Faiz Shakir, Editor-in-chief of “ThinkProgress.org” and a Vice President at the Center for American Progress, on his team’s production of “Fear, Inc.,” a comprehensive new report with compelling evidence that a conspiracy against Muslims and encouraging the development of Islamophobia is being perpetuated in the United States.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Fear, Inc.: a conversation with Faiz Shakir, Center for American Progress[WELTON GADDY, HOST]: In recent years, perhaps the most unyielding convergence of religion, government and politics in the US has had to do with Muslims. The headlines keep coming, and whether it’s the so-called Ground Zero Mosque controversy, legislative initiatives addressing the alleged threat of encroaching Sharia law, or charges that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with a free society, one could be forgiven for feeling that there is an organized effort – that’s the key, organized effort – driving these issues and keeping them in the public eye.
Well, the authors of a comprehensive new report, aptly titled Fear, Inc., present compelling evidence that what we thought might be true – is true. There is, in fact, an organized effort to promote Islamophobia.
In late August, the Center for American Progress published this expose on the Islamophobia industry in the United States. And make no mistake: based on the report’s conclusions, fanning the flames of fear and mistrust is a multi-million dollar industry.
Fear, Inc. is the product of the collective efforts of a number of prominent members of the Center for American Progress Team.
Here on State of Belief Radio, we have addressed this issue from a number of angles. We’ve empathized with some of the impulses that make people vulnerable to seeing others who are different from themselves as a potential threat; we have looked at the effects on individuals and communities from ostracization; we’ve addressed the ways in which anti-Muslim paranoia has made us less safe; and we’ve suggested there is an agenda, a motivation for making sure things stay this way.
But never has there been such a comprehensive analysis of the organized, conscious and costly efforts to ensure the perpetuation of this us-and-them mentality. We welcome Fear, Inc. It names names, lists figures and connects the dots. It’s absolutely required reading, and I’m very pleased that it brings Faiz Shakir, editor-in-chief of “ThinkProgress.org” and a Vice President at the Center for American Progress, to State of Belief Radio today. Faiz, welcome![FAIZ SHAKIR, GUEST]: Thank you, reverend, I appreciate you heaving me. [WG]: They say, “Follow the money.” Well, in Fear, Inc., you and your colleagues did just that. Tell our listeners what you found. [FS]: Well, what we found is that there’s a small network of Islamophobes who have been producing quote-unquote “reports” for the better part of the last decade trying to scare Americans about the presence of Muslims in the country. So you may have heard things like: there’s a creeping Sharia threat and it intends to take over the constitution of the United States; that Muslims are going to mosques where they are incubating terrorism and that these mosques are, kind of, stealth places of cavorting to defeat Americans… And I think these kinds of wild conspiracy theories have been bandied about by a very small number of people. We identify who they are. It’s five individuals: David Yerushalmi, Robert Spencer, Steven Emerson, Daniel Pipes and Frank Gaffney. Those are the five individuals who produce this garbage. And we said, “OK, who’s propping these individuals up?” It’s seven foundations, we list them by name, who have given these guys 43 million dollars over the past decade to do this kind of anti-Muslim activity. [WG]: And it’s not just you. You said over the decades. [FS]: Over the decade, yes. So, we started since 2001, and looked at their financial records up to the present day, and we found about 43 million dollars, 42.6 in total, going to these organizations, and it shows that, I guess, being an anti-Muslim hater pays to a degree. [WG]: Some of us have been accused of a paranoia or a suspicion of everybody, or just an opponent of Fox News, but what you’re telling us is: we’re dealing with a major institutionally-funded movement to peddle hate. [FS]: Yeah, and I think we went into this report thinking this must be a vast right wing conspiracy. It must be huge! Given the negative trends that we see and the general polling of how Americans view Islam – it tends to be getting worse over the past few years – that there must be a whole network, an army of people out there.
What we found, actually, is it’s a small network. There’s a few number of individuals who have been able to propagate their information to millions of people with the help of a few important networks. One of the networks is, of course, the religious right, people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and Christian Broadcast Network and a few others; but also an army of grassroots activists like Brigitte Gabriel’s Act For America, which has 170,000 members that they peddle this stuff to, and then of course, as you mentioned, the media. Fox News is the most prominent, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. It includes Michael Savage on the radio, it includes Rush Limbaugh on the radio, includes outlets like the National Review and Washington Times. They’re all working together to peddle the hate of just a small number of individuals to millions and millions of people.[WG]: Faiz, the million-dollar, or maybe even the multi-million dollar question is: “Why?” Why are they doing it? [FS]: I think that there’s a number of motives. I think we see one of them that’s obvious to our face, right, that is: it pays. You can actually have a financial motive here. Frank Gaffney, for instance, who’s the godfather of Islamophobia, makes over $300,000 a year at his job at the Center for Security Policy; and so he’s doing quite well for himself.
But it’s not just financial. I think that that would be a mistake to suggest it is. There’s a few other important reasons.
One is political. There’s an effort to try to help Republican Party members get votes, to help Republicans gain seats, that’s what we saw in Oklahoma in 2010 when they put up a ballot initiative to quote-unquote “ban Sharia.” It helped galvanize the conservative movement and brought out lots of Republican voters. I think they want to do that in 2012.
I’d say the last one, in addition to financial and political motives, is an ideological motive. It’s that a lot of these are hard-right ideologues who have a certain view about Iraq, have a certain view about Afghanistan, have a certain view about Guantanamo and surveillance and racial profiling in airports that tends to be well to the right on policy discourse. But what they want to do is marginalize the rising voice of Muslims who actually disagree with them on some of these core policy issues. But instead of having an honest public debate about it they want to smear the entire American-Muslim community to marginalize their voice.[WG]: You know, on today’s show, actually, there is an interview with a pollster who has some very interesting findings about reduction in prejudice against Muslims, especially among younger people, the millennial generation, which I read – and will talk with him about – but I read as being very positive. Are these people fighting a losing battle? [FS]: Absolutely, I think that they are. If you look at some of the recent polling trends on this it shows that Muslims in America, according to a Pew Survey, are actually quite happy and satisfied with the lives that they lead here and are happy to be Americans, and I think that the message that comes out from the American-Muslim community to their neighbors is: “We are just like you, and we want to be fully accepted as one of you.” And I think as more and more people come to know a Muslim neighbor – there was a recent poll done by the Brookings Foundation which found that only three in ten Americans see or meet with a Muslim, generally, and so they don’t know many Muslims – but I think as people begin to know more Muslims, this agenda of hate, which is based out of a fear of the unknown, starts to evaporate, and you can already see it politically having less sway.
Herman Cain was one of the most islamophobic icons, right? He was out there saying: “No Muslims in my administration. I don’t want anything to do with them.” And what happened? He went and met with some Muslims at a mosque, quickly turns around and says: “I truly regret that I was saying those kinds of things.” And it gives us a glimmer of hope that you can actually divorce yourself from this propaganda, see the light, and have a rational discourse around the issues.[WG]: I’m Welton Gaddy, this is State of Belief Radio, brought to you by Interfaith Alliance.
I’m taking with Faiz Shakir, editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress.org and one of the co-authors of a painstaking new report from the Center for American Progress: Fear, Inc., illuminating the hidden network of well-funded activists working to fulminate Islamophobia in this country. Faiz, what else did you find in the work?[FS]: Well, I think that there’s a few key political players who have been responsible for mainstreaming the hate. You know, I would like to think and I think you agree with me that this is the agenda of a few marginal individuals who have a far right extremist point of view. That the anti-Muslim craziness that we’ve seen around, the ground zero mosque and the banning of Sharia and all these kinds of nonsense that are baseless is hopefully relegated to the fringe; but there are a number of members of Congress who helped to bring this into the mainstream discourse. I think that those individuals are people like Michele Bachmann, Alan West, Paul Brown and Sue Myrick amongst others, and that we list in the report, who, because they are members of Congress and go around the country talking about this thing, they’re giving a degree of seriousness to something that is completely unserious and irrational. [WG]: The Center for American Progress does a lot of important research and work, education. What made you pursue this particular investigation? I mean, was it a slow process or one day you just said, “Look, we’ve got to do this,” and what was the reason why? [FS]: I really think that the moment that it crystallized for us was the quote-unquote “ground zero mosque.” If you saw how that played out, it was just an amazingly terrible moment for America, quite frankly, because when the founders of that project, Daisy Khan, went on Fox News and talked to Laura Ingraham about it – I think it was early 2009 – Laura Ingraham said: “I like what you’re doing, I agree with it. It sounds like you’re trying to bring Muslims into a moderate American civic life by building a swimming pool and having an art center and trying to bring us all together, it sounds great, I’m for it.”
But what happened in the months after that interview?
Well, you had Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer take to their blog and start calling this the quote-unquote “victory mosque at ground zero.” They started holding rallies down in New York City to try to scare people about a shrine that was being built to Al-Qaida, and really distorted what I thought was the right kind of thing that we want to support with Muslims in America. And they really hijacked the conversation, made it ugly, turned it into a divisive national issue that the president had to actually start weighting in on, and it, I think, scared, actually, a lot of us that we could be turning into a nation where we are at each other’s throats casting suspicion against one another if we don’t turn this around, and I think this is our effort to try to turn it around.[WG]: Faiz, you mentioned the ground zero mosque issue. What are some of the other successes of this conspiracy movement? [FS]: I’d say their quote-unquote “ground zero battle” right now is in Tennessee. In Tennessee they are trying to disrupt the construction of a mosque in a city called Murfreesboro and – the community of Muslims there has grown large and they’re trying to build a mosque – and the Islamophobia network has gone down there, people like Frank Gaffney have testified in a courtroom, saying that these guys are trying to bring Sharia into your neighborhoods and we need to stop them. And there has been a lot of hate crimes down in Tennessee around this, there has been some ugly rhetoric, and I think that it’s been one of their main fronts.
Of course, the other one I mentioned before is Oklahoma, where they passed an anti-Sharia ban, because one gentleman – who we name in the report, David Yerushalmi – has drafted model legislation to convince people that there is a Sharia threat, and has sent that model legislation to all kinds of states. Oklahoma was the first to take it up and pass it, but there’s twenty three other states that are working on a similar piece of legislation, so those are their successes.[WG]: Are they breaking any laws? [FS]: No, we don’t allege that they are. They’re not breaking any laws both in the way that they are conducting their activities or the way that they’re financing their activities. This is all above-board as far as we can tell. It’s just that fundamentally, ideologically, we think it’s wrong and divisive for this country. [WG]: Yeah, I mean it proves the point that you can be legal and immoral at the same time. In your research, did you discover anything about future plans for these people? [FS]: Well, I’m concerned, and they’re very outward about it, that 2012 is kind of a make-or-break moment for them. The Republican Party will soon elect somebody as their standard-bearer. They have not had one since President Bush left office. I think that vacuum has allowed these fringe movements to compete for attention.
One of the fringe movements is of course this Islamophobia network, and once, I think, that the leader steps forward – whether it’s Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or whoever it might be – you’re going to see this network trying to convince that nominee that they need to engage in Sharia-bashing, they need to bash some Muslims in order to win the southern voter or the Christian right voter or whatever kinds of political arguments they’re going to be making, and I think that that’s the moment for us to make sure that the Republican Party doesn’t go down the slippery slope – at least further down than it has gone – of engaging in this very divisive kinds of rhetoric that could, I think, fundamentally hurt the fabric of our nation and… I mean, we are a model to the world, America is and always has been, and I think this kind of thing imperils that.[WG]: Faiz, I don’t want to end the interview right here, because I honestly think that what CAP did, what you did in this report is really beyond value measurement. It is so important. I also think that the kind of people that listen to State of Belief Radio, the people that we deal with in Interfaith Alliance, the people that were there in “Shoulder to Shoulder,” in all of those, that we have some good evidence that when the Progressive community works together cooperatively, it really can have an influence on what happens in the nation. And I… we were talking, before we went on the air, about this. I want you to share your feelings about what happened on 9-11 that I think reflects some success here. [FS]: Well, I’ll tell you reverend, I was afraid of what was going to happen on 9-11, because if you look at the history of what has happened, it’s been a day for the far right to inflame anti-Muslim hatred. Of course, last year, we remember, that a pastor named Terry Jones grabbed the nation’s attention because he wanted to burn the Qur’an. It had generally been a day that some of the far right seized for their political agenda, and I taught that there might be a case that this would happen again this year.
And Terry Jones trekked to New York City; Pamela Geller, who’s one of the hate mongers, was also holding a rally in New York City; and guess what? You didn’t know it – because nobody paid attention.
They are losing their momentum. It’s a great sign, and instead what you actually saw was… I think one of my favorite stories, actually, right before 9-11, Terry Jones was in Michigan, and he was holding a rally out in Lansing, and he had four people show up. There were twenty media folks there, four supporters… And instead, there was a counter-rally, a protest: an interfaith group, people who were protesting him that numbered in the dozens, so the number of people who showed up to oppose him far outnumbered the people… And then, in addition to that, you had an interfaith prayer event down the street at another location that attracted even more people – and I taught it was just a wonderful moment that shows the turning of the tide, and what we’re trying to do is inspire what I think is the silent majority here. People who’ve been sitting on their hands and saying: “God, I don’t agree with that crazy right wing renting and angry people who are yelling about this stuff but, you know, I don’t really feel a lot reason to get out of my chair.” Well, I hope that now we inspire you to get out of your chair, make your voice heard, because if you don’t, it’s going to be a conversation solely hijacked by the far right.[WG]: Tell you what. If you’re listening today and you’re not out of your chair yet, I dare you to pick up this new report called Fear, Inc. I encourage you to pick it up, read it carefully, its concerns with issues of faith, society and politics and you’ll get out of your chair. This is frightening material about what’s going on in our country and what the negative consequences of it could be. I think it will make you angry, but it’ll also make you wiser.
My great thanks to Faiz Shakir, one of the co-writers of Fear, Inc., editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress.org and a Vice President at the Center for American Progress. The full report is available online at americanprogress.org. Faiz thank you so much for being with us today on State of Belief Radio.[FS]: Appreciate all the work you’re doing, reverend, thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.
Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.