Tommy Robinson has come a long way on the subject of Islam. Born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, he rose to prominence as leader of the anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic English Defence League. In a speech made in 2016 in Denmark, he claimed that there was an ongoing “military invasion” of Europe, referring to the increasing numbers of refugees from Muslim countries. In his self-published book, “Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam,” Robinson instructs any potential Muslim readers to put the book down. “We do not wish you to become a killer because this book leads you to understand the doctrines and history of Islam more thoroughly.”
Yet Robinson’s opposition has softened. He has observed that “Islam has become an attraction for so many, because people are looking for something strong in principle that can stand its ground.” Lamenting the state of the West, he has noted that there are areas of common ground between his extreme far-right views and certain forms of conservative Islam. Both Robinson and Muslims can be found protesting the pro-LGBTQ curriculum taught in British schools. Realizing that they could be allies in the culture wars, Robinson went so far as to attend a protest condemning the burning of the Quran by a far-right activist in Sweden. Instead of supporting the right to desecrate the Muslim holy book as he used to, he talked to the Muslim protesters and asked questions, describing himself as an “observer.”
Robinson is far from an isolated example of this previously hard-to-imagine union between the conservative right and conservative Muslims. He is one of many far-right personalities carving out a new form of conservatism, characterized by this new, admiring attitude to Islam. The most high-profile among them is of course Andrew Tate, who took this admiration to its logical conclusion by converting. But there are many more who have been vocal in their admiration and support for specific forms of conservative, patriarchal Islam, even if they’ve stopped short of adopting the faith. This unlikely alliance is not just built on LGBTQ issues. Feminism, “cultural Marxism,” globalists and “wokeism” are all used as scapegoats. And it’s no longer just on the fringes.
The past year has seen this alliance go mainstream. In competing to become the most anti-woke candidate out there, former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and others have put conflicts over gender roles and LGBTQ rights front and center with the latter posing himself as more of the cultural warrior willing to take the necessary measures to halt wokeness. Former enemies, conservative Muslims and anti-woke Christians, have found common ground over these issues — with electoral implications. Once discouraged from voting Republican by post-9/11 policies, today, Muslims in America are flocking back to the right, finding this new form of conservatism more agreeable. In turn, the right no longer sees Muslims solely through the lens of terrorism but as potential allies in the culture wars. This support, along with new signs of respect for Islam, may fundamentally shift foreign policy. After all, if you see no problem with how the Taliban treat women, then you have less reason to oppose their rule.
We have witnessed this new trend from its early days, over years of observation and interaction, from finding Jordan Peterson trending in the Middle East back in 2018 to witnessing Tate’s star rise among Muslims in the West and the Arab world (recently charged in Romania with human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women). We have monitored dozens of YouTube channels, read thousands of posts in online chat rooms, followed scores of online influencers and spoke to many followers and fans in multiple countries. At first this research traced existing divisions between Muslims and the right, but through long-term observation of online communities, we came to realize that political fault lines were being redrawn.
This new trend encompasses both political and social factors that influence and impact one another. Particularly important is the collection of communities, united by misogynistic and conspiratorial theories, known as the “manosphere.” From incel chatrooms to self-help dating sites, fueled by influencers from Peterson to Tate, the manosphere has formed a core demographic of this new conservatism. These figures have not only gained mainstream attention, but they have also pulled the entire political establishment to the right. This article is the result of observing these trends become increasingly widespread and normalized, most obviously in politics but also throughout Western societies, perhaps epitomized best by the recent protests over, of all things, school curricula.
Earlier this spring, outside the Montgomery County Public Schools headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, a disparate assembly of organizations gathered to protest. Moms of Liberty, a self-proclaimed American conservative Christian organization (designated an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), rubbed shoulders with hijab-wearing Muslim mothers, collectively chanting “protect our children!”
Coming from communities previously suspicious of each other’s identities, the protesters were united on one issue: that children need protection from LGBTQ material in their education. Until recently, parents had the right to “opt out” and remove their children from any classes involving such material or themes, but recently this has been rescinded. The decision triggered a rally that, ironically, was notable for its inclusivity.
Near-identical protests have taken place over the past two months in Glendale, California, and Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim community in America. And these protests are not only happening in the U.S. In Toronto, at a protest assembled largely by Muslim organizations, children were asked to stomp on rainbow flags and denounce what they described as the “LGBTQ agenda in schools.”
Trump himself has changed his stance on LGBTQ issues over the years. He was not always opposed to LGBTQ rights; indeed on more than one occasion he has held banners in their support. But the rising visibility of culture warriors appears to have alerted him to the political capital to be gained from shifting his position with an emphasis on rejecting gender-confirmation treatment for minors, a position that is welcomed by the right but considered not enough for those migrating to the DeSantis camp. In recent months he has vowed that if elected in 2024, he will “push positive education about the nuclear family and the roles of mothers and fathers,” and order the Justice Department to investigate the pharmaceutical industry and hospitals to see whether they “deliberately covered up horrific long-term side effects of sex transitions in order to get rich.” These comments resonate with the far right and conservative Muslims alike.
On this and other issues, Trump has alienated the more hardcore, ultra-conservative Republicans, taking many fans with him to this “new right.” Trump has helped to change many norms in America, and among them is the fact that misogyny has become routine, justified under the guise of countering the forces of liberalism blamed for undermining traditional society. Comments on gender roles and women’s physical appearance, criticism of women’s lifestyle choices and legislation to control their bodies have all been part of Trumpism, resonating with different demographics and emboldening previously silent conservative voices across communities.
Like Robinson, the man who once proposed a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. has recently shown some appreciation for Islam, making generous comments on the niqab, the Islamic full-face veil. Islamic coverings have long been opposed by the far right, but Trump now claims that it would be “against liberal rights to ban it.” He asserts that some women “want to wear it,” and that it is no one’s business to tell them otherwise. Underlying this attitude is a respect for how Islam has stuck to its values in the face of enforced secularism, allied to the argument from some feminists that outright bans deny women the right to decide their own dress.
This split within the right over Islam can also be seen in geopolitics. The Christian right, still very much associated with the Republican Party, firmly supports the protest movement in Iran fighting to remove, and sometimes burning, the hijab. Their stance has little to do with supporting women’s rights but rather is concerned with opposing Islam and the Islamic Republic. The new right, however, is suspicious of these protests. Or take Afghanistan: The traditional American right are anti-Taliban, in stark contrast to this particular strand of the manosphere, where representatives from the Taliban are often invited to join the conversation.
This political shift intertwines with a discussion that has recently spread outward from the world of internet chat forums: the crisis of modern masculinity. It is not hard to find theories and explanations of such a crisis, often accompanied by descriptions of traditional family structures falling apart and religion under attack. Social changes that have empowered minorities, from feminism and the civil rights movement to LGBTQ recognition, are seen as subversive weapons undermining conservatives’ rights and lifestyles. Many of these theories also regard modern society as refusing to acknowledge or discuss the problem, fostering a complex sense of victimhood in their audience and the belief that they are not getting the attention they deserve.
There are parallel trends in the Middle East. Women are excelling at universities and competing with men in fields that were once male-dominated, like engineering and medicine. Traditional customs, such as prioritizing early marriage over school and a career, are now being rivaled by new approaches to happiness and fulfillment for women, particularly financial independence and personal choice in life decisions.
Though the patriarchy still controls much of how society is organized in the Muslim world, these minor advances in women’s choices have been enough to threaten men’s previously unquestioned sense of social dominance. As in the West, many who feel they have lost status and opportunity simultaneously feel that their grievances are not being heard. Women’s agendas are viewed as having been supported by governments, with little objection from conventional clergy beyond soundbites of disapproval.
In both the West and Middle East, these disenfranchised men have found a safe haven online, establishing communities that are now known collectively as the manosphere. What began with self-help forums, lessons in self-improvement, fitness and tackling self-confidence issues quickly descended into explicit misogyny. The perceived decline of men’s fortunes in every sphere is blamed on modern women’s emasculation of their male counterparts, which they claim is the inevitable, even planned, outcome of feminism.
It’s not just misogyny that unites these communities. Conspiracy theories — complete with sometimes open, sometimes barely disguised, antisemitism — are rife. These blame various shadowy organizations, run by “global elites,” working to undermine “traditional values” and therefore society. One theory holds that there is a secret cabal running the world through control of various levers of power — most obviously the banking system and the media — in a not-so-subtle and centuries-old antisemitic trope. (Drawing on the movie of the same name, the most recent incarnation of this theory names this cabal “the matrix.”) The search for scapegoats for the state of men, in the West and Middle East alike, has alighted on feminism and global networks of (Jewish) bankers as culprits. This agreement over fundamental problems has led to public, mutually reinforcing discussions between figures from these two convergent worlds.
These online communities are hardly new: With roots in the 1970s self-help movement, they have been active since the early years of the internet. But what is new is the rapport between Western anti-establishment, anti-mainstream, often Christian groups and traditional Muslims. Western groups find in Muslim communities what they believe is a prototype for a social compact free of wokeism and women’s liberation: Only two genders exist, masculinity is cherished and femininity means aspiring to be the ideal housewife with little to no ambition beyond motherhood. In return, these traditional Muslims receive the vindication and legitimacy they have long sought. After decades of being shunned as the problematic “other” and stereotyped as backward, uncivilized cavemen or terrorists, or both, Muslims not only have a seat at the table but are also viewed as having the solution to many maladies of society.
Conservative Canadian psychologist-turned-manosphere icon Peterson is part of this trend. He has hosted numerous Muslim scholars and thinkers over the last few years on his podcast, such as American neo-traditionalist scholar Hamza Yusuf and liberal Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol. These conversations are friendly, with an emphasis on the similarities rather than the differences of religions, with no party calling on the other to convert.
But another Peterson conversation on Islam was different. This was with British preacher Mohammed Hijab, a commentator on Islam far from the intellectual caliber of Peterson’s other Muslim guests, and frequently in trouble for his more performative and provocative views. During at least two conversations, Hijab tried to press Peterson to convert to Islam, including by reciting verses from the Quran. Peterson entertained him by becoming visibly emotional, before asking him why he interrupted the discussion to chant religious verses. Peterson has elsewhere noted incessant attempts by Muslim activists to get him to convert, telling him he was practically Muslim. (He claimed Jews also told him he was practically a rabbi.)
British rapper Zuby is another case of this increasing interest and respect for Islam on the right. Zuby gained notoriety through transphobic social media posts, with one viral tweet showing him dead lifting heavy weights and sarcastically claiming that he broke the “British Women’s dead lift record without trying,” because he can self-identify as a woman. In 2021, Zuby hosted American far-right turned alt-right commentator Mike Cernovich on a podcast. The topic was Islam, and rather than criticize or blame, they heaped praise on the religion. This is nothing new for Cernovich, who has tweeted to his million-plus followers that: “A moderated form of Islam is probably the West’s only hope against wokeism.” The pair encouraged people in the West to consider learning “many great things from Islam,” referring to its focus on traditional family values. They made a distinction between the majority of Muslims and the radical elements who commit terrorism. Cernovich added that the “majority of terrorism victims are in fact Muslims, and we were, as Christians, burning heretics just a few hundred years ago.” A decade ago, this attitude would have been unthinkable in discussions of Islam in right-wing circles.
Another example is the Christian YouTuber SonnyFaz, a 19-year-old American who has around 425,000 subscribers. SonnyFaz has posted several “reaction” videos of himself and his mother watching videos on Islam, learning facts about the religion they claim to only know from negative portrayals in the media. Their reactions are positive with both declaring respect and admiration for Islam.
It may seem positive that Islam is being discussed by former detractors beyond the prisms of extremism and terrorism, but this exchange is part of a growing trend of something more ominous that involves ideological borrowing in both directions. The language of the incel “red pill” movement has been translated into Arabic, and its terminology can be found in Arabic chat rooms and on other websites. Conversely, conservative male pundits in the West are hosting Muslim voices on their podcasts and shows. And while these groups have historically been at loggerheads, the overlaps in their values are also clear in their opposition to feminism and the antisemitism that is rife in both communities.
Last December, SonnyFaz announced that he is “considering or looking into” converting to Islam. This followed the conversion of perhaps the most famous, or infamous, manosphere prophet, Tate, who demonstrated to this constituency that there is a step beyond expressions of respect and admiration for Islam. Tate epitomizes this direction of travel: His claim that he is the most Googled man on Earth might not be entirely accurate, but it’s not far from the truth.
Tate is a British-American self-help guru, famous for his misogynistic viral posts and videos. He founded the online training course “Hustler University,” promising that for $60 subscribers can achieve “alpha male” status and an endless stream of money and women, if they follow Tate’s instructions. Born a Christian, Tate became an atheist, complaining that Christians were too “tolerant” and no longer stood for anything. In 2020, he said during a podcast that Islam was the only “serious and successful religion in the world” because “Muslims are intolerant.” Christians tolerate everything, he said. Jesus could be insulted under the pretext of free speech, but if he were to insult the Prophet Muhammad, he “wouldn’t make it to the end of the street.” While discussing what he called “first-world Muslim countries,” such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Tate described their social dynamics as ideal. “All women are married and are happy to be married,” he claimed. “They all have four or five kids; men do the providing and everyone is happy.”
Tate is expressing a widespread admiration for the patriarchal structures that continue to dominate in Muslim societies, which the manosphere believes have the solutions for the problems of men in the West today. In this conception of Islam, gender roles are clearly defined and leave little room for debate: Men have greater authority, as evident in leadership roles, lawmaking, political power and social status. In matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, men have the upper hand. There is no quota system that provides women with a share in decision-making.
It’s not only fringe voices that are championing Tate. Patrick Bet-David is an Iranian-American entrepreneur and investor with a successful career in finance, which does not at first glance fit the typical manosphere profile. But in recent years, Bet-David has dabbled in various conspiratorial narratives beloved across the manosphere, such as questioning the roles of George Soros, the United Nations and the global “liberal order” in promoting LGBTQ issues, and accusing governments and international bodies of failing to protect children. After Tate’s recent arrest in Romania, Bet-David pondered that “it was strange” that Tate’s past was dug up, given his role in attempting to expose “the matrix.” (It’s no coincidence that Bet-David is a cryptocurrency guru, as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have long been championed by the “bro culture” of conspiracists, as a way to escape the control of the international financial order. In their view, crypto guarantees the free flow of money without having to go through the “Soros- and Rothchild-controlled” channels.)
Recently, Bet-David conducted a lengthy interview with Tate’s brother, Tristan, who was speaking under house arrest in Romania; days later Tristan was officially charged, along with his brother and two others. Their chat was wide-ranging, but of course touched on Islam. Tristan, who has not converted, nevertheless summarized this new alliance. “The values that are shared between the two faiths are both contrary to everything what Andrew calls the matrix is trying to shove down young people’s throats and are trying to program people to believe. I think the days of Christians and Muslims murdering each other, in crusades and trying to take over the holy city of Jerusalem etc., are over,” he said.
But not everyone in the manosphere is a fan of Tate. Peterson described him as a “charismatic bad man” who rose to fame because of the demoralization of young men. “If you raise a generation of demoralized young men and you wave a leader in front of them who says some forthright, self-aggrandizing, semi-criminal behavior would be in their interest, they are most likely to find that attractive,” he said in one of his videos.
Brian Atlas, founder of the “pro-traditional” Whatever Podcast is likewise no fan of Tate’s, though he provides an insight into his conversion. “So many young dudes watch Tate and look up to Tate and they see him saying Islam is more based,” that is, proudly resistant to change and unfazed by what others think of it, “than Christianity, and they end up following Tate into Islam,” he said. But even though Atlas insists that Jesus is the ultimate truth, he also has a high regard for Islam. He often discusses the moral corruption of young women in the West today and believes that Islam’s growing popularity among young men in the West is because it appears as an antidote. There is a fixation, almost obsession, in these circles with what is referred to as a woman’s “body count,” or number of sexual partners before marriage. By contrast, in Muslim societies, women are still expected to be virgins before marriage.
In Islam polygamy is permitted for men only, with the option to marry up to four women at the same time (under certain conditions). This rule is rooted in historic, political and social contexts dating back to early Islam, in particular social conditions resulting from war, including a high number of widows and orphans. Though these conditions are not applicable today, polygamy was never outlawed by a religious decree and continues to be practiced (albeit in small numbers) among Muslim men. In the West and in some communities worldwide, alternative lifestyles such as open relationships and marriages — where a person can have multiple partners who are aware of the arrangement — parallel polygamy in many ways, but with one key distinction: Women can participate too. This is where the manosphere draws a red line. Islam has offered, in their view, a patriarchal structure that all but guarantees options for men to fulfill their desire, or as they like to refer to it, their “masculine instinct,” to be heads of households, to be obeyed by women in the family and to have the final word. The manosphere’s chat rooms devoted to pick-up tips, self-improvement and solidarity in dating failures are in part aimed at such an outcome: getting married to a woman who fulfills her role as mother and carer with no other aspiration and becoming the provider.
Tate’s conversion to Islam was welcomed by many, despite his clearly un-Islamic behavior, such as alcohol consumption, flaunting his many girlfriends and his prostitution-based webcam business. His instant and loyal Muslim following was soon in action, flocking to his defense against what they described as slander and false accusations. Even members of the Taliban supported him on Twitter. Yet this support did not trouble his traditional, far-right, non-Islamic following. On the contrary, they were united in condemning the world order that victimized Tate.
As with so many discussions in the manosphere, accounts of Tate’s arrest were embedded in conspiracy. On several Twitter Spaces hosted by Mario Nawfal, participants shared their beliefs that the “liberal media” was hiding these “truths.” Tate’s Muslim fans claim it was his conversion to Islam that provoked his arrest. Qatari YouTube preacher Abdul-Aziz al-Ansari claimed in one video that Tate challenged the “liberal order of the West with his conversion, exposing their hypocrisy which led to his arrest.” His non-Muslim fans meanwhile blamed the global “matrix” that aims to keep men weak, blind and exploited by the liberal order.
On the other side of this new relationship, the Muslim vote in the West is fundamentally shifting — for the second time this century. Prior to 9/11, Muslim communities in America sided with conservatives on social issues. But after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent rise in scrutiny of and aggression toward Muslims, a new alliance was forged between Muslim voters and the American left. This alliance appeared steady, strengthened with shared stances on foreign policy such as opposing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the subtle yet growing criticism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians. But it turns out the foundations of the Muslim-left alliance are not strong enough to withstand the most recent culture wars. The voting record of the Michigan town of Hamtramck illustrates these shifting allegiances. In 2015, the town elected its first Muslim-majority city council with support and celebration from Hamtramck’s liberals. The result was seen as a response to the growing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim narratives perpetrated by then Republican presidential candidate Trump. But when the same council voted to ban Pride flags on city property, legislation pushed by the town’s Muslim community and conservative Christians, liberals expressed their dismay and feelings of betrayal toward their Muslim compatriots. “We supported you when you were threatened, and now our rights are threatened, and you’re the one doing the threatening,” said Hamtramck’s former Mayor Karen Majewski in an interview with The Guardian. Given these unbridgeable differences over LGBTQ issues, the Muslim vote could prove to be key for the same groups on the right that not long ago demonized Islam.
This movement to the right on these issues has been seen in the private sector, too. According to union reports, Starbucks has recently pulled all its Pride decorations. Target, too, has buckled under the pressure of five bomb threats and coordinated social media campaigns and scaled back its Pride-themed ranges.
It seems the culture wars are even having an effect on the left. Muslim Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have both openly supported LGBTQ causes, yet Omar and Tlaib’s most steadfast backer, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (arguably the largest and most influential Muslim organization in America), has recently shifted to the right on these causes. Previously supportive of LGBTQ rights, CAIR has expressed concern over proposed legislation strengthening these rights, stating that new amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act could “jeopardize religious freedom.” In the state of Michigan, CAIR is working with Catholic and Protestant groups challenging the amendments.
Online discussions are directly influencing how Muslims in the real world are participating in the culture wars in America and other Western countries, encouraging more active participation than in previous years. This shift could be discerned clearly in the past year or two, with growing voices of condemnation toward Muslim politicians who have voiced support for other minorities. Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf’s remarks in favor of gay marriage spurred a major debate among Muslims in both the U.K. and the U.S. that ultimately resulted in a collective statement affirming Islam’s position toward LGBTQ issues. The statement, titled Navigating Differences, Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam, has received no media coverage but has sparked a raging debate within the community. In it, notable clerics and intellectuals make the case for a unified, conservative position on “sexual and gender ethics” in Islam, maintaining that charges of intolerance and bigotry are “unwarranted,” and “anti-religion.” There are claims that their voices are being silenced, and once again, the battleground is in schools, where “more troubling still, there is an increasing push to promote LGBTQ-centric values among children.”
After Navigating Differences was issued, its authors faced weeks of relentless attacks online for not being radical enough about LGBTQ issues, such as the statement’s references to coexistence. Notable Muslim cleric Omar Soleiman produced a video explaining his own stance, by answering a series of questions he received from his followers. He affirmed his doctrinal rejection of the LGBTQ community and his belief that Muslims cannot ally with any group that lives in direct opposition to God’s commandments — and then went even further. He explained that he regretted some aspects of his activism years ago, because he and other Muslims found themselves in protests that also included Pride flags. He was wrong, he said, to be in protests that included such flags, even if the protests were focused on Muslim issues. He explained that Muslims at the time were in a different place in America, where they felt compelled to defend themselves even if that meant indirect association with groups they categorically stand against. To back up this point, he cited the public statement issued by Muslims that condemned the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, which was linked to the Islamic State group.
The alliances may seem improbable, but the foundations of these anti-LGBTQ and pro-traditional family movements are firm and likely not only to endure but also reshape the political landscape. In the West, the social conservatism of the traditional Muslim way of life offers a prototype for what a “woke-free” society might look like. For a sizable reactionary contingent, conservative Islam’s patriarchal structures and gender and family norms seem vastly preferable to the direction the West is heading, thanks to feminism, “cultural Marxism,” and liberalism. In turn, conservative Muslims have been embracing expressions like “red pill” and “the matrix” to describe the rejection of liberalism and feminism, while expressing solidarity with the West’s manosphere. The misogyny, transphobia, antisemitism and anti-liberal sentiments of both cultures are thus being bolstered and are in turn supporting and influencing the political expression of the new radical right, represented by Trump, DeSantis and other populists. The new right may only be a splinter group, but with allies among extreme conservatives of all stripes, its power to potentially change societies and geopolitics is undeniable.