Linda Sarsour, a Muslim human rights activist of Palestinian descent, found herself in the crosshairs of the far-right when she used the word “jihad” in a speech about fighting oppression. During the annual Islamic Society of North America conference, Sarsour told a crowd to speak truth to power and stand up for marginalized communities.
According to The Washington Post:
In her speech, Sarsour told a story from Islamic scripture about a man who once asked Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?
“And our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,’” Sarsour said.
“I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
“Jihad” merely means “struggle,” but is often misunderstood and misused by Islamophobes and Islamic extremists alike. Although groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS use “jihad” to mean a violent “holy war” against non-Muslims, for most Muslims that’s not the case.
And it certainly wasn’t violent in the context of Sarsour’s speech, where she quoted scripture as saying that the “best form of jihad” is a “word of truth” in front of a tyrant. She was only advocating that Muslim Americans stand up against “tyrants and rulers,” without any implication of violence whatsoever.
But that didn’t stop far-right activists and news outlets from blaring sensationalist headlines accusing Sarsour of making terroristic threats against the President. Breitbart ran with the headline “Linda Sarsour Calls for ‘Jihad’ Against Trump Administration.” In fairness to the article’s author, Joel B. Pollak, he did note that she “meant a jihad using words” before noting that it “has also been used to describe violent struggle, including terrorism, against non-Muslims or against governments described as enemies.”
And the distinction between between a personal struggle and a “holy war” was lost on the website’s readers, who called for her arrest. StoopidObama wrote that the Secret Service needed to “Arrest this terrorist now!!” Another commenter wrote she committed a “criminal violation,” adding that “the death penalty is applicable here, and MUST be utilized against this terrorist.”
And in a hysterical post at far-right rumormonger Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit, Cristina Laila declared, “Far Left Darling Linda Sarsour tells Muslims to fight jihad in the United States. Fight Trump with Jihad! wow!” She called Sarsour’s speech “radical” and accused her of seeking to “replace our Constitution with laws from a medieval death cult.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, a shrieking mob of Muslim-bashers, racists, and other conspiratorial loons repeatedly suggested Sarsour was somehow inciting violence:
Alex Jones’ InfoWars outlet falsely accused her of speaking at a “Hamas meeting”:
While anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Amy Mek baselessly accused her of “OPENLY support[ing] ISIS”:
Scott Presler, who made the news last year for being an openly gay, outspoken Trump supporter, accused Sarsour of incitement, and shamelessly tied her speech to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) last month:
Plenty of right-wingers called Sarsour a “terrorist” as well, and want her punished accordingly:
Pointing is, apparently, the new symbol of ISIS:
@BasedAmerican, professional Internet lawyer, believes what she said was somehow criminal:
There’s no way this woman has ever read the Quran — or any book thicker than a pamphlet for that matter:
I think there’s a distinct problem with this person’s definition of “jihad”:
And there were the calls to deport an American citizen, with white supremacist Baked Alaska leading the charge:
As ridiculous and silly and ignorant as these comments are, this rhetoric could very well prove dangerous. Violent acts have been spurred on by fake stories in the past.
In 2015 Robert Lewis Dear killed three and wounded nine others at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood over his belief that the organization was selling “baby parts.”
And last year Edgar Maddison Welch walked into D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and fired several shots.
Welch, who was just sentenced to four years in prison, told law enforcement that he was attempting to “self-investigate” the Pizzagate child trafficking hoax.