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Linda Sarsour

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Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour speaking at a panel discussion
Sarsour in May 2016
Born1980 (age 38–39)
ResidenceBay Ridge, Brooklyn
Alma mater
Occupation
  • Activist
  • media commentator
Known forCo-chair of the 2017 Women's March

Linda Sarsour (born 1980)[1] is an American political activist. She was co-chair of the 2017 Women's March, the 2017 Day Without a Woman, and the 2019 Women's March, and is a former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She and her Women's March co-chairs were included in Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" in 2017. Sarsour is a Muslim.

Sarsour first gained attention for protesting police surveillance of American Muslims, later becoming involved in other civil rights issues such as police brutality, feminism, immigration policy, and mass incarceration. She has also participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations and was the lead plaintiff in a suit challenging the legality of the Trump travel ban.

Her political activism has been praised by some liberals and progressives, while her stance and remarks on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have been criticized by some conservatives and Jewish leaders and organizations. Sarsour, who is Palestinian-American, has publicly advocated for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and expressed criticism of Zionism and support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Early life

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sarsour is the eldest of seven children of Palestinian immigrants.[2] Her father owned a small market in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, called Linda's.[2] She was raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and went to John Jay High School in Park Slope.[1][3][4] After high school, she took courses at Kingsborough Community College and Brooklyn College with the goal of becoming an English teacher.[5]

Political activism

Arab American Association of New York

Sarsour's early activism included advocating for the civil rights of American Muslims following the September 11 attacks of 2001.[4][6] Shortly before 9/11, Basemah Atweh, a relative and founder of the Arab American Association of New York, asked Sarsour to volunteer for the organization.[1] Atweh, who held a prominent political role uncommon for a Muslim woman, became Sarsour's mentor.[5]

When Sarsour and Atweh were returning from the 2005 gala opening of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, their car was struck by a tractor-trailer. Atweh died of her injuries, and two other passengers suffered from broken bones. Sarsour, who was driving, was not seriously injured.[1][5] She returned to work immediately, saying of Atweh, "This is where she wanted me to be".[1] She was named to succeed Atweh as executive director of the association at age 25. Over the next several years she expanded the scope of the organization, building its budget from $50,000 to $700,000 annually.[1][5]

Sarsour initially gained attention for protesting police surveillance of American Muslims.[4][6][7] As director of the Arab American Association of New York, she advocated for passage of the Community Safety Act in New York, which created an independent office to review police policy and expanded the definition of bias-based profiling in New York. She and the organization pressed for the law after instances of what they saw as biased policing in local neighborhoods, and it passed over the objections of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Police Chief Raymond W. Kelly.[5] Sarsour also played a part in the successful campaign to have Islamic holidays recognized in New York City's public schools, which started observing Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr in 2015.[4][8]

According to a 2017 article in The New York Times, Sarsour "has tackled issues like immigration policy, mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk and the New York City Police Department's spying operations on Muslims — all of which have largely inured her to hate-tinged criticism".[9]

Black Lives Matter

Following the shooting of Michael Brown, Sarsour helped to organize Black Lives Matter protests. Sarsour helped form "Muslims for Ferguson", and she traveled to Ferguson with other activists in 2014.[5][10] She has continued to work extensively with BLM ever since.[4][11] Sarsour became a regular attendee at Black Lives Matter demonstrations as well as a frequent television commentator on feminism.[6]

Political party involvement

Sarsour is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.[12] In 2016, she ran for a position as a County Committee member with the Democratic Party of Kings County, New York.[13] She placed third.[14] She has spoken about her activism in the context of building a progressive movement in the United States,[15] and has been praised by liberal politicians and activists.[3] In 2012, during the presidency of Barack Obama, the White House recognized Sarsour as a Champion of Change.[4][6] Sarsour was a surrogate for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during his 2016 presidential campaign.[3][16]

Women's March leadership

2017 Women's March

Sarsour speaking at a protest against President Donald Trump.

Teresa Shook and Bob Bland, organizers of the 2017 Women's March, recruited Sarsour as co-chair of the event, to be held one day after Donald Trump's inauguration.[17] According to Taylor Gee of Politico, Sarsour had by then become the controversial "face of the resistance" to Trump, adding "For Sarsour, Trump's election came after years of standing up for people he had maligned—not just women, but Muslims, immigrants and black Americans, too. Her ties with activists from around the country helped her galvanize different groups during the disorienting period following the election".[18] Sarsour actively opposed the Trump administration's ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries and was named lead plaintiff in a legal challenge brought by the Council on American–Islamic Relations.[4] In Sarsour v. Trump, the plaintiffs argued that the travel ban must be suspended because it existed only to keep Muslims out of the United States.[19]

Melissa Harris-Perry writes that Sarsour was "the most reliable target of public vitriol" of the 2017 Women's March leaders over the following year.[20] Following her leadership role in the Women's March, Sarsour was targeted by violent threats on social media[4][21][22] and personal attacks by conservative media outlets, including false reports that she supported the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and advocated imposing Islamic law in the United States.[4][6][16] She stated that, while the march was a high point in her career, the media attacks that followed caused her to fear for her safety.[6] Supporters used the Twitter hashtag #IMarchWithLinda,[6] including Sharon Brous of the National Council of Jewish Women, who worked with Sarsour in organizing the 2017 Women's March, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.[16][23] Sarsour, along with her three co-chairs, was named as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" after the January march.[3][24]

Sarsour was a co-chairwoman of the 2017 Day Without a Woman strike and protest, organized to mark International Women's Day. During a demonstration outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan, she was arrested along with other leaders of the January Women's March, including Bland, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez.[25][26] She has organized and participated in other acts of civil disobedience in protest of the Trump administration's actions, such as ending the DACA program shielding young immigrants from deportation,[27] the Trump administration family separation policy for immigrants,[28] and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.[29][30]

In a 2017 speech before the Islamic Society of North America, Sarsour said that people should "stand up" to Trump, as she deemed his administration oppressive, and that such actions would constitute a jihad. She recounted a story from Islamic scripture in which Muhammad says, "A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad." Several conservative media outlets and personalities accused her of calling for violence against the president by using the word jihad.[22][31] Sarsour and other commentators rejected this misinterpretation, citing her commitment to nonviolent activism and the fact that "jihad" does not inherently refer to violent action. Sarsour also said that she is not the sort of person who would call for violence against the president.[22][32] In a Washington Post op-ed she wrote that the term jihad has been misused by both right-wing and Muslim extremists and called her use of the term "legitimate yet widely misunderstood."[33][34] Some on social media criticized Sarsour for using the term jihad since the general public associates it with violence, while others defended her choice of words.[22]

2019 Women's March

In September 2018, Sarsour announced that she would lead the 2019 Women's March on Washington along with Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Carmen Perez.[35] In 2018 Sarsour and Mallory were the focus of a controversy over their perceived refusal to clearly condemn the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose rhetoric has been deemed antisemitic and homophobic by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti Defamation League.[36] There were also accusations that the organization's leadership had excluded Jewish women. In November 2018, Teresa Shook, the march's founder, called for the Women's March leadership to step down, accusing them of having "allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform by their refusal to separate themselves from groups that espouse these racist, hateful beliefs."[37]

Sarsour initially criticized Shook, saying that she had been targeted for her support of BDS and that Mallory had been attacked because she is a black woman. Sarsour later apologized to supporters of the march, saying that she and her colleagues regret not that they did not quickly make their commitment to combating antisemitism clear. She also apologized to the March's LGBTQ and Jewish members, and said that she valued them and would "fight" for them.[38][39] The controversy and allegations of antisemitism against the Women's March leadership were considered to have contributed to significantly lower turnout than in previous years.[40]

Stance on Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Haaretz has called Sarsour one of the most widely known Palestinian American women for her advocacy on behalf of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories[41] and her criticisms of the Israeli government and Zionism.[42] She has said she supports a one-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict but believes in Israel's right to exist and does not support either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.[2][43] She has dismissed claims circulated on social media and conservative websites that she has ties to Hamas,[6][41] calling them "fake news".[6] Sarsour has said members of her extended family in the Israeli-occupied territories have been arrested and jailed on accusations of supporting Hamas,[6][44] but denied having contact with any radical Muslim groups.[44] She has said she would like Israelis and Palestinians to coexist peacefully and justly.[2] According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Sarsour's support for the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, her view that Israel has a right to exist, and her relationship with Bill de Blasio have garnered her criticism from some Islamists.[45]

Sarsour's advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel has provoked criticism.

Sarsour told Haaretz that she is and always will be a critic of Israel and fully supports BDS.[16] Sunaina Maira has described Sarsour's advocacy for BDS as an element of her feminist politics.[46] In a March 2017 interview with The Nation, Sarsour opined that those who support and do not criticize the state of Israel cannot be part of the feminist movement; she believes such people ignore the rights of Palestinian women.[47]

Sarsour became a target of criticism by American conservatives[9][48][43] and pro-Israel Democrats,[18] along with some Zionist activists[9][49] for her stance on Middle Eastern politics, including her support for BDS against Israel.[a] The Guardian wrote that Sarsour "has been a frequent target of pro-Israel pressure organisations". According to an investigation by Haaretz, a private Israeli intelligence firm spied on Sarsour and her family in an attempt to collect damaging information. A dossier was shared with the Act.IL group, which used the material to dissuade U.S. universities from allowing Sarsour to speak on campus.[51][52]

Sarsour has worked with left-wing Jewish groups including Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. According to Haaretz, mainstream Jewish organizations "long held her at arms' length" due to her criticism of Israel and her support for the BDS movement.[16] According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, progressive Jews are willing to ignore her anti-Zionism whereas right-wing Jews and some centrist Jews are not.[3] Two directors of the U.S.-based Jewish NGO the Anti-Defamation League, along with the president of the Zionist Organization of America, have criticized her stance on Israel; the ADL's director, Jonathan Greenblatt, has said that Sarsour's support of BDS inspires and increases antisemitism.[3] A Facebook post in which she defended Representative-elect Ilhan Omar by attributing criticism of her support for BDS to "folks who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech" led to the American Jewish Committee accusing Sarsour of drawing on antisemitic tropes.[53] Sarsour has disputed accusations of antisemitism and says that her criticism of the state of Israel has been wrongly conflated with antipathy for Jews.[16][48] In late January 2019, Sarsour drew criticism for not mentioning Jews in her International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, with some commentators noting that in 2017 she had called President Trump antisemitic for not mentioning Jews in his own Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.[54]

CUNY commencement speech

When Sarsour was selected to deliver a commencement speech at the City University of New York (CUNY) in June 2017, there was strong opposition from some conservatives.[9][43] Dov Hikind, a Democratic Party state assemblyman in New York, sent Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter objecting to the choice, signed by 100 Holocaust survivors.[9][48] Hikind's objection was based on Sarsour's previously having spoken alongside Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted by an Israeli court for taking part in a bombing that killed two civilians in 1969.[9]

Sarsour said that she had nothing to apologize for and questioned the integrity of Odeh's conviction. She ascribed the critical reaction to her speech to her prominent role as an organizer for the 2017 Women's March.[9][48] The university chancellor, the dean of the college, and a group of professors defended her right to speak, as did some Jewish groups,[9][48] including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.[55] A group of prominent left-leaning Jews signed an open letter condemning attacks on Sarsour and promising to work alongside her for the sake of justice.[21] Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League defended Sarsour's First Amendment right to speak despite opposing her views on Israel.[56][57][58] A rally in support of Sarsour took place in front of New York City Hall. Constitutional scholar Fred Smith Jr. tied the controversy to broader disputes over freedom of speech in the United States.[9] Sarsour delivered the speech on June 2, 2017.[59]

Dispute with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In 2011, in reference to Somali-born activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a noted critic of Islam, and Brigitte Gabriel, a conservative activist and leader of the lobbying group ACT! for America, Sarsour tweeted, "She's asking 4 an a$$ whippin'. I wish I could take their vaginas away - they don't deserve to be women."[43] She had debated both women on radio or television and said the dispute centered on Ali and Gabriel's promotion of the idea that Islam is misogynistic.[4] In response, Ali called Sarsour a "fake feminist"[4] and a "vocal defender of Islamic law".[60] In 2017, Sarsour told The Washington Post that the tweet (then already deleted) was "stupid" and that she did not remember writing it.[4] Later that year, an exchange between Sarsour and a student activist at Dartmouth College in which she was asked about the tweet circulated widely on social media.[43] Sarsour noted that the question had been posed by a white man at an event celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month; the fact that she dismissed the question because it was asked by a white man garnered criticism.[43]

Fundraising efforts

After a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized in an apparent anti-Semitic incident in February 2017,[b] Sarsour worked with other Muslim activists to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for repair and restoration work.[62][63][64] Among other recipients of funds from the effort was a Colorado Jewish cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[64][65] The project generated some controversy after assemblyman Dov Hikind accused Sarsour of withholding the funds[66][67] because of Sarsour's support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.[68] Sarsour characterized the controversy as the work of alt-right Zionists.[66][67]

Sarsour's request for donations to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts was criticized by her conservative opponents; according to Alexander Nazaryan of Newsweek, this was indicative of the right wing's increasing antipathy for Sarsour.[69] MPower Change, a group Sarsour co-founded, has also worked to raise money for the victims of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting,[68] which some progressive supporters of Sarsour have pointed to along with the St. Louis cemetery fundraising campaign in defending her against accusations of anti-Semitism.[38]

Personal life

As of 2011, Sarsour lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.[2] At 17, she entered into an arranged marriage and had three children by her mid-20s.[1][3][4] Both Sarsour's family and her husband are from the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh—in the West Bank, and about 9 miles (14 km) north of Jerusalem.[70]

Sarsour is a Muslim. On the subject of women in Islam, she told The Washington Post, "There are Muslims and regimes that oppress women, but I believe that my religion is an empowering religion." She chooses to wear a hijab.[4] Sarsour argues that the Islamic religious laws and principles known as sharia do not impose on non-Muslims and that Muslims must also follow civil laws.[71]

Sarsour has been hailed by some as a symbol of empowerment and "shattering stereotypes of Muslim women".[72] In a dual interview with Iranian feminist activist Masih Alinejad about the veil, Sarsour elaborated on her views that the hijab is a spiritual act and not a symbol of oppression, and stressed the Islamophobia experienced by hijabi women in the West. Alinejad accused Sarsour of double standards, saying that Western Muslims in general, and Sarsour in particular, often fail to condemn compulsory hijab in the Middle East. Alinejad also said that if Sarosur is concerned with women's rights, she can not use the hijab "which is the most visible symbol of oppression in the Middle East" as a symbol of resistance.[73][74]

Notes

  1. ^ The Independent has described Sarsour as "a Palestinian-American Muslim rights campaigner who has spoken in support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) action group".[50]
  2. ^ Police later determined that the confessed vandal was not motivated by religious hatred.[61]

References

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Further reading

External links