Most Americans likely remember the controversy that swirled around the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in 2010. Maybe they recall the Congressional hearings held by Representative Peter King to investigate “Muslim radicalization” and Michele Bachmann’s assertion that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated Obama’s administration. Perhaps they remember the polemical ads about “savage” jihad plastered in subway stations, or the debates about Sharia law which raged on cable news channels.
But what the American public likely doesn’t know is that these events are connected.
Behind the ads, the talking heads, and the campaign against the Muslim YMCA in Manhattan is an organized network of individuals and organizations dedicated to shaping Americans’ understanding of Islam for the worse.
Behind this network is an sizeable pool of donations, which have funded their activities for the last ten years.
In a report entitled “Fear, Inc.,” researchers at the Center for American Progress (CAP) investigated the individuals and groups fearmongering about Islam and Muslims. Published in August 2011, when hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. had reached their highest level since 9/11, the report details the inner workings of the “small, tightly networked group” that is “driving the national and global debate” about Islam.
The report found that over 10 years, seven private foundations funneled over $40 million to eight groups which have outsized influence in the public conversation (and sometimes policy) on Islam and Muslims. These non-profit organizations support pundits who peddle their pseudo-scholarship on Islam and Middle East affairs to national media outlets, government agencies, military institutions, and elected politicians.
Grassroots organizations, who in some cases also receive funds from these same foundations, also advance their narrative.
CAP describes this network and its activities as an “Islamophobia megaphone,” which amplifies the views and voices of a few and disseminates them to a mainstream audience. The following graphic illustrates the amplification process described in the report.
To appreciate the impact of this small network, it is necessary to review a number of examples, which the CAP report outlines.
For over a decade, Fox News hosts and politicians like Representative Peter King of New York have claimed that 80% of American mosques are “radical.” This statistic is touted as fact by prominent media outlets and elected officials, despite its fabrication by Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson. Pipes, who runs the Middle East Forum, and Emerson, who created the Investigative Project on Terrorism, co-authored a report in which they put forth an unsubstantiated number lacking any empirical support. (Read more here.) Though the statistic has been debunked, the number enjoys wide currency in many national arenas.
In 2012, Representative Michele Bachmann stirred up fears that the Obama Administration had been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. She claimed that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin had family connections to the Muslim organization. In substantiating her assertion that America was in danger of being subjected to Islamic law, she cited the website of Frank Gaffney, founder of the Center for Security Policy, which raked in $20 million in seven years to support its work. A regular guest on Fox News, Gaffney proliferated memes like “stealth jihad,” published baseless reports about the “threat” of sharia in America, and testified in a high-profile case against the construction of a mosque Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
In 2010, bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer founded Stop Islamization of America, a grassroots group responsible for the fight against the “Ground Zero Mosque” and numerous inflammatory ads in public transportation systems nationwide. Despite their lack of academic credentials, they were advertised as experts on networks like CNN, Fox News, and Christian Broadcasting Network and have each written multiple New York Times bestselling books, and publish at highly-trafficked blogs.
Since 2010, 34 states nationwide have considered legislation that would ban Sharia or “foreign” law in state courts. State legislators didn’t just produce these anti-sharia bills on their own; many of them used a model bill drafted by David Yerushalmi, a right-wing lawyer who serves as legal counsel for the Center for Security Policy, Stop Islamization of America and other anti-Muslim, grassroots organizations.
Zuhdi Jasser, an Arab-American cardiologist, and Brigitte Gabriel, a woman of Lebanese origin, cite their Muslim or Arab background to legitimate ill-informed claims about Islam and Muslims. A frequent guest at Fox News, Jasser narrated the Clarion Fund’s film “The Third Jihad” and testified at Peter King’s “Muslim radicalization” hearings in 2011. Gabriel, also a Fox regular, runs ACT! for America, a nationwide organization dedicated to fighting “against the threat of radical Islam.”
Part of what makes Islamophobia so pernicious is that there is a concerted effort, backed by tens of millions of dollars, to advance inaccurate and inflammatory material about Muslims and Islam.
Read the full report here.