April 12, 2021

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What’s missing in the Washington Post’s puff piece on Linda Sarsour (Petra Marquardt-Bigman)

The pro-Israel community has long struggled against media coverage that distorts or misrepresents facts. While these efforts are often dismissed as partisan “hasbara” designed to make Israel look better than it deserves, fact-checking has become rather fashionable during the divisive US election campaign that ended – to the surprise and shock of the unsuspecting mainstream media – with Donald Trump’s victory. Yet, in these times of Trump, fact-checking is usually employed to discredit the new US administration and its supporters. I don’t really have a problem with this, but at the same time, I can’t help noticing that what is now widely called “the resistance” to the Trump administration is hardly ever thought worthy of fact-checking, no matter how bizarre the claims and “narratives” are that emanate from associated groups or individuals.

A recent Washington Post article on Linda Sarsour is a good case in point: it’s an amazing puff piece that presents Sarsour as “one of the highest-profile Muslim American activists in the country” who is bravely enduring “an onslaught of personal attacks through social media and conservative news outlets.” According to the paper’s “reporter” Michael Alison Chandler, the ambitious Sarsour – who once wanted to become “the first hijabi mayor of New York City” and who now plans to write a book and is even contemplating “a possible bid for Congress” –  is being smeared by “critics [who] have attempted to tie her to terrorist groups, called her anti-Semitic and accused her of infiltrating the liberal movement.”

Needless to say, the people who vilify poor Linda Sarsour so unfairly in turn richly deserve to be vilified by Sarsour and her supporters. Thus, Chandler allows Sarsour to airily dismiss a vile tweet she posted in 2011 fantasizing about Brigitte Gabriel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali “asking 4 an a$$ whippin’” and expressing the “wish” to “take their vaginas away” because “they don’t deserve to be women.” All Sarsour has to do now is to shrug off her vicious outburst as “stupid” and to dismiss it as simply a reflection of her being “a brash New Yorker.” An open threat against Brigitte Gabriel also posted by Sarsour remained unmentioned; likewise, her declaration that “White women” were regrettably slow to understand “that we do not need to be saved by them” was politely ignored now that Sarsour so obviously enjoys the fawning praise heaped on her by a whole lot of “White women.” And it is surely safer to admire Sarsour, given that she recently asked her fans to pray in support of her and then re-tweeted one of the heartfelt prayers: “#IPrayForLinda May God fortify her and strike down her enemies where they stand.”

While Washington Post readers weren’t told anything about fervent prayers to “strike down” Linda Sarsour’s “enemies,” they did learn that Sarsour regards Gabriel and Hirsi Ali as “notorious Islamophobes who are working for the right wing” and that the Southern Poverty Law Center largely agrees with Sarsour’s views, considering her a victim of bigoted efforts to vilify American Muslims.

Since obviously only truly terrible people would criticize Sarsour, the Washington Post’s Chandler apparently saw no reason to explain that “many” of Sarsour’s “accusers” suspect her of advocating Sharia because she posted several tweets extolling the supposed virtues of Islamic Sharia law. And even though a Snopes articlepublished almost two weeks before Chandler’s piece shows that Sarsour avoided a direct answer to the questionif she would ever “vote for Sharia Law in the United States,” Sarsour is simply allowed to claim that “she does not think sharia law should supplant American laws.” Washington Post readers are assured that just “like many other U.S. Muslims,” Sarsour supposedly regards Sharia only “as a guide” for her “private religious practice:” “I don’t eat pork […] “I don’t drink alcohol. I pray five times a day.” Later on Sarsour acknowledges that “[t]here are Muslims and regimes that oppress women,” but she immediately adds: “I believe that my religion is an empowering religion […] I wear hijab by choice.”

Of course, Sarsour can wear her hijab by choice only because she is living in a country that is not governed by Sharia law. In countries where Sharia law is enforced, not even feminist Swedish politicians dare to choose not to wear a hijab. And in countries where Sharia law is enforced, even non-Muslims don’t have necessarily the choice to eat pork, while Muslims who might fancy a drink risk heavy lashing or even a death sentence.

Sarsour may regard Sharia law only “as a guide” for her “private religious practice,” but she knows full well that in countries where it is enforced, it results in horrendous oppressionand human rights violations. So why not hold Sarsour to her own standards: since she believesthat “silence makes you complicit,” she should be expected to speak out about the enforced social conformity and the cruelty that result when Sharia is actually the law of the land.

Yet, Sarsour has even claimed that “shariah law is reasonable and once u read into the details it makes a lot of sense.”

Since Sarsour often emphasizes her Palestinian identity, it is noteworthy that the Palestinians are also very positive about Sharia. The graphicbelow, based on surveysby Pew, illustrates what Sharia means for Palestinians – maybe the next “reporter” tempted to write a puff piece on Sarsour can ask her if she considers this “reasonable”?

I could also think of several questions that reporters who are eager to show a skeptical public that the media can be trusted to report impartially could ask Linda Sarsour.

Sarsour has suggestedthat America is a nation built on “Genocide & slavery,” a comment she later claimed was “in response to a bigot who told me Islam is evil.” So what does Sarsour think about the countless horrors perpetrated in the wars of conquest that spread Islam far beyond its birthplace on the Arabian Peninsula? And what about the fact that Sharia law justifies slavery, in particular the enslavement of prisoners taken in jihad?

Sarsour has also opined that “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.” In other words, as far as Sarsour is concerned, nothing is creepier than the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. Given Sarsours’s frequent emphasis on her Palestinians identity and the fact that she has relatives and family friends who were (or still are) serving lengthy prison sentences in Israel – likely for involvement in terrorist activity –, and given that her brother-in-law was reportedly serving a 12-year sentence because he was “accused of being an activist in the Hamas,” it would be interesting to know how Sarsour feels about Hamas: is the Islamist terror group, with its notorious genocidal fascist charter, a lot less “creepy” than Zionism?

There also has been some speculationabout Sarsour’s potential family connections to the known Hamas supporters Salah and Jamil Sarsour – perhaps an enterprising reporter could clear up if there is anything to these speculations?

Moreover, since Linda Sarsour has skillfully used her family to shape her public image, it is certainly legitimate to ask some related questions. So we know that her brother-in-law was sentenced to prison in Israel as a Hamas member or supporter; we also know that in 2004, “her Palestinian husband, after seven years in America, faced deportation proceedings.” Was her husband also suspected of being a Hamas supporter or member, and was he actually deported from the US?

If Sarsour’s husband had spent seven years in America by 2004, he arrived there in 1997. Sarsour, who was born in 1980, was then 17 years old, and we know from an Al Jazeera profileof her that, “At 17, still in high school, she had an arranged marriage and began wearing hijab.” This means that she “had” – or perhaps was forced into – an arranged marriage with a Palestinian who had just arrived in the US. We also know from a 2005 article (archived here) that Sarsour “met her future husband when he paid her family a visit with his extended family in tow and a $10,000 dowry.” The article identifies Sarsour’s husband as Maher Judh from the West Bank town of El-bireh and says that he works in a grocery store in Brooklyn, indicating that he was apparently not deported in 2004.

In the 2005 article, Sarsour describes her family as a “traditional Muslim family whose conservative ways were less a result of religion, but more about maintaining a good standing in the community.” She also seems to see nothing wrong with her arranged marriage at 17, telling the reporter back then: “I am 25 years old, married with three kids, and I was married in an arranged marriage, and that happened right here in Brooklyn […] People always say, ‘What! Most people don’t get married until they are 30,’ and I say ‘not my people.’”

So apparently, Sarsour felt at the time that it re-affirmed her Palestinian identity to get married so young in an arranged marriage. She also seems to have no misgivings about the fact – which she relates in the Al Jazeera profile – that her parents sent her to a terrible high school and deprived her of the chance to attend a program for gifted students because she “was the first [child of seven] in the family” and for her parents, “it wasn’t about better. It was about proximity to the house.” However, as noted in a glowing New York Times profilefrom 2015, Sarsour “grew up helping her mother babysit and shop.”

A girl growing up in America at the end of the 20th century being denied educational advancement by her parents, who instead use her as a babysitter for her six siblings and then marry her off at the earliest possible time would presumably be regarded by most of Sarsour’s feminist admirers as a very tragic case. As much as I disagree with Sarsour’s politics, I think one can only admire her for the tenaciousness with which she avoided her apparent destiny of a life restricted to being an obedient wife who would bear her husband children and perhaps eventually find some sort of low-level job. At the same time, I think Sarsour has good reason to “sometimes … feel duplicitous” because of what she reportedly called “her internal quest to prove she can be both progressive and traditional.”

The Washington Post identifiesthe author of the puff piece on Sarsour as a “reporter” who “writes about families, gender and religion.” Sarsour is certainly a fascinating person to write about for someone focusing on these issues – pity that Michael Alison Chandler took the easy way out and chose to simply add to the growing list of tributes that are ultimately only slightly more sophisticated versions of the “prayer” Sarsour liked so much: “#IPrayForLinda May God fortify her and strike down her enemies where they stand.”  

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