Monday, July 10, 2017

If you are a Trump supporter, Linda Sarsour is a dream come true: no matter how outrageous her views and statements are, the mainstream media will always rush to defend this leader of the “resistance” by dutifully echoing her self-serving claims that her critics are evil right-wingers motivated by Islamophobia and other vile resentments. In the process, being left-wing – let alone progressive – is redefined in ways that will be unpalatable to many reasonable left-leaning people (like me!). While few who identify as center-left might ever consider supporting Trump, the cult of Linda Sarsour will surely help many understand why a lot of Americans used their vote to express disgust with the liberal elites.

Sarsour’s latest achievement is making it somehow “progressive” to call on Muslims to engage in “jihad” against Trump and his administration. Calling for “jihad” these days is, as far as Sarsour’s apologists are concerned, an entirely harmless thing – after all, Sarsour just meant a “jihad” of political activism fueled by the perpetual outrage she so often advocates…

But we should actually all agree with Sarsour and her fans that the context matters, because tellingly, many of her defenders preferred NOT to link to the video that shows Sarsour’s relevant remarks in full. So let’s check out the truly shocking context of her call for “jihad” during her keynote address at a convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

Early on in her speech (at around 3.45), Sarsour emphasized her conviction that “we are on this earth to please Allah and only Allah.” She repeated this theme towards the end of her speech (after 20.00):

“Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community; it is not to assimilate and to please any other people and authority. […] And our top priority, even higher than all those [other] priorities, is to please Allah and only Allah.”

As Sarsour explained, she came to this insight thanks to her greatly admired “mentor, motivator, encourager” Siraj Wahhaj (who was in the audience). According to Wikipedia, Siraj Wahhaj is “an African-American imam of Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, New York and the leader of The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA).” Born Jeffrey Kearse, Wahhaj converted to Islam as a young man and joined the Nation of Islam, where it was acceptable to voice his belief that “white people are devils.” He eventually became a Sunni Muslim and “has made statements in support of Islamic laws over liberal democracy.” He has endorsed sharia punishments such as stoning for adultery and mutilation for theft and has expressed the view that “Islam is better than democracy. Allah will cause his deen [Islam as a complete way of life], Islam to prevail over every kind of system, and you know what? It will happen.”

Given the admiration Sarsour professed to feel for Wahhaj and the fact that she indicated he also admires her, it’s perhaps time to wonder what exactly she means when she so often emphasizes that she is “unapologetically Muslim”.

Unfortunately, the small part of her speech that her defenders quote as the relevant context for her call to wage “jihad” against Trump and his administration is hardly reassuring given that Sarsour depicts the US as a country where minorities suffer terrible oppression under the cruel rule of “fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes.”

Sarsour was no doubt delighted when her defenders rushed to post articles claiming that “the right freaked out” about her call for “jihad” because “they don’t know what it means.” The problem with the argument that Sarsour’s evil right-wing critics don’t know what “jihad” really means is that it focuses on complex and contentious theological debates among Muslim scholars while conveniently ignoring centuries of Muslim imperialism, starting with Islam’s founder Muhammad, who has been politely described as “Islam’s first great general and the leader of a successful insurgency.” Less politely, Muhammad has been called a “warlord” – and if you don’t like what Sam Harris has to say on the topic, you can turn to the immensely influential “Global Mufti” Yusuf Qaradawi, who once explained:

“Allah wanted Muhammad’s life to be a model. For instance, if we examine the question of marriage, he who has one wife can follow the Prophet Muhammed since most of the time Muhammad lived with one woman; whoever has more than one wife can also [follow Muhammad’s example]. He who marries a virgin, he who marries a non-virgin… He who marries a young woman, he who marries an old woman [all can follow Muhammad’s example]. … Similarly, Allah has also made the prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors [Mujahideen] since he ordered Muhammed to fight for religion.”

And the very first time Muhammad fought a bloody “jihad” for the religion he founded, he justified it with exactly the kind of threats that US Muslims face according to Linda Sarsour. Sarsour’s speech was full of alarming hints about the dangers threatening Muslims in America, where “fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes [are] ruling in the White House.” She issued an impassioned call for Muslim unity in the face of threats from the “Islamophobia industry” (after 10.00) and even went so far as to assert: “Unity is about survival for the Muslim community.” She also invoked the scenario of “a potentially horrific time that could come if we as a community are not united as one ummah as we are supposed to be.” Sarsour insisted that Muslims were unprepared for “the potential chaos” that the Trump administration might inflict on them and asserted that Trump was determined to test how much US Muslims “can endure.”

It is also noteworthy that in the wake of the controversy that erupted after her call for “jihad” against the Trump administration, Sarsour tried to claim that “the majority of Muslims” and “experts” would not misunderstand what she meant when she encouraged “jihad”.

Unfortunately, this is a very shaky claim given that throughout Islamic history, the kind of threats that US Muslims face according to Sarsour have been used to justify “jihad” as understood by most of Sarsour’s critics. It is no coincidence that “the 199 references to jihad in the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, all assume that jihad means warfare.”

There seem to be very little reliable data on how “the majority of Muslims” nowadays understand jihad. Gallup once asked the question in a survey conducted in 2002 and admitted rather reluctantly that “a significant minority” of the responses “did include some reference to ‘sacrificing one’s life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause,’ or ‘fighting against the opponents of Islam’” and that in some of the countries surveyed, responses like these even constituted “the single most identifiable pattern.”
But there are a lot of reliable surveys showing that hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world supported Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and believe that “suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies.”

It is hardly encouraging that support for this kind of jihadi terrorism dropped most dramatically in countries where Muslims learned the hard way that they themselves could become targets when some of their fellow Muslims feel they are not sufficiently pious.

Moreover, given that Sarsour often emphasizes her Palestinian identity, it’s rather dismal to contemplate what kind of “jihad” was popular among the majority of Palestinian Muslims in the first years after 9/11.

Last but not least, it seems doubtful that there is much reason to cheer when it turns out that “only” eight percent of American Muslims think that suicide bombings targeting civilians in defense of Islam are often or at least sometimes justified, while another five percent feel they are “rarely” justified. To be sure, 81 percent of US Muslims told pollsters such acts of terrorism can never be justified, but if Sarsour is right and there are about five million Muslim Americans, the results from the cited 2013 survey would mean that 50.000 US Muslims think suicide bombings of civilians in defense of Islam are often justified; another 350.000 feel such acts of terrorism are sometimes justified, while an additional 250.000 see them as rarely justified.

Furthermore, given Linda Sarsour’s frequent efforts to mobilize young Muslims, the alarming results of a Pew poll published ten years ago are particularly noteworthy:

“the survey finds that younger Muslim Americans – those under age 30 – are both much more religiously observant and more accepting of Islamic extremism than are older Muslim Americans. Younger Muslim Americans report attending services at a mosque more frequently than do older Muslims. And a greater percentage of younger Muslims in the U.S. think of themselves first as Muslims, rather than primarily as Americans (60% vs. 41% among Muslim Americans ages 30 and older). Moreover, more than twice as many Muslim Americans under age 30 as older Muslims believe that suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified in the defense of Islam (15% vs. 6%).”

Sarsour has worked as a Muslim community organizer for some 15 years, and as her rhetoric shows, she is encouraging the trend to more religiosity and less assimilation while studiously avoiding any criticism of the extremism that has been espoused by a not inconsiderable number of young US Muslims. Instead, she advocates enthusiastically for a convicted murderous terrorist like Rasmea Odeh and preaches perpetual outrage while calling for “jihad” without acknowledging what jihadist have wrought just in the 21st century.

Lee Smith put it best in a Tablet post:

“The reality is that the debate over Islamic semantics has already been resolved—not in American newsrooms or the partisan halls of US politics, but on the killing fields of the Middle East. The people who are cutting each other’s heads off on both sides of the sectarian divide across Syria and Iraq, crucifying civilians, making sex slaves of women and children, and indulging in other inhuman depredations, have justified the murder of their co-religionists and others according to the logic of jihad. By all means, feel free to challenge that particular interpretation of the word, but at least have the decency to acknowledge your intervention comes in the context of nearly half a million dead.”

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