FWI: I look at Daniel Haqiqatjou and I see a disaffected young white guy who's going off the rails.
Lee: He's not that young. I think he's like 40. His father's Iranian, his mother's white, he went to Harvard. The Muslim community is very big into academic credentials. He's a very angry and bitter guy and essentially is just what you could find on Newsmax, but with an Islamic spin, with a little Arabic thrown in, a little Islam thrown in, not a deep thinker. I watched his debate with Imam [Mohammad] Tawhidi. Tawhidi just destroyed Haqiqatjou because he's a terrible debater and he can't think quick on his feet. But he's been able to organize this group of young, disaffected males.
Now, I wouldn't call all of them incels [a neologism, meaning "involuntary celibates"]. Here's what I tell people: If they weren't Muslims, they would be incels. It's a lot easier for Muslims to get married. If you have a job, if you come from a decent family, you may not get who you want, but you'll get somebody, right? For white American young males there's no family-arranged marriages. It's just a lot more difficult to get married if you're kind of an unattractive guy, you're not smooth or whatever the case may be. They are probably just unhappily married probably. That's probably the more likely scenario.
If I look at it analytically, they're annoying. I'm sure they're terrible to be married to, but they're not as bad as the guys in Birmingham in the UK.
FWI: In a recent Substack post, you wrote that white people should not convert to Islam because of the distrust they are subjected to by non-white Muslims. You stated that "no matter what you do, no matter how much water you carry and ass you kiss, you'll never be fully trusted and accepted, so why bother?" Was that a heat-of-the-moment response to the blow back you got from your trip to Israel?
Lee: I've said before that I don't think it's a good idea to convert, but I'm in a different situation. It's like a 30-year marriage. I might as well ride it out.
But no, I tell young people when they ask me [if they should convert], I say "Don't." That's my advice. Now I have a buddy of mine from St. Louis who's a lawyer down in Atlanta, Todd Barbee, black guy, and he tells young black guys the same thing. "Just take a yoga class or something," he says. But some people need religion, some people really do, and it really helps them. You can't make a blanket statement, but for most, it's not going to work. But there are some people that, not just Muslims, they need some structure and religion, but the numbers don't look good. I wouldn't advise it.
White Women Fetishized
FWI: Do you think this distrust is the same for men and women in the community?
Lee: No, it's more for men. There's this real strong brotherhood for men. I don't want to generalize, but there's often not as strong of a sisterhood for women and part of that is because of polygamy. A lot of times women see other women as competition. As a Muslim guy, I can invite a brother over to have dinner at my house. But if an attractive woman converts, she has a problem making friends. People don't want to invite her over to their house, because their husband might say "Hey!" because of polygamy, particularly white women.
Not to be politically incorrect but let me do it: A lot of men, particularly Arab men and others, really fetishize white women. She could be unattractive, she could be not much to write home about, but whether for a green card, whether for citizenship, or whether just check it off the box, she'll be coveted. White women are definitely coveted when they convert for marriage, while white men who convert are viewed with suspicion, like "Who is this guy?"
Now, part of it is kind of funny. There's a thing with a lot of these immigrant Muslims. A friend of mine says, "When I look at convert. I think this guy is a nut." What he's trying to say is "Why would he join this mad house?"
I do think that's a kind of a underlying view for a lot of people. They won't verbalize it because it doesn't make you look like a pious Muslim. But they're thinking to themselves, "Why is he signing up for this?" But yes, there is that suspicion definitely, for the white convert male, more so for the male than the female.
FWI: You've been very critical of Jonathan A.C. Brown at Georgetown. He seems pretty obtuse on the issue of slavery in Islam. Why does he have so many defenders?
Lee: Number one, his father-in-law [Sami Al-Arian] is a terrorist. [In 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to providing funds to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.] Brown represents the climax of this Left-Academic-Islamist alliance because he's a Brotherhood guy to the bone. He's at Georgetown, a "progressive" institution where a Catholic academic defending Catholic slavery would be out of a job within weeks, where a Jewish academic defending Jewish slavery would be out of a job within weeks. But he's able to hide behind this progressive Muslim-identity politics to say, "If you attack me, you're attacking a marginalized group" — even though this is a white guy from Virginia. Jonathan A.C. Brown is absurdly able to hide behind this dialogue of intersectionality and oppression.
Number two, he's an academic and academics have a lot of clout in the Muslim community — disproportionate to what academics enjoy in other communities. Number three, he's white. And while there's suspicion toward white converts, at this kind of elite level of a Hamza Yusuf or Jonathan Brown, there's a pedestal on which white scholars have traditionally been placed.
Fourth, he has the Brotherhood's support because he's a Brotherhood guy. He has the Akh-Right support because he defends issues that they agree on. Rape, consent, slavery, all things, the Far-Right love, you're talking their language. The progressives defend him. A lot of the academics don't like him, but a lot of people defend him out of Muslim identity politics. And they like his wife because she is a woke-Islamist, an Al Jazeera-Leftist-Islamist-Frankenstein combination.
It's important to counter [Brown's] message on slavery. In Kansas City, Allison Fluke-Ekren was just convicted for being an ISIS leader in the federal court in Alexandria. She was a Muslim convert who used to be a schoolteacher at the Muslim school in Kansas City. She took her family, moved to Egypt, then ended up in Syria as an ISIS leader where her children got killed. She held slaves, organized terrorist attacks, and only got 20 years.
The group she joined — ISIS — made the exact same arguments about slavery as Jonathan A.C. Brown: "Hey, Western slavery was bad. Islamic slavery is OK. It's not as bad. We do it within parameters within the legal framework, et cetera," they said. That's all they did.
A Question for the Saudi Royal Family
FWI: He seems to be one of these people that just doesn't want to get it.
Lee: With Brown, I don't know how much is a grift, and I don't know how much is real, but one thing I do know is that his position at Georgetown is funded by a Saudi prince. I would like to get a message to the Saudi royal family: "You are a hundred percent opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, a hundred percent opposed to Islamist politics. Why is a member of your royal family funding this Islamist polemicist at an American university, an academic that is also supporting not only slavery but your political opponents?" (Laughs).
I would like the Saudi ambassador to answer that question. I would like the Saudi government to answer that question: "If the policy of Saudi Arabia is to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, which they — and the UAE — have said is a terrorist organization, then why are you funding Jonathan A.C. Brown?"
The Problems With Imams, TikTok
FWI: How can moderate imams compete with the more radical imams you have condemned in recent years?
Lee: They need to address the circumstances of the Muslim community where it's at. In many mosques in America, the discourse is detached from people's lives. It's irrelevant. This is why we have this un-mosqued movement. They go to jumʿah, it's very boring. It's not talking about anything relevant to their lives. If imams want to be helpful, want to be relevant, want to have the ears of these young men, want to have a bigger influence than Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson and the Islamists or whoever — they have to talk to people about what's real. Your discussion of sex can't just be stuffed with law. Imams have to have a real discussion with people on sex, gender, and identity. They have to show their followers how religion can be used to make them better people, give them better lives, give them meaning. If it's all about anger and judgment it's not sustainable. It's not healthy and it's not beneficial for individuals or for the greater society.
We have girls that wear hijab at home when they're out with their parents and they take it off and go to nightclubs. We can't just say these people don't exist. This is why Muslim TikTok and Muslim Instagram have become so popular. They're spaces where young Muslims can go to have a real discussion about what's going on in their lives — dating and all the other stuff that American youth go through.
The problem with that wild, wild west of TikTok and Instagram is that it is a wide-open door for extreme actors to walk into, whether they be Islamists, the Akh-Right, Communists, or other fringe figures — these social media applications have made their job much easier. It's easy for crazy people to meet. You just go on social media, open up an account. Back in the 1980s, Communist supporters of East Germany and the Soviet Union. stood on street corners and passed out fliers and had 10-15 people show up at their meetings. We saw the same thing with the neo-Nazi groups. Now, through social media, they can easily connect with one another. If you want to have positive messages to counter that, you have to be online, you have to be on social media, you have to make good videos.
FWI: Is there a way to tell if an imam wants his followers to convert for their spiritual benefit and not out of a desire to recruit them into the cause of Islamism?
Lee: In the past, conversion has been used as recruitment, not just for Islamism, but for these groups like Jamil Al-Amin's group, where when you converted, you made your bay'ah [oath of allegiance] at the same time, it was a simultaneous thing. People entered Islam and you entered the Jamaat Al-Amin simultaneously. And a lot of people didn't even know it. They had made bay'ah to Jamil. [Jamil Al Amin, aka H. Rap Brown, was convicted of murdering a police officer in 2000.]
It goes back to intent. A responsible imam will make sure that a potential convert is spiritually grounded and that his goal is to establish a relationship with God using the toolbox of Islam and the spiritual path of the Sunna — not pursue a political cause. We have seen fringe people, a lot of white guys in particular, who have been inspired by YouTube videos to convert to Islam to join ISIS or other terrorist groups and for antisemitism. There have been people who converted because they believed Muslims are the most effective antisemites. A responsible imam will try to vet that out and try to explain it, but an irresponsible one, and there are many of them, won't.
Antisemitism in the Muslim Community
FWI: What's your take on the main American Muslim organizations? You've mentioned Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America. I'm having a tough time squaring CAIR's condemnations of antisemitic attacks with Nihad Awad's praise of Yusef Qaradawi, a well-known antisemite.
Lee: It's a farce. Nihad is such a phony. When they raised money for the Jewish cemetery that had been vandalized, it was just low hanging fruit to get good publicity, just a pure PR stunt. I remember being in a room with him in the nineties, and he mentioned that he met Clinton and he walked up to him and said, "My name's Nihad Awad, and I'm against the peace process." And he said, "Clinton's kind of stunned and said, 'Why'?' He just gave him a card."
Awad is a Hamas guy; everyone knows it. Any thinking person knows that, and we know what their position is. Read the Hamas charter, it's all there.
Any condemnation of antisemitism from him, or even from people like Mehdi Hasan who have completely delegitimized Israel is false because a big driver of antisemitism is anti-Zionism. They are connected at the hip. People that de-legitimize the Jewish state are not in a position to speak out against antisemitism when they're emboldening antisemitism.
There's a lot of support for Kanye West and Kyrie Irving in the Muslim community, particularly among the black Muslims — and from non-black Muslims. It doesn't have anything to do with Israel. It's antisemitism. Israel is just a byproduct.
And Kyrie and Kanye are a lot more relevant than Nihad Awad. These guys have millions of followers and are very relevant to the culture so we could see violence against Jews. We can see another synagogue massacre like what we saw in Squirrel Hill [a neighborhood of Pittsburgh] in 2018.
FWI: Hostility toward Israel seems to be a unifying force for some pretty disparate groups.
Lee: Absolutely. If you're in the Islamist camp, you have your own rhetoric. They'll say "Palestine is an Islamic struggle," "It's a waqf [mortmain] of the umma of Mohammed," "We have to save Al-Aqsa," "Jihad is an obligation."
If you are a leftist, you say "It's a settler colonial state," "This is not a religious struggle," "This is a struggle of oppressed people of color against a European settler movement and the Zionist-controlled Congress."
And if you're on the Akh-Right, you just resort to the classical antisemitic arguments that Western antisemites have made: "The Jews run the world, the Jews run America. Israel is a Rothschild [run-state]." That never changes.
By far, the least popular thing you can do is support Israel. I could get on video and drink liquor, smoke weed and people would say, "Hey everybody, no one's perfect. Everyone makes mistakes." I could be in a porno and people would say, "Hey, well..." But support Israel? That is the worst thing that you can do. There was a lawyer from St. Louis who saw some of my photos and videos in Israel. What really set him off was me having breakfast in Jerusalem — which was a very delicious breakfast I might add. He said, "Oh how can you sit there and eat? This is a clear violation of BDS!" That's hilarious. Of all the stuff I did in Israel, eating breakfast was the worst thing this guy could imagine.
When it comes to Israel, everyone is still unhinged. It doesn't matter what segment of the communities they're in. There are very few rational people. And even the rational people I talk to, they'll agree with me in private, they won't say anything in public. In private, they'll say, "Yeah, I agree with you, we got to be rational about this and realistic and Israel's a reality." But they won't say that publicly cause it's so unpopular.
Most Muslims believe that anti-Muslim bias is similar to anti-Jewish bias. One of the characteristics of antisemitism is the belief that all Jews get together in a dark room and plot how they are going to run America when the reality is they are all just going to their jobs, doing their thing, trying to live their lives. There are very few Muslims out there that even think about opposing the Constitution. They're just functioning as every other citizen does.
But regarding Israel, we must look at what's going on. We must put it all together because they're all connected. When somebody is rabidly anti-Israel, they're also antisemitic, they're also not good neighbors to Jewish neighbors. Look at the Boston Mapping project — a blatant and complete antisemitic project. It's a "Digital Kristallnacht" because it is a plan to mark every Jewish organization in Boston. It might begin in Boston, it won't finish there. Next thing we'll know it'll be the "Chicago Mapping Project" and then it'll be in Cleveland, St. Louis, and so on.
So how do you counter this? I think it's very difficult. But people such as myself and other people — not just me — understand the issue and respect the Jewish community, Israel, and history. There's a lot of people that don't have that type of animosity, they're not political zealots or Islamists. We need a format to make our voices heard so that other people can come out and voice these opinions and not be ostracized. You're not going to get it at ISNA, you're not going to get it from MAS. I mean even looking at Wajahat Ali, who took a very unique and weak position on Israel was banned from ISNA. He's not a radical guy, not a particularly interesting guy in terms of what he's saying, but even his weak position and that he visited Israel and Judea and Samaria — that got him banned from ISNA.
CVE Useless, Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Harmful
FWI: Some of the people involved in the counter-Islamist movement don't understand the need for religion. They either dismiss Islam, become anti-Muslim, or even dismiss the notion of religion altogether. And that seems to hinder their effectiveness in the fight against Islamism.
Lee: There is the countering violent extremism (CVE) crowd and the counter-Islamist crowd. The CVE crowd is just another useless government program. The government says: "OK, we have a drug problem, so we're going to allocate $5 billion to education against drugs" — which in reality, it's just a bunch of non-profits that are making money. No one is getting off drugs because of this. So the CVE industry would say "Hey, we have to counter this message." A lot of people make the money, get something nice for a grant. But not one person will say, "You know what? I'm a terrorist. I'm going to stop a terrorist because I read this brochure."
The problem with the counter Islamists is when they root their message in anti-Muslim language. Muslims leave the conversation when they hear this rhetoric. If you're disrespectful towards Muslims and Islam, they're not going to stick around to hear what good points you make. When you're having a conversation trying to get religious people to be more moderate and be more reasonable, you can't just inflame them by attacking their religion.
Most Muslims Support America, Most Mosques Are Businesses
FWI: Is there a way for Muslims to practice their faith as a fruitful, divinely inspired response to the human condition that can be embraced by Westerners in general and Americans in particular without promoting the overthrow of the constitutional order that Western democracies are based on?
Lee: Absolutely. Look at Imam Warith Deen Muhammad. His was a movement that promoted a strong Muslim identity. It was a movement that also promoted good citizenship and patriotism. They put the American flag on the front page of the Muslim Journal [published by Muhammad's organization, the American Society of Muslims]. He went to Congress and led prayer and waved the American flag. He visited Jerusalem. We have examples of this.
That's just one model. Look at what Ta'leef Collective is doing. It's promoting an Islam that is not militant, that is not adversarial. There are other groups like that out there. I think that's generally the direction people are going. Mosques are businesses, and most people, Muslims included, don't want to be in the business of opposing the government. They want a piece of the American pie. They want their house in the suburbs.
FWI: Thanks so much for this interview.
Lee: You're welcome.
Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of the Middle East Forum publication Focus on Western Islamism.