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“Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation”

StoryOctober 17, 2008
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In the last few weeks, 28 million copies of a DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West have been distributed in key battleground states. The film features graphic, violent images and makes comparisons of Islam to Nazism. The DVD comes amidst concerns of increasing levels of ethnic and religious bias in US politics and the stoking of Islamophobia. We speak to Ibrahim Cooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Isabel Macdonald of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, co-author of the new report “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: John McCain has been widely praised for correcting a supporter at a campaign rally last week in Minnesota.

    McCAIN SUPPORTER: I got to ask you a question. I do not believe in — I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not — he’s not —- he’s an Arab. He is not -—

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No, ma’am. No, ma’am.


    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No, ma’am. No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that’s what this campaign is all about. He is not. Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: McCain was correct in telling the woman that Obama was not an Arab, but his response suggested that being called an Arab was itself a smear. The incident has raised concerns about increasing levels of ethnic and religious bias in US politics and the stoking of Islamophobia.

In the last few weeks, 28 million copies of a DVD titled Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West have been distributed as an advertising supplement in newspapers in key battleground states. It was paid for by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit group established by the film’s Israeli producer with the goal of exposing what it calls the threat of radical Islam. The hour-long film features graphic, violent images and makes comparisons of Islam to Nazism.

    NONIE DARWISH: The propaganda of Islam is very similar to the propaganda of Nazism. It’s the same hate speech, paranoia, and us against them.

    WALID SHOEBAT: Secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than this Islamofascism that we see today. It’s less dangerous, because Islamofascism has a religious twist to it. It says God the Almighty ordered me to do this, not the Fuhrer, you know? So, it is way more dangerous. It’s trying to grow itself in fifty-five Muslim states. So, potentially, you could have a success rate of several Nazi Germanys.

    JOHN LOFTUS: They’ve been very clear about it. They’re the same as Hitler’s goals, you know? Kill all the Jews, crush the democracies, destroy Western civilization.

    ROBERT WISTRICH: They wish to strike down the West.

    KHALED ABU TOAMEH: They want to defeat the West. They want to defeat Christianity. They want to defeat Judaism.

    ALFONS HECK: If you recognize the danger and you don’t do anything about it, you are risking your demise.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of the film Obsession. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, has filed complaints with the IRS and Federal Elections Commission, saying Clarion Fund has violated its tax-exempt status by distributing the film.

Ibrahim Hooper is the national communications director for CAIR. He joins us in Washington, D.C. And joining us here is Isabel Macdonald. She is the spokesperson for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, co-author of the new report “Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation.”

Before we go to this DVD that has been distributed to millions of people, almost 30 million people, I wanted to ask you, Ibrahim Hooper, about your response to McCain’s response to the person at his rally. He was widely hailed for finally cracking down on what people were saying at his rallies. What were your thoughts?

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Well, it’s a kind of a disturbing phenomenon that being called an Arab or a Muslim has now become a smear that has to be refuted. When she said, “Oh, he is an Arab” — “No, no, no, ma’am, he’s a decent person.” Well, I think you can be Arab, I think you can be Muslim, and still be a decent person, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did that fit into your report, Isabel Macdonald, what we saw there at that rally?

ISABEL MACDONALD: Well, it definitely fits into a pattern by which we’ve seen the US media treating rumors that Obama is a Muslim as a smear. This stands in marked contrast to how the US press covered a very similar case in Poland in an election in 1990, in which the incumbent prime minister of Poland was rumored to be secretly a Jew, so just as we’re seeing now a campaign online, through talk radio, painting Obama as a Muslim. And obviously this bigotry is often based on ignorance, and so it gets confused with him being an Arab, as well. And I think that anti-Arab racism is a distinct thing that often overlaps with Islamophobia in the media. But in Poland, the way we saw the US media respond was to talk about what this whisper campaign said about the state of anti-Semitism in Poland. And we had the Washington Post weighing in —-

IBRAHIM HOOPER: That’s a very good point.

ISABEL MACDONALD: The Washington -—

IBRAHIM HOOPER: It’s a very —-

AMY GOODMAN: Ibrahim Hooper, just one second. Then we’re going to go to you.

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Alright, sure.

ISABEL MACDONALD: We had the Washington Post talking about what a problem this posed for democracy, that in this election, there was all this talk about how a candidate was suspected of secretly being a Jew, and this was turning -— was being reported to turn voters off of voting for that candidate. And it was covered as a story about anti-Semitism in the US media.

In the case of the rumor campaign against Barack Obama, labeling him a Muslim — and we now know that this was started, the person who’s taking credit for it, is a known anti-Semite who had run for office in Connecticut on a platform opposing “Jew power” in America.


ISABEL MACDONALD: His name is —-


ISABEL MACDONALD: Andy Martin. Andy Martin. Sorry, I just forgot it for a moment. And so, a known anti-Semite starting a whisper campaign about Obama being a Muslim, and all the American press can talk about is the fact that Obama is being smeared, not about the fact that a huge swath of humanity is being smeared in this election.

ISAMY GOODMAN: Ibrahim Hooper?

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Yeah, it’s a very good point. The arguments used to attack Islam and Muslims in America are the same arguments that anti-Semites used in pre-World War II Nazi Germany to attack the Jewish community, you know, that all Muslims want to take over America, they want to impose their culture on us, they want to destroy the indigenous culture, they want even to lust after, you know, women of other cultures. It’s the same argumentation that is used in anti-Semitism that’s used in Islamophobia.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Ibrahim Hooper, a lot of this takes on an aspect of the Crusades again. You often hear John McCain talking about the great threat of Islamofascism that America confronts. And this video, for example, it has almost a crusade, religious crusade, mentality to it.

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Yeah. You end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you project to the rest of the world that somehow you’re in conflict with the faith of Islam, there are going to be those people in the Muslim world who say, well, I’ve got to stand up for Islam and do something. You know, so the whole idea of the conflict of civilizations is self-perpetuating.

And we need to get back to a situation where people talk to each other, they enter into dialogue. Even the King of Saudi Arabia recently held two sessions of interfaith dialogue, and I attended both of them, one in Mecca itself and another in Spain, brought in Christian, Muslim, Jewish leaders, Hindu leaders, Zoroastrian, all these religious leaders, to enter into dialogue to try and decrease this notion of the clash of civilizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Ibrahim Hooper, very quickly, talk about how this film Obsession was distributed to tens of millions of people. I mean, I understand although a few papers refused to put it in its pages, the DVD, about seventy, including the New York Times, distributed it on grounds that rejecting it would violate the sponsors’ right to free speech.

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Well, I have a feeling it was more on the grounds that ad revenues are going down and they need an infusion of cash. But, yeah, it’s a tremendous campaign. It’s unbelievable in its magnitude. We’re talking 28 million households, plus mailings, plus automated phone that are going to people in these swing states, saying, “We just sent you a DVD. Watch it and remember it when you go into the voting booth.” So it’s obvious they were trying to influence the presidential election by sending to only key swing states around the country.

And we still don’t know who’s behind this. The Clarion Fund, that claimed to distribute this, is really just a virtual organization. It appears to be a front for a group based in Israel called Aish HaTorah. They share -— they shared offices, they shared personnel, and they’re refusing to say who is paying for this, that’s got to be a minimum $50 million campaign.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you have filed a complaint with the IRS against the Clarion Fund?

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Yes, we filed an FEC complaint, because we feel it’s inappropriate for them to use their nonprofit status to try and influence a presidential election, and the same with the IRS, that they’re abusing their nonprofit status in undertaking this kind of campaign. We haven’t heard any results, but we’re hopeful.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Macdonald, this new FAIR report that you’ve come out with, who are the smearcasters?

ISABEL MACDONALD: We basically identify the top twelve smearcasters, on the basis of the reach of Islamophobes with a platform in the national media who have done most to contribute to a rising trend in Islamophobia that we’ve seen in recent years.

Now, the reason that we did the study is that what we’ve seen in recent years is quite shocking in this country. Just last year, the National Book Critics awarded for one of the highest literary prizes in this country — nominated for this award an explicitly Islamophobic book: Ruth Bawer’s While Europe Slept. On the New York Times bestseller list, we’ve seen several Islamophobic books in recent years. And now, this DVD Obsession is being distributed by seventeen newspapers, including the New York Times, to 28 million swing state voters. And at the same time, on talk radio, on cable television, all over the internet, we see these vile torrents of Islamophobia.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you quickly give us the names of some of these top twelve?

AMY GOODMAN: We have twenty seconds.

ISABEL MACDONALD: Bill O’Reilly, who has called for the criminal profiling of young Muslims, he says it’s not racial profiling, it’s criminal profiling. Michael Savage, who has called for the killing of 100 million Muslims. Bill O’Reilly, again, who has explained violence in Iraq as a result of the fact that these are Muslims, they are doing what Muslims do — this is the words of Bill O’Reilly — they’re killing each other, and they’re killing Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to link to your website Isabel Macdonald, thank you for joining us; as well, Ibrahim Hooper, thank you for being here, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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