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California Islamists Play Politics with Coronavirus Plague

In this picture released by the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to his supporters during his visit to Mashhad, 900 km (540 miles) east of Tehran, Iran. Khamenei is saying his country will realize its regional intentions while the United States will fail to achieve its purposes. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In pursuit of their agenda, enterprising politicians and partisan fanatics know better than to “let a perfectly good crisis to go to waste.” What better opportunity exists than a worldwide biological pandemic to seek radical social and political change?

With this adage in mind, California Islamists are preying upon the public’s fear of COVID-19 to advocate for extremist reforms. This includes local leaders from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-styled civil rights organization which was founded by supporters of the terrorist group Hamas.

Zahra Billoo, the longtime executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter, recently tweeted: “Sanctions hurt everyday Iranians more than anything else. And especially in this moment, the urgency to lift sanctions has never been higher.” 

“As #COVID19 takes 1000s of lives, nations globally call on the US to #EndCOVIDSanctions on Iran,” she wrote in a separate tweet. 

Billoo’s organization is part of a 25-member coalition calling for an end to Iranian sanctions. This alliance, which includes Islamist and progressive groups such as Code Pink, J Street, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, is led by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a civic action group that was exposed in a 2008 defamation lawsuit as an Iranian proxy. As recently as January, three U.S. Senators petitioned the Justice Department to investigate NIAC for “amplifying regime propaganda.”

Despite what Billoo would have her 34,000 Twitter followers believe, there is no evidence to suggest that sanctions have made conditions worse for Iranians. Humanitarian supplies are exempt from the U.S. embargo, and donors who wish to send aid may use official channels endorsed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Besides, if U.S. sanctions were truly creating a humanitarian crisis, why did Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reject American coronavirus aid and suggest that this assistance was intended as “a way to spread the virus more?”

The truth is that Iranian regime apologists have been calling for an end to sanctions long before the coronavirus pandemic. NIAC even denounced a 2019 Senate bill aimed at sanctioning the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), taking the absurd position that an economic embargo would allow “the IRGC to thrive.”

Billoo’s counterpart in charge of CAIR-Los Angeles, Hussam Ayloush, has also used the coronavirus pandemic to advance his political interests. As with other Islamists, Ayloush accepts the global virus as confirmation of Islam’s inherent superiority over other cultures and religions.

While some Muslims believe that ritual handwashing makes them less susceptible to illness than other groups, Ayloush took this a step further with a March 15 tweet, joking that the coronavirus has caused society to adopt conservative Islamic principles.  

“Bars are shutdown. Interest rates lowered to zero. The President declared today a national prayer day. People are wearing niqab in public. People are encouraged to do what seemingly appears as Wudu [ritual purification preceding prayer] … I am waiting for the next announcement on national TV to go something like this: “repeat after me. Ash-hadu Anna La Ilaha…” [the first words of the shahada, an Islamic creed which is recited to convert to Islam.]

Ayloush dismissed pushback stemming from his attempt at humor, telling a critic to “lighten up.” However, the truth is that Ayloush’s description of a society on lockdown observing strict religious principles may not be too dissimilar from the world he envisions. For example, Ayloush appeared in a December 2001 photograph with Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Qaradawi, a firebrand Islamist cleric currently banned from visiting the U.S. and other Western nations.  

Qaradawi has called for deeply draconian social controls that make COVID-19 restrictions seem libertarian. He supports strict gender segregation, spousal abuse, female genital mutilation, corporal punishment for homosexuals and fornicators, death by stoning for adulterous women, and death to apostates.

Despite this, Ayloush has treated Qaradawi as a religious authority, even citing his theological opinion during a 2002 CAIR fundraiser.

Social justice activist Linda Sarsour, a fixture on the Islamist speaking circuit in Southern California, also used the virus to promote her extremist agenda. Sarsour was a co-chair of the nationwide Women’s March movement until September 2019, when the feminist organization finally ejected her for promoting anti-Semitism. 

Apparently, Sarsour has not learned from her mistakes. On March 30, she participated in a Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) webinar titled, “End the Blockade on Gaza: Stop Covid-19,” which featured the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). 

While JVP is a fringe anti-Israel organization with an appalling record of promoting crackpot Jewish power conspiracies, BNC is the global headquarters of a sanctions movement which critics claim is predicated on the economic destruction of Israel – a bizarre choice of partner in a campaign established to end a blockade.

Still, it is unsurprising that Sarsour, who has called for a one-state solution in Israel, would associate with BNC, whose leaders belong to Palestinian terrorist organizations dedicated to the military destruction of Israel.

As with Billoo’s fear-mongering, Sarsour’s insistence on opening the Gaza-Israel border is unsubstantiated. In just the first few days of the pandemic, Israel transferred hundreds of coronavirus tests kits and more than 40 tons of disinfectant material to Gaza, and the border remains open to Palestinian medical workers and the seriously-ill. 

Islamists are hijacking a public health emergency to promote an extremist agenda opposed to American interests. Whether they are supporting a foreign Islamic state, vying for the destruction of Israel, or calling for increased religious involvement in the public sphere, Islamists are prepared to capitalize on a tragedy in support of extremist prerogatives. 

David M. Swindle is the Southern California associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid and a fellow for Islamist Watch. He also works as the Director of Research for The Israel Group. Follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle

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