By Rabia Chaudry
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is the latest victim of an intricate web of half-truths and outright lies woven for political profit and as part of a broad, well funded, Islamophobia network. The Congresswoman was slated to be the keynote speaker at an April 21 event for the group EMERGE USA, but backed off after a scathing blog post by Joe Kaufman, who happens to be running for a Congressional seat for Florida’s District 20.
EMERGE USA is a non-profit committed to empowering minorities through increased civic engagement and education about the political process. The organization has strong roots in the community and has been publicly supported by one of Florida’s senior statesmen, former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, an expert on terrorism and intelligence. However, the fact that EMERGE USA was founded and is run by Muslims seems to be the proverbial bee in Kaufman’s bonnet. Ultimately, Kaufman’s Glen Beck-esque acrobatics in trying to link EMERGE USA board members and staff to “questionable” organizations and associations can be easily dismissed because of factual errors and deliberate obfuscation.
The truly insidious aspect of this entire incident, however, is that it can be linked to a multi-pronged attack on Muslims nationwide through the creation of an Islamophobia network with deep pockets and an agenda to marginalize American Muslims at every turn. The Center for American Progress’s 2011 report “Fear, Inc.” thoroughly documents this network’s funding, messengers and reach. Its efforts have manifested in anti-sharia legislation in dozens of states, bigoted trainings for law enforcement and intelligence communities, the character assassination of mainstream national Muslim organizations and even promotion of the idea that President Obama is a Muslim.
The nightmarish narrative disseminated by the numerous think tanks, pundits and self-appointed “experts” on Islam and terrorism has not only successfully influenced the American discourse on Islam and Muslims, but has had significant political impact. The Islamophobia network focuses much of its time and energy on influencing and supporting politicians who promulgate its world view. It provides politicians with talking points, platforms and agenda items to keep the suspicion and fear of Islam and Muslims in the news. Examples of such politicians cited by the “Fear, Inc.” report include the following:
- Rep. Peter King: held numerous hearings on Islamic radicalization
- Rep. Sue Myrick: called for congressional inquiry on the CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, held hearings on influence of Muslim Brotherhood, leading Congressional fearmonger against Muslims
- Rep. Trent Franks, Rep. John Shadegg and Rep. Paul Broun: supporters of the CAIR congressional investigation
- Rep. Allen West: declared Islam as the enemy, claimed it is not a religion and held a briefing called “Homegrown Jihad in the USA”
- Rep. Renee Ellmers: made the Park51 into an issue, calling it a ground zero victory mosque
- Rep. Michelle Bachman: frequently raises concerns over homegrown Islamic threat and engages in anti-sharia rhetoric
While the influence of the Islamophobia network on right-wing politicians is more visible, the pressure it exerts on progressives is more troubling. Left-leaning politicians are also vulnerable to manipulation, as can be seen in Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s case. The Congresswoman is not the first Democrat to distance herself from a Muslim organization after being attacked by Islamophobes. To American Muslims who are mostly progressive in their politics, abandonment by Democratic politicians feels like betrayal.
The politicians who continue to be used to spread or confirm the network’s ugly narrative must realize something very important: while winning small battles, they are losing the war. History has proven that bigots, racists, xenophobes, anti-Semites and other variations on the same brand of fear and suspicion have never succeeded — socially or politically. Even genocide, the extreme expression of bigotry, has left nothing but failed ideology in its wake.
A simple understanding of the human psyche tells us that people tire of living in fear, worn out from perpetually being “anti-other.” Over time, we make up and move on. The battle of the Islamophobes will also eventually be lost because American Muslims and their allies will continue to push back against false narratives. The lifespan of Islamophobia in the United States will undoubtedly end up a sad blight on our history like other failed “anti” movements — but politicians, both Republican and Democrat, should ask themselves on what side of history they wish to be.
Rabia Chaudry is an attorney, President of the Safe Nation Collaborative, and an Associate Fellow of the Truman National Security Project.