Who is financing Islamophobia in the United States?

SHAFAQNA – While Islamophobia has undeniably been on the rise, and that Muslims’ many efforts to reach out to their respective communities in the hope to promote feelings of solidarity and demonstrate that Islam does stand for peace and tolerance, experts have argued that money could be the root cause of anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States – in another words Islamophobia would have become somewhat of a media industry, a machine powered by millionaires to serve certain purposes.

Earlier in February, Suzanne Barakat, the sister of one of the Chapel Hill shooting victims, told CNN in an interview that the film American Sniper had helped to not only “dehumanise Muslims” but also created an atmosphere that is akin to an “open season” on Muslim Americans.

Barakat said it was this climate of anti-Muslim bigotry that led to her brother’s barbaric execution at the hands of avowed anti-theist Craig Stephen Hicks.

Is Barakat’s claim of an “open season” on Muslim Americans based in reflexive grief or are her words a sombre narrative of what is really happening in America today?

Sadly, we need only examine violence and intimidation carried out against Muslims in the past week alone to establish a rising trend in anti-Muslim bigotry. On Friday, an arsonist destroyed an Islamic centre in Houston, Texas. An actual fireman posted on Facebook, “Let it burn…block the fire hydrant.” On Tuesday, police arrested a man for making a “bomb threat” at a Muslim centre in Austin, Texas. And a Hindu temple in Bothell, Washington, was mistakenly targeted with anti-Muslim graffiti. All these events in a single week – most of which were largely unreported by the mainstream media.

This week’s attacks against Muslim Americans have not been confined to graffiti, arson, vandalism and threats. On Monday, a 39-year-old male suspect was arrested for the stabbing of two victims at a bus stop in Southfield, Michigan. The suspect asked whether the two victims were Muslim before stabbing one five times in the face, neck and back; and the other in the hand.

The past week is emblematic of the broader trend of escalating anti-Muslim violence. Consider that before 9/11, there were only 40 to 50 anti-Muslim hate crimes per year. In the year 2001, there were nearly 500 hate crimes against Muslims, and since then there has been anywhere from 100 to 150 anti-Muslim hate crimes per year.

Saladin Ahmed, an Arab-American science fiction writer, summed up the current plight of Muslims in America today when he tweeted, “It’s some fucked up shit when you realise you’re feeling thankful for ‘not looking Arab’ and not having an accent.”

The release of American Sniper has led to an increase in incidences of violence and intimidation carried out against Muslim Americans, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). “A majority of the violent threats we have seen over the past few days are result of how Arabs and Muslims are depicted in American Sniper,” said the ADC in a statement. “We have collected hundreds of violent messages targeting Arab and Muslim Americans from movie-goers.”

If an overtly racist and demeaning film has played a part in the escalation of Muslim harassment in America, it’s only a bit part. The lead actor is a little more conniving and sinister. The lead actor is not only flushed with cash, but is also executing a coordinated and sustained propaganda campaign to dehumanise Muslim Americans as part of a broader strategy to support pro-Zionist goals.

Since 2001, a group of shadowy groups and individuals have spent millions to disseminate misinformation about Muslims into the mainstream media, body politic and public consciousness. The objective? Provide political cover for both the US’s war on terror, and Israel’s war on Palestinians.

Yasmine Taeb, co-author of the new report, Fear, Inc. 2.0: The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America, said in a recent interview that “since 2001, there has been over $57 million that’s been contributed to this fear-mongering, anti-Muslim, anti-Islam organisations by eight very wealthy donors.”

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, 37 US-based anti-Islam groups enjoyed a combined revenue of $119 million in the years 2008 to 2011. One of CAIR’s findings is that these groups are “often tightly linked” and that “key players in the network benefited from large salaries as they encouraged the American public to fear Islam.”

These well-funded and well-organised groups push erroneous and spiteful narratives.

So who are these groups and individuals pushing evidently obvious misinformation and gross generalisations for the purpose of manufacturing a climate of fear, suspicion and anger toward American Muslims?

US neo-conservative activists David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes established Campus Watch in 2002, which identified and monitored university professors who openly supported rights for Palestinians and encouraged students to protest against Israel’s oppressive policy towards its Arab citizens, and those in the West Bank and Gaza. One year later, Horowitz founded DiscoverTheNetworks.org, which identified and assailed groups and individuals “accused of enabling Islamism and undermining American values.” And in 2007, Horowitz organised Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.

NYU adjunct professor Arun Kundnani notes that by 2008, “a group of well-funded Islamophobic activists had coalesced. Pamela Geller’s blog Atlas Shrugs (named after Ayn Rand’s novel) had come to prominence with the Khalil Gibran International Academy campaign. She worked closely with Robert Spencer, whose Jihad Watch site was run as a subsidiary of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.” Kundnani also notes that the Los Angeles-based millionaire couple Aubrey and Joyce Chernick used their foundation to fund Robert Spencer with “close to a million dollars between 2004 and 2009.”

It was during this period that ACT! For America was formed. Started by Bridgette Gabriel in 2007, this Islamophobic citizen action network had established more than 570 chapters and 170,000 members before the end of its second year.

It’s this network of anti-Muslim organisations and individuals that drives not only media distractions, such as the hysteria over the “proposed” mosque at Ground Zero, but has also largely driven the narrative of conservative media, the religious right, New Atheism, and nearly the entire Republican Party. “In America today, the level of public anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly high. Politicians and pundits, usually on the right, say things about Muslims that they would be immediately fired for saying about Christians or Jews,” writes Peter Beinhart.

During the 2012 GOP presidential campaign, Herman Cain declared: “There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.” Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich thundered, “I believe Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” While Peter King (R-NY), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, claimed: “There is an infiltration of the Sharia practise into all of our operating systems in our country, as well as across Western civilisation.”

There is no evidence anywhere from anyone to support the notion that Muslim Americans desire to implement Sharia law in America. In fact, a 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that perhaps as many as 80 percent of Muslims living in America do not attend mosques and have a secular outlook.

So where are these conservative politicians and the right-wing media getting their Sharia law talking points from?

Fear and suspicion is the root cause of violence carried out against Muslim Americans. In a 2011 poll, 6 percent of Muslims said they had been victims of a hate crime. Louise Cainkar, author of The Impact of the September 11 attacks on Arab and Muslim Communities in the United States, cites a study in which all those interviewed, college-educated Muslim American women in Chicago, had been “the victims of physical or verbal abuse, or knew someone close to them who had been”.

If discrimination at the hands of an ever fearful and hateful general population isn’t enough, Muslim Americans are also faced with the fear of reporting the crime carried out against them. Not only do Muslims believe the authorities won’t help, but Muslims are acutely aware that they’re the targets of deportation, surveillance and harassment by law enforcement. “That excessive scrutiny has eroded the trust necessary for victims to report hate crimes,” writes Farhana Khera.

what are we going to do about it?

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