Imagine stepping out of your house of worship and seeing a group of screaming, belligerent hecklers ripping apart your holy book – spitting on and stomping on the pages. Imagine being shouted down, and told your faith is a lie by a group of people flashing gaudy, hate-filled signs and matching tee-shirts. This has become the reality for worshippers at the Islamic Community Center of Tempe.
This past Friday, a group of hate protesters gathered outside the largest mosque in the Phoenix area, the unhinged “Brother Dean” Saxton – an infamous student-preacher from the University of Arizona. He has received the most attention for declaring “You Deserve Rape” to female students that he deems inappropriately dressed – as he preaches in open air-spaces.
Over the past few years, Brother Dean has become so infamous at U of A – there is an actual petition to have him expelled from the school, due to his menacing style of evangelism. Vice also did a documentary about him – which gives some insight that this individual is not playing with a full deck.
Saxton has taken his roadshow from U of A and is now frequenting the Arizona State University campus – shouting down female students, Muslims, Catholics, and essentially anyone that falls outside his narrow definition of what a believer is. Since the Tempe mosque falls directly on the ASU campus, it has now become a target for those aiming to vilify Islam.
Over the past few years – a group of evangelical Christians strategically places a team outside each entrance and exit of the mosque – mindful to occupy the first bit of public space outside the Islamic center’s property. These individuals attempt to engage congregants in a theological discussion, passing propaganda pamphlets aimed at converting them away from Islam to Christianity. Needless to say, these evangelists have become a nuisance to deal with for Tempe mosque-goers on a week to week basis. For people like me, who attend the mosque on a weekly basis – It has become part of my calculus of where I go for Friday prayers, in considering if I will have to deal with these individuals.
But then, Brother Dean and crew started showing up. And however sad it may be – those who attend the mosque would much rather deal with the relatively calm folks blocking the entrances, than the vile, unabashed hate offered up by these street-preachers.
The hate group proceeded to desecrate Islam’s holy book, spitting on and stomping on pages – even throwing them down a nearby gutter. Children were also present at the mosque during this time, however this was of no consequence to the demonstrators.
Don’t believe me? Check out the video worshippers at the mosque captured during the latest demonstration:
So Who Are These Guys?
After watching the Vice documentary, you can clearly tell that “Brother Dean” doesn’t possess the wherewithal to mastermind a protest of this nature – with professionally produced signage and cameraman in tow. After doing a little bit digging, it appears that the most notable of the hate-preachers is this guy – Ruben Israel. (Yes – he has a documentary about him.)
Apparently, this community of preachers travels the country and seeking out large gatherings of people to shout down and demonstrate in front of. This would explain why this same group initially showed up outside the Tempe mosque during the week of the Super Bowl, which took place in the Phoenix metro area. Their usual method of operation includes standing outside convention centers, university common areas and sidewalks – shouting down anyone and everyone who they deem as “sinful.” Even though the content is highly offensive and aimed at fostering a reaction from passersby – this genre is usually taken with a grain of salt. Showing up outside a house of worship, however is a different story altogether.
Why This Matters:
It is undeniable that we are witnessing unprecedented levels of anti-Islam sentiment in the U.S. – and beyond. I wrote earlier about a wave of anti-Muslim incidents that took place, in the wake of the tragic Chapel Hill shooting. On an almost weekly, if not daily basis – we are hearing of stories of Islamophobic attacks against mosques and even Hindu or Sikh institutions that are perceived as being “Islamic.”
In the last few days alone, we have seen mosque attacks in places such as Edmond, Oklahoma, Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Kansas City. Not to mention recent incidents, such as pigs heads targeting a mosque in England and an Islamophobic attack against a Sikh Gurdwara in Scotland. The upswing in violence against individuals and institutions is a direct correlation between the amount of hateful rhetoric that is pulsing in a given society.
Intersection of Gun Culture and Islamophobia:
A second video (possibly from earlier in the protest) was captured by the congregation members as well:
In this video, you see two of the protestors make their way onto the mosque property, briefly exchanging with members of the mosque. “You’re trying to abolish The Constitution. And implement your sharia law.” Claims the heavily bearded individual seen here:
After doing some research, his Facebook profile was located – with some disturbing results.
It is also unclear on whether or not Steven or any of the other street-preachers were carrying weapons outside the Tempe mosque. He does appear to be wearing some sort of pouch on the right side of the belt, which could plausibly house a weapon – and this wouldn’t be the first time weapons were brandished at an anti-Islam protest.
While we’re mentioning the Garland protest, look who else showed up there. Israel and his crew also showed up at Dearborn’s Arab-American Festival, a few years back – with a pig’s head on a pole. Clearly, as you can see – these guys are the carnies of the Islamophobia world. It wouldn’t be surprising if the likes of Pam Geller (who was the headliner at the Garland protest) and others within the Islamophobia Industry are compensating groups like these to show up and stir up hateful rhetoric during these fringe events.
It is hard to ignore the growing correlation between the anti-Islam movement and the pervasive gun-culture here in the U.S. Don’t believe me? The NRA just held a session claiming that ISIS has seized control of U.S cities at their convention last week. During a visit to Arizona a few months back – Pamela Geller mentioned in a blog post for attendees to bring weapons in case any protesters showed up to the venue – as this is an open-carry state.
These activists are using the exercise of the 2nd Amendment as a shield for their hateful display – but there is a flip side to all of this. We only have to look at the case of Chapel Hill shooter, Craig Hicks – who did not necessarily share the same right-wing viewpoints as the protestors, at first glance. He was however, very much immersed in the world of guns – as evidenced by his frequent social media postings and from the cache seized from his home. He also held anti-Islam views, which may have very well contributed to the eventual triple murder he committed.
From amongst the crowds at these protests, the social media pages that glorify the actions of these haters – all it takes is one unhinged individual to decide to “take matters into their own hands.” The constant inundation of anti-Islam rhetoric that seeps through media outlets, such as Fox News has proven to negatively shape the perception of Islam and Muslims to its viewers. A case-study in this effect would be Randolph Linn – who attempted to torch a mosque in Ohio. After he was arrested, he claimed that all he knew of Islam – was through watching Fox News. If the overlap between gun-culture and Islamophobia continue to persist – it is inevitable that more crimes like Chapel Hill may take place.
Bracing For More Protests
Tempe Mosque-goers are now bracing for the next round of protests that will show up outside the mosque. This combination of fear and frustration is understandably making the congregation uneasy, at a place where they are supposed to feel most at home. With very little assurance of help from local police – it looks as though there is a very poor understanding by law enforcement as to the pervasive nature of Islamophobia in modern society. There has been a massive outpouring of support from the interfaith community in the Phoenix area – which is a step in the right direction. Local Muslims hope that this will usher in a meaningful dialogue of just how deeply the phenomenon of Islamophobia impacts our community, and how we can overcome the hate.
In 2012, the American Muslim community experienced one of the biggest upticks of violence and harassment that the community has ever seen. Eleven years removed from 9/11, there was a seemingly unexplainable rash of attacks against mosques, including arson, vandalism and even shots being fired at different Islamic centers throughout the U.S. Much of this upswing in activity can be attributed to a continued flow of money and rhetoric into what’s termed “The Islamophobia Industry” – as outlined in Center For American Progress’ Fear, Inc., as well as CAIR’s 2013 report: Legislating Fear.
Fast forward to February 2015. The news of a horrific execution-style murder of three young students in Chapel Hill, NC hit the Muslim community like a punch in the chest. The deaths of dental-student Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha saw three bright lights from our community have their lives cut short, in a crime that seemingly had a bias component to it. This came on the heals of the equally horrific murder of Mustafa Mattan, a well-respected Muslim community member who was shot dead while answering his door in Fort McMurray, Canada. But while the community grieved over these losses, an unprecedented string of hate crimes has swarmed not only Muslims, but other minorities who suffer from the epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment. Here is a listing of confirmed anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place in recent days:
Dearborn, MI: February 12th – Muslim family attacked at Kroger
With anti-Muslim sentiment rising in the aftermath of recent ISIS attacks, an Arab-American family was assaulted while shopping at a local Kroger.
Houston, TX: February 13th – Arson at the Quba Islamic Institute
Early on February 13th, one of the buildings of this Islamic center burst into flames, completely destroying the structure.
El Paso, TX: February 13th – Multiple Muslim families targeted with slashed tires
Multiple families have the tires slashed on their vehicles, and now fear for their own safety. Watch Here:
Warwick, RI: February 14th – Vandalism at Islamic School of Rhode Island
Red spray-painted hate messages were tagged throughout the exterior of the school. References included “pigs,” derogatory references to Islam as well as Nazi imagery.
Bothell, WA: February 16th – Vandalism at Hindu Temple and Anti-Muslim Graffiti at school.
A local Hindu temple was vandalized with red-spray painted swastikas, and the words “Go Home” – as well as a nearby school vandalized with “Muslims Go Home” on the building.
Columbus, OH: February 17th – Threats of violence at multiple mosques
Multiple mosques in Ohio have reported receiving threatening phone calls from the same individual, putting these communities on edge. Warning: Graphic Language
Revere, MA: February 17th – Multiple threats of violence against Muslims posted throughout town
Disturbing notes threatening to kill Muslims “within 72 hours” were found throughout Revere.
Clearly, the amount of anti-Muslim activity throughout the U.S. has spiked significantly in the past week. Sadly, there are even more reports of incidents such as these that are emerging nationwide.
Here are some of the takeaways from these recent events:
Everything is BIGGER in Texas, even the hate: Much of the anti-Muslim activity taking place recently has come from Texas – a state with one of the largest Muslim populations in America. Last month, a Muslim event in Garland, TX was surrounded with swarms of anti-Muslim protestors – some of them carrying weapons. Protest signs decrying “Sharia Law” and mocking tenets of Islam were widespread throughout the event.
A few weeks later, the hate-fest replicated itself outside a scheduled Muslim Day at the State Capitol in Austin. The event garnered attention after a state legislator, Molly White posted on her Facebook page that Muslim constituents should be required to take a “loyalty oath.” Protestors flooded the Capitol, shouting hateful slogans, even interrupting the event by grabbing the microphone from scheduled speakers.
Texas has been an epicenter for Islamophobia since 9/11, however there has been a significant upswing in demonstrations and anti-Muslim incidents more recently. This upswing in hateful rhetoric has clearly contributed to the hate crimes of the past week.
Can we call it a hate crime?
The media reaction in the aftermath of the Chapel Hill shooting has been very telling in terms of how crimes against Muslims, and crimes that are not committed by Muslims are perceived.
Within hours of the killings, details began emerging as to who exactly the shooter was, and what type of worldview he held. Based on his social media activities and consumer habits – it became clear that Craig Hicks was fixated on guns and gun-culture. He also turned out to hold militant new-atheist beliefs, and viewed all religions with distaste.
If we were to analyze a similar shooting where the perpetrator espoused an iota of Muslim identity on social media – the media narrative would somehow frame this as “terror.” In Craig Hicks’ case, however – the narrative took a different turn: Parking.
Never mind the implausibility of a parking issue resulting in the execution-style murder of an entire family – how is it possible to ignore the anti-Muslim sentiment that was pervading society at the moment of the killings? Many are attempting to paint Hicks as a person with contempt for ALL faiths – and he apparently even “defended the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in a 2012 social media posting.” Defending a religious liberty issue in 2012 does not preclude an individual from committing a crime based on hate in 2015.
Examine the case of Michael Enright, who traveled to Afghanistan to document the war – even smiling and posing with locals in photographs. He eventually returned to New York City, and slashed a cabbie’s throat after asking if the driver was Muslim.
Even though Hicks will spend the rest of his life behind bars, it is vital that law-enforcement investigate thoroughly as to whether bias contributed to this crime. This will provide much needed closure and justice to the families of the victims – who are certain that his was no mere “parking issue.”
The mosque fire outside Houston has received similar treatment from many media outlets. It became clear, the day of the crime that this was an arson – as fire officials found accelerant at the scene.
Now, let’s pause here and look at the context of what was going on leading up to this fire. In Texas, the aforementioned hate-rallies in addition to the unchecked hateful rhetoric spewed by elected officials. Combine that the spike in hate-crimes nationwide, in addition to wall-to-wall coverage of ISIS being conflated with Islam.
As the mosque’s building lay in ruins, the narrative begins to emerge that the suspect Darryl Ferguson was “just trying to stay warm.” Right-wing media outlets took this narrative, and ran with it:
As the investigation continues to unfold, we are now finding out that Ferguson harbored anti-Muslim views to a convenience store clerk. Although “parking disputes” and the need for warmth seem to be plausible for mainstream media outlets, it is clear that the coming days will reveal more as to the true nature of these crimes.
The past week has shown a sharp increase in Islamophobia – which has put many communities on edge. As we have seen, this trend affects not only Muslims, but those perceived to be Muslims- such as Sikhs, Hindus, Arab Christians, and individuals from African origin. Rather than helping squash this rhetoric, many elected officials and media outlets are using Islamophobia as a tool – which in turn is resulting in weeks like these. It is hopeful that institutions from the Muslim community take note, and ensure that extra safety precautions are taken – along with constant awareness of surroundings. Our community can’t afford any more “parking disputes.”
Let’s be real here – this is the 79,000th article you’ve read in the last 2 days regarding the Annual White House Iftar. You already know that there are 2 camps:
1) The ones who say “Attend.”
2) The ones who say “Don’t attend.”
Needless to say, this debate is indeed polarizing and has led to some unfair labeling on both sides of the conversation. Even though in some cases the debate has gotten heated, it is absolutely necessary and a sign of our growth as a community to have such a conversation – as it has long-reaching implications as to how we view engagement, justice and gaining access moving forward.
Before proceeding, let this be said – This discussion shouldn’t be used to diminish the work of those who have attended in the past, are attending (but shouldn’t) today, and will attend in the future. I have friends, peers, and individuals whose work I admire among this group. This group includes some of the best, brightest and well-known activists from the Muslim community – which is EXACTLY why sitting out the iftar has the potential to make a large impact. The fact that this is even being discussed is making headlines in major news outlets.
So the question is why – why is there such a heated debate around attendance at the White House iftar this year? This event has been going on for over a decade now – and the level of pushback given now has reached a crescendo. My personal feelings have evolved on this issue as well – as I’m sure is the case with many who have taken part in this discussion.
If we go back throughout the history of this event, one could definitely justify attending the event as a representative of a growing, yet misunderstood minority in this country. Even during the Bush years, we lived in a time where transparency and access to information was not readily available. Muslim organizations and leaders were in the early stages of forming their identity in a post 9/11 reality. As it became clear of the civil liberties abuses and faulty wars that took place under the Bush administration – many in the community distanced themselves and waited for a new hope. And change.
It was definitely understandable for those who attended during the early Obama years. He, after all was going to correct the sins of the past. He was going to channel his Constitutional Law background into restoring civil liberties. He was going to prosecute those who lied to get us into war, and have a more balanced viewpoint on the Palestine/Israel conflict. Wait, that never happened.
Let’s forget about the past – “We’re not looking backward” – as Obama famously said. Let’s just look at what’s taken place under his watch. Rather than rectifying the egregious violations of the past – they have expanded greatly. Let’s just take a look at a few of these issues:
*The open and defiant use of extrajudicial killing – against American citizens, such as Abdur Rahman al Awlaki, who was a non-combattant.
*The expansion in the usage of drones – which has resulted in hundreds of innocent civilians being killed across the world. The majority of those killed in these “signature strikes” are civilians, and the list of countries in which these strikes are taking place is rapidly expanding throughout the Middle East/North Africa.
*GITMO – Yes, it’s existence pre-dates Obama – yet he was the one who vowed to close it as a Congressman, as a Presidential candidate, as a newly inaugurated President, as a re-elected President – yet it still remains open. Now, more of his presidency remains in the rear-view mirror than in front of him – yet this remains a broken promise. Our system of justice has denied these detainees the right to a trial – and today they continue to sit in a judicial “no man’s land.”
*The ongoing abuses of rights that have been sanctioned by the administration are countless. Here’s an example from the last 24 hours where a Yemeni journalist exposed a U.S. strike that killed 3 dozen women and children was beaten and jailed while the administration nodded in acceptance. The journalist was just released from this unjust imprisonment – leaving Obama “concerned and disappointed.”
This list barely scratches the surface of the ongoing issues to which the administration has not been held accountable. It can be argued that between last Ramadan and this Ramadan, the most light has been shed on these abuses than any year before (at least under Obama.) Now that this information has become public knowledge – do we still show up, smile for photo-ops, have our meals then go home?
The fallacy of “engagement”
Many in the pro-iftar crowd are labeling the critics as “anti-engagement.” Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the visible anti-iftar critics I have heard thus far (in addition to many iftar-attendees) are highly engaged with elected officials on a local, state and national level – mobilizing not only their organizations – but entire communities to engage on the issues. This includes bringing hundreds of participants to state capitols, face-to-face meetings with legislators, mayors and governors.
At this point however, it is questionable if attendance the White House iftar constitutes engagement. Events like these do not provide a platform for critiquing nor bringing into question the abuses by the administration. Looking at the responses from many attendees – it also appears to make one more prone to jump to the defense of the administration. Sadly, the likelihood of fostering critique greatly reduces when access is greatly increased.
Sound Advice From Dr. West
One of the week’s most inspiring moments came in the form of Dr. Cornel West’s interview on “Democracy Now.” There were many quotable moments from the interview such as “Obama is a global George Zimmerman.” What I found to be the most interesting however – was when Dr. West turned the discussion to the topic of Martin Luther King, Jr.
As those who are in the pursuit of justice – we tell ourselves that we follow the example of MLK, Malcolm X, and Gandhi. Our Facebook/Twitter avatars change with each passing MLK Day or Malcolm X birthday – which is supposed to signify our modern-day solidarity with their pursuit for equality and justice. We tweet out inspirational quotes from them – with the hope to connect our struggle to their struggle. But we must ask the question: Are we doing justice to the true legacy of these civil rights leaders? Or is this being done in the image of a more “warm and fuzzy,” diluted legacy?
As Dr. West noted: “I would say we must never tame Martin Luther King Jr. or Fannie Lou Hamer or Ella Baker or Stokely Carmichael. They were unbossed. They were unbought.”
West and Amy Goodman also discussed the 50th Anniversary gathering of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “Brother Martin would not be invited to the very march in his name, because he would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality… Do you think anyone at that march will talk about drones and the drone president?”
The real legacy of Dr. King and the rest – was the willingness to stand up and speak the truth, even when the truth was controversial. This controversy made him a target by those who were in power – J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO, and other factions within his own government.
Every day, we become more and more privy to the information regarding how the administration is abusing their power. We are privileged to live in such times where we have the ability to take a stand based on ethics and principle. As many have said before me, the Muslim community stands on the forefront of standing up for civil rights and justice. With this responsibility in mind, it is hard to imagine attending such an event – and thereby giving sanction to the status quo.
It’s getting late though – the iftar is now just a few hours away. To those who are scheduled to attend – this represents some food for thought. Sitting this one out will send a real message to those in power that our community is “unbossed and unbought.”
Terrorism radiation plot uncovered in Albany, NY: http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Terrorism-radiation-plot-uncovered-in-Albany-4609567.php
New York man arrested after 40 pipe bombs uncovered in his apartment: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2341992/Joseph-Martino-arrested-making-home-explosives-materials-pipe-bomb-exploded-oven.html
Los Angeles man arrested with 18 pipe bombs: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/16/local/la-me-ln-pipe-bombs-lapd-20130516
Oregon teen arrested for Columbine-style school bomb plot: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57586516-504083/grant-acord-oregon-teen-accused-of-plotting-high-school-bomb-attack-has-bail-set-at-$2-million/
Arizona high-school student arrested after cleaning lady finds his IED: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/09/joshua-prater-ied_n_3245735.html
*This guest column is an exclusive first-hand account by one of the Muslim attendees/organizers of the “Public Discourse in a Diverse Society” forum, that was disrupted by anti-Islam hate groups in Manchester, TN. Although this incident was widely reported on in various media, many outlets left out the depth of hate that was on display Tuesday evening.
Hate Comes to Manchester, Tennessee
by Drost Kokoye
In recent years, there has been an alarming surge in anti-Islam hate group activity in Tennessee, especially in areas such as Rutherford and Coffee Counties. This virulent hate was fully on display Tuesday night at the “Public Discourse in a Diverse Society” forum in Manchester.
Since 2010, our community has seen a concerted effort being made to demonize the religion of Islam and its adherents, with hate groups from all over the nation using our state as a staging ground for spewing negative propaganda. This includes the effort to block the construction of the Murfreesboro Mosque, to the faux-outrage created when an elected official mistook a mop-sink in the state legislature for a “Muslim foot-bath.” Legislators who have fallen under the influence of these groups introduced an “anti-Sharia bill,” which would have made the practice of Islam punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, we have seen a normalization of increasingly violent rhetoric – such as a Facebook posting by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West, depicting a gun being pointed at Muslims.
Commissioner West’s posting “How to Wink at a Muslim” garnered national attention, due to the overt call to violence against a specific minority group. Local Muslim groups such as the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC) and the American Center for Outreach (ACO) immediately asked West to issue an apology, due to the aggressive nature of the post in addition to Mr. West being a public official. As this story went viral on social media, many key players in the Islamophobia industry latched themselves to the story, criticizing AMAC and ACO for demanding an apology. Much to the chagrin of the anti-Islam groups, Mr. West issued an apology for his irresponsible post the next day.
Tuesday evening, the American Muslim Advisory Council hosted about “Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society” in Manchester, TN, as an open forum to discuss the dangerous effects of the rhetoric that was espoused by Mr. West in his post. Those within well-funded Islamophobia Industry – such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer from the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) saw this as an ideal opportunity to fan the flames of hate in our back yard. And while their so-called protest was done so under the guise of “defending free speech,” the reality is that the public is unaware of the nefarious affiliations of such groups.
Geller and Spencer and their organizations are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate group leaders.” They hold close affiliations with the English Defense League – a Neo-Nazi affiliated group that has employed violent tactics against the Muslim community in the UK. Both Geller and Spencer were cited extensively (174 times between the two) in mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto, which was written shortly before he murdered over 80 people in Norway. To put it plainly, these individuals recognized widely as being extremists – therefore it is highly concerning that so many citizens of Tennessee have bought into their overt message of hate and bigotry.
Groups like the TN Eagle Forum and ACT for America (also listed as nativist and hate groups, respectively) called for thousands of their followers to come to this public forum to “stand up for their first amendment rights” that they claimed AMAC is trying to limit. These groups turned out people from all over Tennessee. Personally, I spoke with folks from Bristol, Sparta, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Tullahoma. They showed up in front of the Manchester Coffee County Conference Center hours before the forum. Geller and Spencer joined in around 5:30pm, ensuring the crowd was primed and riled up – including rhetoric that alluded to justifying violence.
After the outdoor protest, waves of people flooded the hall at 6:20pm. All the seats were taken with in the first five minutes so people started to post up along the walls, near the doors, outside the doors, in the lobby, and all the way out to the entrance of the building.
The AMAC program had yet to begin, when Eagle Forum members (who also brought their own American flag) took it upon themselves to stand up and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Everyone else in the room, Eagle Forum member or not, joined them, for one of the most aggressive recitations of the Pledge that I’ve ever heard, followed by a long and loud applause.
At 6:30 pm, Zak Mohyuddin, an AMAC Board Member and long time resident of Coffee County, began the forum with an introduction to who and what AMAC is.
Before he could even get a sentence out, he was interrupted by a comment from the audience, “speak English!”
The panel continued as follows:
Zulfat Suara – AMAC Board Chair
Dorothy Zwayyed – AMAC East Tennessee Coordinator
Sabina Mohyuddin – AMAC Board Member and long time Coffee County resident
Bill Killian – U.S. Attorney DOJ Eastern District of Tennessee
Kenneth L. Moore – special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville Division
Throughout the program, the speakers were plagued with interruptions, jeers and epithets being lobbed at them. Whenever examples of cooperation between the American Muslim community and law enforcement were highlighted, the crowd would yell, “Infiltrators,” Terrorists,” and “go home!
As a representative of the Muslim community who was participating in the forum, the words of hate that I heard spoken on this day are something that I will not forget for a long time.
As I stood up to gather index cards for the Q&A session, a man from the crowd said, “Watch out, she might blow up!” – Which was met by rousing laughter, rather than disgust.
As one of the Muslim speakers from the event finished, another individual exclaimed “FINALLY! Can we burn her at the stake now?” – which was also met by laughter and cheers.
When bullying and discrimination that kids face in schools was brought up, one woman yelled, “Leave our children out of this. They hate you.”
Finally, during a portion of the presentation – a picture of a mosque, which had been destroyed by arson, was shown. Rather than responding with compassion, the hateful attendees responded with applause and cheers.
Although the goal of the forum was to foster dialog and positive engagement – it is clear that Geller, Spencer and the hate groups came to cause divisiveness and hate. It is saddening that some Tennesseans have succumbed to this temptation, as it brings back dark memories from our nation’s past. On a positive note, many in attendees from the community greeted us with goodwill and assured us that the haters do not represent them or the majority of people out there. Though a small gesture, this helped end an otherwise tense night on a positive note. As we move forward from this eye-opening evening – the hope is that Tennesseans will take the lead in denouncing and marginalizing these fringe groups, while fostering an environment of positivity and inclusion.
Drost Kokoye is a recent graduate from Middle Tennessee State University with a liberal arts degree in Political Science. She is currently the Multicultural Organizer with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition where she organizes the immigrant and refugee communities in Middle Tennessee to learn to defend their rights. Drost is a board member with the American Muslim Advisory Council, where she works to further communication lines between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies. She is also extensively involved with efforts to encourage leadership of Muslim youth with the Muslim Youth Network of Tennessee.
“The Net Effect of Being an Islamophobia Industry Affiliate”
With two great recent investigative reports – Max Blumenthal along with Electronic Intifada have unearthed the shadowy ecosystem of multimillion dollar foundations, nonprofit groups, and even some Muslim organizations in helping perpetuate “the Islamophobia Industry.” By highlighting the influence of these dark-money sources, many eyes across the world were opened as to the nature of the shady, back-door dealings of the industry.
Even though the overwhelming response to the articles has been positive – there has also been a noticeable backlash as well. Interestingly, one of the first defenses of the American Islamic Congress was the Sheldon Adelson funded, anti-Islam conspiracy site “The Clarion Project,” (formerly RadicalIslam.org.) Additionally, some critics and apologists are brushing off the links in funding as a stretch – asserting that these foundations are serving nothing more than the role of a bank in these cases.
So what’s the real answer here? Are the critics who are brushing off these developments right? Are these findings truly insignificant? To put it bluntly, the answer to both questions is: NO. These findings are EXTREMELY significant. For those of us who have been impacted by and have been researching the epidemic that Islamophobia for years, the fact is that there is a huge measurable impact that has and continues to be felt by not only Muslims – but all Americans as well.
Sheldon Adelson – The Money Man
First, let’s ask this question: Why would any Muslim or Muslim-group willingly take money or support from Adelson – the world’s 12th richest person, who famously said this? Or what about the time he referred to Palestinians as “an invented people?”
In fact, Sheldon Adelson is infamous for being the single-largest purchaser of influence in American politics– and he readily admits as much. It is a known fact that his key reason for donating eight-figures to Newt Gingrich was to influence the national conversation on Israel. So, when people come to defend beneficiaries of the casino magnate’s money as some sort of glorified bank transaction – they are being disingenuous. Sheldon Adelson’s money ALWAYS comes with a price.
Not only does the billionaire channel his immense assets in the area of promoting pro-Israel policy, he also channels it toward spreading anti-Muslim paranoia. This is done via his Clarion Fund – which has produced anti-Islam propaganda films such as “Obsession” – which was distributed widely in newspapers nationwide. The Clarion Fund made a follow up a few years later entitled “The Third Jihad,” an agitprop piece that outlines a scheme for a “cultural jihad” being waged on American soil using “Muslim Brotherhood front organizations.” We’ll talk about that film in just a bit – but let’s take a look at some of Adelson’s primary operatives for accomplishing his dirty work.
Frank Gaffney – The Beltway Insider
Even though the Islamophobia Network includes more media-savvy hate mongers such as Pam Geller or Robert Spencer – there is perhaps no more influential figure in the spread of anti-Islam hate in the U.S. than the highly-connected Center for Security Policy head, Frank Gaffney. His influence stems from his position in the Reagan Administration, which he has parlayed into a network of wealthy, paranoid conservative donors who lap up his litany of conspiracy theories.
The primary conspiracy theory peddled by Gaffney –is that of “creeping Sharia” – the irrational fear that Islamic law (known in Arabic as sharia) is being implemented via a stealth conspiracy, which involves the Muslim Brotherhood along with any major American Islamic organization. Aside from the absolute absurdity of the claim – Muslims represent a maximum of 1.5% of the American population, along with the fact that there is not a single group that is talking about/attempting to implement sharia – conservatives continue to take this theory and run with it. As of 2012, 78 anti-sharia bills had been introduced across 31 state and local legislatures in the U.S. In 2013, we have seen this trend continue with bills introduced in Florida, Missouri, Kansas, and most recently – North Carolina.
Read the talking points that legislators in states like NC parrot out such as:
“”I’ve always wanted to depend on our own constitution, but we have seen that document put in, frankly, grave danger” – Rep. John Blust (R-NC)
Behind each one of these panicked quotes, lies Frank Gaffney and his close ally and front-man for authoring the anti-Islam bills, attorney David Yerushalmi. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed between Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and Yerushalmi with the express purpose of spreading anti-Islam panic throughout the U.S.
He is also the source of the smear campaign against any Muslims who happen to be working or affiliated with the administration – labeling names like Huma Abedin, Sohail Khan, Eboo Patel among others as “Muslim Brotherhood Operatives.”
With his influence among elected officials, we have seen a step up in the Islamophobic rhetoric being spewed from elected officials – on a local, state, and national level. Most famously amongst these examples – is the anti-Muslim witch-hunt led by Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. From 2010-2012, Bachmann, Louie Gohmert (R-TX,) Joe Walsh (R-IL,) and Allen West (R-FL) made up what was known as the “Islamophobia Caucus.” Who is their tutor, you ask? Frank Gaffney, of course. Only Bachmann and Gohmert remain in Congress today, but all are active in attending conferences geared to the anti-Islam industry. Oh by the way, there’s one coming up in November sponsored by David Horowitz, featuring Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Bachman among others – in case you’re interested.
In fact, Gaffney’s viewpoints are so extreme in nature, that he has been disinvited from a number of Conservative circles – including the influential “Weyrich lunch.”
Think about that for a second. Frank Gaffney’s views are too extreme for the Republican Party. In the aftermath of being shunned by the lunch, Gaffney then planted the rumor that tax reformer Grover Norquist (who’s married to an Arab-American) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy.
Gaffney’s activities are narrowly focused upon degrading the public’s perception of Islam and Muslims in the U.S. He has successfully peddled his influence among fringe lawmakers to help precipitate and foment anti-Islam hysteria in the U.S. – which as resulted in the absurd anti-Sharia bill movement across 60% of states in the union. The introduction of these bills has effectively served as a “Trojan horse” for fostering a more hostile environment for Islam and Muslims within these states as well. In Tennessee for example – the Muslim community is living under the persistent specter of Islamophobia in the aftermath of the bill’s introduction. This includes a vitriolic attempt to block the establishment of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, to irrational fears about a mop-sink in the state legislature, to elected officials openly posting calls to violence against Muslims.
This has also resulted in the spewing of false allegations against individual Muslims and Muslim organizations, which has negatively impacted the lives of those affected. One of Gaffney’s colleagues has been key in pushing forth this agenda.
Zuhdi Jasser – The Islamophobia Industry’s Favorite Muslim
As mentioned in Blumenthal’s article – Jasser is also affiliated with the American Islamic Congress – a group that has received immense funding from key members of the Islamophobia Industry – including Sheldon Adelson, the Klarman Foundation, and the Donor’s Capitol Fund. He also sits on the Clarion Fund Board of Advisors alongside Gaffney, Walid Phares (former Ariel Sharon ally) – and the man known as the “Godfather of Islamophobia in the U.S.” – Daniel Pipes. But even though critics of the investigation brush this off as “money changing hands” – the reality is that figures such as Jasser take a much more active role in the day to day activities of the “Islamophobia Industry.”
So how is it possible for someone who claims to be a devout Muslim to be an active participant in helping the promotion of anti-Islam sentiment? Therein lies Dr. Jasser’s value to this multi-million dollar machine – to play the role of the “good Muslim.” Conspiracy theorist and Islam-hater Glenn Beck terms Jasser as “the Muslim we have all been waiting for after 9/11.” Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey (winner of Gaffney’s Freedom Flame Award) is also an admirer or Jasser. Although seemingly unbecoming of a former AG, Mukasey subscribes to Gaffney’s Muslim Brotherhood takeover conspiracy theories – and takes every opportunity to highlight that Jasser is the only hope for American Muslims. With glowing recommendations like these, it is no surprise that the Scottsdale physician is a frequent Fox contributor along with other conservative media.
In the 24 hour news-cycle, self-styled “experts” must forge a niche for themselves – Jasser has thrived off smearing and creating a shadowy narrative when it comes to the mainstream Muslim organizations in America. Before Dr. Jasser’s emergence as the narrator of the Adelson funded propaganda film, “The Third Jihad” – the term “Islamist” was infrequently used in the media. However, with the film’s extensive circulation, along with Jasser’s constant use of the word as an epithet in his interviews and writings – the word has jumped into the mainstream, almost becoming generic in nature.
Those who think the influence of such films is insignificant should think again. The NYPD used “The Third Jihad” as a training video “on a continuous loop” for nearly 1,500 of its officers. In fact, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly participated in the film – which only adds to the department’s horrendous record of spying on and mapping out innocent Muslims throughout the northeast. In addition to Jasser’s active role in the film, he also held a pep rally alongside Rep. Peter King to support the NYPD’s invasive spying program on Muslims.
Smears Against Webb, MSA, CAIR, and other prominent Muslims
One of the most well known Muslim leaders in the U.S. – Suhaib Webb was slated to represent our community at the Boston interfaith service, featuring President Obama. In reality, Webb likely the most recognizable Muslim cleric in the United States and his moderate perspective has gained a huge following among all segments of the Muslim community. And although he was extremely gracious when the virtually unknown Weddady replaced him at the service – this was just the beginning of an attempt to defame and smear his good name. As Jasser made the rounds in the aftermath of the tragedy, he also used this as an opportunity to deliberately cast shadows of doubt upon Webb – claiming “Up in Boston, this imam Webb has been linked to the (Muslim) Brotherhood” – in addition to questioning the nature of the imam’s work. It also completely ignores the fact that Webb has been a leading voice among Muslim clerics to condemn extremism for well over a decade.
This is nothing new for Jasser – who takes every opportunity to cast aspersions upon the major Muslim groups in America – such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA.)
Part of Jasser’s methodology of casting doubt upon individual organizations is utilizing whatever hyper-partisan, conspiracy-theory websites are available in this ultra-paranoid echo chamber in order to reinforce his viewpoint. Here, he uses the birther-affiliated website “The Daily Caller” in order to create a false sense of causality between Dhzokhar Tsarnaev and the MSA.
In reality, the MSA is has been a great source of organizing and self-identity for American Muslim students for decades. Students of all levels of religiosity utilize this platform to meet lifelong friends, compete in intramural sports, and organize events while exploring their own religious self-awareness. And while every other religious and ethnic demographic are encouraged organizing in ways such as this – Jasser and his allies promote the falsehood that this is a “breeding ground for Islamism” and a “Muslim Brotherhood legacy group.” By poisoning the well with discourse such as that of the Daily Caller article – the intent is to damage the reputation upon those law-abiding participants in these activities. As mentioned earlier, the toxic law-enforcement environment actually resulted in an extensive spying program upon MSA’s, gathering information on their participants and events throughout the northeast. The results of the investigation, you ask? “Zero actionable intelligence.
Dr. Jasser, along with Gaffney take extra care to smear the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in America – CAIR. You would be hard pressed to find an interview where he does not attempt to cast doubt upon CAIR (even though his father in law is also a Chapter President) and its chapters by labeling them with the buzzword “Islamist” or “Brotherhood front groups.” As his media profile rose during the Boston devastation, his attacks on CAIR rose as well. In an article for the Arizona Republic, Jasser claimed that CAIR was playing the victimization card – specifically cherry picking a single sentence quote by me, in order to frame his narrative that CAIR “was admonishing Americans not to seek retribution” against the Muslim community. Let’s put aside the fact that there have been no less than half a dozen reports of violence and harassment reported against Muslims and those who appeared to be Muslim in the aftermath of the Boston tragedy. Let’s also put aside the fact that in the last year, there was a sharp increase in attacks on mosques – including the arson that destroyed a mosque in Joplin, MO and nearly destroyed a mosque in Toledo, OH. Let’s ignore the fact that the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric is so high, that it has resulted in violent backlash against or even murder of Sikh and Hindu individuals. Aside from these facts, let’s look at the reality of what was really said.
You want to know what CAIR spokespersons were really saying in the Boston aftermath? Click HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Sometimes, reality doesn’t conveniently fit into the pre-fabricated narratives that the Jasser’s, Gaffney’s and their allies attempt to present about American Muslims. However – these guys are making a living selling their ideas to an audience (Fox News, WND, Daily Caller) who are known to be the least informed among the American public – even less informed than those who watch absolutely no news.
In the end, it is unsurprising that those such as Jasser ignore the good that the mainstream Muslim orgs are doing – and are focusing on reinforcing a false narrative of the Islamophobia industry. In reality, they are linked inextricably with one another – as in the case with Jasser appearing in Steven Emerson’s “Grand Deception”, or sharing a stage and with known hate-group leader Robert Spencer at one of the aforementioned David Horowitz-funded retreats. The pull, the power and the influence of the money provided by these foundations and shell organizations prove to be too tempting to pass up, apparently.
In the end, it is highly significant when ties to the key players in the Islamophobia Industry are uncovered –as in the case of Blumenthal’s expose. When money and influence start making their way into legislative circles, we start seeing bitter fruits being harvested. Some of these examples include a draconian spying program at the behest of the NYPD against segments of the Muslim community, specifically MSA members. We see officers and homeland security personnel being trained by propaganda films such as “The Third Jihad” – which can create a monstrous view of Islam in the eyes of those who are there to protect and serve. We have seen witch-hunts on Capitol Hill – such as the Gaffney-inspired Bachmann and Gohmert, along with the formation of the “Islamophobia Caucus.” Finally, we have seen a sharp increase in the amount of bias related crimes targeting Muslims, Sikhs and persons of color since the influx of this dark money into the political and media sphere. For those who think that the money and influence outlined in the previous EI articles is somehow insignificant – it is time to think again.
We are now 3 days in the aftermath of the horrific Boston Marathon bombing – where at least 3 people were killed, and over 170 injured. As search continues for who exactly is behind the attack – we are also in the midst of a full-on media meltdown, as they pursue the scoop on this story.
And while we take a reprieve from the air of tragedy, to laugh at (and rightfully so) at the likes of CNN for their ongoing comedy of errors – there is a much more egregious and reckless form of reporting done by the right wing media – specifically the New York Post.
But Wait….It’s the New York Post.
Nobody considers the Post to be anything more than the paper-manifestation of the xenophobic, right-wing echo-chamber – as this is their stock and trade. However – the publication somehow continues to outdo itself, profiteering and fear-mongering off a national tragedy. The race-baiting began before the smoke was literally even clearing from the crime scene – as the Post was the first to perpetuate the fallacious story about a “20 year old Saudi national” who roused suspicion because he was running away from the explosion – like everyone else. As it turns out, the Saudi was not a suspect – nor a person of interest in the bombing. Rather – he was a victim of the horrific attack, being treated for injuries at a local hospital. Those are the real facts.
Facts don’t matter though – for all intents and purposes, once the Post ran with the Saudi story, Islamophobes smelled blood in the water. The equally repulsive Drudge Report kept the false Saudi story up for the next 2 days. Glenn Beck told his legions of tinfoil-cap wearing fans that “this is likely the work of Islamists.” This fervor has caused one of the “godfathers” of Islamophobia in the U.S. – self-desribed terrorism expert Steve Emerson to emerge from the woodworks.
After other mainstream outlets put the silly “Saudi” rumor to sleep – NY Post and Emerson continue to double down on their conspiracy theories. Add that to the fervor that CNN caused – citing that an arrest had been made of a “dark-skinned male” in the case, and we are now seeing the seeds being planed for a whole new backlash against Muslim and Arab-Americans.
Have The Islamophobic Backlash Started?
So far, in the last 2 days – there have been reports of a Bangladeshi man being attacked and left semiconscious with a dislocated shoulder in the Bronx. A Palestinian-American was also assaulted and harassed in Boston. Less than 72 hours in, the seeds of “dark skinned” or Arab suspicion have now started to bear their bitter fruit.
We’re not done yet. The Post has committed its most egregious and reckless piece of “journalism” yet – when it decided to double-down on the “Saudi” conspiracy and publish the photos of a so-called “potential suspect” – who turned out to be an innocent 17 year old track athlete at a local high school. Now, young Salah Barhoun – whose image has been put out there in the most horrendous context, for the entire world to see – is now doing everything he can to clear his name.
This gets to the heart of the matter of just how irresponsible and detrimental to society those who fan the flames of Islamophobia in the U.S. are. There is no punitive action – other than in the “court of public opinion” for those who are willing to jeopardize the safety of individuals or communities for the sake of generating headlines. Fox News contributor Erik Rush sent out a tweet that alluded to “killing all Muslims” in the direct aftermath of the attacks – and has not yet received any type of reprimand or removal from his role with the network. Rush has now doubled-down on his comments, evoking jargon such as “dhimmi” that has made Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer household names. While these hate-mongers continually spew misinformation (Geller and Spencer are loving the Saudi conspiracy theories, btw) – they take shelter under the guise of free-speech. While they can surely claim freedom of speech, it is also known that hate-speech can manifest itself in violent endings – as Geller, Spencer and Emerson were all cited in Norway killer Anders Breivik’s anti-Islam manifesto prior to his murder of 77 innocent individuals.
Violent Effects of Unchecked Rhetoric
Last year, we saw the same cause and effect relationship between Islamophobia and violent action for a man who was just sentenced to 20 years in prison for the arson of a Toledo, Ohio mosque. After Randy Linn was apprehended for the blaze that almost destroyed the Muslim house of worship – he stated that the only information he knew about Islam – he got from Fox News, which happens to be the New York Post’s sister company. We saw a violent wave of attacks on Muslim houses of worship as well as a hate-fueled, murderous attack on the Oak Creek, WI Sikh Temple. As we move forward from this heightened state of fear-mongering and finger-pointing, do we have more of the same to fear?
And what about 17-year old Salah, who undoubtedly has faced xenophobia and bullying even prior to his image being blasted into millions of homes – falsely labeled as a suspect in a terror attack? Will he be able to put the pieces of his life back together? For young Arab and Muslim immigrants trying to fit into the school system over here – the environment of bullying and racism has never been higher. It is commonplace to be heckled, be labeled a terrorist, and to be alienated from other classmates and even teammates. Having your name thrown out there with no fact-checking or journalistic principles during a time of such heightened emotions can have a devastating effect on a young child. We can only hope and pray that he is able to recover his good name from this.
As we can see, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim wagons are circling – facts be damned. We will continue to see the echo-chamber, headed by the NY Post – whose irresponsible reporting is adding fuel to an already heated situation. The reports of attacks on brown-skinned and Muslim individuals in the aftermath of the marathon bombing are a harsh reminder of the effects of such poisonous rhetoric and yellow journalism. Now we must ask ourselves, what lies in the coming days ahead of us?