By Deepti Hajela
January 26, 2017
NEW YORK — Linda Sarsour is used to slings and arrows, but not like this.
In the days since she helped organize the massive Women’s March on Washington, the Brooklyn-born, hijab-wearing activist has been targeted on the internet by false reports that she supports Islamic State militants and favors replacing the U.S. legal system with Islamic religious law.
On social media, critics have circulated a photo of her holding up one finger, like a sports fan celebrating a championship, and claimed she’s giving “the ISIS one-fingered salute.” In fact, she is on record as calling the Islamic State a global cancer.
Other posts have falsely claimed that she supports the imposition of Islamic law on the U.S., citing, as evidence, a sarcastic tweet she made in 2015 that was actually intended to ridicule conspiracy theories about secret Muslim plots to take over the American legal system.
Bloggers and conservative websites also circulated a picture of her at a convention of Muslim civic leaders, standing with a group of people that included a Milwaukee activist whose brother was arrested in Israel in 1998 and convicted of giving $40,000 to a Hamas leader. The photo, they said, was proof of “ties” to Hamas.
“Ludicrous,” said Sarsour, who was out rallying again Wednesday night in her hometown of New York City, protesting executive orders on immigration and border security signed by President Donald Trump.
The online attacks, Sarsour said, were the work of “fake news purveyors” and “right-wing media outlets recirculating false information.”
“I’m not going to be intimidated or silenced,” the-36-year-old married mother of three said.
Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, cut her teeth as an activist defending the civil rights of U.S. Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks and came to wider prominence in recent years protesting against police surveillance of Muslims. She’s become a regular at Black Lives Matter protests, too, and a frequent TV commentator on feminism.
The White House, during the Obama administration, honored Sarsour as a “champion of change.”
Her profile got a lot higher, though, after last weekend’s Women’s March, where she was one of four national co-chairs of an event that brought out well over a million people in Washington, D.C., and around the country.
Supporters responded to the online criticism with the Twitter hashtag #IMarchWithLinda.
Some people who know her work in New York said the idea that she is a foot-soldier for the oppressive view of Islam promoted by Islamic State militants is laughable.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, called the attacks “part of a right-wing agenda to undermine a Muslim-American woman who has dedicated her life to public service.”
Detractors often focus in on Sarsour’s frequent criticism of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. The child of Palestinian immigrants, she has acknowledged publicly that members of her extended family have been arrested on accusations of supporting Hamas.
The White House webpage that included information about the recognition she got during the Obama administration was taken down after Trump took office.
Sarsour said the anti-Trump march was high point in her career as an activist.
“I’ve proved I could do things people didn’t think I could do,” she said. But it has also made her feel “much more unsafe.”
She said she doesn’t go out alone. Her three children aren’t allowed to be home alone. She’s taken additional steps lately, like using car services to get around, rather than public transportation.
“It puts myself in danger. It puts my family in danger,” she said of the online vitriol. The accusations of supporting a terrorist group have been particularly upsetting for her children, she said.
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