The influence of Islamophobia in congressional politics

A select group of expert propagandists wield considerable influence in congressional politics. These so-called scholars and activists compile misinformation that is widely discredited and peddle it to sympathetic right-leaning politicians who regurgitate its resulting hateful rhetoric on the national stage.

The most odious of these “misinformation experts” include Brigette Gabriel, Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes, Walid Phares, Zuhdi Jasser and David Yerushalmi, just to name a few. Their rhetoric is bigoted and incorrect, yet insidiously shapes our national discourse through their political allies who hold influential positions in House Committees. The most influential political allies include: Rep. Peter King, Rep. Allen West, Rep. Sue Myrick, Rep. Michele Bauchman, and Rep. Paul Broun among others. Through their various think tanks and advocacy organizations, misinformation experts fear-monger and propagate baseless and inflammatory rhetoric that shapes state and national discourse and policy.

Brigette Gabriel characterizes Islam as bent on the destruction and domination of American freedom and values and says Islam keeps countries backwards, teaches hate and oppresses women and children.  She and her contemporaries employ gross generalizations equating Muslims with radical Islamists, arguing that the difference between Islam and the West is the difference between “civilization and barbarism” and “goodness and evil.” She is quoted saying “they have no soul, they are dead-set on barbarism.”

To cast such a shadow of 1.5 billion Muslims as barbaric, hateful and soulless is dangerously reductionist and insidious. Her books, Because They Hate and They Must Be Stopped, detail her extremist mindset. Her organization ACT! For America, which boasts over 250 chapters nationwide, mobilizes people at the grassroots level to “make a difference in their communities” by essentially propagating their hateful message nationwide.  Through this organization, she endeavors to lay the legislative groundwork for discriminatory policies against Muslims.

Gabriel is not alone. Many misinformation experts baselessly argue that all mosques and community centers are Trojan horses that cultivate and harbor Islamic Jihadists under the guise of worship.

They paint all Muslims with a wide brush, characterizing them as hostile threats to America and constitutional law and order; Frank Gaffney, in particular, was identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as one of the anti-Muslim movement’s most paranoid propagandists. He advocated for the resurrection of the House Un-American Committee, which Sen. Joseph McCarthy employed in his infamous witch-hunt for Communists in the 1950s.

Another anti-Muslim activist is David Yerushalmi. According to SPLC, Yerushalmi conducts “lawfare” against Muslims with disturbing success and represents Pam Geller, Frank Gaffney and Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones.  They target advocacy organizations with claims that they are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood and “Jihadists” who recruit in mosques and community centers. These few but key misinformation experts stir mass hysteria and continue to influence high-ranking legislators.

One of the fiercest allies of anti-Muslim rhetoric and propaganda currently in Congress is Rep. Peter King (N.Y). As the former head of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a current Chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, he called congressional hearings titled “Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”  Rep. King relied heavily on misinformation experts like Zuhdi Jasser to testify and constantly referenced Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes outlandish’ claims. He demonized the majority of America’s Muslim community claiming that Islamic fundamentalists control over 80 to 85% of mosques. He also parrots the debunked myth that 90% of terror attacks and plots are carried out by Muslims when they account for 1% of the population. In reality Muslims only account for 12% of terror plots since 1995. The rest of the 56% of terror plots came from right-wing extremists and white supremacists. 30% are by Eco-terrorists. Rep. King had to drop his invitation to Walid Phares to testify at the hearing when it surfaced that he was involved in the Lebanese Forces, a militia accused of carrying out massacres against Arabs in the country.

Rep. Susan Myrick , who chairs the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis Counterintelligence, has partnered with Rep. Franks, Rep. Shadegg, and current Committee on Homeland Security Chair Rep. Paul Broun to propagate more conspiracy theories. They argue that Muslim extremists have infiltrated all national intelligence agencies and high-level government position; they went so far as to slander former Secretary of State Clinton’s Aid Huma Abedin by falsely claiming that she is a Muslim Brotherhood informant. Other lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain have condemned this slander. Rep. Michelle Bauchman, and some of her anti-Muslim colleagues, have sent letters to Inspector Generals at the State Department, DOD, DOJ, and DHS laden with the same slanderous rhetoric.

The misinformation experts also engender hysteria over a mythical threat of Sharia law subverting the constitution. Yerushalmi crafted a model legislation entitled “American Laws for American Courts” based on the irrational and unfounded assumption that Sharia law instead of the constitution is being used in state courts as the basis of rulings.

These fears are not based in reality; there has never been any legislative attempt to impose Sharia law. Furthermore, the supremacy of the Constitution is enshrined in the Supremacy Clause. Yet, Brigette Gabriel has used her organization ACT! For America to campaign for various state legislatures to adopt anti-Sharia laws. They influenced State Representative Rex Duncan of Oklahoma to amend the state constitution barring Sharia rulings. They have also succeeded in Tennessee and Arizona in passing such laws. All of these laws are almost carbon copies of Yerushalmi’s model legislation. ACT!’s talking points are widely parroted by politicians such as Michelle Bauchman and Peter King. Using grassroots advocacy and through the vehicles of right wing media outlets, these key misinformation experts have employed fear mongering and patriotic rhetoric to pass laws and call hearings that demonize Islam and Muslim Americans.

Other misinformation experts like Walid Phares have frighteningly influential positions in government. For instance Phares has been able to influence policy with testimonies to the US Department of State, DOJ, DOD, DHS, Congress and even the United Nations Security Council. He is the adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in Congress and on the Advisory Board to the Taskforce on the Future of Terrorism for the Department of Homeland Security. Phares was even Mitt Romney’s Campaign Advisor. This is the same man that was allegedly involved in several massacres during the Lebanese Civil War. He believes in an exclusive distinction between being Muslim and being American and is thus unsuprisingly against exposing a nuanced understanding of the concept of Jihad that separates extremism from the ideals of ordinary Muslims.

The political influence that these misinformation experts wield detracts from focus on other sources of extremism that poses a threat to national security. They rouse McCarthyist hysteria in Washington. Instead of communism, the witch-hunt is now for Islamist sympathizers. One expert even calls Islam “Communism with a god.”  Jasser argued in one congressional hearing that Islam is a conveyer belt that goes from someone embracing the religion to embracing radicalism and terrorism. Such hateful rhetoric being spewed from political pulpits alienates Muslim American communities. These misinformation experts and their organizations are widely regarded as extremist and anti-Muslim. Law enforcement agencies acknowledge that amicable alliances and trust building in the Muslim community is the most important tool in counter terrorism.

The exposition and labeling of these misinformation experts and their political networks proves crucial to the dismantling and ultimate reversal of the hatefulness and ignorance that has infiltrated national rhetoric. This hateful bigotry is not only harmful to national security at home and abroad, but also hinders effective counterterrorism within communities. President Obama acknowledged that Muslim American communities are often best positioned to take the lead because they know their communities best. Not only do they condemn terrorism in the strongest ways possible, they work with law enforcement to help prevent terrorism.  In its bulletin on Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism, the FBI stated that “lasting and genuine personal relationships between police and Muslim communities” are key to counterterrorism.  By targeting Muslim Americans in such a hateful and bigoted manner, these misinformation experts and politicians are undermining national security.

We are a nation of immigrants, founded upon the principle of religious freedom. Our elected officials should not actively demonize a segment of the population under the auspices of a few influential, bigoted and misguided people who profit from espousing hate. We must stand up to injustice and political bullying wherever it takes place. To ignore it is to disregard our constitutional underpinnings of religious tolerance and threaten our security. However, inclusion and cooperation ensures the security and continued prosperity of our great nation.