Linda Sarsour is a Disgrace ​to Feminism

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On January 21st, the Women’s March on Washington happened. Women around the world marched to stand up for their equality and human rights. In Washington DC, several speakers addressed women’s rights issues under newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump.

One of these speakers was American Muslim activist Linda Sarsour. Sarsour, who founded the Arab American Association of New York, works to fight against discrimination towards Muslims in the US. But a few of Sarsour’s tweets reveal that she is not as noble of an activist as she claims to be. Let’s take a look at some of them.

What details, exactly, is Sarsour referring to? The detail about women in Sudan being stoned to death for adultery? Or the one about two men in Iran each having four of their fingers amputated for the crime of theft?

Or are those just the “basics?”

The definition of Sharia law is widely debated by Muslim theologians and scholars, however it is generally understood as an implementation of Islamic jurisdiction within the policies of a country. Methods of implementation vary widely, but some practices include hand amputations as punishment for theft, whipping and stoning for adultery, and male guardianship over women.

Countries that operate under some interpretation of Sharia include Saudi Arabia, Iran, and areas of Iraq and Syria under ISIS rule. One need only take a brief look at the human rights records of these countries to realise that Sharia law certainly isn’t “reasonable” if you are a rational, compassionate human being.

Sarsour apparently isn’t too fond of freedom of speech and expression (which makes sense considering her belief in Sharia law). In 2012, a tweeter named Niraj Warikoo quoted a statement by human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The quote read, “Once I was ready to burn The Satanic Verses. I now know that the right to publish it was a more sacred thing than any religion.” Sarsour replied, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an expert only of her own narrative. She represents no one but herself. #MuslimRage.”

First off, Sarsour’s statement is factually wrong. Several prominent people from Islamic backgrounds, such as Maajid Nawaz and Irshad Manji, have spoken about their appreciation for the freedoms that living in the West has given them, and believe that the freedom to speak one’s conscience should be respected no matter who it may offend, so long as it doesn’t directly incite violence.
Sarsour’s angry words and hashtag #MuslimRage reveals her ominous disdain for the value of free speech that human rights advocates around the world hold dearly. I am disturbed that this is the person who lead a march of 500,000 people in which she claimed to be against the criminalisation of marginalised communities. But it gets worse.

Perhaps Sarsour’s most shocking tweet is one in which she attacked Hirsi Ali’s womanhood. In a 2011 tweet, Sarsour said, “Brigitte Gabriel=Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s asking for an a$$ whipping. I wish I could take their vaginas away. They don’t deserve to be women.”

Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour

One can’t help but notice Sarsour’s choice of words here. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a prolific campaigner for the rights of women from Islamic backgrounds, is a survivor of female genital mutilation. She had her clitoris removed as a young girl. Sarsour tweeted “I wish I could take their vaginas away.”

I am shocked and disgusted by the nerve that Sarsour has to say this.

The crowd of feminists who watched Sarsour speak rightly deplore Donald Trump’s claim to have grabbed women “by the pussy,” yet they applauded Sarsour, a woman who apparently harbours the desire to “take away” the vagina of an FGM survivor. Let that sink in.

Do the 95 percent of Somali women like Hirsi Ali who have their clitoris cut off matter less to American feminists than the American women who were allegedly grotesquely molested by Trump? What about Yazidi girls being sold as sex slaves and gang-raped?

How has it come to this?

Do American feminists know that they applauded an Islamist who claimed to wish she could “take away” the vagina of an FGM survivor? Is this third wave-feminism?

Of course, many of those who were in the crowd during the women’s march, perhaps even the majority of them, were probably not aware of these statements by Sarsour. Many who were aware of them may have dismissed them as not particularly important. This could likely have been true for American feminists who are unfamiliar with Sharia law.

Feminists in the US wake up every day having a relatively low chance of being sold into sex slavery . They will never die from having rocks repeatedly hurled at their heads and bodies if they cheat on their spouses.  They will most likely not have their clitoris removed so that they are never able to orgasm. For women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria, however, these events are a daily fear based on the reality of their situation.

I’m not demonising anyone who attended the Women’s March on Washington. In fact, I am enthralled that so many people attended what was in most ways a beautiful event. I am criticising the state of feminism in America, where an attempt to encourage intersectionality has led to a rise in apologism in some sectors for the way that Islam still treats women in many Muslim majority countries, especially where Sharia law exists.

Sarsour should not be applauded and taken seriously by any proponent of human rights. If people like Sarsour are the “feminists” who the world sees challenging Donald Trump, then how will anyone take feminism seriously?

Sarsour’s statements are an affront to women and men around the world who, every day, fight an uphill battle to escape and fight against misogynistic laws in Sharia ruled societies. To women like Nadia Murad, who was sold into slavery and gang-raped by ISIS until she passed out. To women like artist Kubra Kademi, who was forced to leave her home city of Kabul, Afghanistan in 2015 after she received death threats over her artwork.

I want a feminism that seeks to dismantle and remove all systems of misogyny. This includes Donald Trump and his gang of Christian fundamentalist cabinet members, as well as Sharia law. The praise and support that Sarsour has received makes it appear that American feminists are not particularly concerned about the wellbeing of their sisters in far-off lands. If they were, they would take Sarsour’s statements much more seriously.

Maybe next time, feminists can invite Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at a rally against Trump.

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Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US

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