Linda Sarsour’s call for “jihad”

Last weekend, Linda Sarsour, the radical activist who helped organize the Woman’s March against Trump in January, created a stir by talking about a jihad in the context of opposing President Trump. A careful (I hope) reading of Sarsour’s speech (which you can listen to here) shows that she did not call for violence or unlawfulness. But the speech is disturbing nonetheless.

Sansour introduced “jihad” into her speech by quoting Mohammed’s response to the question: “What is the best form of jihad or struggle?” His answer, according to Sansour was: “A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad.”

Sansour then said:

I hope that we — when we stand up to those who oppress our communities — that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad.

From these statements, and from her speech as a whole, it seems clear that Sansour was not advocating violence against the Trump administration. Rather, she was calling for standard-issue mass protests and denunciations of Trump — the kind on display at the Women’s March she helped organize.

To be sure, Sansour didn’t have to use the word “jihad.” Lee Smith argues that, in doing so, Sansour was trying to have it both ways — “get lots of attention for having done something sensational, and then play the role of victim when some of the attention invariably turned critical.” He also says Sarsour “raise[d] the ante and the stakes—by putting it in the context of Arab political discourse.”

Smith may well be right. However, we should remember that Sarsour was speaking to the annual Islamic Society of North America convention. Her discussion of jihad can be read as explaining how non-violent protest is consistent with that concept (she hopes and believes Allah will accept words of truth addressed to tyrants as a form of jihad).

(The audience reaction at the end of Sarsour’s speech was mixed. Some, mostly women it seemed, gave her a standing ovation. Others gave her only tepid applause. The internal politics of an outfit like the Islamic Society of North Americamust be fascinating, but I don’t begin to understand what they are).

What disturbed me about Sarsour’s speech was not her use of the word “jihad,” but rather her discussion of assimilation. She declared:

Our number-one and top priority is to protect and defend our community. It is not to assimilate and to please any other people in authority. Our obligation is to our young people and to protect our women in our community. And our top priority even higher than all those other priorities is to please Allah. And only Allah.

This is a clear call for Muslims to reject the primacy of American law in favor of Sharia law. It also brings the possibility of violence into play. Mohammed may have thought that “a word of truth” is the best form of jihad, but he certainly didn’t rule out violence as a way to please Allah.

Given the inherent tension between Islam and the American way of life, the assimilation of Muslims is difficult enough without leaders like Sarsour belittling the idea and demanding that Muslims please Allah and only Allah.

We see in countries like France and Belgium the consequences of a large, poorly assimilated Muslim population. The European experience, coupled with the anti-assimilation rhetoric leaders like Sarsour, should inform U.S. immigration policy.

Europeans felt they needed Muslims to fill out the workforce in the context of declining native populations. The U.S. does not need Muslims for this purpose. If we need more workers (a debatable proposition), there are millions of Central Americans who are eager to immigrate here. Their values and their religion are quite compatible with those of the United States, far more so than Muslims from the Middle East, especially to the extent they are susceptible to firebrands like Sarsour.

The U.S. limits legal immigration. If one person is granted legal status, typically it is at the expense of someone else who wanted it, at least in theory.

I’ve never understood how it is in America’s interest to grant legal status to Muslims immigrants instead of non-Muslims with similar skills. Listening to Sarsour’s remarks convinces me that doing so is not in our interest.

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