In the last few days our site has made a lot of the attack on Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour in the New York Times by opinion editor Bari Weiss, and the responses to that attack, because this is an important moment in the mainstream’s effort to exclude the anti-Zionist point of view.
Defenses of Linda Sarsour are popping up everywhere. Below we excerpt a number of those defenses. Notable are Sarsour’s own Facebook posts in the wake of the attack stating that she will not give an inch on supporting Palestinian liberation, and a letter to the Times from Bob Bland, a co-organizer with Sarsour of the Women’s March last January, describing her own personal struggle in building a coalition with oppressed, marginalized communities and the importance of doing so in the Trump era. Those are at the end of this grouping.
At Tikkun, Donna Nevel links the Times’ attack to a pattern of inevitable smears from the Jewish community (and the wider one) against anyone who stands up for Palestinian rights. In an earnest “Call to Our Communities to Stop the Character Assassinations and Attacks on Seekers of Justice,” Nevel says Jews should not demonize Muslims:
Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian groups and individuals, including from Jewish communities, continue to spearhead or engage in assaults upon those who dare to criticize Israel or support Palestinian rights. Palestinians and Muslims are particularly targeted. Although scurrilous attacks against critics of Israel’s behavior have a long history, they have been steadily increasing. These attacks typically follow a similar pattern of harassment. The tactics are as follows: Attack the messenger. Don’t respond to the message with rational argument. Attack the messenger (again). And again. And the attack must, at the least, hurl accusations against them of being anti-Semites and supporters of terrorism. This is Israeli (and American Jewish pro-Israel) hasbara (propaganda) 101.
Steven Davidson at the Forward also defends Sarsour, saying that Jews have other people they should be worried about:
But despite having reservations about Sarsour’s Twitter etiquette, I find the unending obsession baffling. The fevered pitch of the articles against her seems to have no basis in reality. You may not like her politics. You may not agree with BDS. But it is inarguably nonviolent. Why the hysteria?
Even if you believe that BDS presents a threat to Israel or to the Jews, you have to admit, there are bigger threats to us right now.
In “Why do liberals love to hate Linda Sarsour?” Gaby Del Valle at the Outline goes into Bari Weiss’s effort to sink Sarsour by deploying Weiss’s hero, the Islam-basher Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and her villain, the exile Assata Shakur.
Weiss cites the fact that Sarsour has repeatedly butted heads with Ayaan Hirsi Ali — whom Weiss refers to as merely an “anti-Islamist feminist” — as proof of her intolerance. Hirsi Ali was raised Muslim in Somalia, forced to undergo female genital mutilation as a child, and eventually sought asylum in the Netherlands, where she found a career in politics. Since then, she has become a darling of the nativist right for claiming there are no moderate Muslims and supporting anti-refugee policies. Curiously enough, Weiss doesn’t consider Hirsi Ali’s anti-Muslim statements as “illiberal” or “radical” as Sarsour’s criticisms of Israel.
Most troublingly, Weiss claims that Sarsour, a Muslim woman who has been repeatedly accused of sympathizing with ISIS and other terrorist organizations, defends “domestic terrorist[s]” because of her support of Assata Shakur. Weiss conveniently fails to mention that a large swath of leftists, Sarsour included, think that Shakur should have never been labeled a terrorist in the first place. Shakur, a civil rights activist and member of the Black Liberation Army, was one of three BLA members charged with murder in the 1973 shooting of a New Jersey state trooper.
Despite maintaining her innocence (she said her hands were up at the time of the shooting), Shakur was sentenced to life in prison in 1977 — two years later, she escaped from prison and sought asylum in Cuba, where she still lives as a fugitive. In 2013, the FBI placed Shakur on its list of the top 10 most-wanted terrorists, but leftist activists including Angela Davis and Cornel West maintain her innocence. The Women’s March organizers’ support of Shakur isn’t a celebration of “cop killers,” but rather a defense of someone they believe was falsely convicted of a crime.
“Ms. Sarsour and her defenders have dismissed all of this as a smear campaign coordinated by the far right and motivated by Islamophobia,” Weiss writes, adding that centrists and liberals have recently contributed to the anti-Sarsour backlash. She’s right in one respect: Though the smear campaign against Sarsour undoubtedly originated on the far right, liberals were quick to pile on.
Here is a lengthy excerpt of Bob Bland’s response to the piece in the New York Times letters section that places Bari Weiss’s article in the context of privileged-versus-vulnerable:
“When Progressives Embrace Hate,” by Bari Weiss (Opinion, nytimes.com, Aug. 1), perpetuates a flawed narrative that is dangerous for many reasons, most fundamentally because it threatens to divide and distract progressives at a time when we need to stand united.
It frames challenging discussions that our movement must continue to embrace — conversations about struggle and liberation, about inclusion and understanding — as hateful or taboo. Ms. Weiss is endorsing a sensational alt-right attack that aims to discredit the Women’s March movement and its leaders and to derail the progress we have made since January.
Her article is a distraction at a critical moment when rights are being stripped from vulnerable communities every day….
As a cis-heterosexual white woman new to feminist activism, I found that there were times in planning the January march that were uncomfortable, and times that even with as much empathy as I could muster, I couldn’t relate to someone else’s point of view.
That is the nature of a movement as inclusive and intersectional as ours. Discomfort is often necessary for growth. It is because of these differences, not in spite of them, that I stand in solidarity with my fellow organizers Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.
We are a movement grounded in love for all people, but especially for the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized.
For now, critics like Ms. Weiss are just critics from their seats. Until they get up, listen and do the work to understand those whose feelings have been shaped by injustices, they will remain apologists for the status quo, racist ideology and the white nationalist patriarchy.
BOB BLAND, NEW YORK
Here is Linda Sarsour writing on her Facebook page, August 2, a day after Weiss’s attack:
For the record, I am still unapologetically Muslim American, Palestinian American every single day. I will not be harassed, intimidated, bullied, smeared and/or threatened in to changing my convictions and things I hold dear to me. I know there are consequences to being fully who I am and that holding on to my lineage as a Palestinian & my unshakeable support for Palestinian liberation and my deep commitment to my religious faith can cost me a lot. It is worth it, every single second of it. We will take all necessary precautions, but we stay the path. There’s gonna be moments where we have to make important decisions and I have made mine. I am part of a new generation that has carried on the legacy of activists before us – intentionally misunderstood, vilified, demonized and it didn’t stop them then and won’t stop us now. We are on the right side of history, only time will tell.
I may not be here for the day when Black Lives Matter will be heralded as the 21st century civil rights movement and women like Opal, Patrisse, and Alicia will have monuments erected in their beautiful power and fearlessness. I may not be here for the days where young Muslim women will open the history books and see powerful Muslim women who were on the frontlines for justice for all people, I may not be here for the first Black Muslim woman president – but I know my history and I know those days will come. We do this work knowing we will not see the fruits of our labor, and thats ok. I want to be a seed planter knowing in my heart that a little Palestinian Muslim American great-great-great granddaughter will eat from my trees here after a visit to a free and liberated Palestine. That is the activism of hope, optimism and long term foresight – we see the light but we know we may not reach it in our lifetimes.
This isn’t supposed to be easy. If you are never met with naysayers, critics, or hatemongers – then you are doing it all wrong. Dr. King had Bull Connor, and we have our own Bull Connors (they are diverse and span the political spectrum). Another time, but the same story line. Dr. King has been used as the threshold or example of activism when he too had flaws, when he also made mistakes and we too are imperfect, have flaws because we are all human beings. We grow, we evolve but we do not waver from our core convictions.
This is the story of what it means to challenge the status quo, stand in your power as a woman of color, hold so many misunderstood identities and still lead people of all backgrounds to a more just and equitable society that embraces all of us and opens space for disagreements but does not compromise on respect and dignity.
Keep your head up and don’t ever be distracted. Don’t let anyone distract you from your love of your family, communities and the movements we hold dear. We want justice, equality for all people. That’s the goal. The goal has never been nor should ever be acceptance by the status quo or those who oppose our quest for justice.
Sarsour followed up in a Facebook post yesterday.
If your feminism doesn’t include my unapologetic love for Palestine and the Palestinian people, my opposition to military occupation, colonization and land grabbing….
If your feminism doesn’t include my hijab, my love for and adherence to my Islamic faith……
If your feminism doesn’t have space for my Brooklyn grit, street smarts and “telling it like it is”……….
If your feminism can’t fathom to see women of color lead, inspire and win……
If your feminism is about having full unquestionable faith in a system that brutalizes people of color…….
If your feminism doesn’t have room for respectful disagreements with substantive debates rooted in facts……
If your feminism doesn’t have room for complex multi-layered identities and experiences of women of color…..
If your feminism doesn’t have room for Tamika, Carmen and I and the dozens of women of color organizers we call our sisters who put their lives on the line every day for you too……
If your feminism puts our lives in more danger…..
YOU can “keep your feminism.” We promise you, we don’t want it.
Our feminism accepts anyone who believes that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and deserve full justice and equality. Our feminism welcomes anyone who sees the potential in each of us to lead. Our feminism is intersectional and it centers the most marginalized of our society. Our feminism boldly proclaims “Black Lives Matter” and “Refugees Are Welcome” and “our bodies, our choice”, “Healthcare for all” “stop all wars” and “stand with oppressed people all over the world.” We like our feminism so again, you can “keep your feminism.” Don’t be so riled up. We don’t want it.