A study on Islamophobia in the US, released by the Washington-based Center for American Progress (CAP) on Friday, highlights how a small group of donors fund misinformation experts who promote Islamophobic sentiments and how their misinformation spreads through the media and grassroots organizers like Eagle Forum.
The research was also reported that these misinformation experts are also manufacturing a smear campaign against the Gülen movement, inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, in the US.
The extensive study, titled "Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America," was conducted through the collaborative efforts of prominent experts like Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matthew Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes and Faiz Shakir.
According to the research, five experts generated the misinformation and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups and the media. Those experts are:
Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy
David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence
Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum
Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America
Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism
The research revealed that these misinformation experts have been very influential on Islamophobia groups in 23 states, exemplified by Brigitte Gabriel's ACT! For America, Pam Geller's Stop Islamization of America, David Horowitz's Freedom Center and existing groups, such as the American Family Association and the Eagle Forum.
According to the report, this small network of people is driving national and global debates that have real consequences on the public dialogue and American Muslims.
The research also shed light on the key foundations that endorse these misinformation experts by channeling $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 to their efforts to spread hate and misinformation.
In the research, these top seven key foundations are listed and ranked according to the amount of founding as follows:
Donors Capital Fund
Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation
Russell Berrie Foundation
Anchorage Charitable Fund and William
The Donors Capital Fund, which is listed at the top in the report, contributed $21,318,600 to groups promoting Islamophobia from 2007 to 2009. The research revealed that this money went to the Middle East Forum, Clarion Fund, Investigative Project on Terrorism and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
One of the significant parts of the research claims that these misinformation experts have served as source for Anders Breivik who shot and killed 77 people in Norway on July 22.
In the research, it was reported that Breivik cited Robert Spencer, one of the anti-Muslim misinformation scholars, and his blog, Jihad Watch, 162 times in his manifesto. Another member of this "network of Islamophobia" in America is David Horowitz and his Freedom Center website. Spencer's frequent collaborator Pamela Geller and her blog, Atlas Shrugs, were also mentioned 12 times by Breivik.
According to former CIA officer and terrorism consultant Marc Sageman as quoted in the report, the writings of these anti-Muslim misinformation experts make up “the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.”
Now, it is important to make a distinction and say that even though some of these misinformation experts are of Jewish decent, like David Yerushalmi for example, not all Jewish organizations are in the same alarmist line.
For example, the Anti-Defamation League reviewed Yerushalmi's activities and concluded that he has a "record of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and black bigotry.
The research also pointed out that The Eagle Forum, which is classified within the Islamophobia network, has targeted the Gülen movement, labeling it as a threat of radical Islam, although it actually devotes itself to education, global peace and mutual understanding efforts.
Noting that the Eagle Forum partners with Brigitte Gabriel's ACT! for America and Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy to push anti-Muslim issues, particularly anti-Shariah hysteria, the study explained: "At its 2011 Eagle Forum conference in St. Louis, Missouri, for example, Gabriel, Gaffney and others in the network revealed a new supposed threat: Muslim Gülen schools, which they claim would educate children through the lens of Islam and teach them to 'hate Americans'."
"Worse, the speakers alleged that President [Barack] Obama's support for charter school reforms was a back-door strategy for using taxpayer money to fund the schools," it added. "Of course, Gülen schools are nothing of the sort. They are the product of moderate Turkish Muslim educators who want 'a blend of religious faith and largely Western curriculum'," the study, nevertheless, maintained.
Now we should also remember a disappointing article appeared in The New York Times on June 7, by Stephanie Saul titled “Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas,” which attempted to defame Harmony Public Schools in Texas.
The research raises the question of whether the article was a part of these misinformation campaigns or not.
As we remember quite well, the article contained an explicitly anti-immigrant bias and suggested that Harmony, one of the most successful charter school programs in the US, is somehow suspect because its founders were Turkish immigrants. Unfortunately, the impressive success story of Harmony students was barely mentioned in the article.
This New York Times article triggered some other biased articles in The Times Picayune of New Orleans, leading the charter of Abramson Charter School to be revoked. The school was run by the Pelican Foundation, which was established in December 2005 and primarily focuses on math, science and technology. Now, they are trying to start a similar smear campaign against Kenilworth Science and Technology School, which also operates under the Pelican Foundation.
Now, I think it is necessary to clarify here that even though these schools are often called Gülen schools, in fact they are quite different. As a reporter, I interviewed some of the founders of these schools and they claim that they have no affiliation with the Gülen movement, which has devoted itself to global peace and education in all over the world. Is it bad to be affiliated with the Gülen Movement? Most definitely not, but even though some of the founders of these schools migrated from Turkey and were inspired by the teachings of Mr. Gülen, they are American citizens and it's their constitutional right to choose to identify themselves however they want.
Mainstream American media, interestingly, remains silent about CAP's research.
* Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative reporter based in New York and holds an MA in media studies.