guilty plea:

A woman who sat six rows in front of Abdulmutallab on the plane, said the guilty plea provided her with "relief."

"It was disheartening and sickening, however, to listen to Abdulmutallab explain why he feels his actions were justified," Hebba Aref, a Detroit-area native, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

"As a Muslim myself, I know that he has a completely erroneous and distorted interpretation of the Quran."

I realize there's not much room in a report about an attempted terrorist pleading guilty to a major attack but when a terrorist claims that there's a major conflict between U.S. law and sharia, that needs to be explained a bit more. We're always making fun of non-Muslims who say the same thing -- generally also without listening to their arguments.

That there are people who either don't see a conflict between sharia and U.S. law or don't believe any conflicts will be realistically realized also needs to be mentioned and their arguments need to be fully explained. Here we have a great hook to discuss these things -- a major terrorist making a claim about conflicts between U.S. and Muslim law. Al Qaeda's theological arguments tend to be rather fleshed out. And many Muslims have taken the time and energy to refute them as well. Certainly 10 years after the September 11 terror attacks we're ready for those debates to be mentioned in an even cursory fashion in the media.

Detroit Free Press reporter Niraj Warikoo helpfully linked to what I believe is the lengthy handwritten statement from which Abdulmutallab read. It begins with a criticism of the Trinity, is filled with religious references and justifications, and ends with a note explicitly stating the religious nature of Abdulmutallab's attack. There's simply no way around that part of the story.

Still, I would like more specifics about Abdulmutallab's line of thinking. Precisely how does sharia conflict with U.S. law in his view? And what do other informed people -- be they Muslim, legal scholars or both -- say in response?

The Detroit News had a few lines from the guilty plea. The Detroit Free Press' latest article is most helpful because of the transcripts and pdfs that accompany the story. It's really wonderful how much more informed readers can be thanks to the internet by getting a first-hand look at these things.

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