Jihad advocate and rising Democratic star Linda Sarsour says her July 1 call for jihad against President Donald Trump is not a call for violence.
But her self-defense in the Washington Post consists of name-calling, diversions, and blaming others — plus weak claims that jihad does not mean violence, fighting, and killing.
Her op-ed did not quote her own speech or even cite orthodox scripture declaring the existence of non-violent jihad, and she did not rationalize her enthusiastic endorsement of a Muslim cleric in her hometown of Brooklyn who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bomb attack on the Twin Towers.
That Brooklyn cleric also was a character witness for a second Brooklyn-based Egyptian Imam who had used the same Islamic scripture cited by Sarsour in her jihad speech — “a word of truth” — to justify the killing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. That second cleric was found guilty of U.S. criminal terrorism charges in 1995 and died in jail in February 2017.
Sarsour’s Washington Post op-ed declares:
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…
I sent not a call to violence, but a call to speak truth to power and to commit to the struggle for racial and economic justice. I was speaking to an all-Muslim audience; as an American, I should be free to share and discuss scripture and teachings of my beloved Prophet …
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 saddens me deeply that my three children are frightened. It angers me that I have to think about securing my physical safety even while walking through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn…
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, and I intend to continue to push my country to respect the rights of all its citizens. I will not be silenced.
Sarsour’s op-ed did not quote from her July 1 speech to the nation’s most prominent Islamic organization, the Islamic Society of North America. Her words matter, because they show she was urging Muslims to collectively declare that opposition to Trump is a religious duty under Islam’s jihad doctrine. Here is what she said:
There is a man who one asked our prophet … “What is the best for of jihad or struggle?” And our beloved prophet Muhammed … said to him “A word of truth in front of a tyrant, ruler or leader, that is the best for of jihad,” and I hope that we, when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts us from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers, not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here, in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.
Experts on Islam point out that Sarsour has made minimal efforts to distance Islam from violence.
The normal, everyday and mainstream definition of jihad since 630 AD is war to expand Islam, even though Islam’s scriptures also says propaganda and proselytization can be described as “war of the pen” or “jihad of the tongue.”
Sarsour’s speech conflated elected President Donald Trump with tyrannical leaders in Arab countries, such as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whom Islamic groups are now trying to kill via a full-out tanks-and-artillery conventional war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Sarsour portrayed Trump as an “oppressor,” even though Islam’s holy book, the Koran, frequently mentions “oppressors,” and explicitly urges kill-or-be-killed war against “oppressors.” For example, verse 2:193 in the Koran orders believers to “fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.”
Sarsour’s “word of truth” phrase seems like a Western-style appeal for debate, but for Muslim activists, truth is only found in the Koran’s transcribed instructions from Allah, which include his frequent calls for warfare against his enemies.
That ‘word of truth’ phrase also evokes the dramatic courtroom defense strategy adopted by the “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, who was accused by the Egyptian government of urging the murder of Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat in 1981.
Shortly after Sadat was murdered, Rahman was accused by the Egyptian government of urging the murder of Sadat in prior religious tracts. But Rahman pressured the Egyptian government and judges to declare him innocent by portraying himself as merely a blameless messenger of the Koran’s denunciations against oppressors. He then moved to Sarsour’s hometown of Brooklyn here he continued to urge his followers to violence until he was jailed in 1995. In fact, several of his followers were found guilty for the first bombing attack on the Twin Towers in 1993.
Andrew McCarthy, the U.S. prosecutor who won a guilty verdict against Rahman in 1995 for plotting terrorist attacks in the United States, explained the hidden aggression behind the “word of truth” phrase used by Rahman and other Islamic activists:
When [Rahman] was finally brought to trial after nearly three years in prison, the Blind Sheikh resolved to make this lesson the leitmotif of his defense before the courts of Egypt, a nation which purports, above all else, to honor Islamic law. Betting that his incontestable mastery of that [Koranic text] would transform him from a feeble prisoner into an intimidating presence, Abdel Rahman delivered an unflinching tour de force …
[Rahman] embarked on a brazen defense of the [Sadat-killing] conspirators. It was as if he were a professor objectifying a historic event remote from himself. If the killers had acted honorably, how dare the tribunal accuse them, much less condemn him?…
Jihad is not merely a duty. It is, as Abdel Rahman ceaselessly counseled his disciples, “the peak of a full [embrace] of Islam … [T]here is no work that equals jihad.” Acts of jihad could not be condemned. What were condemnable were efforts by cowardly clerics and corrupt rulers—using the prestige of their positions to distort jihad’s true meaning—to divert Muslims from this sacred striving…
These commands held that society must be governed by sharia; if it is not, it becomes the individual duty of every Muslim to perform jihad against the regime until it is either overthrown or enforces God’s law as God decreed it. This self-evident truth, Abdel Rahman thundered, required no scholar to interpret and no fatwa to vindicate. Thus, Sadat’s slayers were performing a sacred duty, and it was pointless to quibble over whether it had been authorized by him or by any man; it was dictated by the Qur’an, which Muslims can read for themselves.
It was a strategy as brilliant as it was frightening… And so he was acquitted.
The proceedings burnished his legend. He was lionized not for being innocent but because he had staked his life on the unshakable conceit that God approved his actions, and he had been delivered. He had spoken a word of truth to the tyrant. Through all his sightlessness and all his infirmities, he had stared his accusers down through the sheer force of his will. A few years later, he would write a book based largely on his browbeating of the court. He called it A Word of Truth. The phrase thereafter became his insufferable signature, right down to the last will and testament he issued twenty years later from his American prison cell, imploring followers: “Do not have my blood [be] in vain. Seek for me my revenge, the most violent revenge. And remember a brother of yours who said a word of truth and was killed in the sake of God.”
Sarsour’s invocation of her hometown radical cleric’s catch-phrase is also notable because she began her ISNA jihad speech by describing herself as a student of another Brooklyn cleric, Siraj al-Wahhajj:
My favorite person in this room, that’s mutual, is Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who has been a mentor, and motivator and encourager of mine, someone who has taught me to speak truth to power and not worry about the consequences, someone who has taught me we are on this earth to please Allah, and only Allah, that we are not here to please any man or women on this Earth, so I’m grateful to you, Imam Siraj … I’m grateful to you Imam Siraj, God bless you and protect you for a long time because we need you now more than ever.
In 1995, Siraj Wahhaj served as a courtroom character witness for Rahman, the Brooklyn-based Egyptian cleric who used a “word of truth” to justify the killing of Egypt’s president. “He is a well-known scholar, he is a respected scholar,” Wahhaj said about Rahman during the courtroom trial, continuing:
You know, people in the community, they talk about well-known scholars and he is among the ones who is mentioned. He is called the hafiz of the Koran … He memorized the entire Koran, 114 chapters. That is why I respect him. He has memorized the many statements of Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him. And he is bold, as a strong preacher of Islam. So he is respected that way.
Sarsour defended her use of “jihad” and the “word of truth” phrase in an appearance on a radio show:
The form of jihad that I spoke about, which is very clear in the video, was ‘a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.’ Which is what I engage in every day. That is equivalent to when we say ‘dissent is the highest form of patriotism’ in these United States … There is nothing to kind of back up the claim that someone like me would be even calling for something violent because this just not who I am and what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years in the United States.
Sarsour’s knowledge of Islam means she is aware that other Muslims will hear her jihad speech as a coded call for violence, says Robert Spencer, a best-selling author of books about Islam. “When she says, ‘I hope that when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad,’ she may mean a non-violent standing up [to protest], but she has to know that when other Muslims who know the real meaning of jihad in Islam hear that, they will hear it as a call to violence,” Spencer wrote.