Monday, June 27, 2022

GEICO Blundered With Invite to Islamist, Will it Fix the Mess?

Opinion & InterviewOpinionGEICO Blundered With Invite to Islamist, Will it Fix the Mess?

If anyone has reason to be furious about GEICO’s decision to invite Linda Sarsour to participate in a diversity seminar honoring Middle Eastern and North African Heritage Month for the company’s employees in early April, it’s the company’s corporate owner, Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway.

For a company whose entire raison d’etre is to mitigate risk, GEICO’s selection of Sarsour is bewildering. Without meaning to, GEICO provided a clinic on how companies can make gross errors in partnerships when they move forward without an iota of research or an eye towards actual risk for the company, its communities, and our country. Even a few moments with that elusive search engine, Google, would reveal Sarsour’s incendiary and divisive rhetoric is hardly the message that a national insurance company in the business of risk management should promote.

In 2017, Sarsour called for “jihad” in America, comparing Donald Trump, an elected president, with unelected authoritarian tyrants in the Middle East. And at the height of the George Floyd riots during which protesters were destroying store fronts and setting buildings on fire in cities throughout the country, she declared that reforming law enforcement practices in the United States was impossible. “Burn it all down, start over,” she said.

In both instances, Sarsour said she wasn’t promoting violence, but given the realities of intergroup conflict in the U.S., it’s hard not to conclude that some of her listeners would interpret her words as license for attacks on property owned by GEICO customers.

It just doesn’t make sense for an insurance company to promote such a speaker, but that’s what GEICO did when it asked Sarsour to speak at a celebration of Middle East and North African Heritage Month.

GEICO officials did the right thing by canceling Sarsour’s presentation, but the company put itself into the proverbial Islamist frying pan and is not yet out of trouble. GEICO is facing an onslaught of bad publicity from Islamist groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its allies who now absurdly claim that its change in programming for its employees is surely a sign of “Islamophobia.”

Many Muslims would argue that the only anti-Muslim bigotry seen so far from GEICO officials was their perception that civilizational jihadists and Muslim Brotherhood legacy group sympathizers like Sarsour somehow represent “diversity” among the Arabic and Muslim communities. If events proceed as has other Islamist bullying episodes, CAIR and its allies will not stop until they force the company into apologizing for canceling Sarsour’s presentation and admitting to the sin of Islamophobia.

I’m certainly not a fan of cancel culture, as the Islamists have targeted me on a number of occasions. When I was targeted, however, I was booked to speak on the very principles our reform-minded Muslim organization promotes.

In this instance, GEICO did the right thing. When GEICO realized it booked the wrong person for the event they were hosting, the corporation changed direction.

By anointing Sarsour as a representative of Arab Americans with its invitation, GEICO unintentionally portrayed this community as being at war with the country where they live, and that’s simply not how it is, not to mention the venomous antisemitism that Sarsour embodies in her support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.

Most Arabs and Muslims living in the U.S. are not interested in promoting “jihad” in the streets of the cities in which they live, nor are they interested inflaming tensions in a country that has endured so much violence in recent years. They want to live in peace with their neighbors and have little tolerance for Sarsour’s inflammatory and self-aggrandizing rhetoric.

Sarsour also brings Islam into undeserved disrepute with her antics. The cycle is all too predictable. First, she engages in divisive rhetoric that incites tensions. And then, when people complain, she calls them white supremacists and Islamophobes, transforming Islam from a pietistic faith that changes people’s lives into a club with which to abuse her opponents in the public square.

GEICO didn’t know how unpleasant Sarsour was, but they did the right thing upon finding out.

The company needs to do more.

In particular, GEICO needs to promote the work of moderate, reform Muslims on the American scene. Not only will this help improve intergroup relations in the U.S., but will preempt attacks from CAIR and its allies to portray GEICO as a bastion of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry in the U.S.

First off, GEICO should contact the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), an organization founded to advocate for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state.

GEICO could also contact the Muslim Reform Movement which seeks to “reclaim the progressive spirit with which Islam was born in the 7th century to fast forward it into the 21st century.” The organization’s website declares, “We support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.”

The company should consider hosting a talk by Asra Nomani, Raheel Raza, or Soraya Deen. They are all Muslim Reformers and women’s rights activists outspoken against the separatist Islamist ideas Sarsour touts. Soraya praised the company for canceling Sarsour’s talk and confronted Sarsour’s rhetoric directly, declaring that she is “is proud of her hate of Israel, Israeli Jews and Muslim reformers and atheists, not to mention conservatives, cops and the US military.”

GEICO made a terrible mistake by inviting Sarsour to speak at a “diversity and inclusion” seminar. Sadly, the cancelation of the event where she was slated to speak rendered the company vulnerable to attacks from Islamist groups like CAIR. The damage can be minimized and the attacks countered by highlighting Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. who love their country and want to see it succeed.

If GEICO does the right thing, it will help the U.S. turn a corner and start to heal from the ugly divisiveness and hostility that has dominated its public square for far too long.

It will also perhaps learn its own actuarial lesson in loss-prevention.

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser (@DrZuhdiJasser) is a physician, a former US Navy Lieutenant Commander and founder and president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) and co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. He is also a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. His weekly podcast, Reform This! can be heard on the Blaze Podcast Network.

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