Linda Sarsour has become the face of resistance and persistence on social justice issues and the most prominent female Muslim activist in the past year. She has successfully campaigned for civil rights in coordination with various minorities and communities and co-chaired the largest women’s march in history to the clear annoyance of the Trump administration, whose inaugural crowds didn’t compare.
The following day, Sarsour was pinned to be a radical, having ties to ISIS and labeled an anti-Semite.
The catch phrases being used to label this prominent, well-respected American Muslim are commonplace for American Muslims. For the right, fear-mongering and maligning is an old school tactic now on steroids with the help of social media.
A close network of right-wing activists has been creating organizations, news sites and fake facts on the internet to associate Muslims with terrorism or terrorist organizations. These associations are published as facts, then used to spread lies and suspicion of Muslims.
Take as an example Keith Ellison, a well-regarded congressman and the first Muslim in Congress. He has set his sights on serving as the Democratic National Committee chairman. No surprise, shortly after his announcement, the smear campaign began and even billionaire Haim Saban declared Ellison an anti-Semite.
Or recall the example of Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s personal aide. Abedin sustained continued attacks from the right for many years, from Islamophobe Pamela Geller to former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who claimed the holy spirit guided her in every decision she made while in Congress.
Khizr Khan himself faced backlash after the Democratic National Convention. There are many others. Google any prominent American Muslim name and you’ll find the same associations, smears and labels. And none are ever true.
This pattern of behavior has been felt and understood by the American Muslim community for far too long. In the past, the smears largely went unaddressed and continued to grow. In the aftermath of 9/11, many American Muslim organizations were smeared as having ties to Hamas, supporting terrorist organizations at home and abroad and more. They were alienated and their families felt they were distanced from even within the American Muslim community.
Ultimately, these scare tactics lead to self-censorship. And that is the intended effect: to keep American Muslims quiet.
The greatest trepidation for American Muslims is that the people behind these well-organized, sensationalized campaigns now include members of our government. Sarsour’s case demonstrates that if any American Muslim criticizes or says anything that doesn’t align with this cabal’s version of reality, we will be labeled, rebuked and humiliated.
Even more, we will be investigated and imprisoned based on secret or no evidence at all (this already happens, but will intensify under Trump). Catch phrases and lies designed to incite fear and distrust among Americans about followers of our faith as well as mere belief will be used against any and all Muslims.
But there is a silver lining with regard to the campaign against Linda Sarsour.
Without missing a beat, social media and some heavy hitters immediately backed up Sarsour. Senator Bernie Sanders, actress Susan Sarandon and countless others saw the smoke screen for what it was and stood by Sarsour, knowing that these efforts were nothing more than sensationalized tactics to alienate her from her growing popularity.
Perhaps for the first time ever, a broader group of Americans are now calling it out for what it is. Thousands of voices came in support of Linda recognizing that the attempt was nothing more than fear mongering. What is now being called the “Linda affect” will now be more easily recognized in the future, allowing for more Muslim Americans to become important voices for resistance and change and for more Americans to call the kettle black when such smear campaigns emerge.
Written by Souheila Al-Jadda and Amina Chaudary
*Photo credit: Flickr/Festival of Faiths