Future Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who recently won the primary race in Michigan to replace disgraced Rep. John Conyers and faces no Republican opponent, is best known as a progressive stalwart and a strong opponent of the Trump administration.
It is becoming clear, however, that Tlaib (pronounced “Taleeb”) also has deep connections with American Islamists, which may influence the policies she supports.
It is important to note that Tlaib almost certainly owes her victory to Islamist support. She had raised the most money in the Democratic primary by far — over $1.3 million — almost double the haul of her closest competitor.
A large amount of her funding came from outside of Michigan, thanks to the strong supportof national Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Emgage, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
But even some of the funds raised within Michigan were due to Islamist backing. In particular, Tlaib went door-knocking alongside the noted Islamist Linda Sarsour on Saturday, July 28th.
Additionally, Tlaib has received over $30,000 from prominent Islamists, including leading officials of CAIR, MPAC, and the Muslim-American Society (MAS). (CAIR was founded by the leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine, a front group for Hamas; MAS has been identified in courtroom testimony as the main U.S. front group for the Muslim Brotherhood.)
Tlaib won the primary by a mere 1 percent, and her massive fundraising advantage may well have been the margin of victory.
Now, it is natural for American Muslims to support an accomplished candidate such as Tlaib. Not only did she hold state office for six years; she is a celebrated standard-bearer of the growing Muslim-Progressive alliance, which is making so large an impact on national politics.
Tlaib recently proposed amending the Civil Rights Act to allow lawsuits based on “disparate impact” rather than requiring deliberate discrimination. In her victory speech, she promised to “fight back against every racist and oppressive structure that needs to be dismantled.”
On the other hand, not all Muslim candidates are receiving the same type of Islamist support. Omar Qudrat, running for Congress in California, has already advanced to the general election; but Qudrat, running as a Republican on a staunch anti-terrorism record, has not received a single dollar from prominent Islamists.
Deedra Abboud, who ran for Senate in Arizona, only received some $2500 from other prominent Islamists despite actually being a former official in CAIR and MAS. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who ran for Congress in Massachusetts, received even less despite being an Islamist board member of CAIR and a progressive darling herself.
Furthermore, Tlaib’s Islamist support goes back to her days in Michigan state office, when she received hefty donations from CAIR officials — including many from outside of Michigan such as Hussam Ayloush and Zead Ramadan. (Tlaib also received a Community Service Award from CAIR in 2009.)
Why did Islamist support coalesce around Tlaib in particular, taking her to victory? Why did she get so much Islamist backing? What do they know that we don’t?
First, the Palestinian-American Tlaib is an outspoken opponent of Israel and said that, if elected, she would use her “unique lens on this issue” to change American foreign policy. What this means has become increasingly clear.
In 2012, Tlaib strongly supported the push among Democratic activists to deny that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital — and was disappointed when the Democratic Party reaffirmed Jerusalem’s status in its platform.
More recently, Tlaib called for a “one-state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict: for the Palestinians to conquer Israel demographically since they could not militarily. Shockingly, this led the reliably progressive activist group J Street to withdraw its endorsement of Tlaib (though not before she had safely won her primary).
Second, it appears that Tlaib is more comfortable with Islamists than she lets on. Tlaib spoke at the 2014 annual joint conference of MAS and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). (ICNA is linked to the South Asian extremist movement Jamaat-e-Islami, and seeks to ultimately incorporate the United States into a global caliphate.)
There, Tlaib participated in a panel discussion about “empowering women.” Female empowerment is a large part of her public persona; in 2013, Tlaib added her voice to accusations of sexual harassment against Imad Hamad, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. (And of course, Tlaib’s new congressional seat was vacated when Rep. John Conyers resigned over similar accusations of sexual harassment.)
It is ironic, then, that at the same ICNA-MAS conference were many speakers who have promulgated deeply misogynistic views, as well as other forms of bigotry and even attacks against liberal democracy itself.
A mere few of these include Omar Suleiman, who approvingly used honor killings as a metaphor for divine punishment for fornication, and said that Islam gave parents veto power over who their children marry; Jamal Badawi, who ruled in 2004 that “symbolic” wife-beating “that does not leave a mark” is permitted in extremis by the Qur’an (though frowned upon), on the grounds that it can sometimes “save a marriage”; Yasmin Mogahed, who stated in 2013 that homosexuals become “lower than the animal”; and Hamza Tzortzis, who in 2008 claimed, “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech and even the idea of freedom.”
When asked for a response to these and other statements, Tlaib’s campaign emphasized her “active and unwavering” support of women’s empowerment, and stated that “Rashida obviously does not agree with the statements” mentioned. The campaign’s response notably failed, however, to condemn the statements, and did not address whether ICNA and MAS should have featured such speakers in the first place.
Tlaib might be just what she appears, a stark progressive who is a “proud Muslema” without being a believer in the totalitarian ideology of Islamism. And soon, Tlaib will have the opportunity to demonstrate her religious moderation in Congress.
But if she turns out to be another in the Keith Ellison mold, her victory — enabled by Islamist support and Islamist cash — will be another milestone of Islamists’ long campaign to smuggle their extremism into American politics.
Dr. Oren Litwin is a Research Fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.