Monday, May 20, 2024

What Next for American Islamism (And Its Opponents)?

Islamist DissentWhat Next for American Islamism (And Its Opponents)?

In July, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) joined conservatives to oppose the perceived imposition of “LGBT” teachings at schools in Maryland’s Montgomery County. As Susannah Johnston has reported at FWI, this was quite a dramatic change for an Islamist-founded organization that has spent decades working with progressivist allies, and even at times embracing various “LGBT” agendas.

CAIR’s abrupt policy change follows significant unhappiness expressed by a new generation of imams and activists from within Islamist circles (often referred to as the “akh-Right” – a combination of “alt-Right” and “akh,” the Arabic word for “brother”), who publicly accuse CAIR and other groups of abandoning key Islamic interdictions on homosexuality, lewdness and abortion, inter alia.

As a result, popular mainstream imams aligned with CAIR now find themselves ambushed on camera by these akh-Right critics outside mosques, livestreamed before thousands of Muslim viewers, leading to alarmed public reactions from popular imams around the world over each confrontation.

But such dissent is no longer limited to just these “akh-Right” activists. An increasingly number of more reputable Islamists have come to agree with FWI’s much-discussed analysis last year that too tight an embrace of the Left led American Muslim organizations to radicalize their own children.

Writing at the Religion News Service, extremist preacher Suleiman Hani bemoans: “An unfortunate consequence of such an intense shift to liberal candidates is the confusion among younger generations of Muslims, who conflated political strategy with approval of all that political liberalism entails.”

Over the past year, FWI has published multiple articles and essays on the extraordinary Western Muslim dissent over this question of American Islam’s political alignments. We have watched, predicted and documented a profound unhappiness with the Left turn into a growing, cautious embrace of the Right.


A Rightwards Shift

Since our in-depth investigative essay on the subject in October 2022, an increasing number of mainstream Muslim voices have attempted to adopt a newfound or resurrected opposition to progressivist ideals, all in an effort to dampen the growing vitriol and appeal of their fellow Muslim critics.

Those who have committed themselves to a left-wing liberal ideology (including some progressive Muslims)
are outraged and ashamed of anything short of the full affirmation and acceptance of all LGBTQ demands

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi

Imams such as Shadee Elmasry and Mustafa Umar now warn that the alliance with the Left, sought out for the sake of “political power,” was in fact a “mistake.” Elmasry notes that those on the “Right,” meanwhile, “believe in an objective truth …. And they believe in right and wrong, so we already have something in common.”

Islamists are now much more willing publicly to reject “LGBT” ideas. The Islamist-controlled city council of Hamtramck, Michigan – elected with the support of the Left – has since banned LGBT flags. Meanwhile, groups such as the (Muslim Brotherhood-established) Muslim American Society have published “toolkits” to help Muslims fight back, equipped with spelled-out arguments that the Left has speciously “conflated” “racial and sexual equality.”

In May, some 130 “Muslim Religious Leaders” produced a statement reaffirming their opposition to “LGBT” and criticizing “Muslim public figures” for their tendency to “attribute positions to Islam concerning sexual and gender ethics that contravene well-established Islamic teachings.”

An accompanying news article to launch the statement, published in the influential Islamist media outlet Muslim Matters, declares: “Rather than representing Muslim interests to our political allies,” “our political activists and leaders” have “become progressive left representatives pushing these ideas back into the Muslim community.”

The author echoes the rhetoric of American conservatives: “school libraries have become repositories for pornographic gay books, public libraries have been the launching grounds for twerking drag queens to dress in nothing and shake their genitals at little kids, and progressive leftists are unabashedly defending this filth publicly on TV and other media platforms.”

Across the country, over the past few months, sermons and panels in Islamic institutions on “navigating” the threats of gender politics and homosexuality can be found almost everywhere, from taxpayer-funded institutions such as Dar Al-Hijrah in Virginia to major mosque networks in California.

As we previously noted, conservative media and the GOP have worked to encourage this monumental shift within American Islam. Alongside the joint protests in Maryland, Michigan and elsewhere, while conservative activists receive a growing number of invitations to speak at mosques across the country, Islamist leaders find themselves interviewed in leading conservative newspapers.

Since our October study, plenty of new examples have emerged. Fox News has enthusiastically covered hijab-clad activists protesting “LGBT curricula,” and invited Islamist-leaning guests onto its shows.

A anonymous piece published by an Islamist activist at the conservative Claremont Institute’s publication, the American Mind.

Outlets such as the Washington Times give column inches to extremists such as Mohsin Ansari and his group the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) to discuss Muslim support for “family values.” Ansari is a leading anti-Semitic activist who has praised the perpetrators of the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, an article by an anonymous Muslim activist in a publication of the influential conservative Claremont Institute is titled “Meet Your New Allies” and promises Muslim collaboration “with conservatives against the radical Left.” The author claims to “represent an influential group of well-established figures in the American Muslim community.”

This anonymous activist indicates American Muslims and American conservatives had both come to regard forces such as the Taliban as a “traditionalist, vitalist fraternal order fighting against a pustulous globalist regime.” The author lays out his position clearly, and offers conservatives a deal:

Islam is a bulwark against degeneracy and a natural ally in a traditionalist coalition. We don’t need you to pretend to like Islam; disliking Islam is not Islamophobia. The central deception of Muslims’ alliance with the Left was that we believed they would respect our immutable values even if they conflicted with their lifestyles. This turned out to be a ruse, and we will not be fooled twice.

Much of the Right, it seems, is willing not just to embrace Muslims, but Islamists. And the Left has begun to notice.

The Detroit Metro Times has sought to remind Muslims that the “Michigan GOP denigrated Muslims” long before “courting them” over mutual opposition to “LGBTQ+ affirming books.” In Montgomery County, a far-Left council member declared “some Muslim families” are “on the same side of an issue as white supremacists and outright bigots.”

“The kind of Islamophobia not so long ago associated with the GOP
is now making an appearance among Democrats.”

Shadi Hamid, Washington Post

Similarly, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki despairs, on her MSNBC show, that the GOP is successfully recruiting Muslims into anti-transgender positions, just a decade after promoting the “conspiracy” of “Sharia law” putatively to incite hatred against Muslims.  Another MSNBC show declared the GOP is working on “wooing” Muslims to advance a “toxic agenda.”

Multiple opinion pieces in the New York Times have noted the shift as well, noting that the Right has abandoned its fear of “creeping sharia,” with some even embracing “Islamic radicalism.”

Even as a result of protests by Muslims in Europe and Canada against “gender ideology” and “LGBT” politics, the American Right is named. In July, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau explicitly blamed the “American right-wing” for inciting Muslim unhappiness and “weaponizing” LGBT ideology.

Canadian progressivist activists are indirectly quoted in the media declaring it “disheartening to see Muslims, whose rights she fought for, standing side by side with the same people who previously demonized them.”

The Left’s newfound disdain for the hardliners among its former Muslim allies is such that Shadi Hamid felt impelled to declare in the Wall Street Journal that, “The kind of Islamophobia not so long ago associated with the GOP is now making an appearance among Democrats.”

What Next?

There are a number of lessons to be drawn here. First, the shared foolishness of both the Left and the Right to Islamism is now patent. The Right now embraces the very radical figures they understood to be constitutional threats just a few years ago. The Left, meanwhile, despairs of the homophobia and close-mindedness of their former Islamist allies after twenty years of downplaying or denying Islamists’ violent hostility to liberal ideals more broadly.

Second, something fundamentally interesting has occurred within Western Muslim politics. The internal conversations held by American Muslims and their Islamists over these questions are noticeably unreligious. There are no fatwas or theological debates in sight. The vast majority of the fraught debates are conducted using the rhetoric and ideas of Western political division; Quranic ayat or established clerical positions are rarely cited.

Islamists, through decades of deceitful alliances with dogmatic non-Muslim political forces, have somehow managed to secularize Western Muslim politics. The consequences of this for Islamism’s prospects in America remain to be seen.

Third, counter-Islamists and reformist Muslims may now need to consider building alliances with elements of the Left. In contrast with Europe, there is not a genuine extant Left-wing ideological opposition to Islamism in the United States. While academic and journalists in Britain produced Left-leaning anti-Islamist documents such as the “Euston Manifesto,” no such drive survived in the United States in serious force.

Just as Democratic congressmembers and Left-wing media became suddenly more willing to denounce the Turkish regime once they noticed President Trump enjoyed the company of Türkiye’s Islamist President Erdoğan, now too the Left can be convinced to adopt explicit anti-Islamist positions if they believe it will ultimately harm the Right.

Finally, it is imperative we work out why all this is happening. To some extent, it must certainly be that ordinary Muslims are now feeling, along with non-Muslim Americans, the indelible effects of “wokeism” in public life. In addition, the increasingly affluent Muslim American middle class may no longer be happy that self-appointed Islamist leaders such as CAIR advocate all manner of questionable economic notions as part of their broader embrace of progressivism.

Angry Muslims in Florida denounced CAIR for “promoting radical gender idoelogy.”

As for the Islamists, Left-leaning Islamists now realize their claim to represent American Muslims is increasingly under doubt, as ordinary Muslims express anger on social media at Muslim groups’ dissemination of surveys “normalizing radical gender ideology and normalizing the trans movement.”

These Left-leaning Islamists are beginning to backtrack because they are frightened by the growing influence of the akh-Right, whom commentators such as Javaid Hashmi have labelled as “grifters,” working to take ideological and financial advantage of these fraught political divisions.

Furthermore, all across the radical spectrum, there is a growing realization that lawful Islamism veiled under a liberal façade may have reached its saturation point. There is perhaps little more it can do for the success of the Islamic movement. As the prominent modernist Salafi imam Yasir Qadhi noted in Al Jazeera recently, the Left is no longer a “tool” for certain Muslim activists in the West, but a dangerous, competing ideology.

Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum

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