SO NOW the terrorists win if a Canadian Muslim can buy a can of tomato soup.

Conservative bloggers are calling for a boycott of Camden-based Campbell Soup Co. because it now produces (in Canada, not here) 15 varieties of soup that have been certified halal - that is, conforming with Muslim dietary laws.

It's yet another alarming development in the so- far-successful political strategy of exploiting ignorance and fear of Islam. It joins last summer's roiling controversy over a proposed Islamic cultural center a few New York blocks from Ground Zero and the crazy Florida minister's threat to publicly burn a Quran. In recent weeks, various politicians have pronounced warnings that Americans are in grave danger of being subject to sharia law.

Don't assume these "issues" are confined to the conservative fringe. The soup boycott is being led Pam Geller, the conservative blogger with rabid anti-Islam views who managed to gin up the New York mosque controversy with the aid of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and Fox News.

Geller claims she's not against halal soups but against the organization that certifies them, the Islamic Society of North America, because of its alleged ties to Hamas. Just like the smears of the Muslim leaders behind the Islamic Center, this charge is bogus: The ISNA has been certifying halal foods since 1988, has denied ties to Hamas and has condemned extremism and violence. Besides, the 4,005 "friends" of the boycott's Facebook page know exactly what this is about, some leaving comments and links directed not at ISNA but at Muslims and Islam.

In a similar fashion, several conservative politicians suddenly have started warning that Americans are in danger of being subjected to sharia law. In fact, there's a referendum of the ballot in Oklahoma for an amendment to the state constitution specifically banning sharia law.

The unspeakable Newt Gingrich, one-time speaker of the House of Representatives, declared recently, "I am totally opposed to any effort to impose sharia law in the United States.

Well, gee, so are we. We're also opposed to any effort to impose Catholic laws against divorce in the United States (which should come as a relief to the thrice-married Gingrich) or orthodox Jewish laws against shopping on Saturdays. And these changes are about as likely a possibility as sharia law replacing the U.S. Constitution.

Why are so many people so willing to believe these myths? Perhaps it is because Americans, who are among the most religious people in the world, are also remarkably illiterate about religion. A recent survey by the Pew Center found that many Christian Americans know little about non-Christian religions and were somewhat ignorant of their own. This insularity makes us more likely to believe that the more bloodthirsty verses in the Quran describe the views of all modern Muslims (while we ignore equally troubling Bible verses.)

An assessment of thousands of acts of suicide terrorism by a University of Chicago professor found that most Muslim perpetrators are motivated not by doctrines of "radical Islam" but by the desire for revenge against American policies, especially the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that's ever-so-more challenging to our worldview - and much less politically potent - than seeing an insidious conspiracy in a can of Vegetarian Vegetable soup.