The U.S. Islamophobia Network’s ninja-like efforts to promote its astroturf Muslim pawns.
On December 29, 2016, the Clarion Project, part of a network of U.S. organizations committed to poisoning America’s understanding of Islam and excluding Muslims from public life, issued a petition asking its supporters to urge President-elect Trump to meet with the Muslim Reform Movement. Just a few days later, the Center for Security Policy’s (CSP) threat information office co-authored a piece lamenting Muslim Reform Movement (MRM) leader Zuhdi Jasser‘s treatment by Muslim organizations who are not aligned with the anti-Islam hate movement.
In 2017, the Islamophobia Network’s plan of promoting its pawns first manifested in Texas. State legislator Kyle Biedermann sent a three question survey to mosques leaders and Muslim student groups across the state that included a question asking if they endorse the manifesto of the MRM. Biedermann’s survey appears to be a modern day take on Jim Crow-era literacy tests that were designed to exclude African Americans from participation in America’s democracy. It also has the feel of a colonial-era Salem witch-finder’s warm up questions.
The Muslim Reform Movement’s Founding Manifesto
The Muslim Reform Movement’s December 6, 2015 five-point manifesto, is generally unobjectionable but its terminology is vague.
For instance, it calls for Muslims to reject “politicized Islam.” Everyone with sense rejects violent extremism as the manifesto mentions. But is it a problem if being Muslim inspires a person to be a better American and instills in her a desire to work for social justice? Does that mean Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Bishop Desmond Tutu’s politicized Christianity has no place in public life? What about Mahatma Gandhi’s politicized Hinduism? Is not the MRM itself political?
Whose model of secular governance is the group promoting? If it’s America’s, where individual expressions of faith in the public sphere are none of the government’s business, then this is something groups like CAIR embrace. If it is more like France’s where “wearing of symbols or articles of clothing by which students ostensibly display religious affiliations is forbidden in public schools through high school”—meaning Christian crosses, Sikh turbans, Islamic headscarves, and Jewish yarmulkes—then non, merci.
So why is the manifesto’s list of signatories so sparse?
The Islamophobia Network’s Go-to Guy
The Muslim Reform Movement is “led by AIFD” according to the American Islamic Forum for Democracy’s (AIFD) 2015 Form 990 IRS tax filing. AIFD lists the MRM initiative among its the “three largest program services, as measured by expenses.”
Zuhdi Jasser heads AIFD. The Forum once supported an Oklahoma law that vilified Islam and was ruled un-Constitutional after a legal challenge.
Jasser was honored as a “defender of the home front” by the Center for Security Policy, the anti-Muslim organization President-elect Donald Trump cited to justify his un-Constitutional plan to ban Muslims from the United States.
When Daniel Pipes, the grandfather of U.S. Islamophobia who thinks Islam “has nothing functional to offer” and that “brown-skinned” immigrants have unpleasant “standards of hygiene,” tweeted his praise of Jasser in early 2016, the AIFD head forwarded the tweet to his own followers.
Jasser serves on Clarion Project’s advisory board. In that role he narrated Clarion Project’s Third Jihad, an anti-Islam propaganda film characterized in 2008 by then New York Police Department Police Commissioner Ray Kelly as “wacky” and “objectionable.” A more recent Clarion Project film was executive produced by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has suggested that the U.S. Constitution be amended to allow for discrimination against Muslims saying, “There were no Muslim schools when the constitution was written. There were no jihadists.”
Jasser’s Fuzzy Leadership Claims
After thirteen years of operations, Jasser’s vision seems only to have caught fire in Islam-hating circles. His decision to ally his vision with the U.S. Islamophobia Network likely plays a role in AIFD’s ostracism from the mainstream U.S. Muslim movement.
Jasser’s American Islamic Leadership Coalition (AILC), his first attempt at a leadership coalition, had 25 organizations in 2011. A year later it featured only 11.
The MRM, his second attempt, launched with only 5. Only three individuals who were AILC members in 2012 signed the 2015 MRM manifesto. The only organization that was a member of AILC and signed the 2015 manifesto was Zuhdi Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
Circling back to AIFD’s tax submissions, in 2014 it claimed AILC as one of its three biggest programs.
Formed in 2010, AILC appears to have existed solely as a credibility vehicle for Zuhdi Jasser. The AILC had no appreciable social media presence, with the most recent Twitter mentions (other than one 2015 re-tweet of a 2012 event) being in October of 2012. The group’s website went from October 23, 2012-July 15, 2014 without an update.
According to a paper issued by the AILC in July 2011, the coalition was “a group of more than 25 organizations and leaders that are representative of the overwhelming ‘silent majority of Muslims in America.’
By 2012, the coalition’s website listed as “AILC Members” only 11 organizations and 7 individuals. A 2014 survey of the member groups found that coalition groups appeared to be inactive. For instance, at the time the Alliance of Iranian Women’s web site’s key feature was an event that occurred in 2009. Similarly, the Bangladesh-USA Human Rights Coalition’s website’s most recent posting centered on events that happened in 2008-2009, and the Council on Democracy and Tolerance’s website was defunct.
Despite this apparent anemia, AIFD’s 2014 tax return reported that it spent $30,691 on the coalition and that AILC “is planning a large (200+ member) conference.”
CAIR researchers found no evidence the conference occurred.
Instead, the 2015 AIFD tax return reports a convening to launch the Muslim Reform Movement with “over 20 leaders and organizations” a “growing network of diverse leaders” and that “MRM is planning another larger conference.”
MRM’s manifesto featured 14 founding signatories, representing 5 organizations and 4 unaffiliated individuals. These fourteen signatories, included AIFD’s president, community outreach director and a senior fellow.
Nonie Darwish, Former Muslims United and Pamela Geller’s America Freedom Defense Initiative
Biedermann is also promoting former Muslim Nonie Darwish in his effort to smear Texas Muslims. This is also a reflection of the efforts of the broader U.S. Islamophobia Network to promote surrogates who say what they want to hear.
In a 2011 speech, Darwish asserted that “Islam should be fought and should be conquered and defeated and annihilated.” She told the New York Times, “A mosque is not just a place for worship. It’s a place where war is started.”
While Former Muslims United was once independent, in recent years it has become a “program of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.” (AFDI)
AFDI is led by Pamela Geller. AFDI’s 2013 plan called for multiple, likely un-Constitutional actions such as religion-based exclusion of Muslims from national security positions, warrantless surveillance of mosques, and a ban on Muslim immigration into countries that do not currently have a Muslim majority. A Canadian judge noted her organization’s extreme anti-Muslim positions.”
Biedermann’s actions reveal that is stated concern for domestic security is likely a pre-text. As shown above, he has made a deliberate choice to align himself with the U.S. Islamophobia Network and its surrogates. Like them, his actions seem more aimed at intimidation of and domestic control of a religious minority.
Quick Notes on Two of The Manifesto’s Other Founding Signatories
Tahir Gora is also connected with the Clarion Project and published blog entries on the anti-Muslim group’s site.
Manifesto signer Tawfiq Hamid was listed as part of a “five star” line-up at ACT for America’s 2012 National Conference & Legislative Briefing. ACT for America is broadly recognized as an anti-Muslim organization. Its founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has alleged that “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.”