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The War on Liberal Values and Human Equality

An ‘unholy alliance’ between the ‘woke’ left and the Islamist right is destabilizing America

“Soft power can be more damaging and can weaken a nation and a people even more than bullets or bombs,” says Asra Nomani.

In a recent episode of “American Thought Leaders,” host Jan Jekielek sat down with Asra Nomani, Muslim reformer and now advocate of parental rights, to discuss liberal values, the line between free speech and character assassination, Big Tech, and soft power. Nomani is the author of “Woke Army: The Red-Green Alliance That Is Destroying America’s Freedom.”

Jan Jekielek: You’ve always identified yourself as a classical liberal. Is this idea of classical liberalism here in America coming to an end?

Asra Nomani: There’s a war for the values of classical liberalism, for ideas like individual freedom, free speech, and the value of family. Also, something else is really important to me, which is equality, a sense that there is no hierarchy of human value, that we should view each other as the human beings we are. Unfortunately, I see sectarian, divisive ideologies now taking root in the United States.

Mr. Jekielek: You’ve approached this question from a number of vantage points. How did you become this fierce defender of classical liberalism?

Ms. Nomani: To me, it’s about cognitive consistency. It’s about living with ethical congruity. It happened through a childhood and young adulthood of living in the freedoms of America. I was born in India, and my family came here to enjoy the freedoms that America provides because of the values of classical liberalism and the opportunity for equal opportunity. But I was feeling an incongruence between some ideas that I was hearing and some that were embedded inside me from being a Muslim.

In the traditional interpretation of Islam, you are denied principles like free speech, because laws of blasphemy can judge you and criminalize you. You are denied individual rights, because you are defined by the collective sense of how you’re supposed to live, how you’re supposed to marry, where you’re supposed to travel, and what you’re supposed to do for a living. It was actually in tragedy that I found the greatest clarity of my life in these things.

Mr. Jekielek: Please tell me about that.

Ms. Nomani: I had become a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In the summer of 1969, I had arrived as a girl who knew not a word of English. Then, at the age of 23, I got a job at the Wall Street Journal. This was the America in which I was able to prosper. Then on 9/11, I saw this collision between the most extreme interpretation of my faith of Islam and America.

I got on a plane to Pakistan like so many journalists did, defying the State Department warnings. A colleague and friend of mine also headed to Pakistan, a journalist by the name of Danny Pearl. On January 23rd, 2002, he came to visit a home I was renting in Karachi. He went off for an interview and he never came back. The men he was supposed to interview had set a trap for Danny. First, they said that Danny was a spy for the United States. They used his American citizenship, and by proxy, him being white, to demonize him as a spy for the U.S. Then, the local press reported that Danny was Jewish, and he went from being a spy for the CIA to a spy for the Mossad Israeli intelligence agency. Danny was none of that. He was just a good guy who had used the pen for truth and justice in the world. In the weeks that followed, we learned that Danny had been slain and brutally beheaded.

That was the moment that I knew deep in my heart that we were in this war with this extremism. It was defined by sectarianism and by the most illiberal of ideas, which is that there is a hierarchy of human value in the world. Because of being American, white, and Jewish, Danny was at the bottom of that hierarchy. That’s when I recognized that those classical liberal values were worth fighting for.

Mr. Jekielek: You became a Muslim reformer. In the process, you faced a lot of personal attacks. Then, in Fairfax County, Virginia, you became a parental rights advocate. It very much centers on this idea of identity that you just pointed out. It’s the uniting issue.

Ms. Nomani: My son was accepted into the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. It’s for kids that are really smart in math and science, and entry was based on a merit admission. In the fall of 2017, he walked into the school, and I became a PTA mom.

The student body is 70 percent Asian, 10 percent black, Hispanic, and other identities, and 20 percent white. Many of the Asian students are from India and China. Many families had fled communism in China to create, just like my family, a new reality in the United States. Then, the killing of George Floyd happened in the spring of 2020, and a new race war was launched.

On June 7th, 2020, the school’s principal, Ann Bonitatibus, sent an email to all the families in which she said we needed to check our privileges. She said we needed to change the racial demographic of the school so that it would match the racial demographic of Fairfax County.

Twenty percent of the county is Asian, whereas 70 percent of the school is Asian. We were the wrong kind of minority now. For 18 years, I had been seeing this reality of identity politics inside my Muslim community and a new identity politics emerging in the United States. Now, all of a sudden, I was in the crosshairs, and so were my son and all these amazing families.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s an alliance of people with illiberal values. Please tell me, what is this “woke” army? It doesn’t make sense that there would be such an alliance.

Ms. Nomani: Yes, that is partly why this alliance is unholy—they really contradict each other’s values. First, there are Islamists, those people who believe in political Islam, who want theocracy, and who believe in religious law as the law of the state, which is a very dangerous prescription for secular democracies.

These Islamists have now aligned with the leftists in the United States and around the world. They manifest in different forms like socialists, communists, and even Antifa sometimes. They work together to undermine classical liberal values and the freedoms we know in the United States.

Mr. Jekielek: As we were preparing for this interview, I learned that this whole alliance was catalyzed to some extent by the Trump candidacy and presidency. Please explain this to me.

Ms. Nomani: In the early days of the Muslim reform movement, we were challenging the Islamists in the ways that they were interpreting the religion in mosques, in the states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But something really frightening happened. I noticed with the start of the Obama administration that the Islamists were now aligning with the Democratic Party, and they were entering into this unholy alliance of values. They actually do not believe in ideas like my body, my choice. They do not believe in equal rights or the kind of LGBTQ rights that the Democratic Party is embracing.

I saw money start flowing into the Muslim organizations from traditionally liberal philanthropists, and wondered how they could justify it. I realized they were using race. What the Islamists had started to do was take this really complicated legal theory of critical race theory and declare that Muslims were a race, and you were being racist if you dared to criticize extremism within the faith.

That kept developing through both the Obama administrations. When the 2016 election was happening, that alliance first tried to defeat Donald Trump as president. When he won, on the night of the election, I saw the battle cry go out from the Islamist organizations for literally an overthrow of the government. That’s when “The Resistance” was coined. That’s when I really became aware of the threat that we were facing as a nation.

Mr. Jekielek: What is the vision of the woke army?

Ms. Nomani: There is this real hope to bring the sectarianism and division to our country. We can see it happening everywhere now. We see it from the workplace to K–12 schools. We see segregation and separation of people based on identity. And they want a dumbing down of the United States.

That is why they came after my son’s school, where they’re against the idea of meritocracy, including merit-based education and admission. We have seen that whittling away in our system with the absence now of advanced placement classes and honors classes.

So many people feel helpless and hopeless against this woke army. They are living in fear of being canceled for what they say, in intellectual spiritual prisons. It is a war on the spirit of America and Americans.

Mr. Jekielek: Do you have a chapter in your book about character assassination? This is something that you yourself experienced. You went on this journey with the help of a lawsuit to try to figure out who was behind this. Those are two things I want to explore.

Ms. Nomani: I was a student of the art of propaganda while at American University. I studied it with a professor who had come to the United States from Iran who had witnessed the Iranian revolution. It was propaganda that brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and brought this Islamist interpretation of Islam to power. I knew how propaganda can be used in the war of ideas, and then also be weaponized to slay enemies of the ideas.

The first witness that I had of that was my friend Danny Pearl. Before Danny’s killers slayed him, they waged a character assassination campaign on him; first as an American, then as a Jew, and then as a son of Israel. That was used to discredit him as a human being and to dehumanize Danny.

When I came back to the United States, I started challenging the interpretation of Islam that was used to dehumanize Danny. What did my enemies do? They started their campaign to dehumanize me, and they assigned all sorts of ulterior motives to my campaign. They turned the word Zionist into a slur and used that to discredit me.

I knew that character assassination has been used since the beginning of time against any political enemy to try to eliminate them. But the internet had allowed these assassins to be anonymous. They wore masks and I didn’t know who they were. In the summer of 2017, I learned that there had been an article published about me on an anonymous website called It had been created literally on April Fool’s Day 2009 to smoke out the so-called loons, who they called Islamophobic.

I, a Muslim feminist, was declared Islamophobic, because I dared to challenge the sexism within my faith and the intolerance. Their new allegation was that Muslim reformers are funded by the government of Israel. That was enough for them to try to eliminate us as credible voices in our community.

Then I learned that in the U.S. you can file a John Doe complaint. It’s a complaint of defamation that I was alleging against these anonymous character assassins.

Mr. Jekielek: The defamation, to be clear, is that you’re funded by Israel, which is a falsehood, as I understand it.

Ms. Nomani: Yes, exactly. I’m an open book. I was ready to have them go through my bank accounts. I feared nothing in terms of disclosure. I filed subpoena after subpoena against the platforms that are called internet service providers that gave voice to these people. Who are they? Folks like Facebook, Twitter, and places where they could have their anonymous identities.

There was one platform that a lot of people might have heard of called GoDaddy, where you can register a website. They had registered at GoDaddy. I sent off my little subpoena. The anonymous accounts have a certain number of days where they can fight your subpoena. They didn’t fight it. One day, Jan, I got a thumb drive. In that thumb drive was all of the backend documentation for the people who held that account at Loonwatch.

It was every phone call they had made to the customer service office. It was every complaint that they had filed. I went through the hundreds of pages, and I found that this character assassination campaign had been led, funded, and run by the Council on American–Islamic Relations [CAIR], an organization that touts itself as a civil rights organization for Muslims.

But what they had been doing for years, and what they continue to do, is run this domestic disinformation and character assassination campaign, not only against Muslim reformers, but also ex-Muslims, conservatives, the Republican Party, nations like Israel, India, and anybody who dares to challenge their Islamist interpretation of the Muslim faith.

Character assassination is a weapon of war. It was really important for me to understand who the combatants were in this situation. It led me to half of the woke army, because CAIR had embedded itself in the Democratic Party, and in the far-left and progressive organizations of the United States. They were now laying siege to America.

I put them in my book and I documented them, because I want people to read the book and see the blueprint for how the woke army works in the United States. I want folks to understand this tactic of character assassination is so often used to make you lose your own confidence about your value system, and to make you wonder and doubt yourself.

Because trust me, when they did this to me, there were many, many moments when I felt so just defeated. I put my pen aside, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t write. There was one time when I remember laying in the fetal position on my bed. It was my mother, who is now 83, who stood at the frame of the door and said to me, “Asra, you don’t live in a village. You live in the United States of America. You do not have to live with shame.”

I wiped away my tears and acted even in the face of my fear, because that’s what I’ve heard courage is. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel fear. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t scared, but we still act. That’s what I wanted people to really witness, because it’s those tactics of character assassination that are now being used against parents. I went from being called a Zionist as a slur to being a white supremacist.

If you know in your heart that you are motivated by these classical liberal values that align with the conservative values of equality and justice and individual rights, then you can withstand all of those smears, because they’re just used as weapons. Soft power can be more damaging and can weaken a nation and a people even more than bullets or bombs.

Mr. Jekielek: The woke army is deeply opposed to parental rights. They believe that some other entity should have the rights over the children. On the other hand, and I’m not an expert on people who have very fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, they probably wouldn’t be very happy with that. So, the woke army isn’t entirely uniform here, is it?

Ms. Nomani: It’s on a collision course with itself, absolutely. The opportunity exists now in this parents’ issue to isolate parts of this woke army from itself. I see it happening in school districts, like in Detroit and in Minnesota where we have large Muslim communities that want to raise their kids like most parents do. They don’t want their child to keep secrets from them about their gender pronoun or which bathroom they want to enter, which the far-left in the woke army is pushing right now.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re obviously a big advocate for free speech. This is a big issue right now. We’ve seen huge overreach on the side of the platforms and government in this area, given everything we’ve seen with the Twitter Files, and the Missouri v. Biden exposures. Where do you stand now on the free speech platform censorship issue?

Ms. Nomani: I am one hundred percent for free speech, but I also recognize that rights and responsibilities come with free speech. When it comes to defamation or untruths, these platforms have no responsibility. People have now weaponized Big Tech to launch these character assassinations on people, and somebody has to be held responsible for violations that we’ve established in law of limits on free speech, like defamation or inciting people to violence. They’ve taken the liberty to deny certain people their free speech rights, but they take no responsibility.

Because if we don’t do it, then these platforms will continue to be used indiscriminately for the soft power objectives of foreign governments for domestic disinformation and domestic character assassination. The tyrants out there in the world who want to destabilize America will use all the freedoms that we allow against us, and they now have willing participants in the U.S. who will do their dirty work for them.

The greatest duty we have as citizens not only of this country, but of the world, is to think through what we are being told. “Where is this coming from? What’s the source? What’s the footnote? Who funded what?” That’s our duty, because soft power is the easiest way to dismantle a nation and to capture the hearts and minds of people.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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