The Sharia Panic Industry is a 42 million dollar business.
That’s according to a new report from the Center for American Progress, which tracks the funding sources of America’s most prominent Islamophobes. Over the past ten years, that money has flowed from primarily from seven foundations: The Donors Capital Fund; the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation and Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust; the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund and the Fairbrook Foundation.
This funding has allowed the Islamophobic right to amplify and mainstream an anti-Muslim message that remained on the fringe while President George W. Bush urged a message of tolerance. Think tanks like Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security policy have used the funding to produce reports promoting the myth that most Muslim Americans are conspiring to replace the Constitution with Sharia law. It’s helped people like attorney David Yerushalmi design anti-sharia legislation being pushed in at least 23 states, in four of which those the bans have actually passed. It’s helped anti-Muslim writers like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, cited frequently by alleged anti-Muslim Oslo terrorist Anders Breivik, promote and sustain their work.
The campaign to persuade Americans that Islam is the enemy and that American Muslims are all potential radicals and terrorists has borne bitter fruit.
Last year a Washington Post poll found that almost half of Americans, 49 percent, now have an unfavorable opinion towards Islam, up ten points from 2002 and “the most negative split on the question in Post-ABC polls dating to October 2001.”
With the conservative media no longer held back by the need to support a Republican president who publicly espoused tolerance towards Islam, outlets like Fox News, National Review, and conservative talk radio have freely promoted Sharia Panic conspiracies — ones that have dovetailed neatly with conservative distrust for the president. Likewise, a few Republicans in Congress, such as Reps Peter King, Allen West, and Michele Bachmann, have used their authority to bolster the idea that America is at war with Islam and that most American Muslims are radicalized. Increasingly, religious right figures like Pat Robertson and John Hagee are embracing the rhetoric of Sharia Panic.
The flipside is that there’s no similarly well funded and single minded infrastructure opposing them. Groups like the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslim Advocates have recently tried to put forth an alternative narrative, pointing out that American Muslims have been key to preventing terror attacks. Likewise, civil liberties groups like the ACLU have debunked the idea that Islamic law is trumping civil law in American courts.
These efforts however, won’t succeed as long as Republican leaders continue to tacitly and sometimes explicitly embrace and enable those in the Sharia Panic Industry. Until Republican leaders try to appeal to the better angels of their constituents’ nature — rather than feeding on and profiting from their paranoia — things are unlikely to change.