The rising tide of Islamophobia in the United States is not a natural or spontaneous outgrowth of popular fear of Muslim fundamentalist terrorism, nor is it the product of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Rather, it is the design of “a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners, and grassroots organizing,” according to a powerful investigative report released today by the progressive think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).
Entitled “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” the 130-page report asserts that five “experts” are primarily responsible for the dissemination of false facts and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups and the media to generate unreasonable fears about Muslims and Islam. Since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, seven foundations have provided over $42 million in support for this focused campaign, the report determined.
“This small network of people is driving the national and global debates that have real consequences on the public dialogue and on American Muslims,” the report said. “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.”
The five key misinformation experts identified by the report: Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy (see also here); David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence (see also here); Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum; Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America (see also here), and Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Their research – which is routinely exaggerated, deceptively selective or outright false – empowers key “grassroots” activists, particularly Brigitte Gabriel of ACT! for America, Pamela Geller of Stop Islamization of America (see also here and here), and David Horowitz of the David Horowitz Freedom Center; and a small group of “validators” of Middle Eastern extraction, including Nonie Darwish, Zuhdi Jasser, Walid Phares and Walid Shoebat, the report said.
The report reaffirms and amplifies several earlier analyses, including this one (see also here) by the Southern Poverty Law Center, regarding the roles of these key players in inflaming public animosity against Muslims. In meticulous detail, the report debunks many of the central tenets put forth by the “experts” of Islamophobia, and tracks how their flawed assertions metastasize through the right-wing media and political echo chamber.
In addition, the CAP report is the first to peel back the shroud obscuring how this cast of characters has financed its activities. The top seven foundations identified by the report are the Donors Capital Fund; the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation; the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; the Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation and Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust; the Russell Berrie Foundation; the Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund; and the Fairbrook Foundation. These funding sources have also allowed the leading peddlers of Islamophobia to personally profit handsomely from their work, the report shows.
These organizations “provide critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks and misinformation experts who peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam – in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs, and carefully crafted talking points, which dedicated anti-Islam grassroots organizations and some right-wing religious groups use as propaganda for their constituency. These foundations and wealthy donors also provide direct funding to anti-Islam grassroots groups,” according to the report.
The report acknowledged that in some cases, donors and foundations may be providing only general-purpose support to the think tanks, and thus may “have no knowledge of the hateful and inaccurate [anti-Muslim] propaganda generated with their money.”
“We don’t know what level of awareness the donors have about the various Islamophobic activities that they are supporting,” report co-author Faiz Shakir told Hatewatch in an E-mail. “Do they agree with Gaffney and Spencer’s hate campaigns against Muslims or not? By revealing the donors’ names and documenting their connections to the hate, we are giving the foundations an opportunity to explain what their position on anti-Muslim prejudice is. Hopefully, they will join us in helping to end Islamophobia.”
The largest and most insidious single contribution cited by the CAP report was an $18 million donation in 2008 by the Donors Capital Fund to the Clarion Fund, which distributed copies of the controversial propaganda film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” to 28 million swing-state voters in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. That DVD was described by a Florida distributor as “the single most powerful piece of media over the past five years in persuading average Americans to the Islamist threat.”
The authors hope this report will be a first step toward counteracting what to date has been a shrewdly designed campaign to build irrational fears about Muslims and Islam, Shakir said. “The problem is that the network is very committed to their cause. They will hold rallies, publish blog posts, and make calls to congressmen. We need that same level of commitment if we’re going to marginalize their influence. After reading our report, I hope people will help disseminate it to their networks via Twitter, Facebook, and email lists. Our success depends on getting the truth out.”