The attack on Linda Sarsour is wrong, but sadly not surprising
The Women’s March on Washington was a historic gathering of people in support of women’s rights, immigrant and refugee rights, LGBTQ rights, Muslim rights, Black rights along with the rights of several marginalized communities. As excitement from the weekend subdued, however, bigots were quick to unleash their fury against one of the co-chairs of the Women's March - Linda Sarsour. An activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Sarsour is an Arab American Muslim who has a long history of advocating for the rights of marginalized communities as well as Palestinian rights.
One of the "alt-right" publications heinously attacking Sarsour, FrontPage Magazine, is a political website published by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that FrontPage and its editor David Horowitz are financial supporters of “radical anti-Muslim extremism.” SPLC also deemed the David Horowitz Freedom Center as an “active hate group” in 2015.
Another “alt-right” blog, the Gateway Pundit, also criticized Sarsour for being “very vocal about her support for Palestine" and accused her of "utter hatred of Israel.”
Sadly, these types of attacks are nothing new and can be traced back to our community's earliest advocacy efforts. When a group of concerned Arab Americans attempted to join a Washington-based coalition calling for a more just foreign policy, they were denied access for membership. In his 1998 “The Politics of Exclusion,” James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, swiftly outlined how being labeled “pro-Palestinian” and “Arab” could deny our community the opportunity to be involved in political organizing. Zogby said: Stereotypes wounded us morally and politically; and left us vulnerable to exclusion and defamation. In our community’s history of organizing, there have been those who would deny us that place and question our right to have a voice.
This whole episode is no surprise because as recently as May, FrontPage Magazine attacked Bernie Sanders for appointing James Zogby to the DNC Platform Committee. Their sole focus, Zogby's advocacy for balanced U.S. policy in the Mideast.
Taking their bigotry a step further, these two organizations also use the tired and xenophobic rhetoric of 'good Muslim versus bad Muslim' by linking Sarsour to Sharia. While it is the new bogeyman designed to illicit fear, Sharia is simply concerned with governing aspects of the daily life of Muslims. Efforts to demonize Sharia are just one more way bigots try to isolate our community from politics. By focusing on Sharia they create lines of division and attempt to define who is an acceptable Muslim based on how they choose to practice their faith. Ultimately it says that any Muslim who believes in Sharia is an extremist or fundamentalist. According to an issue brief on Sharia by the Center for American Progress, “defining Sharia as a threat…is the same things as saying that all observant Muslims are a threat.”
These types of attacks were shameful decades ago when we first saw them and they are just as shameful and reprehensible today. Then, as now, we won't stand by and allow bigotry to go unchallenged. We will stand up and we will fight back.