Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour has been a prominent name in social justice circles, from being a central figure in the Women’s March and one of the most visible Muslim Americans period in today’s political climate, Sarsour has been met with some reasonable skepticism, and some absurd attacks that seem to stem from the United States’ bloody past in the war on terror.
Since she rose to national prominence with the Women’s March on Washington, Sarsour has been accused of promoting Sharia Law, supporting Hamas, and being an anti-Semite. Much of this is par for the course for Muslim-Americans who criticize the United States - their culture, morals and origin are called into question. A recent dust-up concerning Sarsour’s usage of the word ‘jihad’ may shed useful light into the mindset of her critics.
Below is a transcript of Sarsour’s remarks, written by journalist Chris Geidner:
The line of utmost importance here is: “A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad.”
In what way is this controversial? Sarsour is using Islamic theology to argue for the spiritual value of freedom of speech in the cultivation of civic consciousness. This reverence for speaking truth to power should make any liberal, classical or otherwise, more than pleased. And yet, to the crowd who eternally claim that Muslim-Americans reject ‘liberal values’, Sarsour’s remarks are being interpreted, ironically, as violence.
Fox, RealClearPolitics, The Daily Wire, and many more right-leaning outlets have all published articles whose headline features some variation of the scare quote: “Linda Sarsour calls for Jihad against Trump.”
Yet, those who take the statement to be violent in any way have already revealed their total ignorance concerning the actual doctrines of Islam.
In Islamic theology, jihad, or struggle, is a mystical term meant foremost to describe the inner struggle of a believer against doubt, the conditions of the world, or anything that creates genuine conflict in the heart of a Muslim. To wage a jihad is actually a profound mystical concept indicating that the believer is currently sorting out spiritual and philosophical impulses in thought and practice to arrive at a more tenable way of thinking or living. It could be compared to a Jungian project of dissecting the unconscious and synthesizing oneself beyond what it currently is. A jihad, in other words, is a battle within the soul between ideas.
Sarsour has used the term to describe the conflict between Muslim-Americans and the administration that is banning Muslim families from entering the country, and bombing over seven majority-Islamic nations (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia).
Sarsour is saying that that conflict should play itself out in the realm of free discourse. The invocation of theology could not be more harmless, and obviously harmless, than it is here. Yet, too many Americans are obsessed with literalism. Too many Americans reject symbols and metaphors, and seek to reduce situations to their most materialistic interpretations. Lacking any serious knowledge of Islam, they make the mistake of assuming that Sarsour’s call for free speech is a call for terror.
We can choose to actually understand Islam, or run around like chickens with our heads cut off every time we so much as see a word that has been used by terrorists in the past.
Or, as the PC police on the left and right tend to believe, “context be damned”.
Alexander Blum is the author of 21st Century Slave, and writes about mysticism, philosophy and politics on his website, www.alexanderblum.net