As we at the Middle East Forum monitor the activity of Islamist political groups, we have started to notice a new and puzzling trope in their public statements. At first in a few places, but now repeatedly, Islamist groups have been triumphantly discussing the growth of “Muslim power” in America.
To cite a few examples: MPower Change attended the recent ICNA/MAS convention and trained over a hundred attendees in political-mobilization techniques; they later crowed that “we can’t wait to work with them to build power!” Jetpac’s current fundraising efforts have the tagline, “Our path to power.” And CAIR-Washington State is holding a fundraiser on May 25 featuring Rep. Ilhan Omar, titled “Unapologetically US: Building Muslim Power for 2020 & Beyond.”
To be fair, “building power” is what most political groups seek to do, when you get down to it. But in the United States, we tend to cloak the will to power in a blizzard of euphemisms, many of them beloved by the Progressive groups that Omar et al. associate with. We make our voices heard, or advance our agenda, or defend our priorities, or build alliances, or support our friends in Congress. But “power”? In American politics, the term is considered gauche. Our opponents are powerful; we represent the people. Our opponents are powerful; we protect American industry. And so on.
Surely the Islamists know this. They have become politically sophisticated enough to win elections at the local and national levels, using careful messaging and PR. So why this sudden, public — one might even think, coordinated — obsession with Muslim power?
The question is perplexing, and there is no definite answer. But there are a few possibilities.
One is that the term “power” is meant to tap into the internal narratives of the Islamist community, to inspire a surge of new energy and activism that would be well worth the minor PR risk with regard to outside audiences (such as ourselves). Islamists are not shy about fantasizing about a gradual takeover of the United States through democratic means; perhaps this is a dog-whistle aimed at such fantasies, never mind that they are very far from being carried out.
Or are they? Since the 2018 election, Islamist activity has become increasingly reckless. Ilhan Omar in particular seems intent on provoking a political conflict over American support for Israel, even though she is being opposed by the entire Democratic leadership. What makes this confrontation surprising is that if they had simply waited another two or four years, the Islamists and anti-Israel Progressives would probably have been in a much stronger position within the Democratic Party than they are now. By launching this fight early, progressives risk incurring an avoidable defeat from liberal Democrats, who are belatedly realizing the terrible danger they are in.
Our read on the situation is that giddy with their growing successes, some Islamists are prematurely dropping the mask. In some circles, Islamists actually imagine that the time of Muslim ascendancy in the U.S. is at hand — never mind that Muslims make up only 1% of Congress and some 2% of the populace.
This might explain some of the baffling rhetoric of “Muslim power”: in a few cases, the speakers might actually believe that the term is a mere expression of fact, and that there is no risk in using it in public. On the contrary; Islamists might believe that weak, impressionable American voters might “follow the strong horse” and support the rise of Islamism even earlier than they would have, if they are convinced that it is already happening.
If so, this is a bad misreading of American mores.
Dr. Oren Litwin is associate director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.