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Selling Islamophobia

by WAJAHAT ALI

Exploiting fear, hysteria and ignorance has been a lucrative business for the Islamophobia network in America.

After a six-month-long investigative research project, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a 138-page report, “Fear Inc: Exposing the Islamophobia Network in America”, which for the first time reveals that more than $42m from seven foundations over the past decade have helped empower a relatively small, but interconnected group of individuals and organizations to spread anti-Muslim fear and hate in America.

I, along with co-authors Eli Clifton, Matt Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes and Faiz Shakir, expose this network in depth, categories it, trace the money trail to the donors, name the players in the network, connect the dots between them, and uncover the genesis of several fictitious threats such as the current “anti-sharia” fear sweeping the nation, as well as the protests of neighborhood mosques as alleged “Trojan horses” and incubators of radicalization.

We’ve defined Islamophobia as the following: an exaggerated fear, hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political and civic life.

Healthy debate, disagreement and differences of opinion are a critical part of any civil society, and it is, in fact, necessary when discussing religion, race and politics. This report, however, targets those individuals who have clearly ventured towards poisonous extremist ideology and rhetoric by exploiting fears concerning terrorism and national security, as well general ignorance of Muslims, as a profitable vehicle to advance a hateful agenda.

The Islamphobia network in America is comprised of five categories:

• The money trail: a list of seven funders who have given nearly $43m to anti-Muslim organizations and think tanks.

• The Islamophobia scholars and policy experts: five individuals and their respective organizations that act as the central nervous system responsible for manufacturing the fictitious memes and fear-mongering talking points about Muslims and Islam. For example, Frank Gaffney’s neoconservative think tank, the Centre for Security Policy, has used its millions to misdefine sharia, or Islamic religious law, as the pre-eminent totalitarian threat to America, which radical Muslims will allegedly use to supplant and replace the US constitution. No religious Muslim scholar, let alone a practicing layman, would recognize this definition of sharia, which, in reality, deals primarily with personal religious observances, including practices such as charitable giving, prayer and honoring one’s parents, with precepts virtually identical to those of Christianity and Judaism.

• Grassroots organizations and the religious right: new and existing activist networks and mainstream popular religious personalities disseminate these messages to their constituents and elected officials. The organization Act! For America relies upon Frank Gaffney’s anti-sharia memes and promotes this fictitious threat through their 573 national chapters and 170,000 members worldwide. Currently, 23 states are in process of considering anti-sharia bills.

• The media enablers: the mainstreaming of this fringe, extremist rhetoric is aided by media allies in network TV (Fox News), radio (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck), online magazines (World Net Daily, Front Page Magazine) and the Islamophobia blogosphere (Jihad Watch), which give Islamophobe talking-heads an influential pulpit to broadcast their misinformation.

• The political players: finally, these talking points end up as soundbites and wedge issues for politicians and, specifically, several 2012 Republican presidential candidates, such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, who all have jumped on the manufactured, fictitious “anti-sharia” bandwagon.

This fear-mongering rhetoric negatively affects our fellow Muslim American citizens and portrays them as perpetual hostile suspects, instead of our neighbors and allies. Currently, this has reached a crescendo resulting in certain communities attempting to curtail constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.

For example, we’ve witnessed grassroots organizations protest the construction of mosques, constitutionally protected houses of worship, in Tennessee, California and Brooklyn. In February, Muslim American families with young children attending a fundraising dinner in Yorba Linda, California were jeered by protesters who called them “Terrorists!” and told them “Take your sharia and go home, you terrorist lovers.” This was not the result of a spontaneous groundswell of public bullying, but rather a well-organized and highly effective effort orchestrated by principal grassroots organizations of the Islamophobia network, such as Act! For America, Stop Islamisation of America and state Tea Party groups.

For example, blogger Pamela Geller, the co-founder of Stop Islamisation of America and face of the manufactured “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy – which was neither a mosque nor at ground zero – clearly reveals her bias against Muslims when she equates practicing Muslims with Nazis: “Devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?”

Brigitte Gabriel, the “radical Islamophobe” founder of the effective, anti-Muslims grassroots network Act! For America, believes a practicing Muslim “who prays five times a day – this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”

The Anti Defamation League has reviewed both of these groups’ rhetoric and actions and concluded they are simply promoting a conspiratorial agenda against Muslims under the guise of fighting radical Islam. This report exposes these alleged “patriots” for what they really are: the primary motivators of fear and bigotry in an economically uncertain and politically volatile climate that urgently needs less hate, division and fear-mongering. Instead, we desire a proactive, united effort towards moderation by embracing American values that protect our religious freedoms, ensure a vibrant, diverse democracy and sustain America as beacon of inclusiveness.

History has taught us that what’s happening to Muslim Americans right now is simply a remake. In the past, the characters were Jews, Irish Catholics, Japanese Americans and gays and lesbians. But America, despite sadly succumbing to hysteria in moments past, eventually – and sometimes grudgingly – tends to regain its moral compass and strive to become a nation resilient to fear and scapegoating.

Just like the McCarthyites before them, the individuals in the Islamophobia network revealed in the report should immediately cleanse themselves of their fear-mongering and ignorance, which may appear to offer short-term political gain but comes at the price of becoming the villains in our children’s history books.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, journalist and attorney, whose play, The Domestic Crusaders, was published by McSweeney’s in December, 2010. He blogs at Goatmilk.

 

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