Islamic activist Linda Sarsour, co-chair of the 2017 women’s march, says she is “outraged” every single morning when she wakes up and remembers who is in the White House, referring to the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Speaking to the Islamic Society of North America, she recently made several astonishing statements, the totality of which can leave a person with the impression that Sarsour is inciting sedition from Muslims in America.
Time magazine came to her defense, accusing conservatives of misquoting her and making too much out of her speech. Sorry, Time, I’m not buying your excuses. I am a Christian immigrant from Iraq. We know what Muslim agitation and radicalization looks like and where it leads. Sarsour knew full well how what she said would affect the particular community she was speaking to. This was no women’s march, this is a talk to the Muslim community, in which she chastises those who would accept our government peacefully.
Sarsour has likened herself to Martin Luther King Jr., but she has used demagoguery—you can watch the entire speech as an example—in her “activism,” and has split the Jewish community because of her support of the boycott, divest, sanctions against Israel movement and her anti-Semitic stances.
Three Tactics to Incite Muslim Americans
What Sarsour said, whom she spoke to to, and how she spoke should alert us to the three tactics radicalizers like Sarsour want to use to incite the Muslim community. One, keeping Muslim communities isolated and unassimilated: “Our number one and top priority is to protect and defend our community, it is not to assimilate and please any other people and authority” (emphasis mine).
Two, by stoking outrage within the Muslim community, and using the progressive Left’s rhetoric: “We are struggling against tyrants and rulers…here in these United States of America where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House… We as a Muslim community in these Unites States of America have to be perpetually outraged” (emphasis mine).
Third, alluding to the garden-variety terrorist acts that we have witnessed around the world: “Our top priority and even higher than all those other priorities is to please Allah and only Allah” (emphasis mine). This tactic may not be as obvious to Western viewers, but if you are a faithful Muslim who is being chastised for assimilating, then told:
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism…If you, as a Muslim, are standing on the sidelines, if you are neutral in the face of oppression in this country, you are not a patriot… When we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad… We have to stay united, we have to stay organizing, we have to stay outraged.
Then if you are reminded that your highest priority is to please Allah, it is easy to see how someone can walk away from that message radicalized and believe that to please Allah he or she must account out in violence against the “fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
Underlying this entire speech is a fundamental assumption: The American government is oppressive and it is our duty to resist and fight against it. Anyone inside and outside the Muslim community who assimilates, who sides with American government, is an oppressor and should be resisted. This is warfare mentality; it is agitation and incitement. But will the Muslim community heed Sarsour?
More About Sarsour’s American Muslim Audience
According to the Pew Research Center’s best estimates, as of 2015 there were 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. That is the total for all ages. This is roughly 1 percent of the population of the United States. Pew projects that Muslims will increase to 2.1 percent of the American population by the year 2050. They also found that 63 percent of Muslims were immigrants.
In a 2011 survey, 69 percent said religion is important in their lives, 48 percent said men and women should be separated when praying at a mosque, 70 percent lean toward the Democratic Party, and 48 percent believe their leaders do not speak out enough against Islamic extremists. Of foreign-born Muslims, 58 percent said Americans were friendly, but only 30 percent of Muslims born in America said American people are friendly toward Muslim Americans.
From that same survey, 68 percent said they wanted a bigger government and more services. Out of 1,033 Muslim Americans, Pew found that 5 percent have a somewhat favorable view of al-Qaeda. Of those surveyed, 20 percent said Muslim Americans want to be distinct from the larger American society, and 56 percent of those surveyed said Muslim Americans wanted to assimilate.
Muslim Americans seem likely to be financially secure. In that same 2011 survey by Pew, 74 percent said hard work leads to success, and 46 percent said they were in excellent or good financial condition. The survey also showed that American Muslims were just as likely as other Americans to have a $100,000 or more annual household income. Finally, 49 percent of those surveyed said they would identify as Muslim first. Pew even took the time to ask questions about recycling, using Facebook, watching television, and playing video games, but what I didn’t see are questions about how American Muslims view the rule of law and equality under the law.
We Need to Know What American Muslims Think
The research done so far on this community has not been much. That survey of 1,033 Muslim American adults in 2011, when the total adult population of the Muslims in the United States at that time was 1.8 million (2.75 million including children), only surveyed 0.057 percent of the entire American Muslim population.
We don’t seem to know much about what U.S. Muslims think about fundamental American commitments such as equality before the law and engaging in violence to achieve political ends, but the international numbers on that even in “moderate” Muslim countries is frightening. In Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, large majorities of Muslims support establishing sharia law. Even in Muslim-minority countries such as Russia and the United Kingdom, approximately 40 percent of Muslims support sharia.
This is the context into which Sarsour was knowingly making her comments, as well as a global context of poor Muslim assimilation into Western countries, as evidenced by the rate of European terrorism. Their relatively high education levels and financial stability does not necessarily mean American Muslims may not be open to radicalization techniques like that of Sarsour’s, either, because the buttons she’s pushing are Muslim identity and religion.
Pew reports that Muslim Americans consider themselves religious but not dogmatic. That’s optimistic, but again, given the global data on what Muslims think about politics and religion, and surveys suggesting a quarter of American Muslims think terrorism is a legitimate response to people who draw pictures of Mohammed, we need more and better information, and for American Muslim leaders to speak with tact, not calls to violence. That’s especially crucial given that a number of domestic terrorist attacks have been committed by Muslim U.S. citizens neighbors thought were well-assimilated. American ISIS sympathizers have been also found to listen to inciters of violence such as the well-known American Muslim cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril in Dearborn, Michigan.
Will the Muslim community turn away from their assimilation trajectory and follow Sarsour’s plan to isolate themselves, stay perpetually outraged, and organize against the U.S. government? One of Pew’s headings is “Middle Class and Mainstream.” I pray they are right. But let’s not hide our heads in the samd, either, or excuse those whose speeches would ominously alter that heading.