Ikhras and its Arab-bashing agenda
The website “Ikhras" (“shut up,” or perhaps more accurately, “muzzle yourself,” in Arabic) claims to be Arab-American, but in fact is one of the most enthusiastically and unremittingly anti-Arab-American websites on the internet. The editors and authors almost always hide behind obviously faked names designed to obscure their real identities. From this hiding place they launch vicious and highly personalized attacks on virtually all prominent Arab and Muslim American organizations including AAI, CAIR, ADC, ATFP, ISNA and other national groups, and active individuals such as Azizah al-Hibri, Raghida Dergham, Jim Zogby, Ziad Asali, Suhail Khan, yours truly, Radwan Ziadeh, Dahlia Mogahed, Omar Baddar, Yahya Basha, Sami Al-Araji, Queen Noor, Eboo Patel, David Ramadan, Mona Eltahawy, Nihad Awad, Asra Nomani, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Ray Hanania, pageant winner Rimah Fakih, and comedian Dean Obeidallah (who, they claim, is nothing less than "the Father of All House Arabs," whatever that may mean). Most recently, they have been harassing another Arab-American comedian, Maysoon Zayid, on Twitter. In effect, therefore, it is nothing other than an anti-Arab hate speech site, the targets and basic content of which can only be a source of constant delight to the anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes who wish to exclude Arab and Muslim Americans from the US social, cultural and political scene and keep them marginalized and disempowered.
The individuals and organizations attacked by Ikhras obviously cover a huge range of political, social, ideological, religious and intellectual orientations. Indeed, they have only one thing in common: in their own way, each of them is trying to engage with the rest of our society, assert their rights as citizens and advance the interests of the Arab and Muslim American communities by becoming more involved in the American political system or cultural scene. These are all individuals or groups that take their status as Americans of Arab or Muslim heritage seriously at least to some extent, rather than pointlessly and self-defeatingly defining themselves as Arabs who happen to be living in the United States. Ikhras does occasionally praise a very small number of Arab Americans, but none at all who are engaged in any national organized efforts or purposeful engagement with American society, only those like Ali Abunimah and Assad AbuKhalil who pollute the blogosphere and social media with similar messages of deliberate self-marginalization and disempowerment and who also attack those who try to achieve anything constructive. It is not only an anti-Arab-American website, it's a proudly and categorically anti-American website. And it calls on all Arab Americans to adopt a vocally anti-American stance, as if we were not citizens of this country or somehow have no stake in its success.
Since its establishment, it has become clear that the conscious and deliberate purpose of Ikhras is to attack, ridicule, denigrate and insult any and every Arab or Muslim American who tries, from whatever perspective or approach, to engage the rest of American society rather than spitting at it, and to advance one version or another of their communities' interests. If Ikhras stands for anything coherent at all, it is the categorical rejection of the very notion of any kind of purposeful engagement with American society, from whatever vantage point and orientation. With astounding shamelessness, while hiding behind pseudonyms they have repeatedly called all or most of their targets "cowards." They also had the gall to dismiss four Egyptian protesters — one of whom, Jawad Nabulsi, was shot and lost an eye during the Cairo street protests — as "not revolutionaries," simply on the grounds that they attended an AAI function.
What are the anonymous writers at Ikhras hiding?
To the writers at Ikhras, I ask a simple and direct question: who are you and what are you hiding? What are you so afraid of? What calamity would occur if you actually signed your names to your own articles? You have gone to truly extravagant lengths to hide your identities not only online, but also by word of mouth, and to conceal your authorship. Why? Everybody else involved in these debates has no problem signing their own statements, yet you launch vicious, highly personalized and often repulsive broadsides, cowering behind the veil of anonymity. That you are cowards, and despicable cowards at that, has been clearly established by the way you have conducted yourselves. But what exactly is it that you are afraid of?
What great secret, or set of secrets, is there that would be so unmanageable if your identities were revealed? What level of hypocrisy, dishonesty, corruption or other indefensible facts would be exposed if you behaved like minimally dignified, decent people and signed your own names to these miserable screeds? By refusing to admit your authorship, you have secured a dishonorable advantage over everybody else in what is, or at least should (and otherwise would) be, a legitimate debate about how the Arabs and Muslims in the United States should (or, rather, from your point of view shouldn't) pursue their interests.
Everybody else takes a public position and has to live with the consequences. You, on the other hand, won't even take responsibility for your own words! It is impossible to have a debate with a stone wall of secrecy. This is certainly a mere side effect of your stance of calculated cowardice, for no doubt there are ugly, sticky secrets that must be whitewashed with this thin veneer of false names, or else you would not use them. But those you attack are, in effect, denied the right to reply since you deny them the right to know whom they are addressing. The right to confront one's accusers in public is not only a crucial legal right, it's also a basic tenet of civilized discourse, a concept with which you are clearly either totally unfamiliar or inimically hostile.
Doesn't this pattern of obsessive secrecy, anonymous and false accusations, and smearing every opponent — all under the cover of a false claim of Arab nationalist pride — remind everyone of the outrageous conduct of autocratic Arab regimes? Isn't this exactly how, for example, the government of Syria, to name only one of the more obvious examples, is presently conducting itself? And of course it is one of the many delicious ironies of the Ikhras website that its writers assert not only their right of free speech, but anonymous free speech that is frequently slanderous, and pose as crusading leftists and liberationists, while openly declaring it is their mission to demand, like faceless despots, other people's silence. There is no pretense here of opening, expanding or enriching a debate; merely a censorious, and indeed totalitarian mentality that only one point of view is legitimate and everybody else, no matter what perspective they are coming from, needs to be silenced by any means necessary.
Who is paying for Ikhras' orgy of Arab-bashing?
Behind the simple secrets, which may be personal, familial, professional or any number of other possibilities, lurks an even more interesting question: who is paying for all of this? There is a great deal of activity on that website, and a considerable amount of work put into creating, hosting and maintaining it. Content, no matter how shoddy, must be created and webpages and databases must be designed and maintained, and this takes considerable time and at least some money. It is extremely unlikely, although remotely possible, that the writers themselves pay for all of this out of pocket, meaning there is no sugar daddy behind Ikhras. It's possible, but highly unlikely. Someone is paying for this in one way or another. Who?
Even the highly implausible "all-volunteer" scenario raises a fascinating question: if by some remote contingency that's what each and every person – including web designers and maintainers – involved in Ikhras actually are, all must then have other work. Do they fear the consequences of the revelation of their identities to their day jobs? Some way or another, the money for this project, which is not cost free, is being found. Where does it come from? If they had any dignity at all, they would admit it. Ideally they would simply do what my colleagues at the American Task Force on Palestine have done, and post signed, independently audited, financial statements for every year of its existence on its own website. But since they hide their own names, telling the truth about who is paying for them to go on this orgy of Arab-bashing may be asking too much, even though their audience has a right and a need to be told.
I wish to pose a direct question on the matter of identity to my former co-author Ali Abunimah. From the start, I have seen what I believe are obvious hallmarks of your writing style, with which, of course, I am intimately familiar, as well as your mentality and values, smeared all over this website. I cannot know for a certainty whether you are involved with it or not, and if so in what capacity. But every single individual I know who has thought about the question at all believes you are involved with Ikhras in some way or other, and this includes both those who like you and those who do not. Ali, everyone is absolutely convinced that you play some kind of significant role in this website. The time has come for you to say openly, frankly and honestly what exactly your relationship with Ikhras is and has been. A straightforward answer is required, and if you maintain a silence on the matter or are coy, it will be the most clear-cut admission possible. To all others, I'd like to suggest that Mr. Abunimah should be asked this simple, straightforward question relentlessly on social media, in media appearances, and at public talks, until he gives a simple, straightforward, and satisfactory answer.
Questions for Ikhras readers, if they actually have any
I also have a few observations for the Ikhras readership, whoever it may be. Is it not obvious that an anonymous website that attacks virtually any and every prominent Arab-American without restraint and at a deeply personal level without revealing its true identity or motivation is, by definition, not only non-credible but also malignant? You may enjoy the car-crash spectacle of the reckless and indefensible public smearing of everyone trying to do something useful for the community, but honestly, how do you know this isn't in fact the voice of the Zionist Organization of America, or some offshoot of Pamela Geller's operation? (Old-timers will remember Mark Bruzonsky, the former Washington Representative of The World Jewish Congress, who used to run a website and email list called “Middle East Realities” that specialized in outbidding and denouncing all noted Arab and Muslim American organizations, activists and individuals, exactly as Ikhras does, and in much the same language.)
I'll grant that Ikhras is probably not actually an extreme right-wing Zionist operation, but how do you know? Its relentless Arab-bashing hate speech certainly attacks their main targets and plainly serves their purpose of keeping the Arab and Muslim Americans marginalized and disempowered. Doesn't it leave a bad taste in your mouth to be told all these categorically and unrelentingly nasty (and typically false) things about a vast array of individuals and organizations who are trying to make themselves useful from a huge variety of approaches and perspectives, but not to be told who is making these accusations? Don't you wonder who they actually are and what they have to hide? Don't you wonder what they're afraid of? Don't you reflect on the character of people who would conduct themselves like this? Their postings are the equivalent of anonymous voicemail messages left during election campaigns about the “communist ties,” “sexual deviancy,” or “financial improprieties” of a given candidate left by anonymous supporters of their opponents. It's a perfect example of the classic political “dirty trick.”
Because of this inherent lack of credibility and seriousness, I deeply doubt that Ikhras has much of an audience, or impact on Arab-American thought or debate. For this reason, until now I have completely ignored this ridiculous website, but at this stage I think it has become important for somebody to have the gumption to stand up and ask the simplest, most obvious questions and point out how atrocious the intentions of this project truly are, no matter how marginal it undoubtedly has been and will remain.
It needs to be pointed out that whoever is responsible for the bile at Ikhras is deliberately taking a self-consciously destructive approach, but suggesting absolutely nothing constructive or serious as an alternative. If these individuals really think their views and opinions have any actual value or constituency, why restrict them to an anonymous website? Why not create an open, public organization and try to pursue some of these "ideas" in a proactive, purposeful manner? Of course that's hard to do when all you stand for is the (almost always unfair) criticism of all others, and when you won't even admit who you are. Give it a shot, and see what kind of constituency and credibility you end up with.
It must be obvious that anyone who isn't willing to sign their names to their own opinions, have the minimal courage of their convictions, take responsibility for their own words, and say what they think in their own goddamn names, should be the very first to ikhras. And when and if their identities are revealed or discovered, and should they indeed prove to be Arab Americans as they claim, the community should neither forgive nor forget this outrageous and cowardly website and its perpetrators. It's obvious that these people don't sign their names to their own writings because they are afraid of the consequences to their public standings and reputations, at the very least. Let's make sure that this fear is fully justified, because no one who engages in this behavior can, once exposed, hope to be regarded as anything other than a coward, a scoundrel and an individual beneath contempt. And they may well prove to be worse besides.