Islamophobia: A Well-Funded American “Fear” Industry

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Hatem Bazian
Hatem Bazian

By Hatem Bazian

In 2011, the Center for American Progress published a groundbreaking report, “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” which managed to expose for the first time the funding sources behind the bigotry producing Islamophobic industry, the individuals responsible and the effective strategies that made it possible to impact the mainstream.

The report managed to shift the focus and correctly highlighted the infrastructure behind the growing Islamophobia phenomena and provided empirical evidence that until then was only theorized.

The “Fear Inc.” authors identified seven foundations that provided a total of $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 to fund organizations and individual spreading anti-Muslim bigotry in the country.

What the report clearly documented is that, rather than there being a large grouping and widespread anti-Muslim popular movement, the researchers discovered a small network of organizations, scholars and activists that are well-funded and committed to misinformation, machination and bigoted rhetoric.

The 2011 report concluded that “the efforts of a small cadre of funders and misinformation experts were amplified by an echo chamber of the religious right, conservative media, grassroots organizations, and politicians who sought to introduce a fringe perspective on

On Feb. 11, 2015 CAP released “Fear Inc. 2.0,” the second installment in the series, which builds upon the initial research and provides deeper analysis of the Islamophobia network and the current themes utilized in targeting the American Muslim community.

The report examines Islamophobia within the religious right and the ability of groups to increasingly deploy “anti-Islamic rhetoric” and to “push this…discourse into mainstream GOP politics.”

The religious right and the Republican party has an acute Islamophobia problem, with grassroots activists increasingly at ease in expressing anti-Muslim statements. Certainly, debates about national security and terrorism are legitimate topics, but among religious-right activists and sections of the Republican party, Islamophobic discourse has become connected to the broader cultural wars, with a distinct messianic and clash-of-civilizations rhetoric.

In chapter two of “Fear Inc. 2.0, ” the report examines the 2014 Values Voter Summit, pointing out that the gathering “heard from many of the architects and amplifiers of the Islamophobia network.”

Speakers at the VVS made sure to emphasize that we are at war with Islam.

What is clear is that the religious right has made Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry a major rallying point for activists across the country and deploying it within a broader political strategy.

One key element of this strategy, according to the report, is the national anti-Sharia campaign led by David Yerushalmi, “the lawyer responsible for the movement and who drafted the model…legislation used by activists across the country,” with the expressed goal “to shape public attitude and is not about legal substance.”

The report cites Yerushalmi’s own framing of the issue in a New York Times 2011 interview: “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would not have served its purpose…The purpose was to get people asking this question, ‘What is Shariah?’”

What we have in the anti-Sharia legislation and targeting Democratic and civil-society leaders is an electoral strategy that seeks to monetize Islamophobia into votes at the ballot box and o influence elections outcome moving forward.

Attempts to influence elections with Islamophobic content were front and center in the 2008 elections, when the Clarion Fund spent about $17 million to send 28 million copies of the documentary “Obsession, Radical Islam’s War Against the West” as an insert in Sunday newspapers, just days before the elections, to voters in swing states; this propagated the idea that Candidate Obama should not be trusted, and the constant speculation that he is a closet Muslim.

A similar strategy was unleashed in the 2010 midterm elections, focusing on the “Ground Zero Mosque,” a term coined by the Islamophobia network and then amplified through the conservative media.

Wedge issues are very critical pieces in campaign strategists’ tool chest. Islamophobia and targeting American Muslims create the needed framing, focusing on national security and threat to the “homeland,” which puts liberal Democrats on the defensive while pushing independent voters into supporting rightwing Republican candidates even though it might be against their economic and political interests.

The Islamophobia network agenda in the U.S. is connected to a broader electoral strategy. “Demographics in the United States are changing rapidly” was an important reason for some on the political right to opt for a divisive strategy, write Prof. Saeed A. Khan and Alejandrop J. Beutel in their recently released report, “Manufacturing Bigotry: A State-by-State Legislative Effort to Pushback Against 2050 by Targeting Muslims and Other Minorities,” published by The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding.

Hatem Bazian is a senior lecturer of Near Eastern studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

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