Andrew Tate and the Moral Bankruptcy of Muslim Proselytism (2023)

At first glance, Andrew Tate is easy to dismiss as a product of an online culture containing inflammatory anti-woman narratives with a fast-paced, aggressive gym culture. Yet Tate, now languishing in a Romanian prison despite his global platform, has managed to assemble an unlikely alliance from across the global political, ethnic and religious spectrum, both online and offline, against which he has defended himself in numerous controversies.

Tate has been in the news for many reasons, but two incidents stand out in particular: his conversion to Islam and his recent arrest in Romania on rape and human trafficking charges. His defense lawyers immediately questioned the legitimacy of the allegations, pointing the finger at the so-called "matrix", a nod to the international system they say fabricates accusations to prevent Tate from telling the "truth". These advocates reflect a growing ideology rooted in misogyny, homophobia and transphobia that has brought together historically warring groups such as the far right and Muslims. Now these identities unite to fight their common enemies of feminism, liberalism and "awakening". Their rallying cries were spread through influencers like Tate, whose popularity means that these ideas are no longer on the fringes of society and can spread like wildfire.

While Tate has been a part of the online "manosphere" for several years now, it was only in the last year that she has gone viral on various social media platforms. That wasn't a coincidence. Through Tate's "Hustler University," an online training course that purports to teach people how to be successful and rich, subscribers are encouraged to promote short videos on apps like TikTok to annoy viewers by sharing some of his most incendiary statements, such as B. Justification of the physical abuse of women. Tate has mastered the science of manipulating social media algorithms to get his message across, which is often countered by users who reply or "make up" the videos with their disapproving reactions. This cycle of controversy and outrage keeps his name trending and viewers curious.

In 2022, Tate announced that he had converted to Islam, indicating a distinct cross-cultural attraction. Simultaneously with a growing distrust of fringe groups (including the far right, far left, and apolitical cabalists such as the anti-vaccine ones) from mainstream media and institutions, these groups have been drawn to Tate's content, often for similar reasons rooted in mistrust and anger. . directed towards the dominant society.

The intersectionality between elements of the manosphere and right-wing extremism has been documented by groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and researchers around the world. Last year, my colleague Lydia Wilsonhe wroteon Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson's popularity among many Arabs and Muslims, noting that his conservative, fatherly, family-oriented personality resonates with many who value traditional values ​​and are increasingly wary of liberalism taking root in their communities. Many women in patriarchal environments appreciate Peterson's focus on gender roles, marriage, and family as much as men do. Muslim scholars and fanatics alike openly encouraged Peterson to embrace Islam, stating that he was already a Muslim but "doesn't know it yet". His talks, which extol patriarchal systems, echo much of what scholars and preachers in the Muslim world have been saying for decades. But, as Wilson noted in his essay, Peterson's flirtation with the far right and Christian fundamentalism didn't seem to bother his Muslim followers. On the contrary, his devotion to religion, if not Islam, has endeared him to many Muslims at a time when the idea of ​​a global war on religion waged by secular forces is growing.

Along with the perceived collapse of traditional values, there is a widespread belief that domestic politics around the world is leading to the abandonment of religion by denying religious instruction in public schools, which conservative communities believe is an indoctrination of liberalism.

Matt Walsh, an American journalist, is another conservative commentator gaining ground among Muslim communities and religious preachers online. Excerpts from Walsh's genre documentary What is a Woman?, subtitled in Arabic, are making the rounds in WhatsApp chat groups across the Middle East. Candace Owens' conservative comments about gender roles also receive support in chat groups and are widely shared among mainstream Muslims. Common themes addressed by Walsh and Owens, which resonate with certain audiences in the Muslim world, are the outright rejection of transgender people and the use of non-binary pronouns, as well as criticism of feminist and women's liberation movements. The views and political affiliations of this breed of conservative commentators are often anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, but that doesn't seem to affect their growing popularity. The acceptance of this narrative among Muslim preachers is not surprising, but it is interesting that they gloss over the condescending views of Islam because it brings the enemy of the usual Jewish and Christian suspects into the liberal new world order.

Tate differs from Peterson, Walsh and Owens in embracing what is commonly considered depravity in Islam. He boasts of having numerous girlfriends and has admitted to using women to create lucrative adult content. In short, Tate embodies everything Muslim preachers warn of and see as the epitome of social decay. However, Tate's conversion to Islam was well received by the preachers themselves, who ignored his behavior, implying that he was a new Muslim and would learn with time, or not even discussing it. Meanwhile, Tate's far-right supporters in the West, many of whom have a history of Islamophobia, have largely ignored his conversion, and he has not lost support from most of them, such as far-right British commentator Paul Joseph Watson and Fox News. presenter Tucker Carlson.

It is worth noting Tate's impact on young Muslims, particularly as another part of the Western manosphere had already appealed to different sectors of the Muslim world. At a Canadian high school, an Islam teacher was shocked when one of her 10th grade students argued that women should stay in the kitchen. The teacher, who wears a niqab, a conservative Muslim face covering that only shows her eyes, had never heard this from her students before. Upon being questioned, she learned that the student was inspired by Tate. To better understand this phenomenon, I turned to some of Tate's most ardent Muslim supporters online. They were aged between 21 and 32 and agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

“Look, we know that he is not ideal and that what he has done in the past is sinful, but he is a new convert and will learn with time”, said one of the young people, talking about Tate's exploits and vices. "Nothing you have done or are doing now can be worse than kufur," he continued, using the Arabic word for infidelity. "Islam forgives everything except kufur, and all new converts should be welcomed."

I struggled to make sense of the cognitive dissonance in front of me. While it is true that new Muslims are to be welcomed religiously, atonement for sins is also an essential part of converting to Islam, and Tate has never expressed a desire to repent. Defending Tate as a new convert goes beyond typical double standards; The same men who berate Muslims like Egyptian football star Mo Salah for decorating a Christmas tree in his home somehow have no vocal objections to another Muslim who still openly describes himself as a "pimp" and exploits Muslims for money.

In these conversations, an interesting, if inaccurate, comparison was made between Tate and early Muslims of the conquest era. “Muslim men have had women on their side in the past and have found ways to justify it,” said another respondent. "Look at concubines! Possession as spoils of war was allowed in Islam. Men used them for entertainment purposes. They used to buy and sell them. This group of women is no different from those on Andrew's webcams. rules The laws that apply to these women are different from those that apply to women in our families, like our sisters and potential wives.” There is a whole body of scholarly work explaining the concubine tradition in Islam from the 7th to the 18th century, which is beyond the scope of this essay, but regardless of whether we think about it from a 21st century moral point of view, the contexts are drastically different.

The baseless comparison, however, reveals one of the many overlapping ideas between Tate's Muslim supporters and far-right movements in the West: how they define depravity. The threat is not extramarital sex and adultery (when committed by a man), nor is the excess of earthly pleasures the source of civilization's decay. Rather, the threat is the new wave of feminism and liberalism affecting the type of women these groups prefer to keep in traditional gender roles in order to maintain the traditional patriarchal order, which allows a man to indulge in whatever pleasure he desires. while expecting chastity and submissiveness from women in his immediate circles. It is reminiscent of the Jezebels in the popular TV show The Handmaid's Tale, where in the godly and fearful Republic of Gilead there is a whole secret nightlife created for high ranking rulers. Sex with the Jezebels, the fallen women, abounds. But outside of that secret world, the wives, sisters and daughters of these men could be executed even for having an affair.

After Tate's arrest, I reached out to Muslim men I had previously spoken to for comment, and only one agreed to speak with me. "That's all lies. They are persecuting him because he is now a Muslim and because he is revealing the Matrix," a 23-year-old told me. "The red pill craze will continue no matter what they do." This was another overlap with the far-right manosphere: the red pill conspiracy.

Understanding Tate and the greater manosphere requires knowledge of certain key terms used to explain the supposed dangers of feminist and awakening movements, many of which go back to the 1999 hit film The Matrix. In the film, characters are given a choice between a red pill that exposes the real world as a reality driven by machines that have enslaved humans, and a blue pill that allows them to remain in the comfort of their ignorant bliss. Alluding to this, Tate and other manosphere influencers refer to the “Matrix” as the liberal new order and the “Pill” as the choice to face (your) reality or continue to ignore it.

As an example of how marginalized groups unite despite fundamental ideological differences, both far-right commentator Tommy Robinson and Muslim preacher Mohammed Hijab use the same language. Tate's newfound faith does not appear to be an obstacle to supporting Robinson, known for using inflammatory language against Muslims and Islam. Now, the perceived assault on masculinity has made feminism and wake-up culture a common enemy for Muslim, Islamist, and Islamophobic preachers. Many Muslim preachers have long believed in their own version of the Matrix, in which the West has conspired to destroy Islam through depravity and progressive lifestyles. More recently, these “matrixes” seem to intersect in the belief that a new liberal world order is bent on destroying all religions and imposing new values ​​contrary to tradition, and that secularism has infiltrated all religions except Islam.

The intersectionality of homophobia, transphobia and feminism helped to create an alliance of ideas. Tate's recent arrest reinforced the belief that those who "expose the Matrix" risk losing their freedom. Abdul Aziz al-Ansari, a Qatari preacher with more than 600,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, believes Tate was arrested for challenging the liberal world order by converting to Islam and exposing Western hypocrisy. Even before his conversion to Islam, Tate praised the religion, describing it as the only successful one.

Egyptian preacher Dr. Haitham Talaat, a doctor turned online preacher, posted a lengthy video on his YouTube channel (which has 406,000 subscribers) praising Tate and claiming that hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent on anti-Islam. prosecular project in the Muslim world through networks supporting feminist movements, LGBTQ rights and national identity politics. According to him, it all came crashing down in a few months at the hands of a "charismatic young American named Andrew Tate, who fought secularism in the West and has now converted to Islam, the last true religion that rejects secularism." Far-right commentator Mike Cernovich flirted with the idea in 2019, when he tweeted to his 1.1 million Twitter followers that Islam could be the West's last hope against wokeism. The tweet seems illogical, but a closer look at the context shows that the message isn't too far-fetched. Reactionaries who believe there is a war on masculinity are looking for a place where the "tough guy" is accepted. A superficial understanding of Islam and Muslims provides just that: a religion with a worldwide following that rejects progressive values, preaches intolerance of women's and minority rights, and responds to any criticism with violence.

The same anti-Islamic stereotypes that many Muslims struggled with are now attracting toxic types of masculinity to Islam, and the Muslim community not only doesn't mind, it embraces them.

Muslim preachers have always used mosques to deliver their messages in Friday sermons. Since the 1970s, they have expanded into many other areas with each technological development, from television stations and cassette tapes to YouTube channels and social media platforms. Counseling and self-help gurus in the Muslim world are rarely secular, and preachers often play the role of publicizing religion and social counseling through a conservative lens. The common theme shared by generations of preachers is the need to confront the Western corruption that pervades Muslim communities. In the 1950s, prominent Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb observed the sexual freedom he saw as an exchange student in Greeley, Colorado. He returned to Egypt and persisted in rejecting the West and adhering to conservative Islam. This theme has been a constant in conservative religious preaching ever since, with an emphasis on women's role in luring men into sin and women's responsibility to maintain chastity to help their male counterparts live better lives. This responsibility materialized not only in the women's commitment to humility, but also in their acceptance of traditional gender roles, including staying at home to serve the family. Double standards regarding men and women have always existed, but preachers rarely, if ever, endorsed or accepted a male figure whose hedonism violated fundamental Islamic norms. That was until Tate turned around.

Other common themes that Muslim preachers traditionally encourage and extol are modesty, humility and asceticism in lifestyle choices – traits that are the complete opposite of the Tate world, where mansions, yachts and luxury sports cars reflect a status to which all young people aspire. . Tate shamelessly defines success as wealth and believes poverty is the ultimate failure.

A friend of mine who lives between the Middle East and Europe and chose not to mention her name shared with me a personal family story relating to Tate's influence on young Muslims. One day, her teenage son suddenly started expressing his frustration at his family being "cheap" and "poor". My friend is not stingy or poor, nor does he live like that. In fact, his family lifestyle can be described as rich and upper class. "Annoyed, he would ask his dad and me why we don't have more modern cars and brag about our money. It was all so weird because we didn't raise him that way," he told me. After some research, the mother discovered that her son and his friends recently discovered Tate on YouTube and agreed with every word he said. Tate's recent move to the UAE and endorsement of the stereotypical Gulf lifestyle influenced Muslim teens.

Contentment, rather than the pursuit of things often labeled as earthly distractions like wealth, has traditionally been a central ingredient in preachers' sermons. There is no indication that Tate changed his lifestyle. On the eve of his arrest, he was caught partying with a crowd of scantily clad women and drinking alcohol with his brother Tristan. Despite this, none of the Muslim preachers who hailed his conversion drew attention to the fact that he continues to flaunt his wealth and sexual adventures.

Another value held by most Muslim preachers is the importance of earning a living through what is considered a legitimate and honest method of work. While what is illegal is constantly debated by scholars, some of Tate's sources of income are undoubtedly off-limits to Islam for even the most tolerant scholars. The most notorious example is the recruitment of young women for his webcam studio, which offers sexual services to clients. Although Tate claims the girls are half naked but never naked, the ongoing investigation has found that webcam studios are offering adult content to customers. Neither the aforementioned Muslim preachers nor Tate's Muslim followers mention any of these open violations of Islamic law.

After declaring his conversion to Islam, Tate said he was already gathering stones to stone his partner if she cheated on him, alluding to Sharia punishment for adultery. She explained that the appeal of Islam lies in the fact that criticizing traditional values ​​has consequences and many of those values, namely gender roles and the belief in the superiority of men over women, align with her personal beliefs. But this interpretation of Islam is a far cry from the message of kindness, humility and honesty that Prophet Muhammad used to spread Islam in the first place. As children, we all learned these values ​​in our Islam classes as the most important qualities a Muslim can possess and cultivate. We heard stories of the penetration of Islam in countries like Singhasari and Majapahit (present-day Indonesia) that emphasized generosity and morality, not bullying, and masculinity, although the story was more complicated than this description, as the driving force behind the gradual conversion of all cities.

There is a gap in Islamic preaching, especially as public spheres in places like the Middle East are tightly controlled and monitored by autocratic regimes. It's not just the lack of heroes that has allowed people like Tate to emerge as role models, but also the failure to create an engaging Islamic narrative that could realistically address the allure of consumerism and earthly desires. Now that void is being filled by any self-proclaimed preacher who can create a YouTube channel and podcast. As Hijab, the British-Egyptian YouTube preacher and polemicist with over 650,000 subscribers, put it, "[Tate] is the most Googled man in the world." For him and many other Muslim preachers, this seals the deal on why Tate accepts needs. be, not because he is "a good man", but because he is "the most Googled man". Tate knows how to keep that support touching the heart of this particular demographic of Muslim fans. In his tweets, he quotes Ibn Taymiyyah, the controversial and ultra-conservative 13th-century Muslim theologian. Tristan Tate, Andrew's brother, recently said that none of his Christian friends supported him after his arrest, while his brother's Muslim friends and supporters defended and supported him.

Another aspect of Tate that has resonated with both the Muslim world and the West is his account of the frustration of young people who feel excluded from the liberal world order. It seems to them, and to Tate, that society has set the bar too high for success, particularly in dating, and isn't providing them with the tools they need to succeed. Consuming this discourse feels like another moment of cognitive dissonance. In fact, global patriarchal systems have ensured that men of all ages require less effort to succeed than girls and women. This fear of being marginalized recalls the logic of the far right's appeal in response to the growth of the immigrant population or in defense of ethnic and religious minorities. It is the fear of being equal to those they consider less fortunate and of losing their privileges that drives young people to inflammatory narratives. Nobody takes anything away from them, but many influencers like Tate emphasize their claim instead of teaching them about acceptance and tolerance.

While the term "incel" (involuntary celibacy) has a very different meaning in the Muslim world than it does in the West, the underlying message of the statement is similar. In the West, it refers to a man who is unable to attract a sexual partner, although he believes he has the right (on the basis of being a man) to do so. But in the Muslim world, social constructions of gender roles, tradition and family mean that marriage is more important, and any man, regardless of financial status, status or physical attractiveness, can find a woman. However, there is a chance that he may not find a woman who is of a higher social class than him or who matches his idea of ​​physical attractiveness. Just as incels in the West attack women whose standards are "too high," any idea that tells women they shouldn't marry without happiness and love is extremely dangerous to the patriarchal status quo.

Tate is no genius and offers nothing original to the worldview of conspiracy, misogyny and red pills. It follows a long tradition that has grown and thrived with online subcultures. But his conversion to Islam is instructive, not because of understanding the context from which he came, but because of the reactions of Muslims who were expected to oppose most of his views and behavior. The fact that they ignored his involvement in sexually explicit adult video content, accusations of rape and human trafficking, financial gains from his investments in gambling and casinos, all considered serious sins in Islam, to demand his righteousness towards women and minorities shows how desperate he is. Some preachers in the Muslim world are detrimental to any legitimacy and popularity.

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