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“Fear, Inc.” Exposes the So-Called Experts and Donors Behind Islamophobia in the United States

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A new report by the Center for American Progress called “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” shows how a small group of self-proclaimed experts backed by a host of donors are spreading fear and hostility toward Muslims in the United States. According to the report, these so-called experts peddle Islamophobia in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs and carefully crafted anti-Islam talking points. It also notes that right-wing Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik repeatedly cited these “experts” in his so-called “Manifesto.” Among those the report highlights is Robert Spencer, author of a blog called “Jihad Watch” and leader of the group Stop Islamization of America, which coined the term “victory mosque at Ground Zero” to refer to a local effort to build a moderate Islamic center in New York City, turning it into an international spectacle. We speak with one of the report’s authors, Faiz Shakir, vice president of the Center for American Progress and editor-in-chief of “[Spencer] wants basically a society in which we are concerned about the presence of all Muslims in America,” says Shakir. “This is the running theme of all the Islamophobia network.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a report by the Center for American Progress called “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” According to the report, a small group of self-proclaimed experts backed by a host of foundations and donors are spreading fear, hatred and hostility toward Islam and Muslims in America. These so-called experts peddle Islamophobia in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs and carefully crafted anti-Islam talking points, the report says.

It names five key players in what it calls the Islamophobia network: Frank Gaffney with the Center for Security Policy, David Yerushalmi with the Society of Americans for National Existence, Daniel Pipes with the Middle East Forum, Robert Spencer, and Steve Emerson with the Investigative Project on Terrorism. It notes that right-wing Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik repeatedly cited these U.S. purveyors of Islamophobia in his so-called “Manifesto.” The report quotes former CIA officer and terrorism consultant Marc Sageman saying, quote, just as religious extremism “is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged,” the writings of these anti-Muslim misinformation experts are “the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”

Well, last week on the Fox Business show Follow the Money, Steve Emerson responded to the report and his alleged role in the Islamphobia network.

STEVEN EMERSON: I sort of feel somewhat complimented, because they’re attributing to me and four other people the ability to control the minds of 300 million Americans for 15 years. Look, the reality is, and bottom line is, the cause of any suspicion toward Muslims is because 65 to 70 percent of all international terrorist attacks are carried out by radical Muslims. So there’s a fear based on that.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Steve Emerson.

For more on the report, “Fear, Inc.,” we’re joined by one of its authors, Faiz Shakir. He joins us from Washington, D.C. He’s vice president of the Center for American Progress, serves as editor-in-chief of

Faiz Shakir, welcome to Democracy Now! Respond to what Steven Emerson says, and lay out your report, what you have found.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me.

I think what we found in this report is that there are five individuals—you mentioned them—who comprise the intellectual nervous center of Islamophobia. For decades, they have been putting out reports and propaganda pieces to try to convince Americans that Muslims are a presence here in this country. So, for instance, Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy has produced a report saying there’s a creeping sharia threat, and mosques are being radicalized to produce terrorism. These are kinds of factual reports that come out of the Center for Security Policy that make them sound very official-sounding, but in fact are just basically propaganda pieces.

And what we try to document in our report is that there are seven foundations who have been giving over $43 million to these core individuals to produce this information. And what we’re trying to do is let these foundations, let these funders know that their money is going towards hate propaganda, and ask them to come out clean. Do they support this hate propaganda, or do they not?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about these foundations, Faiz. Why don’t you lay them out?

FAIZ SHAKIR: Sure. So, some of them are leading conservative organizations, like the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation. He’s been around for a while. He’s donated to a whole bunch of conservative causes, including an involvement in the Heritage Foundation, the leading conservative think tank. Richard Mellon Scaife was of course famous in the late '90s for leading the effort to try to impeach Bill Clinton. He's giving money to Frank Gaffney’s organization and a host of other individuals that we mention in the report, as well as the Bradley Foundation, another leading conservative foundation that gives money to a whole bunch of free market types of organizations. And it really looked odd to us that they were also engaged in Muslim bashing.

And so, that’s one of the things that was interesting to us, is that some of these organizations you wouldn’t expect would have a role in this kind of activity, and yet they’ve been doing it for decades. And I think it’s possible that there’s one of two scenarios here. One is that these funders know exactly what they’re funding, probably didn’t want their names out there, but they’re pretty happy with what their money is going towards. Or the second possibility is that they didn’t know what their money was going towards; they didn’t realize that some of these grantees were taking the money and turning it around to produce a hate campaign against Muslims in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Faiz Shakir, I wanted to go to a comment of Robert Spencer of “Jihad Watch.” This is a clip of Spencer on Fox News.

ROBERT SPENCER: This is the great, politically correct falsehood that is taught everywhere, that Islam is a religion of peace that’s been hijacked. Islam is actually unique among the religions of the world in having a developed doctrine, theology and legal system that mandates warfare against unbelievers.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Faiz, about Robert Spencer, who he is, where he gets his funding? Why does he appear so often on Fox News?

FAIZ SHAKIR: Yeah, Robert Spencer is an author of the blog “Jihad Watch.” “Jihad Watch” is sponsored by David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, so that’s part of the kind of network of Islamophobia. They produce information all day long, just putting out ridiculous quotes like the one that you just heard. Robert Spencer is also co-leader of a group called Stop Islamization of America. He co-leads that with Pamela Geller, another prominent right-wing blogger who spews this kind of venom. And together, Geller and Spencer were really responsible for inflaming the Park51 controversy, the quote-unquote “Ground Zero mosque.” It was Geller and Spencer who really coined the term “victory mosque at Ground Zero” and turned it from a local effort to try to build a moderate Islam in New York City and turn it into kind of a national spectacle, international spectacle, that was totally misconstrued and propounded all these baseless theories about what Muslims were attempting to do there. And so, Robert Spencer has been one of the leading purveyors. And what he attempts to do frequently is use very hot rhetoric, over-the-top rhetoric, to try to scare people about Muslims.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Spencer wrote a response to your report, “Fear, Inc.,” called “The Islamic Supremacist Propaganda Machine Cranks Out Another 'Islamophobia' [Report].” He says, quote, “Without offering any substantive refutation, 'Fear, Inc.' dismisses as 'inaccurate and perverse' my statement that Islam is 'the only religion in the world that has a developed doctrine, theology and legal system that mandates violence against unbelievers and mandates that Muslims must wage war in order to establish the hegemony of the Islamic social order all over the world.' What is 'inaccurate and perverse' is the report’s denial of this, since it is a matter of objective verification that all the mainstream Islamic sects and schools of Islamic jurisprudence do indeed teach that the Islamic umma must wage war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law.” He goes on to say, “The report does not and cannot produce any evidence that Islam does not contain sects and schools that teach this.” Those the words of Robert Spencer responding to your report, Faiz Shakir, called “Fear, Inc.”

FAIZ SHAKIR: Well, I would say a couple things. First of all, the report is very clear on what it is trying to do, which is to just document how the Islamophobia network produces information, disseminates it, and is basically held up by the media and a whole host of other factors. And so, what we’re trying to do is show the trail of how that information gets out, not necessarily rebut every single charge, but to show what these people are.

Secondly, the report does note that there is terrorism that is conducted, violent extremism conducted in the name of Islam by many Muslims. And that, of course, is something that the vast majority of Muslims themselves disagree with and are often our best tools in fighting terrorism—the Muslim community—and turning out informants within the community and suspects within the community. It’s been fairly successful, and there’s no concern that there is some complicity within the Muslim community towards this violent act of terrorism.

I think what Robert Spencer tries to do is suggest that the rational fear that you can have about a potential act of terror being committed in the name of Islam is actually something that gets blown out into an irrational fear. And he wants basically a society in which we are concerned about the presence of all Muslims in America. And this is the running theme of all the Islamophobia network. David Yerushalmi is one of the key lawyers of this group, and he has authored legislation that says, previously, that it would be 20—you would have 20 years in prison if you were found to be practicing sharia. That is criminalizing the practice of being Muslim in America. That’s basically the running thread of the Robert Spencers, the David Yerushalmis, is that they really just want to paint with a broad brush all Muslims and suggest that they are all a threat.

AMY GOODMAN: Police and experts point to the internet’s role in spreading the racist material that shaped Norwegian accused mass murderer Anders Breivik’s extreme views. However, they also highlight the difficulty in policing dynamic online forums without undermining civil liberties. J. Peter Burgess of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo said back in July, “We need to shift gear in our way of understanding right-wing extremism.” Let’s go to that clip.

J. PETER BURGESS: We seem to have a new generation. The first generation, associated with neo-Nazism and the Second World War, had methods that were—which were associated with public demonstrations; simple, low-level kinds of violence; obviously associated with neo-Nazism and other historical events—very public, very explicit, and very much national, nationalistic. Whereas here, we have a whole 'nother kind of setup and logic, where it's networked very much through the internet, of course, and not only chat rooms, but the other resources that are available on the internet. It’s international, and it’s in hiding. And the methods are far, far stronger, far more radical. And the goals are quite different. Here was—this was going to be a European revolution, according to the manifesto you mentioned. And so, quite a bit, we need to shift gears in our way of understanding this kind of right-wing extremism, and be careful that we look at it in detail.

AMY GOODMAN: That was J. Peter Burgess of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Breivik cited Spencer quite a bit. Faiz Shakir, how do you deal with the line between free speech and hate speech?

FAIZ SHAKIR: Well, words have consequences. I think it was President Clinton who said that we should be mindful of our words because they fall on the serious and delirious alike. And that is, when you say something crazy, most serious-minded individuals will recognize it for being a little absurd and probably not something that needs to be acted upon, but if you’re delirious, you may take what Robert Spencer suggests and say that, “Oh, if Islam is a theological war doctrine against me, then I better take up arms and go fight them.” And that’s what we’re trying to highlight, is that there is a lot of irresponsible rhetoric coming from conservatives like Robert Spencer.

And in the case of Anders Breivik, he, of course, is solely responsible for the terrorism that he committed. But what we did learn is that he was influenced and motivated by the writings of the Islamophobia network. And we have a responsibility to be more cautious in how we describe these threats. Some, I think—as I was trying to suggest earlier, there is a rational threat, trying to identify the very small number of people who would be willing to commit terrorism in the act—in the name of Islam, versus the irrational threat, the people like Glenn Beck, who say, “Well, 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population must be terrorist.” Ten percent would be hundreds of millions of people. And that’s the kind of irresponsible rhetoric we need to tamp down on, because it can fall on the serious and delirious alike, and somebody may try to use that kind of language to commit ridiculous and terrorist and violent acts.

AMY GOODMAN: Faiz Shakir, I want to thank you very much for being with us, author of the report “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” Faiz Shakir is with and the Center for American Progress. He is vice president there. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, one of the first casualties of the attacks on 9/11, almost 10 years ago, was honored this weekend: Father Mychal Judge. We’ll learn about his life. Stay with us.

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