The zealotry of über-progressive students turning against their progressive professors has occasionally attracted coverage by the mainstream media. The most recent example is the bullying of Evergreen State College biology professor Bret Weinstein, who recounts his ordeal in the Wall Street Journal under the grim title “The Campus Mob Came for Me—and You, Professor, Could Be Next.” But as James Kirchick showed in a recent article, some universities actually encourage and reward this kind of behavior.
The City University of New York (CUNY) is arguably going to do its part when it honors Linda Sarsour by hosting her as a speaker at the commencement ceremony of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy on June 1. While Sarsour has been described as “an arsonist in our midst,” criticism of the decision to invite the controversial activist was firmly rejected by CUNY chancellor James B. Milliken, who wrote that Sarsour was chosen “because of her involvement in public health issues in New York City and her position as a leader on women’s issues, including her role as co-chair of the recent Women’s March in Washington.” The chancellor also highlighted that “Ms. Sarsour has been recognized by President Obama at the White House as a ‘Champion of Change’ and was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 leaders and Fortune magazine’s 50 global leaders.”
In short, as far as CUNY is concerned, it is fully justified to ignore all criticism of Sarsour and to present her as a role model for the university’s graduates.
As Michael D. Cohen of the Simon Wiesenthal Center acknowledged when he recently denounced Sarsour as “an arsonist in our midst,” she is “a brilliant tactician who manipulates the media to gain attention and sympathy for her cause.” One might add that the media love to be manipulated by her, without asking tough questions about what exactly Sarsour’s “cause” is and how she pursues it.
During one of the recent controversies, Sarsour declared that she wants to be judged by her own words, but it is abundantly clear that she also wants people to ignore plenty of her own words that actually tell us a lot about Sarsour’s “cause” and her activism.
So let’s look at a small sample of those of Sarsour’s own words that are arguably very revealing, even though she will lash out at anybody who quotes them to her.
Indeed, Sarsour was recently recorded berating a student who asked her about her notorious tweet from 2011, when she declared that prominent women’s right activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and strident Islam critic Brigitte Gabriel “don’t deserve to be women;” therefore, Sarsour wished she “could take their vaginas away.” If we take Sarsour’s response to the student who asked about this tweet seriously, White men (capital W, please!) have no business being disturbed by her vile outburst – an answer that reflects the divisive identity politics Sarsour often employs when it suits her, while calling for unity and solidarity when this seems more opportune.
But as the Dartmouth students who enthusiastically applauded Sarsour’s put-down of their impertinent White male fellow student illustrated, many people are all too willing to ignore an obscene six-year-old tweet posted when Sarsour was almost 31 – not, as she falsely claimed, in her twenties. Moreover, in spring 2011, Sarsour reportedly already served as director of the Arab American Association of New York; she was also about to be named “a fellow at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service Women of Color Policy Network” and boasted about her excellent access to the Obama administration.
And soon enough, Sarsour would also boast about being victorious over Hirsi Ali. In fall 2012, Sarsour was still jealously wondering “What does Ayaan Hirsi Ali got that I ain’t got? Front page covers and shit. #MuslimRage;” but by the spring of 2014, Sarsour was able to celebrate a blow against her nemesis, and she jubilantly announced on Twitter: “Online activism WINS again. @BrandeisU does the right thing and rescinds honorary degree 2 hatemonger Ayaan Hirsi Ali;” she also added: “Hats off 2 @BrandeisU 4 rescinding honorary degree 2 Ayaan Hirsi Ali. U have restored integrity of your institution;” and she thanked the university’s president: “Thank you @PresidentFred for making the right choice today and rescinding honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. We are all very grateful.”
Isn’t it deeply ironic that CUNY would so strongly defend its decision to honor Sarsour who celebrated so enthusiastically when she and other activists succeeded in denying a similar honor to Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
Sarsour’s “#MuslimRage” was apparently not diminished by the fact that Hirsi Ali established a foundation that has been working since 2007 “to end honor violence [including Female Genital Mutilation] that shames, hurts or kills thousands of women and girls in the US each year, and puts millions more at risk;” the foundation also promotes “the belief that there is no culture, tradition or religion that justifies violence against women and girls.”
But very different from Hirsi Ali, Sarsour is eager to defend the conservative traditions of Muslim societies, even when they are clearly harmful to women. Sarsour has asserted that “shariah law is reasonable,” ignoring the widespread and well-documented human rights abuses committed in Muslim majority states in the name of sharia. Sarsour has even gone so far as to praise Saudi Arabia – where women are completely dependent on the whims of their male guardians: “10 weeks of PAID maternity leave in Saudi Arabia. Yes PAID. And ur worrying about women driving. Puts us to shame.”
Since Sarsour often emphasizes her Palestinian Muslim identity, it is also interesting to note how Palestinians view sharia. As documented in a Pew survey from 2013, 89% of Palestinians want sharia law; 66% endorse the death penalty for Muslims who convert to another religion; 76% support mutilation as a punishment for theft, and a shocking 84% want adulterers stoned to death. The survey also shows that less than half (about 45%) of Palestinian Muslims reject so-called “honor killings” as never justified, and 87% insist that a wife must always obey her husband.
Given that CUNY has explicitly stated that they want to honor Sarsour as a “leader on women’s issues,” it is also noteworthy that she has repeatedly defended arranged marriages like her own, in which her parents married her off at the age of 17. In late 2007, Sarsour told Al Arabiya News: “Every year, we see more than a hundred arranged marriages in our community alone […] In our community […] you not only have to find a spouse who is Arab and Muslim; that person also needs to be Palestinian and from the same village as you.” According to the reporter, “Women like Linda accept being set-up because they don’t really believe in ‘love story weddings’.” And as Sarsour reportedly added to explain the benefits of arranged marriages: “If I fight with my husband, I can always run to my father because he is the one who chose him for me.”
But Sarsour has also defended the practice recently: in an interview with the Mecca Post on March 8, 2017, which begins with a related question, Sarsour answered by asserting: “I feel I have become mature much earlier in life than may be other sisters who are still in high school or in college.”
Well, maybe CUNY should start a “Sarsour Program for Arranged Marriages” to benefit female students in their last year of high school?
The Mecca Post interview with Sarsour includes also plenty of other interesting material. She dismisses her critics as “right wing supremacists” who “engaged in alternative facts and false accusations” and asserts that “there really is nothing that they said that really is true.” She also confidently claims Jesus was “a Palestinian Jewish refugee” who is “very co-essential to us Muslims” but misunderstood by many “who call themselves Christians.” She then proceeds to press Islam’s founder into the service of her agenda, breathlessly describing Muhammad as her “inspiration”:
“he was an activist he was a human rights activist, he stood up for the poor, he wanted to stand up against tyrants and oppressors, he loved animals he loved earth and taking care of the earth, he talked about environmental justice […] He talked about racial justice, and uplifting people regardless of what colour their skin was. […] I also think about Islamophobia now, the man who experienced the most Islamophobia they did not call it Islamophobia 1400 years ago was our beloved Prophet (SAW).”
One really is left to wonder if Sarsour is too naïve to realize that if she transforms Islam’s founder into a 21st century social justice warrior, she ultimately legitimizes those who employ the norms of our time to denounce him for his marriage to an underage girl (which was then common and unfortunately remains accepted in some countries); similarly, by the standards of our time, the supremely successful warlord, who founded not just a faith, but also an empire, committed numerous atrocities.
But when it comes to anything that has to do with Islam, Sarsour is an ardent advocate of double standards. She will denounce Hirsi Ali as a “hatemonger” while uncritically embracing a group like the Nation of Islam (NOI), which, according to the the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “has maintained a consistent record of anti-Semitism and racism since its founding in the 1930s.” The ADL considers veteran NOI leader Louis Farrakhan as “the leading anti-Semite in America;” the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) provided a similarly unequivocal condemnation, denouncing “the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric” of Farrakhan and other NOI leaders, whose conduct “earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.”
Yet, in 2012, Sarsour embraced the NOI as “an integral part” of “the history of Islam in America,” emphasizing that “Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Nation of Islam – we are #Muslim, we are all part of one ummah, one family. #Islam.” Two years later, Sarsour insisted that it was not possible to “learn or teach about the history of Islam in America without talking about the Nation of Islam (NOI).”
As I have recently documented, Sarsour joined two other leading activists at a major rally organized by Farrakhan and his associates in 2015, where she delivered a strident speech that echoed Farrakhan’s antisemitic efforts to blame Jews for problems and hardships experienced by African-Americans. Sarsour also seems to share some of Farrakhan’s bigoted views on the malignant Jewish influence in America, even though she often claims that she firmly opposes antisemitism. In this context it is important to realize that Sarsour apparently does not accept common definitions of antisemitism and has instead endorsed (#73) the truly Orwellian re-definition that veteran anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah published in fall 2012, reflecting his preposterous view that Zionism is “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today” and that support for Zionism “is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.”
Perhaps CUNY doesn’t care much about Sarsour’s pronounced hostility to the world’s only Jewish state, but one would think they should care about this scene which happened in New York and was witnessed by Michael D. Cohen of the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
“Last September, I stood along with many of my colleagues at a New York City Council Public Hearing on that body’s resolution to officially condemn the BDS movement — a hearing at which all those in favor, including myself, were shouted down as “Jewish pigs” and “Zionist filth” from provocateurs strategically placed in the audience. It was Linda Sarsour who was at the forefront — manipulating the camera shots and sound bites. It was Linda Sarsour who sat for hours listening with great satisfaction to the libelous rants and screamed obscenities alleging that Israelis murder Palestinian babies. It was Sarsour who nodded approvingly and congratulated individuals who were kicked out of the hearing room for being out of order, for walking in front of individuals providing testimony in support of the resolution, and for shouting down our supporters with anti-Semitic slurs — all in the name of protecting free speech.”
So much more material could be cited to show how little Sarsour deserves to be held up as a role model for graduates of a respected American university, but let me just conclude with this: when Sarsour addresses her audience at the commencement ceremony of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and says she is honored to do so, remember that she also recently said she was “honored” to share a stage with convicted terrorist murderer and confessed US immigration fraudster Rasmea Odeh.
A previous version of this post was first published at EoZ.