The essay below is an expanded version of an article first published at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.
In 2018, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – did so with the help of both Islamist and progressivist bases. For years, critics have thought the collaboration between Islamist groups and sections of the Left to be a cautious, temporary ideological alliance. In fact, a growing section of American Islamism has sincerely embraced progressivist politics, despite its clear contradictions with theocratic ideals.
Writing recently in the New York Times, Cato Institute fellow Mustafa Akyol arguesthat America’s “Muslim community,” far from campaigning for theocracy (as claimed by “Islamophobes”), is in fact being swarmed by a powerful, welcome “creeping liberalism.”
On the face of it, it seems he has a point. Prominent Muslim voices lead Women’s Marches in cities across America and argue for “intersectional feminism.” Groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – just 10 years ago named by federal prosecutors as part of an enormous terror finance network – now spend a great deal of time publishing social media items about Black Lives Matter while also campaigning for “social justice,” prison reform and higher minimum wages. Leading Muslim clerics are to be found praising Malcolm X as “our prince,” and protesting Trump’s immigration plans at the southern border. And a few Muslim campaigners even express solidarity with transgender and “queer” activists, and publicly dream, as the prominent Islamist-linked activist Linda Sarsour puts it, of “a world free of anti-black racism, islamophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, sexism, and misogyny.”
This is not, however, a broad creeping liberalism; it is, more specifically, a creeping progressivist narrative – and it is changing the face of American Islamism. But is this genuine progressivism? Or is this just part of the perennial debate among Islamists living in the West: in the effort to advance a theocratic agenda using lawful means, to what extent should Islamists dilute their message to fit Western political narratives?
Standing against the march of progress, Aykol observes, is a minority group of “conservative” Muslim clerics. He quotes a few from extreme Salafi circles, but there is in fact a much broader array of contending ideas among America’s Sunni Muslims – and its Islamists – on the question of whether progressivist politics poses a threat or affords an opportunity.
Many of those who oppose the progressive trend are not bearded Wahhabis in Arab dress. Ismail Royer, for instance, is a former jihadist who claims to have moderated and now works for the multi-faith Religious Freedom Institute in D.C. Although he claims to regard Islam as a “vehicle for social justice,” he firmly rejects progressivism, and urges an Islamic alliance with conservative Christian movements – even writing pieces in Christian publications in support of the evangelical opposition to gay marriage.
Islamists will, however, find a limited supply of sympathy from American evangelicals. Sections of the Left, meanwhile, have a long history of welcoming Islamist activists into their tent. But it is the very eagerness of the Left to co-opt American Islam that concerns certain leading Islamists.
Traditional, purist Salafi and Wahhabi clerics condemn those modernist Salafistrying to “westernise Islam” by appealing to progressivist impressions of Islam. The modernist Salafis use progressive rhetoric about Islamophobia and the Black Lives Matter movement, but also warn about the dangers of support for feminism and homosexuality within Muslim Students Associations, which are supported and funded by organizations tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the Muslim Student Associations (when taking a break from those intersectional solidarity marches) debate fractiously whether to “de-platform” either the “regressive” Salafi clerics, or those extra-progressive Muslims who seem just a little too committed to working with Jewish groups or advocating for gay rights.
There is no doubt that some of the more ascetic Islamists reject all ideological alliances. Some may engage in some barebones interfaith activities, but they do so while warning against accepting the “validity” of other religions and preaching that “Islam in the West is a resistance movement against totalitarian liberal ideology.” (As Michel Houellebecq illustrates with alarming plausibility in his novel Submission, this line of thinking may end up appealing to those Western non-Muslims also frightened by the fast-growing progressivist movement and finding more than a few shared values with Islamist ideologues.)
But there are many, especially within modernist Salafi networks, who have observed the growth of political activist Islamist movements in America, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, and partly ascribe their success to the adoption of modish political trends. Much of the progressivist rhetoric that emanates from these modernist Salafis, however, is manifestly deceitful.
In their private sermons before Muslim audiences, modernist Salafi clerics rally against the evils of apostate ideologies. Yasir Qadhi, a leading cleric of the AlMaghrib Institute, for instance, denounces the theology of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam (NOI) as heretical and “perverted.” In public, however, Qadhi’s clerical colleagues eulogize Malcom X – a progressivist darling — and praise NOI leader Louis Farrakhan as a great radical hero. This may be ideologically incoherent, but it is tactically shrewd.
Other duplicity is more plainly apparent. The Texas-based imam Omar Suleiman, for instance, has been an active voice in the protests against the Trump administration’s immigration. In March 2018, he was arrested at the Capitol after “civil disobedience” to demand “protection for young immigrant Dreamers.” And yet before an Muslim audience, Suleiman has warned young girls, without condemnation, that if they are “promiscuous” they may be killed by a family member.
Or look at Islamist media: Al Jazeera’s social media channel AJ+ broadcasts documentaries on transgender rights and the wickedness of misogyny, homophobia and other bigotries; while its Arabic parent station broadcasts sermons by Muslim Brotherhood clerics advocating the killing of gays, and offeringhusbands permission to beat their wives.
Some Islamists have sought to explain American Islamist institutions’ partial-embrace of progressivism as a response to “Islamophobia.” Shariq Siddiqui, an official of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), has written that “Islamophobia makes it difficult for ISNA and Muslim Americans to determine which positions are centered on their religious values and which positions are based on political necessity. … For example, in 2003, ISNA was opposed to gay marriages, but now ISNA is part of a coalition working in favor of gay marriage.”
Others have made it clear that non-Muslim progressivists are dispensable partners. As Counter Islamist Grid director Kyle Shideler recently discovered: newly-elected Virginia General Assembly Member Ibraheem Samirah (who was recently exposedas a virulent anti-Semite) has explicitly compared the Islamist alliance with progressivists to the decision of the Islamic prophet Muhammad “to form treaties with his enemies. He had to form alliances with people who weren’t necessarily believers of his message, who would later on become people who would be his enemies.” (Samirah also served as a senior campaign official for freshman Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib)
Nevertheless, an increasing number of clerics and Muslim thinkers have begun to regret their forays into progressivist politics. Leading modernist Salafi clerics such as Yasir Qadhi now appear deeply shocked that Muslim students have moved from carefully taking advantage of progressivist trends to openly supporting “LGBTQ” campaigns on campuses.
And indeed, at one end of the spectrum, there is a rising group of activists from Islamist circles who seem to believe in this fused progressivist-Islamist creed. Across America, branches of the Council on American-Islamic Relations are today staffed with young hijab-wearing graduates of Muslim Students Associations, who appear to have reconciled working for terror-linked extremists while also publishing transgender rights petitions on their social media accounts.
Notorious Islamist activist Linda Sarsour appears an earnest advocate of Islamist-progressivism, calling for (an ostensibly non-violent) “jihad” against Donald Trump, and quipping: “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans & credit cards become interest free. Sound nice, doesn’t it?” In 2014, praising the fact that Saudi Arabia reportedly provides women with ten weeks of paid maternity leave, Sarsour denounced opponents of Saudi’s ban on female drivers (which has since been lifted) and claimed that Saudi put the U.S to shame.
Sarsour is a harbinger of a broader trend. Whether American Islamist movements intended to embrace progressivism authentically or not, many Islamist groups are now so firmly entrenched in the progressive movement that a generation of young American Muslims is growing up convinced that the progressivist social justice and sexual identity narratives are intrinsic components of the Islamist agenda. No wonder some traditional Islamists speak out so forcefully against “liberal ideology,” or caution against too tight an embrace of progressivist allies – their own radicalism is being supplanted.
American Islamists are conflicted. Some reject the embrace of left-wing politics entirely. Others clearly exploit progressivist organizations to advance their cause. And then there are some, a new generation of intersectional Islamists, who seem to have found a genuine way to advocate for, or warily justify, “queer”-friendly politics. It looks like the progressivist rhetoric of Islamist activists such as Sarsour, or politicians such as Ilhan Omar, is sincere – even if it seems patently confused and inconsistent to any rational observer.
This poses a new sort of threat. These intersectional Islamists – these theo-progressives – are part of a broader radical undertaking that has a much greater chance of imposing extremist ideas on American society than the Muslim Brotherhood or Wahhabis ever did.
Sam Westrop is Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
(Photo: Aish.com / YouTube)
Despite advances in modern medicine, China is setting up roadblocks to cope with an outbreak of an ancient plague that once wiped out one-third of the world’s population and may have been one of the plagues that God used to strike Egypt.
Chinese officials installed temperature scanners at airports and checkpoints on main roads in an attempt to stop the spread of Bubonic plague as a fourth case was discovered in less than three weeks. A program to exterminate rats and fleas, which carry the disease, was also launched in Inner Mongolia where the disease seems to be originating.
Demonstrators gather in solidarity with anti-regime protests in Iran outside the Iranian Embassy in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: Reuters / Lehtikuva / Heikki Saukkomaa.
Four human rights lawyers currently imprisoned by the Iranian regime have been awarded with the annual prize of Europe’s most prestigious lawyers’ association.
The Iranian lawyers received the 2019 Human Rights Award from The Council of Bars and Law Societies Of Europe (CCBE) — a body that represents the bars and law societies of 45 countries and through them more than 1 million European lawyers.
The University of Bristol campus. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Bristol in England has adopted “in full” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, the school’s Epigram independent student newspaper reported on Monday.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and Bristol’s Jewish Society (J-Soc) welcomed the move, saying, “The University of Bristol has not been free of antisemitic incidents and the adoption of this definition is an important first step in helping the university tackle anti-Jewish racism. We now expect the university to use this definition in outstanding disciplinary cases.”
Pope Francis Meets Thailand’s Buddhist Patriarch in Golden Temple (screenshot)
Pope Francis topped off his three-day visit to Thailand last Saturday with a meeting with Thailand’s supreme Buddhist patriarch Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong at Bangkok’s Ratchabophit Temple. The meeting took place in front of a 150-year-old gold statue of Buddha. The Pope followed Buddhist custom by removing his shoes.
During the meeting, the Pope gave the Buddhist Patriarch the Declaration on Human Brotherhood. The Declaration s a joint statement signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, last February in Abu Dhabi. The Pope met with the Imam last month to reinforce the Declaration.
An Israeli company says it is using space travel technology to help solve one of the most pressing problems down on Earth — the reliance on diesel fuel, a major source of pollution.
Israeli startup GenCell has developed an electric generator based on a hydrogen-energy technology used to power some of the most-famous space missions in history.
Feb 02, 2020 0The remarks from the US official came in wake of the Palestinian decision to reject the administration’s peace plan. US PRESIDENT Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive to...
On January 18, a Shia Muslim rebel group launched a terror attack that claimed the lives of 111 in Yemen.
Days earlier, a Pakistani general captured popular sentiment whenever Muslims kill fellow Muslims by saying “Those who targeted innocents [Muslims] in a mosque can never be true Muslim[s].”
Such is the nature of one of the greatest claims that Islamic terrorism is much more politically than religiously driven. Thus, after another terrorist attack claimed the lives of Muslims in Bangladesh in 2016, it prime minister,
Sheikh Hasina, declared that “Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such act. They do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism.”
Having predicted last year that a recession would begin in the summer of 2019 and that it would likely start with a major repo crisis, I am now proven wrong by 2019’s fourth-quarter GDP. If the repo crisis that started in the final week of summer had actually been the start of a recession, we would have seen fourth-quarter GDP go negative. Instead, it came in at 2.1% growth.
I find that an interesting number because third-quarter GDP also came in at 2.1% growth, and second-quarter GDP came in at 2.0% growth. Now fourth-quarter GDP came in exactly at 2.1% growth. Coincidence or goal-seeking? Notice the numbers are “seasonally adjusted,” and think about how many assumptions are made in seasonal adjustments.
The effort to impeach and remove President Donald Trump from office has produced many losers and few winners. The drama of the trial in the U.S. Senate is must-see TV for political junkies, but it has also been dispiriting viewing for Americans of all political stripes.
Few issues have divided the country more starkly than the question of whether or not the president should be removed from office. The arguments from both sides of the spectrum and their lawyers, as well as from the talking heads on television, have not worked to change any minds from their original political positions.
Last week, President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his electoral opponent Blue and White leader Benny Gantz were at the White House for the announcement. So were a bunch of international diplomats, including three from Arab nations. The Palestinians refused to attend and rejected the plan sight-unseen.
Anyone surveying the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations already knows that the Palestinians’ goal is the eradication of Israel. The difference in the new U.S. plan, however, is that the initial major steps in its implementation can be taken unilaterally by Israel, even with no Palestinian participation
The U.S. “Peace to Prosperity” plan presented by President Donald Trump last week proposes unprecedented criteria for the formation of a Palestinian state. Among them is this one: “The Palestinians shall have ended all programs, including school curricula and textbooks, that serve to incite or promote hatred or antagonism towards its neighbors, or which compensate or incentivize criminal or violent activity.”
The context of this directive cannot be ignored; our 20 years of research show that the PLO has transformed Palestinian schools into a tool of war against Israel.