Muslim Public Affairs Council, USA
Based on the tracking of media coverage on American Muslims, anti-Muslim sentiment seems to be at an all-time high. The negative sentiment appears in many venues, from state legislatures debating anti-Sharia bills to opposition over construction of new Islamic centers. At the same time, media coverage has begun to focus on anti-Muslim activists in the United States and their
corrosive effects on American pluralism.
Within a national security and law enforcement context, there is no denying that extremists constituting the leadership of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates explicitly articulate their justifications for violence in “worldly” political terms – including the now-deceased Osama Bin Laden.3
They have also manipulated religious beliefs for their propaganda and terrorism recruitment purposes. This fact makes it important to understand how violent actors like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates manipulate Islam, among other factors, for operational and ideological purposes.
For the benefit of national security and the American public at large, we must ensure that those speaking about terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam are qualified. At a minimum, individuals who speak about Islam and its co-opting by violent actors need to be properly
informed (or at least ground themselves in human resources who do have the proper qualifications)
Of course, this is nothing to say of those individuals who also speak about national security related issues yet lack formal and relevant qualifications. An example would be someone such as Zuhdi Jasser, who claims to be an expert on political Islam, yet only has an M.D. and whose primary profession is a physician. (See P. 51 for more information.)
In America’s free society, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows everyone the right to freely express their opinions. However it is one thing to give an opinion, it is entirely another – either explicitly or implicitly – to claim that a person is an expert on a particular topic. As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
There has already been significant and groundbreaking research on the anti-Muslim hate industry by the Center for American Progress as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others. Their research focuses primarily on anti-Muslim hate activists’ sources of funding
and their possible connections to other forms of hate. No study that we know of has focused on the qualifications of the so-called “experts” on Islam and Muslim extremists. This study seeks to fill in this research gap by focusing on the academic qualifications of 25
individuals who comprise – some of the most vocal voices and activists in the anti-Muslim circuit. We specifically focus on highly visible personalities who engage in anti-Islam rhetoric and who frequently and inaccurately speak not only about extremist Muslims, or even Muslims at-large, but who also claim to be knowledgeable about the fundamental beliefs and tenets of the Islamic faith.
The study asks the question: Do these individuals have the formal academic credentials to back their explicit and implicit claims of expertise on Islam?
Within the context of our study, we define an expert on Islam as an individual who has formal academic qualifications in Islamic Studies from either 1) an accredited institution of higher education in the West or 2) an institution of higher education in a Muslim-majority country that rank among the world’s top 500 universities. In order to be classified as expert, as defined above, one’s credentials must also be publicly verifiable.
Our research finds:
- Of the 25 people examined, only 1 (4%) had the qualifications to be considered an “expert” on Islam.
- Most of these individuals do not have a college degree in Islamic studies. A few, such as Pamela Geller and Brigitte Gabriel, do not have a college degree.
- The individuals in the study fall into three broad categories in terms of the public role they play: 1) “Scholars” 2) “Validators” and 3) “Activists”. Scholars are further classified as “religious interpreters”, “security analysts” and “terrorism talking heads.”
- Several of the “validators” in our study have made unsubstantiated, odd, and inaccurate statements that raise serious questions about their subject matter expertise, and at times, personal authenticity. For example, one of the people examined in our study claimed to be an ex-terrorist, but an investigation by CNN found this to be false.
- These facts have severe negative consequences for our national security:
- At a pragmatic level, such rhetoric is counterproductive for two reasons. First, it undermines community oriented policing efforts by sowing seeds of distrust between law enforcement practitioners and the American Muslim communities they are sworn to protect, and which have been crucial in keeping the nation safe. Second, anti-Muslim rhetoric plays into the very grievance narratives that terrorist organizations use to radicalize individuals.
- At a legal level, when conspiratorial rhetoric is employed at training events, the likely outcome is the undermining of the American legal philosophy that the law enforcement community is sworn to uphold, which is based upon the guilt or innocence of an individual actor based upon their individual behavior, as opposed to collective guilt based upon group membership (and not behavior).
- At a professional level, public servants take pride in subordinating their personal politics to the higher calling of their mission and the values enshrined in the Constitution. Arguments that leverage the freedom of speech in order to undermine freedom of religion, while distasteful, are protected by our nation’s Constitution. However, they have no place in our federal, state, and local government practitioners who serve the public in accordance with the law.
Here is the list of 25 Individuals (and page numbers) covered in the MPAC report are
1. ANDREW G. BOSTOM 21
2. WILLIAM BOYKIN 23
3. STEPHEN COUGHLIN 24
4. NONIE DARWISH 26
5. STEVEN EMERSON 27
6. BRIGITTE GABRIEL 31
7. FRANK GAFFNEY 34
8. DAVID GAUBATZ 36
9. WILLIAM GAWTHROP 38
10. PAMELA GELLER 41
11. JOHN GIDUCK 42
12. SEBESTEYEN (SEBASTIAN) GORKA 43
13. JOHN GUANDOLO 45
14. TAWFIK HAMID 47
15. DAVID HOROWITZ 48
16. RAYMOND IBRAHIM 49
17. ZUHDI JASSER 51
18. ANDREW MCCARTHY 53
19. WALID PHARES 54
20. DANIEL PIPES 56
21. PATRICK POOLE 59
22. WALID SHOEBAT 60
23. ROBERT SPENCER 61
24. ERICK STAKELBACK 63
25. DAVID YERUSHALMI 65
- US media helped anti-Muslim bodies gain influence, distort Islam (wired.co.uk)
- Brigitte Gabriel Was Aligned with an Israeli Proxy Militia Guilty of Heinous War Crimes (loonwatch.com)
- | Why do Americans know so little about Muslims? Media brainwash! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Study: Anti-Islam Messages Dominate Media Coverage (thinkprogress.org)
- Study: News stories aid anti-Muslim groups (upi.com)
- Negative Portrayals of Muslims Get More Media Attention (livescience.com)
- Innocence of Muslim-Anti-Islam Film Maker sent to Jail (bangladesh2u.com)
- Will New House Homeland Security Committee Chair Carry On Peter King’s Islamophobic Legacy? (loonwatch.com)
- Key members of the Congressional ‘Islamophobia caucus’ swept from Congress (mondoweiss.net)