Recently, Islamist groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have opened up a new field of activity. Going beyond lobbying against the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" and caps on refugee admittance, CAIR and its allies have enthusiastically jumped into the larger fight for open immigration in general, becoming involved in many protests focused on the U.S.-Mexican border.
For example, CAIR-San Diego held a "Prayer Beyond Borders" event "to pray for peace and justice in the borderlands," and CAIR National was one of the sponsors for a series of Mother's Day rallies "to call for [an] end to immigrant family separation [and] child detention." On the more hard-Progressive end, Linda Sarsour's organization MPower Change attacks President Donald Trump for "ripping families apart from each other" at the border, and castigates Amazon for providing surveillance technology to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).
One might view this merely as part of the Islamists' bargain with the Progressive movement, to support Progressive priorities even when they don't necessarily relate to Islamist goals. However, that underestimates the strategic importance of the immigration debate to the Islamists. An emerging trope among Islamists and their allies has been associating the effort for expanded immigration in the U.S. with the "Right of Return" claimed by Palestinians. Just as Central American immigrants ought to be able to enter the U.S. legally, goes the thinking, so too Palestinians ought to be able to gain citizenship in Israel.
This juxtaposition is clever at first blush; yet it seems unwise for the Islamists. The justification for embracing those crossing the U.S.-Mexican border is ostensibly that America is a nation of immigrants, and no one group has more of a right to be here than another. But if you apply the same logic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems to torpedo one of the central claims of the Israel-bashers. If Salvadorans and Mexicans and Palestinians ought to be allowed to live where they wish, why should Jewish immigrants not have been welcomed into Ottoman-controlled Israel? And why should Jews today be expelled from Palestinian-controlled territory?
The truth is, however, that Islamists are not making a cosmopolitan argument for U.S. immigration at all; and their real argument is perfectly in line with their rejectionism towards Israel. Their implicit argument, and that of much of the hard-Progressive left, is not that anyone should be able to live anywhere; it is that the United States lacks the standing to keep people out, because we are an illegitimate country built on European colonialism and white supremacy.
White supremacy has been featuring more and more in Islamist discourse lately. Partly this is a rational response to the vivid episodes of white-supremacist terrorism against Muslims — both the rare incidences of mass shootings as in New Zealand, and the relatively more frequent (but still rare) cases of mosque arson. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has been criticizing government complacency on white-supremacist violence, saying that it goes beyond the random acts of "lone wolves," and advocating for a more deliberate counterterror policy.
But partly, the new focus on white supremacy reflects a strategic choice by Islamists to align with Progressive rhetoric, resulting in some outlandish claims. For example, Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-Oklahoma, recently claimed that "white supremacy is the root of Islamophobia and other types of discrimination," a claim that was amplified by CAIR-National. Emgage Action objected to the attention paid to the Notre Dame fire, as opposed to a minor fire in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque that same day (which did no damage and was quickly put out), blaming this focus on "white racism."
MPower Change blames all the ills of the world on "Militarism and white supremacy, from Baltimore to Baghdad," and frequently attributes American criminal policy to an obsession with regulating "black and brown bodies" (an obnoxious Progressive trope borrowing from philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and verging on the pornographic in its implications). In April, CAIR participated in the annual "Manzanar March" commemorating U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; during the weekend, CAIR officials repeatedly drew between the discrimination against Japanese-Americans and modern anti-Islamic bigotry. And Islamists have been deliberately proselytizing to American Indian communities, amid new arguments that Islam has roots in America that predate the founding of the United States.
Islamists are presenting themselves as champions of civil liberties. If only. The hostility to a "white supremacist" American society underlying Islamists' views on U.S. immigration is profoundly illiberal, and should be seen for what it is: an attack on not only the legitimacy of the United States itself, but on the very cosmopolitan ideal. And this attack is motivating a fictitious rewrite of our history, the wholesale attribution of racist motives to innocent people, and the deepening polarization of our society.
Dr. Oren Litwin is the associate director of the Islamism in Politics project of the Middle East Forum.