Politics & Policy

Linda Sarsour Rekindles the Left’s Love Affair with Radical Extremism

Linda Sarsour (Photo: Festival of Faiths/Flickr)
Progressives seem untroubled by their new favorite activist’s history of illiberal rhetoric and views.

In 2015, the New York Times wrote, fawningly:

Linda Sarsour is, in every sense of the phrase, a woman in a hurry. Only 35, she has already helped to partly dismantle the New York Police Department’s program of spying on the city’s Muslims and has worked with officials in City Hall to close public schools for the observance of two of Islam’s most important holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. From her base at the Arab American Association of New York, the nonprofit group in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where she is the executive director, Ms. Sarsour has taken on such issues as immigration policy, voter registration, mass incarceration, Islamophobia and the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactic. She has emerged in the last few years not only as one of the city’s, and the country’s, most vocal young Muslim-American advocates, but also as a potential — and rare Arab-American — candidate for office.

The profile was titled “Linda Sarsour Is a Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab,” but Sarsour is much more than that. Designated a “champion of change” by the Obama White House, she was a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and a Bernie Sanders surrogate. In January, she served as one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington. Currently, she is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees.

The Times did not err in portraying Sarsour as a new left-wing champion, but like others who have lauded her, it omitted some details.

For starters, Sarsour has a number of curious opinions. In 2012, she suggested that the would-be bombing of a Detroit-bound flight (the so-called underwear bombing) was “the CIA all along.” In 2015, she told Rachel Maddow that Muslim “kids [are] being executed” in the United States. At December’s annual convention of the Muslim American Society and Islamic Circle of North America (MAS-ICNA), she told an audience that “the sacrifice the black Muslim slaves went through in this country is nothing compared to Islamophobia today.”

About “Islamophobia,” Sarsour’s quick to jump to conclusions — or make up incidents from whole cloth. In 2014, she penned an op-ed for CNN — “My Take: My Hijab Is My Hoodie” — in which she tied Trayvon Martin’s death to the 2012 death of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old Iraqi Muslim woman fatally beaten at her home in El Cajon, California. Citing a note reportedly left at the scene that read, “Go back to your country, you terrorist,” Sarsour wrote that “bigotry against Muslims is quite acceptable,” and that Alawadi’s death was further indication of “the anti-Muslim environment we live in.” In fact, Alawadi was murdered by her husband, who was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.

It was also in 2014 that Sarsour fabricated a “hate crime” against herself. In September, Sarsour alleged that a man in her Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, neighborhood threatened to “cut off your head and see how your people will feel, you Arab b****” before throwing a garbage can at her. National media picked up the story, with ABC calling it “a violent act of hate” and Sarsour herself appearing for an interview on Melissa Harris-Perry’s MSNBC show. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a reminder that the City “will never condone such glaring acts of bigotry and intolerance.”

A new progressive radicalism is taking root, and while the Left may have an extraordinary tolerance for extremism, a lasting republic doesn’t.

In fact, Sarsour’s attacker was Brian Boshell, a mentally ill homeless man well-known in the Bay Ridge area for public outbursts. As National Review reported at the time, Boshell, a regular presence in the neighborhood for more than two decades, had been arrested nearly 60 times before accosting Sarsour, and even Muslim residents of Bay Ridge expressed skepticism that she didn’t know who he was.

If this were the extent of Sarsour’s unseemly conduct, she might be dismissed as merely one of the Left’s more effective loonies. But Sarsour seems to have no qualms about associating with outright extremism, either. At December’s MAS-ICNA convention, she posed for a photo with Salah Sarsour (no relation), a Milwaukee man who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for using his Twin Cities furniture store to funnel money to Hamas, the terrorist organization that currently governs the Gaza Strip. Linda Sarsour herself has used Twitter to encourage the stoning of the Israel Defense Forces. She has also pushed back against accusations of human-rights abuses in parts of the Arab world. And later this spring, she will appear at the Jewish Voice for Peace’s 2017 National Member Meeting alongside Rasmeah Odeh, who was sentenced to life in prison by an Israeli court in 1970 for her role in two 1969 bombings in Jerusalem, one near the British Consulate and another at a grocery store; the latter bombing killed two Hebrew University students and wounded nine others. Sarsour has previously championed Odeh on Twitter.

This is the Left’s newest civil-rights champion.

It is instructive that at the same time Linda Sarsour’s fame is cresting, the Democratic party is considering making Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison its national chairman, despite his long relationship with the Nation of Islam (about which the left-wing Mother Jones has just written a long exposé), and the Washington Post magazine is praising Suhaib Webb, the “liberal” imam who recently decamped from Boston to Washington, D.C.., and who appeared in 2001 alongside Anwar al-Awlaki to fundraise for the legal defense of Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, born H. Rap Brown, who murdered a sheriff’s deputy in Fulton County, Georgia, in 2000. Worthy causes often have unworthy champions, but the story of the contemporary Left in the U.S. is, to no small extent, the story of the glamorization of radicals and extremists, and the willful neglect of their alarming opinions, eyebrow-raising associations, and worse. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Left thrilled not just to radical speeches but to radical acts — even, in the cases of Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Oscar Lopez Rivera, and Assata Shakur, murder — countenancing them for the good of “the Cause.”

A new progressive radicalism is taking root, and while the Left may have an extraordinary tolerance for extremism, a lasting republic doesn’t.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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