Report Reveals Underpinnings of Islamophobia in the U.S.

Islamophobia in the United States has grown in reach and vitriol in the past two years, as evidenced by citation of the writings of several prominent Islamophobes by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik in his political manifesto, the introduction of anti-Sharia bills in 23 states, and anti-Muslim statements put forth by recent presidential candidates. A seminal report (pdf) released today by the Center for American Progress traces the rise and path of Islamophobia, exposing a small but widely influential group of funders of this network and revealing the underpinnings of how the anti-Muslim movement works.

The 130-page report, "Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America," desribes a vast and methodical flourishing of Islamophobia, defined as "exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims" that results in "bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America's social, political, and civic life." The report pinpoints a money trail that funds the "experts" and "scholars" who guide grassroots activists, who in turn pepper the public landscape with media amplifiers, which shapes politicians who embrace the rhetoric and support anti-Muslim causes.

"We expose the funding that helps empower these small and powerfully interconnected groups and players who have contaminated and dominated the public discourse," says Wajahat Ali, lead researcher and author of the report. (Disclosure: Ali is a Patheos contributor.) "No one has exposed the Islamophobia network in such depth. We've named all the names; we've connected all the dots. We show the genesis of it."

The report reveals a $42 million-dollar industry that has been financed from seven conservative foundations over the past year, including Donors Capital Fund, the Anchorage Foundation, and the Fairbrook Foundation, to fund a small group of experts who move anti-Muslim rhetoric into public discourse. The key five Islamophobes, according to the report, are Steve Emerson (Investigative Project on Terrorism), Daniel Pipes (Middle East Forum), Frank Gaffney (Center for Security Policy), David Yerushalmi (Society of Americans for National Existence), and Robert Spencer (Jihad Watch, Stop Islamization of America). The second tier includes Brigitte Gabriel, David Horowitz, and Pamela Geller. 

Eli Clifton, a national security reporter at CAP who spent nearly a year researching the Islamophobia network in the U.S., said one of the most interesting findings is that the report disproves the notion that there is a vast right-wing conspiracy out to get Muslims.

"The takeaway from the money trail is that it's not that big, the sum of money or the number of donors. But the reach of the players in the Islamophobia network is big. What it is, is a small group of very concentrated and very focused institutions and donors who have explicitly funded so-called experts on a yearly basis."

It's a very linear approach, Ali said. "This stuff requires money. Not a ton of money it turns out, but money. And how you get from people like Daniel Pipes and Frank Gaffney to someone who becomes a talking point on CNN whose words are accepted as truth is what Americans need to see."

Clifton and Ali said the fingerprints of the five main players are on every aspect of the anti-Muslim industry. They are the brains behind grassroots and religious right groups like Act for America, the Eagle Forum, and the Tea Party. These groups, using new media and specific talking points, then latch onto the "media megaphone" to spread anti-Muslim messages.

"The media has been very influential in promoting these networks," Ali said, citing FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, World Net Daily, and Front Page as some of the key instigators of the Islamophobia message.

The main players also influence several Congressmen and political candidates: "Allen West [Republican candidate for Congress from Florida] is mentored by Frank Gaffney," Ali said. "Peter King [representative from New York who led a hearing on Muslim radicalization last May] is consulted by Brigitte Gabriel, founder of Act for America.

"Brigitte Gabriel once said, 'A practicing Muslim cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America,'" Ali said, adding, "Doesn't that sound like Herman Cain?"

Islamophobia is a lucrative industry, Ali said, and a very interconnected one. "Islamophobia works because [Islamophobes] exploit and pray upon existing fears, and under the guise of allegedly fighting radicalism, they promote a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda. The Tennessean reported that Steve Emerson admitted he gets money from donors by actively exploiting the fears against Muslims.

"Muslims are a good bogeyman, Islamophobia a good cash cow," Ali said.

8/25/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Muslim
  • American Muslims
  • Act for America
  • David Yerushalmi
  • Daniel Pipes
  • Frank Gaffney
  • Islamophobe
  • Islamophobia
  • politics
  • Republicans
  • Islam
  • Dilshad Ali
    About Dilshad Ali
    Dilshad D. Ali is managing editor of the Muslim Portal at Patheos. An experienced journalist, she has covered Islam and Muslims in America for more than ten years for a variety of print and online media outlets, including Beliefnet and Illume, Islamica, and Azizah Magazines.