by Hayy Yaqzan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 5, Shawwal, 1440)
As the summer months roll in and the mercury rises in North America, it seems as if the heat has also been turned up on Islamophobes. Most notably, the Canadian Muslim restauranteur Mohamad Fakih won a defamation lawsuit against Kevin Johnston (the details of which were discussed in a previous article in the Crescent, January 2019).
For his “horrific” behaviour and “hateful Islamophobic” comments, Johnston was ordered by the judge to pay $2.5 million to Fakih — reportedly the largest payout for defamation in Canadian history. The Islamophobia industry in Canada seemed to have momentarily quietened down in the days that followed, perhaps realizing that they could no longer comfortably hide behind claims of “freedom of speech” in their efforts to spread hate.
As welcoming as the silence was, it was temporary. Trolls like Johnston are only mules for the Islamophobia industry, which is really run by more powerful actors pulling the strings. This is why it is crucial for those seeking to dismantle this industry to understand the flows of money, information, and people within it. To this end, in May, the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) published a detailed report titled “Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network.”
The purpose of the report is to highlight the role of mainstream American philanthropic organizations in funneling money to the Islamophobia industry. The research-ers identified 1,096 organizations that funded 39 highly problematic groups between 2014 and 2016, contributing to the total revenue capacity of at least $1.5 billion.
The donations ranged from as little as $20 to as much as $34 million. Of the 1,096 organizations, 80 donated between $100,000 and $999,999 and 18 donated more than $1 million. Many of these contributions come through donor-advised funds (DAFs), which were introduced in the previous article in this Crescent series (May 2019).
Many of the DAFs generally do great philanthropic work. The California Community Foundation (CCF), for example, funds organizations that tackle issues such as homelessness, immigrant rights, and leadership opportunities for at-risk youth. However, this only enables the CCF to more subtly contribute to groups such as the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) — which has given out awards to David Horowitz and Geert Wilders — as well as the American Center of Law and Justice, which advocates for anti-Muslim policies, and Concerned Women for America, which says that mosques should be seen as centers for militant political activity.
Similarly, Fidelity Charitable funds disaster relief efforts internationally, the largest hunger-relief effort in the US, and even anti-Islamophobia advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre and ACLU. But at the same time, it also funds 34 anti-Muslim groups, including a total of nearly $2 million in donations to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and The Lawfare Project. Fidelity Charitable is managed by Fidelity Investments Inc., a Boston-based international financial services company and one of the largest asset managers in the world.
Schwab Charitable, managed by the prominent US bank officially known as the Charles Schwab Foundation, is another case. Charles Schwab is considered the 76th richest man in the world and one of the strongest supporters of President Donald Trump. Schwab Charitable funds many good causes, such as The Salvation Army and Smithsonian Institution. However, it also gives millions of dollars to 18 anti-Muslim groups, most notably the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). This is a propaganda outfit co-founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer that provides ridiculous and grossly misleading translations of Arabic language news, clips of scholars’ lectures, etc. Schwab Charitable has given MEMRI nearly $1.2 million for this work.
Some of the DAFs serve particular communities. One of these is the Jewish Communal Fund, which is “dedicated to the welfare and security of the Jewish community at home and abroad.” It has given out some $3.2 million to 31 anti-Muslim groups, including the American Freedom Defense Initiative — led by Pamela Geller, a notorious Islamophobe, and responsible for Islamophobic ads placed in public spaces — as well as MEMRI.
Other key actors in this category of faith-based DAFs include Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism, Inc. (CASE) and the National Christian Foundation, which rank first and second (respectively) in the list of largest philanthropic funders of Islamophobia in the US. CASE is run by Jay Sekulow, who is proudly Jewish, is reportedly part of Donald Trump’s personal legal team and has faced many accusations of using charities to funnel money back to his own family.
But apparently he is not so selfish; CASE has also given $32 million to the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which advocated for Trump’s Muslim Ban and publishes anti-Muslim propaganda. For example, in 2015, ACLJ launched a campaign against Islam being taught in public schools in Georgia and Tennessee; telling students about the five pillars of Islam and that members of the three Abrahamic faiths worship the same God was decried by the ACLJ as “indoctrination.”
Finally, in addition to DAFs and faith-based DAFs, there are also family funds that are making significant contributions to the Islamophobia industry. For readers who may be interested in doing their own research, this list includes the Stephen Harold Schimmel Foundation, the Mirowski Family Foundation, and the Heavenly Father’s Foundation. These will be discussed in detail in forthcoming articles in this series, insha’allah.
Producing this research can be painstaking work, but it helps clarify where the money that sustains the Islamophobia machine is actually coming from. Muslims and their allies in both Canada and the US have significant purchasing power as consumers, and they can use this to call for these funds to either stop funding the Islamophobia industry or face a campaign of boycott and public exposure. This is not far-fetched; in fact, soon after this report was released, one community came out almost immediately with a call to defund the Islamophobia funders in their own ranks.
In late May, 450 prominent members of the Jewish community — including members of the Jewish Communal Fund and the Chicago-based Jewish United Fund, a similar organization — convened for a meeting in a Brooklyn hotel. But many Jews also stood outside, holding up signs that read “Jewish Communities Say: Defund Islamophobia Now” and handing out informational cards to the Jews passing by, urging them to call the offices of the JCF and JUF and insist that they stop funding any Islamophobic activities.
“That Jewish funds can support the most vile anti-Muslim bigots is unconscionable, particularly at this moment with the increase in violence against so many of our communities,” Elena Stein, an organizer of the Defund Islamophobia campaign, told Mondoweiss. “We know that many Jewish groups and individuals are concerned about Islamophobia. We wanted them to know that our communities are funding anti-Muslim hate and demand that they stop,” said a co-organizer.
This is the kind of mobilization that is possible once this toxic information is made public. And this is the kind of work that is necessary if we are to seriously challenge the Islamophobia industry. Even a machine that has developed cutthroat efficiency will not run for long if you cut off its fuel.