Writing on his Medium blog, Umar Lee discusses the recent media furor involving the Investigative Project on Terrorism and its efforts to infiltrate groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) through the use of Muslim partners and informants. One of those informants was supposedly Tariq Nelson, a friend of Lee’s.
Lee discusses his and Tariq Nelson’s experiences of Islamism over the past few decades. Separate to the question of the “spying” scandal, a number of key, vivid passages stand out on the previous strength of Islamist fervor within American Islam and the growing strength of today’s intra-Islamic divisions:
I vividly remember being at Dar al Hijrah after two separate bombings. On one such occasion a suicide bomber had killed a number of Israelis and men at Dar al Hijrah were hugging each other and celebrating. A Palestinian man hugged me with tears in his eyes explaining to me he was jealous and wish he’d been the one to blow himself up. However, nothing will compare with, and I’ll never forget, the positively joyful and giddy response at Dar al Hijrah to the Sbarro Pizzeria bombing. The horrific attack killed fifteen people, including seven children and a pregnant woman, and the response at Dar al Hijrah was absolute joy. I couldn’t get over that and I won’t get over that. Several high ranking Hamas members had kids living in Northern Virginia who were living luxurious lifestyles. Why weren’t they blowing themselves up?
The old guard and many other Muslims in America, have their closest relationship with Turkey and the right-wing authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For American Erdogan supporters, who are mostly in the Bernie Sanders/ Justice Dem/ DSA/ wing of the Democratic Party, this creates the schizophrenic scenario of supporting the left at home, opponents of the progressive left in Turkey, opposing the same religious nationalism in India when Muslims don’t benefit, and supporting a monarchy in Qatar which outlaws all opposition and imprisons critics. Very consistent.
Furthermore, CAIR national doesn’t even represent CAIR nationally. Many local CAIR chapters are staffed by political progressives, conservatives, and others who don’t like the old guard or may have never even heard of it. Their relationship with CAIR is exclusively about trying to help local Muslims facing discrimination and needing representation. They are not a party to, and aren’t interested in, the political and financial mission of Nihad Awad and his inner-circle. And they most certainly aren’t involved with CAIR in order to support Hamas.
When Tariq and I were young Muslims the divisions within the community were mostly religious and ethnic; Salafis, Tablighis, Shia, Madhabis, Ikhwanis, and in some communities Sufis (although neither of us were around any). There were also ethnic and racial divides and the “suburban immigrant” Islamic Centers largely run by South Asians doctors and engineers who often had a skeptical view towards Black Muslims. Many of those religious divides still exist while not seeming as significant in an era of the secular-ethnic Muslim identity. The large divides today we see are among assimilationist liberals such as Wajahat Ali and Rabia Chaudry and progressives such as Linda Sarsour. Representatives of a more traditional Ikhwani influenced style of politics such as Dalia Mogahed and people firmly in the camp of the secular left such as Sana Saeed. The far-left fans of the Chinese Communist Party, Bashar al-Asad, Iran, Hezbollah, Nicolas Maduro, and any other villain they can manage to find, are at the fringes and mostly represented by young Muslims on Twitter whose minds haven’t fully developed. Vocal Islamists, Ikhwan and those further to the right, are pretty marginal in the public sphere at this point (largely due to the post-911 security climate). The akh-right, a collection of insecure Muslim men threatened by the progress of women, are in a lonely and inconsequential corner listening to right-wing podcasts and Daniel Haqiqatjou.
As our generation of converts has aged many kids have grown into adulthood and away from fundamentalist thinking (and sometimes Islam altogether). Most parents I know, including Tariq and myself, are very happy with this. We don’t want our kids pursuing fundamentalist fantasies; we want them in college, apprenticeships, and trade schools and going onto successful careers and happiness.
The full piece can be read here.
Lee concludes by referring to the today’s leading American Islamic institutions as “dysfunctional, anti-Black, non spiritually uplifting ethnocentric places” run by a “collection of religious nuts, cutthroat politicos, and cultural appropriators.” Losing these platforms, Lee concludes, “is about as consequential as receiving a lifetime ban from Dollar Tree.”