In a recent webinar, Rutgers University law professor Sahar Aziz demonstrated how Western leftist Islamists have abandoned sharia (Islamic law) due to intersectional LGBT and pro-abortion agendas. At a New York University Law School Brennan Center for Justice panel titled “Who Gets to Be an American: Race, Fear and Surveillance in Domestic Policy,” this faux expert on all things Islamic called on Muslims to get Woke.
Faiza Patel, director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security program, moderated the webinar with hackneyed diatribes about former President Donald Trump’s “openly racist rhetoric,” ignoring that Trump received historic levels of black support in 2020. Aziz, a former board member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Texas chapter, repeated progressive talking points about “Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism.”
A “traumatic collective experience” for American Muslims post-9/11 looms large in Aziz’s imagination. Amidst national concerns over Islamic terrorism and radicalism, a “presumption of guilt followed [Muslims] in all areas of life,” she claimed, such as when “flying while Muslim.” Aziz noted anti-Muslim hate crimes like mosque vandalization, but left unmentioned that religiously motivated hate crimes against Jews occur at a far higher rate and are often perpetrated by Muslims. She also did not reveal that American mosque construction post-9/11 has boomed.
Aziz spoke about “laws neutral on their face, but racist in practice,” including the “material support to terrorism law.” This “extremely powerful criminal law … effectively allows the government to criminalize charitable giving, travel,” she claimed. Left unanswered was the question of why governments should allow terrorist organizations and terrorists to receive “charity” donations or visits.
The state secrets legal privilege, which bars lawsuits if they entail the exposure of classified information, also drew Aziz’s ire for blocking legal actions by Muslims. But she offered no reason why national security priorities should change simply because Muslims are involved. This was also the case with her contention that Trump’s “Muslim ban”—that is, travel restrictions on various global terrorism hotspots—was the “most recent and most egregious explicit ‘Islamophobic’ government policy.”
For Aziz, the state of American Muslims “is sadly reminiscent of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism and anti-Mormonism” in the past. Yet these other faiths never involved conflicts over global movements—both violent and nonviolent—to impose theocracies.
“Muslim professors and particularly Palestinian professors,” Aziz decried, “were targeted for their political dissent; criticizing, for example, Israeli human rights violations,” which is supposedly the case at her anti-Israel hate fests. Typical of the thin-skinned professoriate, Aziz falsely equates criticism protected under the First Amendment with persecution.
In Aziz’s wider framework, America’s “systemic othering and consequent disadvantaging of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians in social, political and economic life now is a reality for many Muslims.” Her self-constructed “racial Muslim is permanently within America’s racial, religious hierarchy even as our government shifts the focus of its otherization efforts on Chinese-Americans and other Asians as part of its so-called pivot to the east.” Her only consolation seemed to be that America has a “relatively free press.”
In a decreasingly white, increasingly ethnically blended America where, for example, Latinos are voting more conservative, the reality is much more complicated than Aziz would like. Among America’s highly diverse Asian communities, many have above-average incomes, in contrast to Aziz’s hitherto unnoticed anti-Asian “otherization.” America’s Muslims similarly span a broad spectrum of political views and classes, with foreign-born Muslims having a more positive view of America and traditionalists voicing alarm at progressive Muslims’ embrace of leftist politics.
Along with “systematic racism,” Aziz concerned herself with “immigrant rights.” Americans, she said, are often “anti-immigrant” even though “we have a huge labor shortage right now.” She did not mention that a key factor in this is low workforce participation. With illegal immigration, Aziz claimed, “we are benefiting from the exploitation of persons who are undocumented, who are being paid illegally low wages.” She was unperturbed by the fact that large-scale immigration often depresses wages, which reduces workforce participation and increases government spending on social programs.
“Reproductive rights” (i.e., abortion) rounded out Aziz’s progressive concerns, as she intoned Woke rhetoric on “privilege” and “allyship” foreign to most Muslims around the world and opposed by Islamists.
“If you identify as racially white, you need to understand the privileges of whiteness, the advantages of whiteness and figure out how to be a good ally,” she said. This analysis applies “similarly if your sexual orientation is heterosexual, if you’re cisgender” or “don’t have a disability,” concepts that would enrage hardline Islamists and befuddle many Muslim societies, which are largely hostile to LGBT agendas.
While Aziz strains to present herself as an authority on Muslim matters, her strident leftism epitomizes the rift between the progressive and traditionalist wings of American Islamism. Notwithstanding her Arab ancestry, she typifies the Western secularism ubiquitous on the university left. She and legions of like-minded academic Middle East specialists are poorly placed to present informed, historically accurate information about the region they claim to represent.
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter @AEHarrod.
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