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Ex-Islamist explains the appeal of antisemitism among US Muslims

While there are some American Muslims who acknowledge that Israel isn’t going away, they are not willing to say so publicly. This silence, coupled with extremist anti-Israel activism, is contributing to a decline in Jewish safety in the U.S.

Kanye (“Ye”) West. Credit: Jason Persse via Wikimedia Commons.
Kanye (“Ye”) West. Credit: Jason Persse via Wikimedia Commons.
Dexter Van Zile
Dexter Van Zile is Managing Editor at the Middle East Forum.

Umar Lee, a former Salafist Muslim who has become a prominent and vocal critic of Islamism in the U.S., warns that America could witness a repeat of Tree of Life Massacre in Pittsburgh that cost 11 Jews their lives in 2018. A repeat of the attack could take place if the antisemitism promoted by entertainer Ye (formerly Kanye West) and basketball star Kyrie Irving is left unchecked, Lee warned.

“These guys have millions of followers and are very relevant to the culture so we could see violence against Jews,” Lee warned. We can see another synagogue massacre like what we saw in Squirrel Hill [the Pittsburgh neighborhood where the Tree of Life Massacre took place] in 2018.”

Such an attack could be perpetrated by someone in the Muslim community who buys into the hate promoted by West and Irving, declared.

“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,” he warned in a recently published interview with Focus on Western Islamism. Lee, who affiliated with Salafist extremism after converting to Islam in St. Louis in the early 1990s at the age of 17, became a vocal critic of Islamism in his 30s.

In the interview, in which he argued that Middle East Islamism is suffering a decline in influence and popularity, Lee was particularly critical of Nihad Awad and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), where Awad serves as executive director. Any thinking person knows that Awad “is a Hamas guy” and can figure out his opinion toward Jews by reading the Hamas Charter, Lee said.

“If Nihad Awad had his way, every Jew in Israel would be dead,” Lee said. “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.”

Given Awad’s hostility toward Israel, Lee doesn’t put much stock in CAIR’s regular condemnations of antisemitic attacks in the U.S. But Awad’s influence is not nearly as powerful as Irving and West, Lee emphasized.

“Kyrie and Kanye are a lot more relevant than Nihad Awad,” he said.

Lee also warned against an insurgency led by young, disaffected Muslim males against “woke-Islam” which dominates appeals to young Muslim women and is supported organizations such as the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America.

While Lee agrees that Islam is not the “woke” religion that some Muslim leaders portray it as being, he is bothered by the growth of the “Akh-Right” comprised of disaffected young Muslim men who admire commentators such as Daniel Haqiqatjou, a recent convert to Islam with retrograde attitudes toward women.

While “progressives have the institutional support within the organized Muslim community,” there’s “an insurgency led by men, particularly younger men, that are rejecting this progressive shift. They’re rejecting it in very harsh terms and going very far to the right.”

Lee offered his warning against antisemitism and polarization in the American Muslim community after a recent trip to Israel which elicited significant blow back from many Muslims in the U.S. For some Muslims, Lee said, visiting Israel and acknowledging the legitimacy of the Jewish state was simply unforgivable.

“I could get on video and drink liquor, smoked weed and people would say, ‘Hey everybody, no one’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes,’” Lee said. “I could be in a porno and people would say, ‘Hey, well…’ But support Israel? That is the worst thing that you can do.”

While there are some American Muslims who acknowledge that Israel isn’t going away, they are not willing to say so publicly. This silence, coupled with extremist anti-Israel activism, is contributing to a decline in Jewish safety in the U.S., Lee warned.

“[W]hen somebody is rabidly anti-Israel, they’re also antisemitic, they’re also not good neighbors to Jewish neighbors,” he said. “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.”

Countering such hate in the Muslim community will require the establishment of alternative venues for moderate Muslims to meet and make themselves heard, Lee said.

“We need a format to make our voices heard so that other people can come out and voice these opinions and not be ostracized,” he said.

Dexter Van Zile is managing editor of Focus on Western Islamism.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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