Linda Sarsour: How the progressive left tolerates intolerance

 Linda Sarsour is one of the four co-chairs of the 2017 Women's March and the former director of the Arab American Association of New York. (Festival of Faiths/Creative Commons)

Linda Sarsour is one of the four co-chairs of the 2017 Women's March and the former director of the Arab American Association of New York. (Festival of Faiths/Creative Commons)

Progressives should resist certain voices in their community if they care about being perceived as enemies of racism, sexism and xenophobia. For example, it would behoove the progressive left to stop listening to Linda Sarsour. Sarsour is one of the biggest figures in feminist activism, and she embodies many of the criticisms typically made of progressives. She is so easy to criticize that she has become the darling of right-wing news outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Wire. It is a sad state of affairs when one of the four co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March has to wonder why she is treated like an “existential threat” to the Jewish community.

Sarsour, the former director of the Arab American Association of New York, drew quite a bit of censure when news broke that she would be appearing in a discussion on anti-Semitism at The New School in November of 2017. Part of the censure came because Sarsour has a history of making vaguely anti-Semitic statements, and part of it came because she never intended for the panel to be about bias against Jews. Instead, she intended to discuss how “antisemitism is redefined as criticism of Israel.” The director of the Anti-Defamation League remarked that Linda Sarsour understood anti-Semitism, but only “from the perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it.

It is true that criticism of Israel is not tantamount to anti-Semitism. However, there are anti-Zionists who are anti-Semitic. An example would be the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. He told a Chicago mosque that “there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks.” Farrakhan is a Jew-hater through-and-through. Not coincidentally, he and Sarsour have crossed paths with one another. Along with Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, two of the other co-chairs for the 2017 Women’s March, Sarsour developed a friendly relationship with Farrakhan many years ago. She delivered a speech at a rally organized by Farrakhan in 2015.

Rebecca Vilkommerson, director of the anti-Zionist organization Jewish Voice for Peace, called Lewis Farrakhan an anti-Semite during The New School’s 2017 panel on anti-Semitism. Sarsour allegedly responded by saying, “If what you’re reading all day long, morning and night, in the Jewish media, is that Linda Sarsour and Minister Farrakhan are the existential threat to the Jewish community, something really bad is going to happen and we’re going to miss the mark on it.” The implication in this statement was that, by focusing on Farrakhan and Sarsour, Jews ignore the more pressing concern of right-wing anti-Semitism. While Bernie Sanders would never let a neo-Nazi like Andrew Anglin campaign for him, he did just that with Linda Sarsour. Nazis are generally rejected by both liberals and conservatives, but Sarsour is a hero to the progressive left despite the fact that she, like Anglin, believes in the basic immorality of the Jewish media.

Sarsour’s anti-Semitism is not the only thing that diminishes her credibility as an activist. She has made several defenses of Sharia law, which she claims is misunderstood and has been pushed as some evil Muslim agenda. All attempts by religious authorities to make scriptural morality into law should be condemned. Otherwise, one ends up with a world in which countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Palestine can mandate that an alleged rapist cannot be sentenced for a crime if he marries his victim.

But it appears that Sarsour has little intention of combating sexism in the Muslim world. In reference to anti-Islam activists Brigitte Gabriel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sarsour said on Twitter that she wanted to “take their vaginas away” because “they don’t deserve to be women.” When asked during an appearance at Dartmouth whether she thought that Tweet was acceptable, Sarsour would not admit that she ever published the tweet. Worse, she implied that question did not deserve to be answered because it was posed by “a young white man.” Considering Sarsour’s defense of Sharia law, it is unironic that she picked Ayaan Hirsi Ali to be the subject of the tweet about not deserving to be a woman. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s grandmother had some of Sarsour’s ideas in mind when she had her granddaughter subjected to female circumcision at the age of five.

The co-chair of the Women’s March, one of the most respected feminist activists in the United States, should not be someone who dog-whistles to believers in the nefarious “Jewish media.” It should not be someone who endorses sharia law and willfully forgets to mention that the legislation of Islamic morality is responsible for some of the most horrific sexism and homophobia that one can encounter in the world today. It should not be a supposed feminist who wants to “take away” a woman’s vagina. This sort of boorish bigotry is exactly what progressive activists are supposed to fight against.


Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at alex.klein@uconn.edu.