This year’s Women’s March didn’t churn out the same audience as years prior, including a noticeably diminished presence of Islamist supporters after the organization booted both Linda Sarsour and Zahra Billoo last year from its leadership.
As one of the original four masthead figures of the Women’s March, Sarsour had a history of using the platform to spew anti-Semitic hatred, including advocating for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) Movement against Israel.
She was joined in by Tamika Mallory who refused to denounce anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and denied Israel the right to exist. After consistent public pressure and negative press, both were removed from the Women’s March.
The Women’s March replaced Linda Sarsour with CAIR leader (and even bigger anti-Semite) Zahra Billoo. Within 24 hours of Billoo’s announcement, intensive public backlash and outcry had the Women’s March revoke Billoo’s invitation.
Now, as Middle East Eye reports, a number of women supportive of both Sarsour and Billoo are publicly disavowing Women’s March as a platform that isn’t “inclusive” of “minority communities.” These “minority communities” they speak of are Muslim women — but not all Muslim women.
Middle East Eye spoke with three Muslim women who accused the Women’s March of tokenizing Muslim women.
Their grievances against the Women’s March included:
- “If you are really for the liberation for women, then you should seek the liberation for all women and the Women’s March doesn’t do that.”
- “This country has a history of a type of feminism that leaves out certain women. Through the Women’s March, this practice of valuing the experience of some women over others continues today.”
- “Watching Linda Sarsour and then seeing Zahra Billoo included on the board – you know, people who speak up on issues – was a big deal. But then the moment they spoke up, they were attacked and attempts [were] made to silence them.”
- “A lot of Muslim women see how vulnerable these women are because they speak out and then choose to steer clear from these positions as a result.”
- “She [Billoo] has spoken up on profiling by the FBI and the Muslim ban, and she has a long history of speaking up on important issues that matter to us.”
- “If we don’t send a message, this will continue. They need to know: leaving Palestinian women out, leaving Muslim women out, is not okay,”
However, the language these women are using is in fact exactly the atmosphere Islamist women have created for non-Islamist Muslims, Muslims who do not hold their American identity hostage to a fringe Islamic identity.
To reach grievance, I would reply:
- Many conservative women raised this issue at the launch of the Women’s March, when there was a question in whether or not pro-life women were welcomed. The march made clear that woman with a pro-life positions would not be accepted. So, there is already a precedent of the march having its “accepted” political views. Now that being an anti-Semitic is not an accepted view, these women are complaining.
- Islamist personalities systematically shut out and shut down minority voices. Ani Zonneveld, founder of Muslims for Progressives Values, had her voice shut down viciously by Ilhan Omar in 2019 for asking Omar if she would use her voice to speak out about FGM more.
- Was seeing Billoo and Sarsour on the billboard a big deal because you cared about Muslim women being represented or was it a big deal because you cared about the politics they represent? There were Muslim women leaders at this year’s Women’s March too, including interfaith activist Soraya Deen along with Zonneveld. Why was their representation as Muslim women discounted?
- A lot of Muslim women who disagree with the politicization of their faith and the constant peddling of Palestine as some Muslim issue see the abuse they receive and shy away from risking speaking up.
- So, what you are saying is that the issues are political and not gender-based?
- Why should the Women’s March be about Palestinian women? What about Iranian women protesting the Iranian theocracy? Does your support for Muslim women include their voices as well?
The issues of Islamist women stepping away from the Women’s March over the Sarsour-Billoo fallout is symptomatic of a much bigger problem, and that’s activism that ends up fueling further extremism.
The Women’s March isn’t per se an extremist movement; as we’ve seen, they’re willing to re-evaluate and reflect on their values. What is extreme, however, are the demands of Islamist women attempting to hijack the Women’s March to further their world view as the only tolerated and accepted standard.