Asra Nomani, a former investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and former professor at Georgetown University, is the author of Islamism's Woke Army: The Red-Green Alliance That Is Destroying America's Freedom. Nomani spoke to a March 3rd Middle East Forum Webinar (video) with Dexter Van Zile, editor of the Middle East Forum's Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), about her investigation into the Islamist movement's alignment with the hard left. The partnership, Nomani said, has become a "woke army" that exploits "America's freedoms to wage its own disinformation and propaganda campaign against its critics and the critics of the ideology of Islamism or political Islam." The following is a summary of her comments:
Nomani's motivation behind writing her book was to "uncover the people who have tried to silence" free speech. As a Muslim, Nomani's parents taught her an "Islam of grace" that was sorely tested when she recounted the event that led her to become a "Muslim reformer" who challenges "the extreme misinterpretation" of her faith. In 2002, Daniel Pearl, a friend and colleague from the Wall Street Journal, visited Nomani when she was in Pakistan. On his way to interview a source there, he was captured by Islamic fundamentalists who later brutally beheaded him. Profoundly affected by the murder, Nomani knew she must engage in the battle against "this interpretation of Islam" that inspires its adherents to become jihadi terrorists.
Seeking allies for her cause, Nomani approached a branch of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in her West Virginia hometown. Yet, instead of allying with her, CAIR launched a "character assassination campaign" to silence her. On www.loonwatch.com, an anonymous website that targets critics of Islamism, Nomani was labeled an "Islamophobe;" — a common tactic used by Islamists to intimidate and silence their detractors. Nomani fought back by filing a defamation lawsuit after the site claimed falsely that she was funded by the Israeli government. Her book documents how she went "from being the hunted to becoming the hunter."
After filing a subpoena against GoDaddy, the internet provider for "these anonymous attackers," Nomani discovered receipts for the loonwatch account in the name of Zuhair Thomas, real name Muhammad Tauseef Akbar, the research director at CAIR's Chicago chapter. She also found that Ahmed Rehab, executive director of that CAIR chapter, paid for the "disinformation character assassination campaign." The "hidden network of harassers" that CAIR constructed to target critics promotes grievances encouraging people to become what John Navarro, a former FBI Counterintelligence Agent, called "wound collectors" – a term he coined to describe terrorists who justify their violence by nursing "grievances with no statute of limitations." Nomani met Navarro in the course of her investigative reporting following Pearl's murder.
To further its agenda, CAIR "weaponizes grievances to fundraise" in what Nomani's friend and psychologist Orli Peter describes as "hijack[ing] our empathy." Peter referenced behavioral scientist and Concordia University professor Gad Saad's concept of "suicidal empathy" in which rational thought required for problem solving is superseded by the manipulation of one's empathy to "get caught up" in a grievance. The Islamists attempt to intimidate and shame their critics into silence by exploiting and weaponizing emotional wounds.
By prioritizing "the destruction of Israel," Nomani says CAIR has done exactly this in the U.S. Thus, one of its "wound collecting" methods is promulgating the 1948 creation of the Jewish State as the "nakba" [catastrophe] among American Muslims and the "great humiliation that must be rectified and justified to this day." Similarly, the woke army's grievance network of "Marxists, the socialists, [and] the hard left," along with CAIR, have allied with movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) that have "emerged to radicalize young people" and exploit Navarro's concept of "grievances with no statute of limitations." Bereft of solutions, these groups rely on agitating people to gain "political votes" and commit violence to further their agenda.
In the U.S., the Islamist network exploits the left's concepts of "white fragility and critical race theory to create a shield for themselves on the very legitimate criticisms" of their "dangerous ideologies." The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Northern Virginia is the "hub" of the U.S. Islamists' political power. Although "the target of many investigations on counter terrorism and terrorism financing," IIIT still exists. Next week, IIIT is launching a lobbying campaign at the Turkish mosque built in the U.S. by the Turkish government, "because they are now funders for this political Islam in America."
Although they have enjoyed much success in the U.S., American Muslims have an internal problem with becoming what one FBI agent called being "a couch jihadi," i.e., one who nurses grievances against the West in order to avoid facing the extremism within the community. Nomani believes that by teaching their children with "honesty and pragmatism" to "own up" rather than "saving face," Muslims could "relieve the fears that others have of Muslims" and make the world safer for everyone. However, instead of taking responsibility for the problems Islamists are perpetuating, the community deflects by attacking the creation of Israel.
Nomani said the same strategy used by "couch jihadis" to demonize Israel is now being applied to her native India to target it as "the new Israel." Motivated by "the new ideology of woke that has married with Islamism," the American Islamist group Justice for All is exploiting grievances to further its politics and has issued a report making the false claim that there is a "Nazification of India." This strategy is advanced via a propaganda campaign meant to activate "one of the largest populations of Muslims in the world."
Nomani defends herself against defamatory lies spread by Islamists, whom her son aptly describes as "terrorists of the mind." The woke ideology promoted by the red-green alliance damages the body politic, as its corrosive agenda is widely publicized by mainstream media outlets such as MSNBC and the New York Times. The disinformation campaign, now embraced by the Democratic Party, is an "alliance built on deception and demagoguery ... working together to undermine America's freedom."
When she saw the red-green network unleash its "inappropriate and dangerous" campaign in 2020 on the public school system, Nomani expanded her activism as a Muslim reformer to become a "parent advocate." The network has expanded its target audience and "is coming after our kids" in the education system by blanketing schools with books like A Is for Activism and Gender Queer, a book that includes pornography. The campaign to politicize the education system weaponizes innocent concepts in schoolbooks to indoctrinate children in woke ideology.
Nomani's book seeks to rally the "moral courage" of those who love America to work with Muslim reformers, stand up for the values of "humanism," and defend our free speech threatened by cowards who "hide behind masks." In unmasking the nexus between Islamism and the hard left in the U.S., and their reliance on propaganda and character assassination as part of their "battle strategy," her book situates them on the "losing side of history." Nomani's message is that, by standing strong with "intellectual confidence and moral courage," one can resist succumbing to these strategies. Follow the "north star of humanism as your guide, [and] you will always be on the correct side of history."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.