A tweet attacking two prominent champions of women’s rights has come back to haunt a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington.
“I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women,” wrote Linda Sarsour regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel, two advocates for reform within Islam and champions of women’s equality in Arab lands.
Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim from Somalia and survivor of genital mutilation. Gabriel witnessed the persecution of Maronite Christians in her native Lebanon. Both women have been outspoken critics of female genital mutilation and anti-equality statements made by extremist Islamic groups.
Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, made her intemperate remarks in a 2011 tweet. It has since been deleted. But nothing truly disappears on the Internet.
Alex VanNess, director of the Middle East Peace & Security Project for the Center for Security Policy in Washington, found the deleted quote in an Internet archive. “It was lost in the ether of the Internet, and no one had noticed it,” VanNess told AMI Newswire.
The newly discovered tweet is now coursing through social media, evoking both revulsion and agreement.
Sarsour never apologized or acknowledged the tweet. VanNess said her remarks were especially vulgar considering what Somalia-born Hirsi Ali described her own genital mutilation in one of her books, “Infidel.”
Sarsour’s “recent statements against Ali have not stopped supporters from supporting her,” he said. “They close their eyes and cover their ears.”
VanNess acknowledged that some of the criticism of Sarsour has been over the top. Some view her use of a single-finger hand gesture as a sign of sympathy for the Islamic State, but that is simply an ancient sign of “oneness with God” that predates ISIS, he said.
Sarsour is also drawing criticism for her defense of Sharia law, the general principles that guide the way of life for devout Muslims which many people see as anti-feminist. “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans & credit cards become interest-free,” she said on Twitter. “Sound nice, doesn’t it?”
Her description of Sharia paints it as a benign personal lifestyle guide, which includes restrictions against drinking alcohol and eating pork. But in more strict Muslim societies, Sharia shapes governing principles and is tied to harsh punishments, such as lashes for adultery or blasphemy or cutting off hands for theft. Sarsour has not spoken out against such practices in other nations, including Saudi Arabia.
One of her tweets, they say, cast her as an apologist for Saudi Arabia: “10 weeks of PAID maternity leave in Saudi Arabia. Yes PAID. And ur worrying about women driving. Puts us to shame.” Women, even visiting foreigners, are barred by law from driving in the oil kingdom.
The use of Sharia in the everyday lives of Muslims – such as to ensure divorce is sanctioned and to provide no-interest loans to fellow Muslims – is an acceptable way to practice one’s faith, according to VanNess. But more dogmatic interpretations of it, such as when radicals use it as a basis to establish a caliphate in the Middle East, lead to human rights abuses, he said.
“The progressives’ one-sided love affair with extremists will never serve the purpose of promoting equality,” writes Pakistani journalist Khadija Khan in an article about Sarsour published by the Gatestone Institute.
Sarsour did not respond to AMI requests for an interview.
Other leaders of last month’s Women’s March on Washington, which drew an estimated 500,000 protesters to the nation’s capital on Jan. 21, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Gloria Steinem, a keynote speaker at the event, told AMI the feminist icon is facing professional deadlines and would be unable to give an interview. A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped to organize the March, said the ACLU did not have anyone able to speak on this topic.
And a request for comment from Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and longtime supporter of Sarsour, went unanswered.
Former Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders did offer encouragement for Sarsour in the wake of the Women’s March. “Thank you @lsarsour for helping to organize the march and build a progressive movement,” he said on Twitter. “When we stand together, we win.”
Sarsour has engaged in extensive coalition building, including marches with Black Lives Matter, bringing the Palestinian flag to a protest in North Dakota against the Dakota Access pipeline and battling against police frisk policies in New York.
Some Sarsour supporters see the post-Women’s March backlash against her as a bigoted attempt to take down a rising star in the feminist movement.
“While it is the new bogeyman designed to illicit fear, Sharia is simply concerned with governing aspects of the daily life of Muslims,” Rawan Elbaba of the Arab American Institute said in a recent blog post. “Efforts to demonize Sharia are just one more way bigots try to isolate our community from politics. By focusing on Sharia, they create lines of division and attempt to define who is an acceptable Muslim based on how they choose to practice their faith.”
Sarsour, who sees herself as every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare, expresses pride in being raised in Brooklyn, battling stereotypes against Muslim women and honoring her ethnic heritage. Her tweets over the past week include criticism of Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, raising awareness about the 75th anniversary of the executive order that initiated the internment of Japanese Americans and speaking out against Trump’s travel ban covering seven nations which have long been on the State department’s “state sponsors of terror” list.