Muslim Liberal Who Called for Jihad Says Critics are Just Scared of Her
Muslim activist Linda Sarsour is an increasingly influential voice on the left. She was appointed co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington despite considerable backlash, and her speaking engagements attract more and more attention from a mostly-adoring left-wing press. In the meantime, she has also become a figure of controversy on the right, where her dubious views on Islam, Israel, and feminism have inspired the kinds of protests we’re more accustomed to seeing around conservative speakers.
Sarsour’s latest venture into controversy came last weekend, when she spoke at a convention for the Islamic Society of North America. There, she said it was incumbent on American Muslims to wage “jihad” against the Trump administration and to place the war on Islamophobia above any responsibility they might have to assimilate into the culture. Her critics rightfully scorned the language, pointing out the obvious fact that she sounded just a bit too much like the terrorists who have come to define her religion for so many people in this country. Some, in fact, went further, accusing Sarsour of encouraging the exact sort of religious violence that Islam should be working tirelessly to separate itself from.
Now she’s defending herself by claiming that the only reason she’s the target of so much criticism is that right-wing Americans are “afraid” of her progressive voice. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Sarsour played the victim card while simultaneously crowning herself the champion of a groundswell movement of feminism, resistance, and American Islamic liberation:
This week, conservative media outlets took a speech I gave to the largest gathering of Muslims in America out of context and alleged that I had called for a violent “jihad” against the president. I did not. Sadly, this is not a new experience for me. Since the Women’s March on Washington, which I had the privilege of co-chairing with inspirational women from across the country, my family and I have received countless threats of physical violence. These ugly threats come from people who also spout anti-Muslim, xenophobic and white-supremacist beliefs. Their sole agenda is to silence and discredit me because I am an effective leader for progress, a Palestinian American and Brooklyn-born Muslim woman. In short, I am their worst nightmare.
Most disturbing about this recent defamation campaign is how it is focused on demonizing the legitimate yet widely misunderstood Islamic term I used, “jihad,” which to majority of Muslims and according to religious scholars means “struggle” or “to strive for.” This term has been hijacked by Muslim extremists and right-wing extremists alike, leaving ordinary Muslims to defend our faith and in some cases silenced. It sets a dangerous precedent when people of faith are policed and when practicing their religion peacefully comes with consequences.
It’s pretty remarkable that a liberal would be so ignorant of how words can be perceived. For a movement that has fallen in love with the term “dog whistle” to describe half of what comes out of any given Republican’s mouth, you have to be pretty far up your own posterior to be defending the word “jihad” in the year 2017. Especially when the context is this supposed streak of “Islamophobia” emanating from the White House.
But Sarsour may be right. She may be many Americans’ “worst nightmare.” Not, certainly, because she is an “effective” leader in the progressive movement, but because she is flirting with the language of violence before an audience that could easily – EASILY – mistake her call for “struggle” with a call for something much more sinister. And at a time when the left should be carefully thinking about the damage their rhetoric against Trump has already caused, it’s sad that Sarsour is so arrogant and self-righteous about her own responsibility as a public figure.
She has every right to her free speech, but she doesn’t have the right to stand above and beyond criticism.