The National Security and Human Rights Campaign at the Open Society Foundations supports organizations that are working to protect civil liberties in post-9/11 America and to promote national security policies that respect human rights. On the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, contributing Campaign grantees offer reflections on their work in this series 9/11 at 10.
Shortly after 9/11, Daniel Pipes—a part-time Middle East scholar and full-time critic of Islam—felt emboldened. "I have a lot to say," he declared. "This is my moment."
For years, Pipes had been attempting to scare Americans about the presence of Islam. 9/11 was a tragedy for the nation; for Pipes, it was a long-sought opportunity to push an argument that "a state of war exists" between Islam and the West. Over the past decade, Pipes and a small network of inter-connected anti-Muslim propagandists and organizers appear to be succeeding in their efforts to cast aspersions on the loyalties of Muslim Americans.
In opinion polls, perceptions of Muslims stand out for their unpopularity. The small religious community—consisting of maybe 2 percent of the U.S. population—feels besieged: they are the target of hate crimes; states are attempting to pass laws to prevent the practice of their religion; and even their efforts to build moderate community centers are being opposed vociferously.
A well-intentioned casual observer would not be faulted for feeling helpless and believing that little can be done to stem this tide of hate. But there is indeed great hope for a way out. A new analysis by the Center for American Progress (CAP) reveals the path.
The CAP study, titled "Fear, Inc.," reveals that the bulk of anti-Muslim political activity has originated from a small group of misinformation experts who have been facilitated in their efforts by nearly $40 million in funding over the past 10 years from eight foundations. The small network includes Pipes, Frank Gaffney, David Yerushalmi, Robert Spencer, and Steven Emerson.
The work of these anti-Muslim experts is then disseminated by a host of grassroots organizers and activists, including Brigitte Gabriel, David Horowitz, Pamela Geller, religious right pastors like John Hagee and Pat Robertson, and conservative groups such as the Eagle Forum and the American Family Association. Media voices on the right—Fox News, National Review, and hate radio hosts like Michael Savage—then amplify the Islamophobic rhetoric. Ultimately, right-wing political actors like Newt Gingrich and Rep. Allen West (R-FL) help mainstream the ugly prejudice.
Why are these findings good news, you ask? Because it shows the immense power that an organized, dedicated, and energized network of funders, thinkers, and activists can have in changing the attitudes held by a large number of Americans.
For every Daniel Pipes committed to spawning an environment of hate, there are many of more Americans of good conscience who refuse to live in a perpetual state of fear, who believe in the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, and who want to welcome their loyal, hard-working neighbors. But for whatever Pipes and the Islamophobia network lacks in values, it more than makes up for it with a fervent dedication to their cause of hate.
The lesson is simple: We need to isolate the Islamophobia network. That means demanding the media not give a platform to this small cadre of voices. That also means demanding that politicians divorce themselves from the network's propaganda. It's possible.
Consider the case of Herman Cain. At one time, he was the most virulent anti-Muslim politician in the land and an icon for the Islamophobia network. He told ThinkProgress in March 2011 that he would never appoint a Muslim to his administration. But as his intolerance yielded increasingly negative attention and lower poll ratings, Cain tried a different course. The man who once said that Americans have a right to ban mosques went to go visit a mosque himself.
After breaking bread with some Muslims and joining in embrace with a Northern Virginia imam, Cain said he was "truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it." Once Cain divorced himself from the Islamophobia network's misinformation, he encountered a different reality and regained his sense of rationality grounded in American values of tolerance.
A decade after 9/11, let us commit ourselves to saying, "This is OUR moment." Achieving justice, equality, and fairness requires a fight. Ten years from now, let us write the chapter of how we inspired a nation to rise above the hate.