The far left is trying to hijack Muslim minds in the West

From the fringes of the British Labour Party to the 'Squad' in Washington, identity politics is undoing hard-won progress

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 06: Minnesota Democratic Congressional Candidate Ilhan Omar speaks at an election night results party on November 6, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Omar won the race for Minnesota's 5th congressional district seat against Republican candidate Jennifer Zielinski to become one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
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The US elections are upon us again. Regardless of whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump wins, there is a looming danger. This ideological monster is precipitated by the rise of far-left politicians and activists in the West, many of whom come from Muslim backgrounds and exploit that identity for their leftist cause. These individuals and the movement they have helped build seek radical changes in Washington DC, London and Middle Eastern capitals, too.

I have nothing personal against the mainstream left. I was a member of the UK Labour Party, and for three years I was an adviser to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair. I believe societies need a robust political centre-left and centre-right in order to produce the creative friction that propels us forward.

epaselect epa07719406 Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib (L), Ilhan Omar (C-L), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (C-R), and Ayanna Pressley (R) speak about President Trump's Twitter attacks against them in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, USA, 15 July 2019. Without identifying them by name, President Trump tweeted that the minority lawmakers should 'go back' to their countries. Three of the four freshman congresswomen are natural-born US citizens.  EPA/JIM LO SCALZO
The self-styled 'Squad' is comprised (shown, left to right) of US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. EPA

On the left and right, there are examples of political actors who have leveraged their Muslim backgrounds constructively to foster peaceful co-operation. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s adviser, Huma Abedeen, a Democrat, was one such person. On the conservative side, American activist Suhail A Khan was a staffer in Republican president George W Bush’s White House. He was instrumental in organising Mr Bush’s visit to a mosque right after the 9/11 attacks. But that centrist, sensible influence is giving way to a new idea of Muslim political engagement, from university campuses to Congressional caucuses.

In the November 2000 US presidential elections, 70 per cent of American Muslims surveyed voted for President George W Bush. Muslim support for President Trump has doubled in 2020 compared with a year ago, but still only 30 per cent of Muslims are willing to vote for him. With 3.5 million Muslims in America, concentrated in swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, they can swing the election result. Little wonder, then, that Mr Biden has been busy campaigning among Muslim Americans.

Prominent Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has endorsed Joe Biden. That Mr Biden said “inshallah” in a televised debate had some activist Muslims in outbreaks of joy online. But he knows that Ms Omar’s support, as a supposed role model for young American Muslims, is not unconditional.

Ms Omar is part of the "Squad” – a group of Congresswomen that also includes Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, African-American Ayanna Pressley and Latin-American Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (popularly known as “AOC”).

What unites the Squad? These American lawmakers represent three trends.

First, they are an intersection of interests and opinions that seeks to undo the intellectual scaffolding of the modern West and the civilisational alliances it has with its allies in the Middle East.

America is an idea. It is about the free individual, powered by human reason, and citizenship based on the content of one’s character, and not the colour of one’s skin, as Martin Luther King, Jr beautifully encapsulated it. No religion or collectivist interest is paramount above the nation state and its laws.

This settlement that makes America so special is being slowly uprooted by poisonous identity politics, some of which the Squad represent. When they are under fire for their policy positions on the economy or immigration, rather than engage in reasoned debate, they will often hide behind protest politics of being “women of colour”. To question Ilhan Omar is to be accused of “Islamophobia”. Labels trump logic.

Second, the Squad are the tip of an iceberg that has been building among the far left on campuses and communities across America and Europe since 9/11. A strategic alliance between supporters of political Islam has found common cause with the political far left. This intersection has put aside their deep divergences on God, religion, family, homosexuality and the role of women and united their activist base on campuses and community hubs in their shared hatred for Western history and capitalism.

This counterintuitive union, which I have called the “Red-Green Alliance”, is similar to the revolutionary mindset that saw Iranian left-Islamists come together before 1979 with the encouragement of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour party leader, had a similar Red-Green alliance last year with a view to winning the general election with 30 Muslim-influenced constituencies – only to lose disastrously.

But when push comes to shove, Islamism and “wokeness” do not mix. Iran’s Islamists killed thousands and exiled leftists. In Gaza, Hamas hanged leftists from tall buildings. Ask Egyptian feminists how the Islamists in Egypt treated them after the 2011 uprisings. Islamists debated in Parliament to reduce the age of consent for marriage for women from 18 to nine.

A man, wearing a protective mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past a mural painted on the outer walls of the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on September 20, 2020.   Iran called on the rest of the world to unite against the United States, after Washington unilaterally declared UN sanctions against the Islamic republic were back in force. Washington has said it will "impose consequences" on any country not complying with the sanctions, although the US is one of the only nations that believes they are in force.
A man walks past a mural painted on the outer walls of the former US embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on September 20, 2020. Iran called on the rest of the world to unite against the United States, but the left-most fringe of the US Democratic Party has said little about Tehran's threats against Americans. AFP
When push comes to shove, Islamism and 'wokeness' do not mix

Third, the Red-Green Alliance wants to tear down the alliances of safety and stability that America and the West have supported in the Middle East. Ms Omar has repeatedly attacked Egypt and the Gulf states. Yet the real risks of a Muslim Brotherhood-led sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic government in Libya or Sudan have not seemed to trouble her and her allies.

Occasionally, however, the mask slips. Ms Omar has been forced to apologise by Nancy Pelosi for using anti-Semitic references in comments about the pro-Israel lobby. Her laughter at Americans’ fears of Al Qaeda caused outrage. Ms Tlaib, for her part, has been an outspoken proponent of boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

No country is perfect, of course. But for a movement that appears to have such a deep interest in the Middle East, why is the Red-Green Alliance silent on Iran’s fascist government? Where is its condemnation of Tehran’s support for terrorism in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia? What has it said of assassination attempts by the Iranian regime in Europe and Washington? Not a word.

This strategy of putting community before country and ideology before national interests will cause a furious backlash. The Red-Green Alliance will continue to agitate in Washington and to grow on campuses. They will take over the Democratic party as their British comrades did Labour.

Ultimately, they will lose because, as Margaret Thatcher warned, “the facts of life are conservative”. But in the process of their defeat, this movement for identity-based communal politics will do immense damage.

The far right is rising, at least in part, in reaction to the far left. With this comes a higher risk of reactionary Islamophobia, and new challenges for Arab leaders looking to engage with the West. In its revolutionary fervour, the Red-Green Alliance will help the cause of regressive Islamist revolutionaries in the Middle East.

Will Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris confront this psychosis? Former president Barack Obama, concerned by this new political culture, lashed out at the new activism in comments at his foundation’s annual summit last October. “That's enough,” he said. “If all you're doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far.”

Ed Husain is author of The House of Islam: a Global History and a columnist at The National