I'm not a fan of Linda Sarsour because she refused to honor Hillary at the Jan. 21 Women's March, by only adding her name to a list of many women being honored that day. However, I've generally refused to criticize Linda as a matter of feminist principles, and I've publicly defended her on Facebook on more than one occasion.
This article sat unpublished and in draft form as I read more about Sarsour and let her personality percolate, but the Brooklyn's Muslim queen settled the issue in my mind this week, after reading her response to CNN's Jake Tapper. The near-hysterical Twitter rant that was so all about Linda that I agree with Emily Shire writing for The Daily Beast, that Sarsour is sounding an awful lot like Donald Trump, with his massive-ego persecution complex. This is not good news for women's rights or Muslim rights in America.
Battle Blows: Jake Tapper & Linda Sarsour
CNN's Jake Tapper notoriously questioned Donald Trump more than 20 times in a single interview about his racist comments in the presidential campaign. Tapper is one of 10 journalists to face the most anti-Semitic harassment online, concluded the Anti-Defamation League in a 2016 report.
I'm not building a case for Jake Tapper, but I do support his right to question Linda Sarsour about the wisdom of speaking for the Women's March to celebrate the birthday of the "revolutionary" Assata Shakur. This latest fiery missive from the Women's March follows Linda's recent call for jihad in America, the action that prompted my written but left in draft thoughts.
For background, Assata Shakur is a black militant who killed a New Jersey trooper in a 1973 shootout. She was eventually caught and imprisoned but escaped to Cuba in 1984, where she lives today. Shakur remains on the FBI's most-wanted list and is unlikely ever to return to the United States.
In response to Jake Tapper's calling out the Women's March, specifically mentioning Sarsour and the Chicago Dyke March -- who proudly expelled marchers for carrying flags with Stars of David -- with these words: “Shakur is a cop-killer fugitive in Cuba. This, ugly sentiments from @lsarsour & @dykemarchchi ...Any progressives out there condemning this?”
Sarsour tweeted back that Tapper “joins the ranks of the alt-right to target me online. Welcome to the party.” This is hardly the first time that Linda Sarsour has positioned herself as a victim. And I am sorry but when I reflect on the great Angela Davis or Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela -- I don't recall any of the making themselves the center of the struggle as Sarsour does. Just checking Angela Davis' Twitter to see if she weighed in on the controversy, I see that she dropped off in 2012, when I did.
After Sarsour challenged Tapper to share her 'ugly' sentiments, Tapper responded by reminding everyone reading that Sarsour had attacked anti-female genital mutilation activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, saying she wished she could “take [her] vagina away” and that she didn’t “deserve to be [a] wom[a]n.”
Islam & Women's Rights: Sarsour Crucified Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ali, born a Muslim in Somalia, was subjected to female genital mutilation. After escaping an arranged marriage, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become a leading voice asking for reform in Islam. I remember reading her book in 2009 -- at the height of a buried but transparent argument on AOC between myself and Moroccan activists that went on for 3-4 days. My emotions were raw enough, but I distinctly remember reading Ali's riveting passage on the moment the razor sliced her age five clitoris, a time when I was already writing about female genital mutilation. In the darkest of my bedroom with the reading light over my shoulder, I screamed a blood-curdling cry and threw the book across the room, where it hit the wall and dropped to the floor. After that I sobbed for about 30 minutes and have been dedicated to Muslim women ever since.
My own writing have seriously challenged Islam for its treatment of women, attempting to walk a fair and reasonable path between Ali and Sarsour. Let me clear, though, that I find Sarsour's criticisms of Ali disgusting and not at all the reflections of a woman I regard as a feminist leader in America.
Even on Twitter, Linda Sarsour does not refer to herself as a feminist but as a 'Palestinian-American-Muslim, civil rights activist, National Co-Chair of @womensmarch'.
What I will not do without comment is to let Sarsour use her Women's March platform in a way that begins to work against all American women -- given my primary opposition to religion generally in how it works against women's rights. That opposition to religion's treatment of women certainly includes Islam. We can speak of the beauty of the religion -- and there is much -- but Islam flourishes today worldwide as a fundamentalist religion of control and aggression against women. I can't imagine that Linda Sarsour seriously debates this fact about contemporary Islam.
Sarsour Doesn't Demand of Herself What She Requires of Jewish Women
At a time when Sarsour herself demands that Jewish feminists take a pro-Palestine stance, she is loathe to acknowledge Islam's challenges on multiple fronts. Returning to the event that triggered my first writing of this draft-only article, it was Linda's speech at a predominately Muslim crowd at the annual Islamic Society of North America convention in suburban Chicago that really caused me to pause. Sarsour addressed passionately the need for her fellow American Muslims to speak out against the Trump administration and oppression generally, writes the Washington Post.
In her speech, Sarsour told a story from Islamic scripture about a man who once asked Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?
“And our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,'” Sarsour said.
“I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
Sarsour insists that she was speaking only of nonviolent protest. I believe that assertion, but calling for "jihad" in America is certain to stir up a hornet's nest. My real issue with Linda's speech and others of her actions is that they make women's rights issues subservient to her commitment to Islam. She is well known in conjunction with the Women's March, and this would not be the first time that someone decided to ride the backs of all American women for more parochial, self-serving interests.
When Linda starts calling for 'jihad' in America, and she positions herself (with support from her colleagues) at the top of voices speaking for American women, I must do some soul-searching and consultation with feminist friends. In early 2016, PEW Research estimated the size of America's Muslim population to be about 3.3 million. I understand and respect her commitment to Islam and the advancement with integrity of Muslims in America.
As someone who is not keen on religion being the dominant influence on our society, I struggle with Sarsour's decision to call for "jihad" and -- more importantly -- her calls for non-assimilation. Having spent hours researching Linda Sarsour, it's not so easy to nail down her beliefs. She seems to embrace sharia law -- and not the US Constitution, imperfect as it is --- to govern Muslim communities. This position is unAmerican to me, in the same way that I don't endorse Orthodox Jewish law practices in Brooklyn, New York.
Linda did speak out strongly, recently condemning VA Imam Shaker El Sayed’s seeming embrace of female genital mutilation, and calling for his immediate firing.
My instincts tell me that Linda's call for "jihad" in America is a major problem for me, because her words will impact ALL women. The threats to rolling back decades of progress for American women is so strong in the Trump administration, that supporting and defending Linda's interpretation for "jihad" in America is not high on my list.
Clearly outspoken myself, I feel that Linda was carelessly and needlessly flamboyant in her language, especially representing a small minority of people in America. My Muslim friends are not calling for jihad, to the best of my knowledge, even though they are very outspoken about Trump and Islamaphobia in America.
My Muslim Friends Aren't Calling for 'Jihad'
Our highly conservative governments are committed to rolling back all women's rights at a state and national level. Defending ALL American women defacto means that I defend Linda's rights and the rights of Muslim women in America. Rest assured, though, I am not now -- and never will -- call for "jihad" against the American government.
I will reflect further on this matter -- but on the face of it, I don't like Sarsour's approach one little bit. She has elevated the cause of Islam in America, above all others in my opinion. xxxxx weighs in saying
Perhaps, Sarsour’s attempt to slander a journalist at CNN for asking questions — rather than to answer the question — may be a much-needed wakeup call for feminists and others on the left about the destructive tactics that the intersectionalist left appears to be picking up from its counterparts on the alt-right.
There is truth in this challenge, because Sarsour and company definitely seek to divide white women who are Hillary supporters as being illegitimate in the cause. Many are Jewish women, and I promise Linda Sarsour that she will lose any fight that seeks to discredit American Jewish women. For the moment, my focus is to understand Linda Sarsour better through the lens of Donald Trump. Her Twitter stance of being a person under attack seems feckless, when I reflect on history's great civil rights leaders, who were always about the movement and not about themselves.
If this low-grade temperature seems so intense to Linda, she should consider getting out of the kitchen. If she does intend to run for Brooklyn borough president in the future, Sarsour should definitely dial down the persecution volume.
In a generally favorable deep-dive Fader asks "Who's Afraid of Linda Sarsour?" The response sums up how I increasingly see Sarsour -- except that I find the Donald Trump persecution-complex, not mentioned in Fader, spot on -- and that is not good:
Among New York activists, she has a reputation for putting her career and public image first, sometimes at the expense of other organizers. “She’s smart, she’s energetic, and she knows how to use the media,” says Omar Mohammedi, an attorney and New York City’s former Muslim and Arab New York City Commissioner on Human Rights. “However, she takes credit for a lot of work that does not belong to her.”
When it comes to some of Sarsour’s trademark causes — successfully lobbying for public school students to get time off on Muslim holidays, for instance, or a civil rights lawsuit against police surveillance — Mohammedi accuses her of parachuting in at the last minute and elbowing her way into becoming the public face of the cause, an accusation that others have leveled too. “She’s good at many things,” he says, “but she’s not a uniter in the community.”
Related: Islamophobes are attacking me because I'm their worst nightmare by Linda Sarsour The Washington Post