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September 5, 2011

Who is fostering widespread hatred of Islam?

Philip Weiss

More by this author...

On Friday, the Center for American Progress published an important and excellent study, called Fear, Inc:

The roots of the Islamophobia network in the US.

The study shows that the wave of Islamophobia in the U.S. --Americans mistrust Muslims more than they did even after 9/11-- is the product of a few energized individuals. And they're polluting our political discourse.

Specifically, it's a handful of exponents of Islamophobia, among them Daniel Pipes, Sharia-law "expert" David Yerushalmi (whom the NYT profiled in more neutral terms a couple weeks back), David Horowitz, and Steve Emerson, the CNN expert turned wingnut.

And the Center shows that they are getting money from just a few sources, but a ton of money at that. In short, a conspiracy, and an important one. You can't call it a conspiracy these days, it's a "network," or as Steve Walt says below, a "collaboration."

I'll get to excerpts of the report below, but the report recapitulates the history of neoconservatism. Recall that the Iraq war crusade was implanted into the American discourse in the '90s by the decided and earnest effort of a few true believers, backed by tons of money, who had a crazed theory of importing democracy to the Middle East by gunpoint, everywhere but in Israel/Palestine. And those beliefs soon swept the mainstream.

I'm hopeful that Islamophobia won't be so successful, and partly because the Center for American Progress has risen against it. 

The report is careful to sidestep the Israel-motivation angle of the Islamophobes. I think this is intellectually irresponsible, but inevitable. No one in the Establishment wants to touch this angle. They don't want to be sounding like Walt and Mearsheimer, the Israel lobby. And of course, it's good that a portion of the Establishment is denouncing the ultra-Zionists.

But supporting Israel is certainly an important part of the motivation, as I pointed out about Yerushalmi a few weeks back-- the Jewish right to Palestine is at the heart of his engagement, he even changed his name to Jerusalem. And donor Aubrey Chernick, whom the report focuses on -- well, again, Israel support is at the heart of his public actions.

Here are two quick takes on the report.

Steve Walt at Foreign Policy:

The irony in all this that the extremists examined in this report have gone to great lengths to convince Americans that there is a vast Islamic conspiracy to subvert American democracy, impose sharia law, and destroy the American way of life. Instead, what we are really facing is a well-funded right-wing collaboration to scare the American people with a bogeyman of their own creation, largely to justify more ill-advised policies in the Middle East.

And Ed Lasky at American Thinker points out the Jewishness of the list, though he leaves out the fact that George Soros is also Jewish:

The Soros-supported Center for American Progress blames rich Jews for stoking Islamophobia...

The Obama-allied Center for American Progress has released a report that blames Islamophobia in America on a small group of Jews and Israel supporters in America, whose views are being backed by millions of dollars. This "network", according to the news release, have "have worked hard to push narratives that Obama might be a Muslim, that mosques are incubators of radicalization, and that "radical Islam" has infiltrated all aspects of American society -- including the conservative movement. Who are the figures mentioned as the promoters of prejudice? Most of them are prominent Jews and supporters of Israel, such as David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson (the founder of the Investigative Project on Terrorism).

The eight foundations mentioned as funding this effort include are almost exclusively ones founded and funded by Jewish donors, and lest readers not be aware of this fact, the Center for American Progress lists not only the other beneficiaries of the charities and foundations (most of them having Jewish or Israel in the title) but also goes to the trouble of naming the individuals behind these charities -- not just the donors but also those who serve on the boards.

Now here are some excerpts from the report itself:

This network of hate is not a new presence in the United States. Indeed, its ability to organize, coordinate, and disseminate its ideology through grassroots organizations increased dramatically over the past 10 years.

Furthermore, its ability to influence politicians’ talking points and wedge issues for the upcoming 2012 elections has mainstreamed what was once considered fringe, extremist rhetoric.

And it all starts with the money flowing from a select group of foundations.

A small group of foundations and wealthy donors are the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America, providing critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks that peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam—

...Due in part to the relentless efforts of this small group of individuals and organizations, Islam is now the most negatively viewed religion in America. Only 37 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Islam: the lowest favorability rating since 2001, according to a 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

According to a 2010 Time magazine poll, 28 percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly one-third of the country thinks followers of Islam should be barred from running for president.

Separate from the Fairbrook Foundation [one of the funders], Aubrey Chernick is a trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and helped provide the $3.5 million in initial capital to start the conservative blog Pajamas Media, which used its online platform to oppose the Park51 community center in New York City....

Altogether, these seven charitable groups provided $42.6 million in total to Islamophobic think tanks between 2001 and 2009—funding that supports the misinformation scholars and experts....

All five are actively promoting the deeply mistaken portrayal of Islam—a religion of nearly 1.6 billion people worldwide, including 2.6 million Americans—as an inherently violent ideology that seeks domination over the United States and all non-Muslims.

Here is the summary at the start of the report:

The funding

• More than $40 million flowed from seven foundations over 10 years.

• The foundations funding the misinformation experts: Donors Capital Fund; Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation; Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation and Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust; Russell Berrie Foundation, Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund; Fairbrook Foundation.

The misinformation experts

• Five experts generate the false facts and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups, and the media:

• Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy

• David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence

• Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum

• Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America

• Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism

• These experts travel the country and work with or testify before state legislatures calling for a ban on the nonexisting threat of Sharia law in America and proclaiming that the vast majority of mosques in our country harbor Islamist terrorists or sympathizers.

• David Yerushalmi’s “model legislation” banning Sharia law has been cut and pasted into bills in South Carolina, Texas, and Alaska. His video on how to draft an anti-Sharia bill and his online tools have been picked up nationwide.

The reach

• The movement is moving nationwide in more than 23 states— made possible by a combination of new, single-minded Islamophobia groups, exemplified by Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! For America, Pam Geller’s Stop Islamization of America, David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, and existing groups such as the American Family Association and the Eagle Forum.

• Misinformation experts are broadcast around the country and the world, with their work cited many times by (among others) confessed Norway terrorist Anders Breivik.

• U.S. politicians such as Reps. Peter King (R-NY), Allen West (R-FL), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) repeat these anti-Muslim attacks give credence to incorrect facts.

The impact

• This small network of people is driving the national and global debates that have real consequences on the public dialogue and on American Muslims.

• In September 2010, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam, a significant increase from 39 percent in October of 2002.

Why it matters

• These attacks go right to the heart of two critically important national issues: the fabric and strength of our democracy and our national security. Our Constitution upholds freedom of religion for all Americans. Contending that some religions are not part of the promise of American freedoms established by our founders directly challenges who we are as a nation.

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