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Just a few years ago, Linda Sarsour was a moderately well-known figure in America’s Muslim community. As Muslims remain a very small minority in this country, it is fairly common for ordinary individuals to do or say something that makes them known to a significant number of American Muslims.
Linda Sarsour, however, has gone far beyond community prominence – with over two hundred thousand followers on Twitter, and a resume that includes magazine spreads, selfies with celebrities from Rosario Dawson to Danny Glover and Bernie Sanders, not to mention TV appearances and a top spot as co-organizer of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., alongside Gloria Steinem and Scarlett Johansson.
I came to know of Linda because of her notoriety as a speaker on the American Islamist “banquet circuit," a frequent speaker and fundraiser for groups like CAIR (The Council on American-Islamic Relations) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and others. Linda was the “go to woman” for many of these groups, while always claiming no formal affiliation with any of them.
I also came to know of her through social media: she has a history of vulgar and abusive behavior on Twitter in particular, being a fan of “calling out” anyone she perceives to be in disagreement with her, especially other Muslim women.
As recently as last month, she attacked a Muslim woman activist, younger than she, in a vicious post on Facebook that became hot gossip in the community. Because this young woman had spoken at a Jewish summer camp, Linda ripped her apart as a “Zionist,” inciting hateful and nasty comments against the young woman. Linda’s “call-outs” and online abuse of others have caused Muslims to, behind closed doors, talk about how disingenuous, problematic and deeply troubling Linda is – even if they’d otherwise want to support her work for women’s rights and other issues.
Why the long lead-up? Because Linda, it seems, is seeing the tables turn: this individual, who has instigated vicious smear campaigns of others, recklessly accused others (including myself) of violating the civil rights of Muslims, of promoting hate and violence, has done so with no regard for the safety or emotional well-being of her targets.
Now Linda is stewing in a smear campaign against her – this time though, of her own making. And, naturally, she believes again that she is the victim – of someone else’s hate, not her own.
At her talk for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention over the Fourth of July weekend, Linda spoke of dissent and speaking truth to power as “the best jihad.” While a non-violent understanding of this word is always welcome, she failed to acknowledge a very simple set of truths: one, that easy use of this word against America’s leadership is something she knew would garner her massive media attention; and two, that no Muslim-led government the world over, and no Islamist group, understands jihad to be this simple or benign – and certainly not this noble.
In fact, the organization she was speaking for – ISNA – is one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s many spawn in this country, and the Brotherhood itself declares, “jihad is our way and dying for Allah is our aim.” When they say this, they don’t mean “the jihad of op-eds for human rights and dying from natural causes” – they mean violently fighting the unbelievers.
I am not suggesting that Linda herself is violent. I don’t actually believe that (and am saying it for the record, since she’s now essentially threatening on Twitter to sue all of her critics), but I do believe that she is a master of dissimulation and deception, a megalomaniac, and a faux progressive. She has risen to prominence on the backs of African-Americans, women, and LGBTQ people, while speaking and fundraising for organizations that marginalize these groups: she is playing a two-faced game, just as she is doing with the word “jihad.”
For the cameras, jihad is peaceful activism. When the Muslim Brotherhood defines it otherwise, she is silent, and speaks for the groups born out of their ideology. She fails to acknowledge and address the positions of the very groups who host and presumably pay her – especially on issues like anti-blackness, the rights of LGBTQ people, dissident, apostasy, freedom of speech and more.
In fact, this same ISNA convention where she hailed “speaking against tyrants” as the “best jihad” is the very same one during which a group of progressive Muslims advocating for women’s rights was asked to leave. She has said nothing. Who is the tyrant, and who is the “jihadi” in this scenario at the very same convention of Islamists? Why didn’t she speak truth to power, engage in her own brand of jihad, right there at ISNA? Why wasn’t ISNA the target of one of her Twitter hit campaigns?
Linda’s obfuscation has consequences. The reality is that for every Islamist movement, and Muslim-led government the world over, from Pakistan to Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, the meaning of “jihad” is armed warfare for the cause of their state interpretation of Islam. Yes, it can be defensive – but in real world application from the Islamist establishment, it is often offensive and most often militant. The goal? Islamic states, their caliphate and the theocratic subjugation under sharia of the very same people subjugated at events like the ISNA convention where Linda was speaking.
I served in the U.S. Navy because I believed in the duty as an American citizen to serve for the world’s most moral fighting force and the nation that gave my Syrian refugee parents freedom.
Contrarily, jihad for most of the world’s jihadists is about serving any version of the world’s Islamic states against the West. We Muslims have a responsibility living in the blessings of this laboratory of freedom to devote most of our bandwidth on Islam to separating mosque and state and taking the oxygen out of all forms of the Islamic state and its attendant jihad.
To begin, if Linda would like to reframe “jihad,” she would disavow herself of these oppressive Islamist groups, be honest and clear about the meaning of jihad in the “real world” of Manchester, Paris, San Bernardino and everywhere else killers attack with the word of God dripping from their lips – and first and foremost, make herself accountable as a person who has been abusive, ego-driven and disingenuous. I would personally welcome her doing so.