Progressive theocracy? 136

“Progressivism” – which is to say, Leftism – is a secular ideology, hostile to religion.

Doctrinaire and intolerant as it is, it can reasonably be classed as a religion itself – but essentially godless. (Which accounts for its superficial appeal to many atheists.)

Yet in recent years the Left has been in alliance with Islam. How can this be explained? How do the theoreticians of the Left condone it? How do the theologists of Islam excuse it?

In an important article for City Journal, republished in an expanded form for the Middle East Forum, Sam Westrop, Director of Islam Watch, discusses this weird phenomenon of political cognitive dissonance, examining it from the Muslim side of the illogical equation:

In 2018, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib – did so with the help of both Islamist and progressivist bases. For years, critics have thought the collaboration between Islamist groups and sections of the Left to be a cautious, temporary ideological alliance. In fact, a growing section of American Islamism has sincerely embraced progressivist politics, despite its clear contradictions with theocratic ideals.

Writing recently in the New York Times, Cato Institute fellow Mustafa Akyol argues that America’s “Muslim community”, far from campaigning for theocracy (as claimed by “Islamophobes”), is in fact being swarmed by a powerful, welcome “creeping liberalism”.

Liberalism now embraced by Muslims in America?

On the face of it, it seems he has a point. Prominent Muslim voices lead Women’s Marches in cities across America and argue for “intersectional feminism”. Groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – just 10 years ago named by federal prosecutors as part of an enormous terror finance network – now spend a great deal of time publishing social media items about Black Lives Matter while also campaigning for “social justice”, prison reform and higher minimum wages. Leading Muslim clerics are to be found praising Malcolm X as “our prince”, and protesting Trump’s immigration plans at the southern border. And a few Muslim campaigners even express solidarity with transgender and “queer” activists, and publicly dream, as the prominent Islamist-linked activist Linda Sarsour puts it, of “a world free of anti-black racism, islamophobia, xenophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, sexism, and misogyny.”

All of which would seem to be listed hypocritically. Is this a display of taqiyya – the lying that is permitted to Muslims if it benefits their faith? So merely a ruse, an expedient ploy?

If Sarsour is still a believing Muslim – and as she always appears in a hijab she surely wants us to know that she is – the hypocrisy is glaring. In Africa, blacks – even if they’re Muslims – are intensely despised by Arabs. Their anti-black racism  is enshrined in their language, the word for a black, “abd”, being also their word for a slave. “Islamophobia” – irrational fear of islam – does not exist, since fear of Islam is entirely rational. Islam, not America, is xenophonic. And Islam is doctrinally antisemitic. So homophobic is Islam, that Islamic law requires homosexuals to be killed. As women are subordinate – virtual slaves – in Islam, it is systemically misogynistic, quintessentially sexist. And its homophobia and sexism implies intolerance of “transphobia”. As for “ableism” and “ageism”, they are probably thrown in to accentuate how totally tolerant these deeply intolerant liars are.

Sam Westrop considers the question of Sarsour’s sincerity – at least in wanting to sing the same song as the Left. (Which is itself intensely hypocritical – for instance when it claims to be against antisemitism).

This is not, however, a broad creeping liberalism; it is, more specifically, a creeping progressivist narrative – and it is changing the face of American Islamism.

But is this genuine progressivism? Or is this just part of the perennial debate among Islamists living in the West: in the effort to advance a theocratic agenda using lawful means, to what extent should Islamists dilute their message to fit Western political narratives?

The conversion, or concession, of some American Muslims active in politics to the “progressivist narrative” is opposed by some outspoken imams. Do they represent only a minority opinion?

Standing against the march of progress, Akyol observes, is a minority group of “conservative” Muslim clerics. He quotes a few from extreme Salafi circles, but there is in fact a much broader array of contending ideas among America’s Sunni Muslims – and its Islamists – on the question of whether progressivist politics pose a threat or afford an opportunity.

Many of those who oppose the progressive trend are not bearded Wahhabis in Arab dress. Ismail Royer, for instance, is a former jihadist who claims to have moderated and now works for the multi-faith Religious Freedom Institute in D.C. Although he claims to regard Islam as a “vehicle for social justice”, he firmly rejects progressivism, and urges an Islamic alliance with conservative Christian movements – even writing pieces in Christian publications in support of the evangelical opposition to gay marriage.

Islamists will, however, find a limited supply of sympathy from American evangelicals.

Sections of the Left, meanwhile, have a long history of welcoming Islamist activists into their tent. But it is the very eagerness of the Left to co-opt American Islam that concerns certain leading Islamists.

Traditional, purist Salafi and Wahhabi clerics condemn those modernist Salafis trying to “westernise Islam” by appealing to progressivist impressions of Islam. The modernist Salafis use progressive rhetoric about Islamophobia and the Black Lives Matter movement, but also warn about the dangers of support for feminism and homosexuality within Muslim Students Associations, which are supported and funded by organizations tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the Muslim Student Associations (when taking a break from those intersectional solidarity marches) debate fractiously whether to “de-platform” either the “regressive” Salafi clerics, or those extra-progressive Muslims who seem just a little too committed to working with Jewish groups or advocating for gay rights.

There is no doubt that some of the more ascetic Islamists reject all ideological alliances. Some may engage in some barebones interfaith activities, but they do so while warning against accepting the “validity” of other religions and preaching that “Islam in the West is a resistance movement against totalitarian liberal ideology”. …

But there are many, especially within modernist Salafi networks, who have observed the growth of political activist Islamist movements in America, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Jamaat-e-Islami, and partly ascribe their success to the adoption of modish political trends. Much of the progressivist rhetoric that emanates from these modernist Salafis, however, is manifestly deceitful.

In their private sermons before Muslim audiences, modernist Salafi clerics rail against the evils of apostate ideologies. Yasir Qadhi, a leading cleric of the AlMaghrib Institute, for instance, denounces the theology of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam (NOI) as heretical and “perverted’. In public, however, Qadhi’s clerical colleagues eulogize Malcom X – a progressivist darling — and praise NOI leader Louis Farrakhan as a great radical hero. This may be ideologically incoherent, but it is tactically shrewd.

Other duplicity is more plainly apparent. The Texas-based imam Omar Suleiman, for instance, has been an active voice in the protests against the Trump administration’s immigration. In March 2018, he was arrested at the Capitol after “civil disobedience” to demand “protection for young immigrant Dreamers”. And yet before a Muslim audience, Suleiman has warned young girls, without condemnation, that if they are “promiscuous” they may be killed by a family member.

Or look at Islamist media: Al Jazeera’s social media channel AJ+ broadcasts documentaries on transgender rights and the wickedness of misogyny, homophobia and other bigotries; while its Arabic parent station broadcasts sermons by Muslim Brotherhood clerics advocating the killing of gays, and offering husbands permission to beat their wives.

Some Islamists have sought to explain American Islamist institutions’ partial-embrace of progressivism as a response to “Islamophobia”. Shariq Siddiqui, an official of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), has written that “Islamophobia makes it difficult for ISNA and Muslim Americans to determine which positions are centered on their religious values and which positions are based on political necessity. … For example, in 2003, ISNA was opposed to gay marriages, but now ISNA is part of a coalition working in favor of gay marriage.”

Others have made it clear that non-Muslim progressivists are dispensable partners. As Counter Islamist Grid director Kyle Shideler recently discovered: newly-elected Virginia General Assembly Member Ibraheem Samirah (who was recently exposed as a virulent anti-Semite) has explicitly compared the Islamist alliance with progressivists to the decision of the Islamic prophet Muhammad “to form treaties with his enemies. He had to form alliances with people who weren’t necessarily believers of his message, who would later on become people who would be his enemies.” (Samirah also served as a senior campaign official for freshman Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.)

So expediency is indeed a motive for Muslims echoing progressive – and essentially un-Islamic – ideas. And imams are not comfortable with the tactic.

[A]n increasing number of clerics and Muslim thinkers have begun to regret their forays into progressivist politics. Leading modernist Salafi clerics such as Yasir Qadhi now appear deeply shocked that Muslim students have moved from carefully taking advantage of progressivist trends to openly supporting “LGBTQ” campaigns on campuses.

They can accept going along with the progressive Left hypocritically, but not sincerely.

And indeed, at one end of the spectrum, there is a rising group of activists from Islamist circles who seem to believe in this fused progressivist-Islamist creed. Across America, branches of the Council on American-Islamic Relations are today staffed with young hijab-wearing graduates of Muslim Students Associations, who appear to have reconciled working for terror-linked extremists while also publishing transgender rights petitions on their social media accounts. …

Such as Linda Sarsour:

Sarsour is a harbinger of a broader trend. Whether American Islamist movements intended to embrace progressivism authentically or not, many Islamist groups are now so firmly entrenched in the progressive movement that a generation of young American Muslims is growing up convinced that the progressivist social justice and sexual identity narratives are intrinsic components of the Islamist agenda.

No wonder some traditional Islamists speak out so forcefully against “liberal ideology”, or caution against too tight an embrace of progressivist allies – their own radicalism is being supplanted.

American Islamists are conflicted. Some reject the embrace of left-wing politics entirely. Others clearly exploit progressivist organizations to advance their cause. And then there are some, a new generation of intersectional Islamists, who seem to have found a genuine way to advocate for, or warily justify, “queer”-friendly politics. It looks like the progressivist rhetoric of Islamist activists such as Sarsour, or politicians such as Ilhan Omar, is sincere – even if it seems patently confused and inconsistent to any rational observer.

This poses a new sort of threat. These intersectional Islamists – these theo-progressives – are part of a broader radical undertaking that has a much greater chance of imposing extremist ideas on American society than the Muslim Brotherhood or Wahhabis ever did.

On their side, the Progressives have made concessions to Islam to secure the alliance – by, for instance, refusing to censure its misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. The international Left in general supports the Muslim demand that criticism of Islam be banned, and the UN is working on it. (See here and here.)  Finding fault with Islam must be deemed “hate speech”. To protect Islam from it, freedom of speech can be – must be – sacrificed. The American Left endorses the demand.

But there is no hypocrisy in that. The American Left is in any case unhappy with the First Amendment.

At least on this issue Progressivism and Islam are in genuine accord: freedom is not to be tolerated.