February 21, 2023

LoonWatch.com was born on April Fool’s Day 2009. At precisely 20:33:38, someone used the pseudonym “Zuhair Thomas” to register the new website with GoDaddy, an internet service provider based in Arizona. What “Zuhair” created was a platform for anonymous character assassins, who used the names of little-known fish species — “Emperor”, “Garibaldi”, “Danios”, “Darter” — to conceal their identities. Their targets were so-called “loons”: anyone who spoke out against Islamic extremism, or in favour of Muslim reform.

For years, they targeted me, calling me an “Islamophobe”. I am a Muslim. But I had had the temerity to call out Muslim establishment leaders who won’t acknowledge the Islamic extremism lying at the heart of crimes such as those of the Boston Marathon bombers. I am far from alone in suffering harassment on LoonWatch. Other Muslim reformers — such as Syrian-American physician Zuhdi Jasser and Pakistani-Canadian writer Raheel Raza — were also targeted; so, too, were ex-Muslims — including Somali-American author Ayaan Hirsi Ali — and agnostic thinkers such as comedian Bill Maher and scientist Richard Dawkins. Indeed, LoonWatch has denounced conservatives in general, as well as the FBI, the US military, the state of Israel and, more recently, Hindus and the state of India. I wondered: who was behind this network?

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After a decade of research, I have revealed the architects of LoonWatch in my new book, Woke Army. They are none other than officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which presents itself as the face of American Islam and the nation’s largest Muslim “civil rights” organisation. It is anything but. Rather, CAIR is a front for an extremist form of Islam. (The organisation didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.) I also discovered that it is not acting alone. Although the internet often makes cancellations seem like spontaneous uprisings, the kind of character assassinations taking place on LoonWatch are targeted attacks by a loosely organised coalition of leftists and Islamist sympathisers. They seek to destroy, in the court of public opinion, anyone who strays from the “progressive” party line.

You’ve heard their catechisms: racism, not freedom, is America’s bedrock; white people are oppressors and black people are oppressed; meritocracy is white supremacy. And, as my own trolls so often implied, it is unconscionable to link Islam to the ghouls who murder in the name of Allah. Opinions straying from these principles cannot be tolerated.

These puritans are prolific beyond LoonWatch. I first encountered them after the beheading of my friend and colleague, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in 2002. He was kidnapped in Karachi and then killed for being American, Jewish and of Israeli heritage. Danny’s savage murder in the name of Islam propelled me from the news pages to the opinion pages, where I rejected the extremism of my friend’s killers and advocated for an Islam compatible with human rights, women’s rights, and secular governance. For this, I was pilloried, labelled not only an “Islamophobe” but also a “Zionist media whore”. I was accused of being an agent of Israel, and of having sexually transmitted diseases. My son, born after his father abandoned us, was called a “bastard”.

The creation of LoonWatch — a watering-hole for these extremists — presented an opportunity to unmask some of the individuals enabling this hate. In 2018, I filed a defamation lawsuit, Nomani v. John Doe et al., winning the power to subpoena internet service providers for the real identities of 48 “John Doe” anonymous attackers. This led me to a treasure-trove of files, including one that revealed the identity of “Zuhair Thomas”.

His order was recorded in GoDaddy’s internal “Shopper Info” files with the note: “Verified by Fraud Dept — Customer OK”. But data in the documents makes it possible to identify “Zuhair” as Muhammad Tauseef Akbar, a staffer at CAIR’s Chicago chapter, who used the moniker “Garibaldi” to harass critics of the organisation. Over the years, the bills for the account he set up were paid by the credit card of Ahmed Rehab, a longtime official with CAIR’s national headquarters and the executive director of CAIR Chicago. Rehab’s email, home address and work phone number appeared on the documents, although he used “Emperor” as his fake name on LoonWatch. This GoDaddy account also bought other websites on which CAIR critics were anonymously attacked — including IslamophobiaToday.com and IslamophobiaSucks.com.

Akbar and Rehab didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, but an attorney did respond on behalf of the anonymous “John Doe” defendants. She wrote little more than: “My name is Lena Masri, and I represent persons affected by the subpoenas you have issued against GoDaddy and Twitter.” Lena Masri is the National Litigation and Civil Rights Director at CAIR.

It’s clear that Muslim ideologues have allied themselves with leftist activists to exploit the freedoms of the West. Their aim, which they are pursuing relentlessly and often viciously, is to utterly discredit Muslim reformers, in order to promote a system of beliefs that runs counter to democratic values. These individuals, and the organisations they work for, seem determined to eliminate as much discussion of Islamic extremism as possible; the actual enemies of civilisation, in this twisted narrative, include the “Israeli apartheid state”, “white supremacists”, and more recently “Hindu extremists”. And these anonymous trolls have borrowed one of the most pernicious tools of the American Left to fuel their propaganda machine: critical race theory, which divides the world into white oppressors and oppressed people of colour. In the LoonWatch world, any criticism of Islam is a racist ploy to harm all Muslims. This framing is a diabolical co-opting of civil-rights language aimed at protecting people who are in fact determined to stamp out the civil rights of their critics. But we have reached a turning point.

Establishment Muslims and their far-Left sympathisers strike more openly now. Earlier this month, on the floor of the Virginia Senate, state Senator Ghazala Hashmi, a Muslim American from India (no relation to Javad Hashmi), hurled the “white supremacist” smear at another Indian-American woman of colour, albeit a Hindu one. Her name is Suparna Dutta. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin appointed her to the Virginia Board of Education last year. On January 31, this year, the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted unanimously, 14-0, for her nomination. Every Democrat was on her side. But when the issue arose in the state Senate, a cohort of allegedly “progressive” Democrats derailed her appointment, in a 22-18 vote straight down party lines.

What had Dutta, an advocate for meritocracy in education, done to deserve this? She had had the gall to call out the educrats who were behind the illegal dismemberment of the merit-based admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) — replacing it with a race-based process that, a federal judge ruled, discriminates against Asian students. In other words, in the name of “anti-racism”, real racism is being practised. With Dutta, in 2020, I got involved in the campaign to oppose this new “progressive” policy at TJ, where my son was a pupil. At one point, a school board member promoted the anti-Israel, antisemitic narratives of CAIR officials. At another point, teachers were instructed not to call the 9/11 hijackers “terrorists”.

Just as Dutta was labelled a “white supremacist”, I, too, was labelled a bigot for protesting against these policies. In September 2020, Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni, a Democrat, barred me from speaking at a town hall meeting he was hosting, though I was there as the TJ parent-teacher association representative. He claimed I belong to an “extremist” organisation: the Muslim Reform Movement, which advocates for women’s rights, human rights and secular governance.

Over the past several days, I have worked with Dutta through the night to trace the roots of the campaign against her. The day after the Select Committee approved her nomination, February 1, Dutta got into a back-and-forth with fellow board member Anne Holton, the wife of powerful Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. Dutta was supporting an effort to remove divisive ideology from Virginia’s history curriculum. Holton advocated for socialism and said the US Constitution wasn’t “remarkable”. Dutta, referencing her experience as an immigrant from India, begged to differ. This enraged her critics.

On the night of February 5, the Twitter account @RedForEdVA — a teachers’ union group that self-describes as supporting socialism — posted grainy photos from a parents’ rally that took place in Fairfax County, Virginia, in October 2021, which far-Right activists had tried to hijack, unbeknown to Dutta and other parents. By the next morning, activists on Twitter were equating the protest to the infamous Charlottesville Unite The Right rally and and the riots of January 6. Shortly afterwards, a Facebook account, Herndon-Reston Indivisible, shared an online campaign, led by the “Virginia Grassroots Coalition”, which includes about 51 far-Left groups; it declared: “Don’t let the Virginia Senate Confirm a Far-Right Extremist to the Board of Education.”

In six days, Dutta had gone from unanimously approved to being a pariah, because of beliefs and events that have nothing to do with her. Plenty of Muslim leaders publicly trashed Dutta, including Raheel Ahmed, a Pakistani-American mosque leader in Manassas, Virginia, and Atif Qarni, the former education secretary who smeared me as an “extremist”. Democrat leaders apparently accepted their criticisms unquestioningly. After Dutta was rejected, Democratic lawmaker Chap Petersen told constituents that “mosque elders” with important connections had called him. Those familiar with the calls say that one was from Rafi Ahmed, the Pakistani-American chair of an organisation representing northern Virginia mosques, and that his message was: “Vote no on Suparna Dutta. She belongs to an anti-Muslim extremist Hindu organisation.” Ahmed shared no evidence, and didn’t respond to requests for comment. He is part of a network of Muslim establishment organisations. It includes CAIR.

This network is dangerous. It purports to stand for the admirable principles of racial justice and equality. But it is distracting the public from illiberal Islamism by loudly and perpetually accusing the institutions, history and people of the United States of blanket racism. Claiming to have the moral high ground, the Woke Army attacks anything and anybody that stands in its way. It’s time to see this project for what it is.