In light of the Oslo attacks, it is important to pause and contemplate what sparked this event, and indeed where such hatred comes from. One thing is clear: this in no way occurred in isolation.
It was a disconcerting coincidence that an article on the front page of Monday's New York Times coincided with a sensationalist event entitled "Homegrown Jihad in the USA: Culmination of the Muslim Brotherhood's 50-year History of Infiltrating America," presented by Citizens for National Security (CFNS), located in Boca Raton, Florida and sponsored by U.S. Congressman Allen West, a Republican from Florida.
In fact, the Times article reported on the strong influence of a group of American bloggers on Anders Behring Breivik's--the man accused of the Oslo massacre--decision to bomb government buildings and kill so many innocent civilians. His 1,500-page manifesto spoke directly to the alleged failure of Norwegian politicians to protect the nation from the spread of nefarious Islamic influence. His manifesto, which cites Robert Spencer's blog, Jihad Watch, an astounding 64 times, should serve as a reminder of the terrifying influence of right-wing extremism in a world of online media.
CFNS is part of this xenophobic network of ideologues to which Breivik subscribed. Eli Clifton at Think Progress has done great work on unpacking the influential forces behind the manifesto, revealing the frequency in which Breivik cites alleged counter-terrorism experts and Islamophobic bloggers and pundits in justifying his views. Breivik’s manifesto cites Daniel Pipes, a board-member of CFNS, and his think-tank, The Middle East Forum, eighteen times. Pipes’ blog features a variety of extreme, ultra-conservative gems of articles on the Middle East and a whole spectrum of important political issues, such as his confirmation of President Obama's Muslim identity that lists the President's “ties to Islamists,” or his plan for Palestinian-Israeli peace, which essentially calls for Israel to wage relentless violence on all of its potential adversaries in order to achieve its national goals. Pipes also thinks up clever phrases to describe his ridiculous assessments of the world. My personal favorite, Sudden Jihad-Syndrome, refers to cases “whereby normal-appearing Muslims abruptly become violent.” The most atrocious aspect of this blatantly racist and ignorant phrase is that, since Pipes coined it, it has appeared on an increasingly widespread basis.
What's particularly frightening about all of this—the event, Daniel Pipes, Breivik’s manifesto—is not that right-wing radicals exist. That's not news to any of us. But we should take note of the political influence these lunatics somehow manage to have, and the fact that our nation's Congresspeople support events like “Homegrown Jihad in the USA.” Ignoring these trends would be dangerous.
The goal of the CFNS event was to present an “in-depth, 18-month long research project” revealing the Muslim Brotherhood's influence in America. The presentation's first slide, “THE WAR IS REAL,” introduced the “one-sided war” the Brotherhood has waged against America and the West for the last 50-years. Graphic representations of intricate networks of Muslim Brotherhood “affiliates”—a cast of super-nefarious organizations like the Muslim Students Association, the Muslim American Society, and the North American Islamic Trust—allegedly show the extent to which the Muslim Brotherhood has not only infiltrated America but has transformed every Muslim-American into a raging terrorist, intent on waging “jihad” (a term undefined by the speaker of course) against the West, threatening the “inherently secular” nature of the American political climate (this statement was then contradicted, or perhaps unintentionally retracted, by the speaker after I posed a quite simple question regarding his opinion on the potential threat of other groups that conflate religion and politics, like Evangelical Christians or even lobbying organizations like AIPAC).
Even more bizarre than the “in-depth” research project is the absolute absence of citations or statistics in the pamphlet distributed at the briefing. The only citation is from the Center on Law and Security at NYU which offers graphical representation of prosecutions of “homegrown terrorists.” The goal was to show a linkage between “homegrown terrorists” and “Islam,” clearly to vilify Islam to such an extent that CFNS's hideous conflation of Muslim and Terrorist would seem somehow grounded in scholarship or reality. In this clear misappropriation of important academic data, CFNS used a statistic about prosecution of terrorist activity to implicate the Muslim Brotherhood and Muslim-Americans in general.
And what are we to make of the database of 6,000 names generated by CFNS's "in-depth research?" When asked whether or not the names on said database were based on action or association, the speaker paused, and then confirmed that all individuals (and organizations, for that matter) marked as linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (and identified as alleged threats) were listed solely based on (unproved) "affiliation" rather than "terrorist activity." The prospect of Congress having access to a database of 6,000 names of allegedly dangerous individuals is alarming and should serve as a red-flag for the possibility of violence against the American-Muslim community. If this isn’t McCarthyite, I’m not sure what is.
CFNS's rhetoric should not be taken lightly. Although many of the attendees at the conference only came to witness its absurdity and get a free lunch, some took heed to the ludicrous message CFNS was trying to convey. The presence of Islamophobia in America and on a global scale is certainly alarming. The identification and data-basing of Muslim students should be a warning sign. This is not benign hatred. When an American politician sponsors an event clearly grounded in racism, anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear-mongering, conscientious individuals and organizations aimed at fostering understanding at peace should take action.
Karina Piser is an intern with New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.