Pamela Geller, Unindicted Co-conspirator of the Oslo Massacre

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The $43 Million Islamophobia Machine

by Julianne Hing

Thursday, September 1 2011, 10:05 AM EST Tags: Muslim

Is President Obama a secret Muslim? Is Sharia law the radical scourge that’s threatening the very fabric of U.S. democracy? Contrary to the saying, a lie repeated often enough won’t make it true. But that doesn’t mean anti-Muslim activists, armed with millions of dollars of foundation support, won’t stop trying.

It turns out a handful of seven donors have given nearly $43 million over the last decade to fund a close network of right-wing intellectuals and scholars who’ve concocted and fanned Islamophobic hysteria to push an anti-Muslim political agenda.

According to “Fear Inc.,” a new report released by the Center for American Progress, those millions have gone to a coordinated network of anti-Muslim thought leaders: 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 at Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America and Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

This network, with millions of dollars behind it, has moved an agenda that seeks to pit Islam against the West, that imagines Muslims as untrustworthy and dangerous, that has painted Muslims as a looming threat who are out to undermine American democracy and national security. And with the help of activists, right-wing bloggers and a platform from a more than obliging cable news system, these fringe ideas have become more and more mainstream.

“There is a coordinated, strategic, deliberate, interconnected agenda here, which has very detrimental effects on fellow Americans and our communities and which really poisons the well of civil discourse,” says Wajahat Ali, the lead author of the CAP report.

“We’re living in a post-9/11 environment so what the network does is very cynically exploits fear, hysteria and misinformation and ignorance for the sake of profit, and for the sake of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of allegedly combating radical Islam and protecting our national security,” Ali said.

It’s in this post-9/11 climate that the most absurd statements have become commonplace in the mainstream political discourse.

“Arabic is not just another language like French or Italian, it is the spearhead of an ideological project that is deeply opposed to the United States,” Pam Geller wrote in February on her right-wing blog Atlas Shrugs. She is closely connected with David Horowitz, whose anti-Muslim group the David Horowitz Freedom Center has raked in $8.3 million in the last decade. Or, in the words of Bridgitte Gabriel: “[Muslims and Arabs] have no soul. They are dead set on killing and destruction.”

It’s the kind of extremist thought leadership that has paved the way for Rep. Peter King’s congressional hearings on the supposed Islamic radicalization of the country. They’re the authors whose anti-Muslim rants were cited dozens of times in the Oslo, Norway shooter Behring Breivik’s manifesto. These are the people who’ve singlehandedly brought anti-Sharia laws to over a dozen statehouses. They’re the machine that’s given rise to the idea that Obama might secretly be Muslim, and that were that true, it’d somehow be a terrible offense.

Ali says that the success of this messaging rests in part on the fact that 60 percent of Americans claim not to know any Muslim person, and so people rely for on mainstream media and the words of political leaders for information.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric firing across the airwaves and in congressional hearings has real-life impacts, too. It’s provided the political cover for a whole slew of policies that have targeted Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities. An AP investigation published last week uncovered a years long domestic surveillance program that the NYPD had undertaken to gather information on Muslim communities. The invasive surveillance measures meant that New York police had broad powers to monitor, harass and racially profile New York Muslims.

But the manufactured threat has been overblown, experts say. A 2010 study from Duke University found that the imagined threat of Muslim fundamentalists committing acts of terrorism was exaggerated. The study tracked 139 known radicalized Muslim-Americans who had attempted to carry out acts of terrorism or had been prosecuted in connection with suspected acts of terrorism—they are just a handful of the nation’s 2.6 million Muslims.*

“Muslim-American organizations and the vast majority of individuals that we interviewed firmly reject the radical extremist ideology that justifies the use of violence to achieve political ends,” David Schanzer, an associate professor at Duke and the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, said in a statement at the report’s release.

And this week a new report from the Pew Research Center found that American Muslims are concerned about the exact same things everyone else is: they take national security seriously and are distrustful of extremism in many forms, even as they report being unfairly seen as suspect themselves. American Muslims overwhelmingly have both, Pew reports, “mainstream and moderate” attitudes.

Nevertheless, in the last decade, Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians and those who’ve been confused for any of the above, have been the targets of a marked rise in job-related discrimination, hate crimes and biased-based bullying.

“Fear is a two-way street,” said Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. “It’s created fear within the community too.”

Billoo said that since September 11, it’s not uncommon for American Muslims to be confronted by anti-Muslim incidents in their daily life, the the utter frequency of which have begun to normalize Islamophobic rhetoric in even her community members’ eyes.

“Some sort of hate is manifested but it doesn’t rise to the level of a hate crime,” Billoo explained, “where someone calls me a terrorist, or someone looks at me funny, or someone yells something from their car at me.”

“It’s happened for so long that many people have taken it in as their reality and stopped complaining when it’s not okay, whether it’s happening to them or anyone else.”

Ali urged people to put the current debates within a historical context. “What’s happening right now is simply a remake. The characters in the past were Jews, Irish Catholics, and Japanese Americans,” Ali said. “And the scapegoating of those minority communities represents in hindsight the worst of America.”

Ali said he hoped the report would give these funders an opportunity to assess their political priorities and distance themselves from the obvious fearmongering that they’ve funded. He said that the U.S. needs to learn from its past mistakes and regain its moral compass to bring some moderation back to the national discourse.

“What’s inspiring is that America usually does find its way back,” Ali said. “Sometimes grudgingly, and sometimes after making mistakes along the way. But we’re a resilient nation, eventually we find our way.”

* This article has been updated since publication.

White House Quietly Courts Muslims in U.S.

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Elliott, NY Times

When President Obama took the stage in Cairo last June, promising a new relationship with the Islamic world, Muslims in America wondered only half-jokingly whether the overture included them. After all, Mr. Obama had kept his distance during the campaign, never visiting an American mosque and describing the false claim that he was Muslim as a “smear” on his Web site.

Nearly a year later, Mr. Obama has yet to set foot in an American mosque. And he still has not met with Muslim and Arab-American leaders. But less publicly, his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.

Muslim and Arab-American advocates have participated in policy discussions and received briefings from top White House aides and other officials on health care legislation, foreign policy, the economy, immigration and national security. They have met privately with a senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss civil liberties concerns and counterterrorism strategy.

The impact of this continuing dialogue is difficult to measure, but White House officials cited several recent government actions that were influenced, in part, by the discussions. The meeting with Ms. Napolitano was among many factors that contributed to the government’s decision this month to end a policy subjecting passengers from 14 countries, most of them Muslim, to additional scrutiny at airports, the officials said.

That emergency directive, enacted after a failed Dec. 25 bombing plot, has been replaced with a new set of intelligence-based protocols that law enforcement officials consider more effective.

Also this month, Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic, visited the United States for the first time in six years after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reversed a decision by the Bush administration, which had barred Mr. Ramadan from entering the country, initially citing the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Mrs. Clinton also cleared the way for another well-known Muslim professor, Adam Habib, who had been denied entry under similar circumstances.

Arab-American and Muslim leaders said they had yet to see substantive changes on a variety of issues, including what they describe as excessive airport screening, policies that have chilled Muslim charitable giving and invasive F.B.I. surveillance guidelines. But they are encouraged by the extent of their consultation by the White House and governmental agencies.

“For the first time in eight years, we have the opportunity to meet, engage, discuss, disagree, but have an impact on policy,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “We’re being made to feel a part of that process and that there is somebody listening.”

In the post-9/11 era, Muslims and Arab-Americans have posed something of a conundrum for the government: they are seen as a political liability but also, increasingly, as an important partner in countering the threat of homegrown terrorism. Under President George W. Bush, leaders of these groups met with government representatives from time to time, but said they had limited interaction with senior officials. While Mr. Obama has yet to hold the kind of high-profile meeting that Muslims and Arab-Americans seek, there is a consensus among his policymakers that engagement is no longer optional.

The administration’s approach has been understated. Many meetings have been private; others were publicized only after the fact. A visit to New York University in February by John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, drew little news coverage, but caused a stir among Muslims around the country. Speaking to Muslim students, activists and others, Mr. Brennan acknowledged many of their grievances, including “surveillance that has been excessive,” “overinclusive no-fly lists” and “an unhelpful atmosphere around many Muslim charities.”

“These are challenges we face together as Americans,” said Mr. Brennan, who momentarily showed off his Arabic to hearty applause. He and other officials have made a point of disassociating Islam from terrorism in public comments, using the phrase “violent extremism” in place of words like “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism.”

While the administration’s solicitation of Muslims and Arab-Americans has drawn little fanfare, it has not escaped criticism. A small but vocal group of research analysts, bloggers and others complain that the government is reaching out to Muslim leaders and organizations with an Islamist agenda or ties to extremist groups abroad.

They point out that Ms. Jarrett gave the keynote address at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America. The group was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based charity whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling money to Hamas. The society denies any links to terrorism.

“I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates,” said Steven Emerson, a terrorism analyst who advises government officials. “These are the wrong groups to legitimize.” Mr. Emerson and others have also objected to the political appointments of several American Muslims, including Rashad Hussain.

In February, the president chose Mr. Hussain, a 31-year-old White House lawyer, to become the United States’ special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The position, a kind of ambassador at large to Muslim countries, was created by Mr. Bush. In a video address, Mr. Obama highlighted Mr. Hussain’s status as a “close and trusted member of my White House staff” and “a hafiz,” a person who has memorized the Koran.

Within days of the announcement, news reports surfaced about comments Mr. Hussain had made on a panel in 2004, while he was a student at Yale Law School, in which he referred to several domestic terrorism prosecutions as “politically motivated.” Among the cases he criticized was that of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer-science professor in Florida who pleaded guilty to aiding members of a Palestinian terrorist group.

At first, the White House said Mr. Hussain did not recall making the comments, which had been removed from the Web version of a 2004 article published by a small Washington magazine. When Politico obtained a recording of the panel, Mr. Hussain acknowledged criticizing the prosecutions but said he believed the magazine quoted him inaccurately, prompting him to ask its editor to remove the comments. On Feb. 22, The Washington Examiner ran an editorial with the headline “Obama Selects a Voice of Radical Islam.”

Muslim leaders watched carefully as the story migrated to Fox News. They had grown accustomed to close scrutiny, many said in interviews, but were nonetheless surprised. In 2008, Mr. Hussain had co-authored a paper for the Brookings Institution arguing that the government should use the peaceful teachings of Islam to fight terrorism.

“Rashad Hussain is about as squeaky clean as you get,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is Muslim. Mr. Ellison and others wondered whether the administration would buckle under the pressure and were relieved when the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, defended Mr. Hussain.

“The fact that the president and the administration have appointed Muslims to positions and have stood by them when they’ve been attacked is the best we can hope for,” said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

It was notably different during Mr. Obama’s run for office. In June 2008, volunteers of his campaign barred two Muslim women in headscarves from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit, eliciting widespread criticism. The campaign promptly recruited Mazen Asbahi, a 36-year-old corporate lawyer and popular Muslim activist from Chicago, to become its liaison to Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Bloggers began researching Mr. Asbahi’s background. For a brief time in 2000, he had sat on the board of an Islamic investment fund, along with Sheikh Jamal Said, a Chicago imam who was later named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case. Mr. Asbahi said in an interview that he had left the board after three weeks because he wanted no association with the imam.

Shortly after his appointment to the Obama campaign, Mr. Asbahi said, a Wall Street Journal reporter began asking questions about his connection to the imam. Campaign officials became concerned that news coverage would give critics ammunition to link the imam to Mr. Obama, Mr. Asbahi recalled. On their recommendation, Mr. Asbahi agreed to resign from the campaign, he said.

He is still unsettled by the power of his detractors. “To be in the midst of this campaign of change and hope and to have it stripped away over nothing,” he said. “It hurts.”

From the moment Mr. Obama took office, he seemed eager to change the tenor of America’s relationship with Muslims worldwide. He gave his first interview to Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language television station based in Dubai. Muslims cautiously welcomed his ban on torture and his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year.

In his Cairo address, he laid out his vision for “a new beginning” with Muslims: while America would continue to fight terrorism, he said, terrorism would no longer define America’s approach to Muslims.

Back at home, Muslim and Arab-American leaders remained skeptical. But they took note when, a few weeks later, Mohamed Magid, a prominent imam from Sterling, Va., and Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim activist from Chicago, joined the president at a White-House meeting about fatherhood. Also that month, Dr. Faisal Qazi, a board member of American Muslim Health Professionals, began meeting with administration officials to discuss health care reform.

The invitations were aimed at expanding the government’s relationship with Muslims and Arab-Americans to areas beyond security, said Mr. Hussain, the White House’s special envoy. Mr. Hussain began advising the president on issues related to Islam after joining the White House counsel’s office in January 2009. He helped draft Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech and accompanied him on the trip. “The president realizes that you cannot engage one-fourth of the world’s population based on the erroneous beliefs of a fringe few,” Mr. Hussain said.

Other government offices followed the lead of the White House. In October, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke met with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., to discuss challenges facing small-business owners. Also last fall, Farah Pandith was sworn in as the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities. While Ms. Pandith works mostly with Muslims abroad, she said she had also consulted with American Muslims because Mrs. Clinton believes “they can add value overseas.”

Despite this, American actions abroad — including civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and the failure to close Guantánamo — have drawn the anger of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Even though their involvement with the administration has broadened, they remain most concerned about security-related policies. In January, when the Department of Homeland Security hosted a two-day meeting with Muslim, Arab-American, South Asian and Sikh leaders, the group expressed concern about the emergency directive subjecting passengers from a group of Muslim countries to additional screening.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, pointed out that the policy would never have caught the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is British. “It almost sends the signal that the government is going to treat nationals of powerless countries differently from countries that are powerful,” Ms. Khera recalled saying as community leaders around the table nodded their heads.

Ms. Napolitano, who sat with the group for more than an hour, committed to meeting with them more frequently. Ms. Khera said she left feeling somewhat hopeful.

“I think our message is finally starting to get through,” she said.

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