By Jonas Spooner & Jono Stubbins
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
In this present climate of engineered anti-Muslim hysteria and it’s resulting anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination there exists one career path that has exploded with opportunity for Muslims; that of the “Muslim Reformer”. However, the ‘Muslim Reform’ kingmakers are not equal-opportunity anointers. Muslim candidates will be heavily-vetted but well rewarded. They must be prepared to sanction the discrimination and the persecution of their Muslim brethren “as a Muslim”. They must be prepared to turn a blind-eye and a silent tongue to the excesses of the Israeli regime. They must be prepared to serve as the exotically named and non-white tools of a manufactured echo-chamber – a propaganda machine actively working against the interests of Muslims.
To understand the value of the ‘Muslim Reformer’ it’s helpful to first understand Gray Propaganda. The Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy states:
The objective of gray propaganda is to advance viewpoints that are in the interest of the originator but that would be more acceptable to target audiences than official statements. The reasoning is that avowedly propagandistic materials from a foreign government or identified propaganda agency might convince few, but the same ideas presented by seemingly neutral outlets would be more persuasive.
Enter the “seemingly neutral” Muslim Reform Movement (MRM). It’s January, 2017, nativist euphoria is peaking as the demagogue Trump is sworn in as President. This backdrop provides a golden opportunity for the MRM. In league with the Tea-Party backed Republican Kyle Biedermann (who has a penchant for re-creating “gay Hitler”) and Nonie Darwish from the SPLC-listed, AIPAC funded, anti-Muslim hate group the Center for Security Policy (CSP) they sent out a loyalty-oath to Islamic Organisations and Muslim leaders within Texas. The oath is slammed by the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and an affront to the U.S. Constitution.
It is to be Nonie Darwish’s third attempt. Acting as Pamela Geller’s surrogate Darwish had tried the same stunt in 2009 and 2012. The agenda of the founder and President of Arabs For Israel is crystal clear and it certainly isn’t ‘reform’. Darwish considers Islam a “poison” that must be “annihilated”. To understand why the ostensibly secular-Muslim and progressive Muslim Reform Movement would enter into alliances with anti-Muslim extremists and the Tea-Party’s gay Hitler we must peel back the layers of the organisation itself.
LAYER 1 – The Muslim Reform Movement
Founded in December 2015 the Muslim Reform Movement doesn’t appear to exist much further than on paper. It serves as a credibility vehicle which enables its members to label themselves as “Muslim Reformers” without the inconvenience of ever having to actually reform anything.
Founding member, Zuhdi Jasser candidly observed in 2016 that the Muslim Reform Movement’s greatest achievement to date was their own declaration. This declaration is claimed to be the backbone of the movement, highlighting the three main principles that MRM declare they stand for. One of these three core principles is “Human Rights: Women’s Rights and Minority Rights” in which MRM declares that they “support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.”
Upon reading the 1948 UN Declaration, it soon becomes alarmingly apparent that the MRM not only struggles to align itself with these universal standards, but blatantly rejects them. Likening their own declaration to that of the world’s highest governing body is a great idea in theory, however when analysed, this comparison appears extremely hollow and rather deceiving:
1948 UN UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Article 5 – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Now it is worth noting that one of Donald Trump’s major Presidential campaign promises was of course in direct contradiction to this, when he pledged to ‘broaden’ the laws on torture, allowing it to be brought back. High profile members of the MRM such as Nomani have publicly stated that they voted for Trump. In Nomani’s article justifying her vote, she makes no mention of the policy of torture. Maybe it slipped her mind?
Article 12 – “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. In another rejection of this right and therefore the MRM declaration, see Asra Nomani’s support for heightened police surveillance of Muslims here, Zuhdi Jasser’s here, and Raheel Raza’s here.
Article 14 (1) “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”. This is perhaps the most openly and vehemently rejected of these rights by those within the MRM. Once again, in stark contrast to their own declaration, MRM members have publicly supported and whitewashed Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’. In doing so, the MRM not only shows a distinct lack of empathy for those requiring it the most, but also denies them one of their most basic human rights.
Jasser, Nomani and their acolytes at the MRM will tell you that they have their own good reasons for their support of the above policies. However, while that may or may not be true, they would be wise not to pretend that the MRM is founded in Human Rights, whilst simultaneously opposing them. Some might say it makes them look foolish, while others might not be as kind when discovering this ‘public interest’ group’s ‘greatest achievement’, is based on a lie.
The Muslim Reform Movement’s Members
Zuhdi Jasser: President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), an organisation heavily financed by pro-Israel and anti-Islam vested interests. A member of the Christian-Supremacist Council for National Policy. A member of the anti-Islam Gatestone Institute’s International Advisory Council. He sits on the Advisory Board at Clarion for whom he narrated Obsession; a film widely denounced by Jewish leaders for its Islamophobic propaganda and which was cited in the terrorist Anders Breivik’s Manifesto. Consistent Republican Donor.
Asra Nomani: One of the leading “as a Muslim” validators. Has over the years expressed solidarity with the Pamela Geller/Robert Spencer led anti-Muslim protests, advocated the racial-profiling of Muslims, defended and subsequently participated in Peter King’s McCartyite Muslim Hearings, enthusiastically welcomed the spying-on of innocent Muslims and infamously voted for Trump.
In the week succeeding the January 2017 Quebec mosque shooting, which saw six people shot dead and 19 injured, Nomani tweeted incessantly, sending out over 80 tweets to her 34,000 Twitter followers. Astoundingly however, not one of these tweets even mentions the shooting, the perpetrators and/or expressed any sympathy or solidarity with the victims.
MFT’s Vice-President is Salim Mansur. He is an academic consultant at Frank Gaffney’s CSP. A Senior Fellow at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies and a board member at the Center for Islamic Pluralism (all pro-Israel). CIP is funded by Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum and it’s Executive Director is the Neocon Stefan Schwartz who also sits on the Advisory Board at Raza’s Muslims Facing Tomorrow.
Hasan Mahmud: General Secretary at Raza’s ‘Muslims Facing Tomorrow. President of the Muslim Canadian Congress which was founded by Tarek Fatah. Fatah is a Fellow at Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum and gleefully shares stages with the leader of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) of Canada, Meir Weinstein; who speaks of his “good rapport” with Fatah.
Tahir Aslam Gora: His pro-Israel blog is carried by the Jewish Defence League. He appeases them with wildly anti-muslim claims, such as that “bin Laden (is) a hero in most Islamic countries”.
Usama Hassan: A member of the UK based Quilliam Foundation who are heavily funded by Conservative and Zionist donors and whose Chairman Maajid Nawaz is listed by the SLPC as an “anti Muslim extremist”.
Naser Khader: Senior Fellow at the far right, pro Israel Hudson institute, whose donors include occupation advocate and billionaire Seth Klarman. The Hudson Institute has no qualms in funding extremist Israeli Settler Organisations.
Farahnaz Ispahani: The apparent exception to the rule. Doesn’t follow same pattern as her co-’reformers’. However, her husband and former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani hosts Israel Lobby fundraisers and has worked for Daniel Pipes.
Courtney Lonergan: Described by Robert Spencer as Jasser’s ‘Assistant’. Director with Jasser at the Arizona Interfaith Movement. Works at Jasser’s AIFD. Wherever you find Jasser, Lonergan is not far away.
Arif Humayun: Another one of Zuhdi Jasser’s minions. Director at Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Makes up the numbers.
LAYER 2 – The Clarion Project
The Clarion Project (formerly Fund) is a non-profit organisation created in November 2006 by Rabbi Raphael Shore of Aish HaTorah. Clarion has been described by the SPLC as an “anti-Muslim group” that “promotes conspiracy theories” and by Jewish Voice For Peace as an “anti-Muslim hate group”. The Council on American Islamic Relations has labelled The Clarion Project as being “part of the inner core of the U.S. Islamophobia network” and Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative observed that “among the members of Clarion’s advisory board are Frank Gaffney, Zuhdi Jasser, and Daniel Pipes, well-known commentators who consistently advance misleading or unfounded notions about Islam.”.
Clarion earned its infamous reputation due to their highly inflammatory style, coupled with an anti-muslim bias which underlines the very nature of their work. In 2015 for example, Clarion released an article from ‘research’ which showed that over 8 million people in the Arab world “support” ISIS, and alarmingly, as many as 42 million hold “somewhat positive” views towards them. This article was penned by Muslim Reform Movement Founder(??), and Clarion Editor, Meira Svirksy. In typical Svirsky style, the article, “ISIS Has at Least 42 Million Supporters in the Arab World”, was loaded with alarmist discourse and fear-inducing rhetoric, both of which complemented its highly questionable research. The Bridge Initiative released its own detailed critique of this study, concluding that it was “premised on conflations, inconsistencies, extrapolations, and misrepresentations”.
‘Inconsistencies’ and ‘misrepresentations’ seem to be a common theme arising throughout the work of the Clarion Project. A report from the independent watchdog, Right Web, on Clarion has observed the following:
Among its many questionable claims, the site asserts that “there are 35 Radical Islamic communities spread across the United States” and that the U.S. legal and financial systems have been infiltrated by “Stealth Jihad.”
Many of Clarion’s “fact sheets” have to do with Iran. One such report, titled, “The Iranian Nuclear Program,” reiterates the claim that “evidence abounds” that the Iranian government “long term desire is to obtain nuclear weapons.”
Echoing arguments pushed by neoconservative-aligned groups in Europe, such as the Henry Jackson Society, Clarion has a dedicated page titled “Eurabia” that has characterized Muslim immigration as a global problem irrespective of religious or political ideology.
Aside from fear mongering, error-prone analysis and pseudo reform movements, Clarion has also heavily invested their pro Israel donations into the creation and distribution of anti-Islam propaganda films, most notably it’s first being 2007’s ‘Obsession’.This achieved little more than igniting irrational fears, fanning the flames of islamophobia and smearing Barack Obama, in what critics argued was an attempt to pave the way for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election. Following the release of Obsession, Clarion have released 2008’s ‘The Third Jihad’, 2010’s ‘Iranium’ and 2013’s ‘Honor Diaries’.
Earlier this year, Asra Nomani tweeted: “On all things, we must demystify the propaganda & follow the money”. In a rare moment of clarity, Nomani hits the nail on the head and makes a good argument for further investigation of the Clarion Project. Analysis of who is funding the organisation can provide vital insight into why they produce disingenuous films and misleading studies like the ones mentioned above.
In 2014, Clarion received $238,000 from the Jewish Communal Fund (JFC). The JFC is the America’s biggest Jewish donor advised fund, an organisation enabling the mega rich to donate whilst remaining anonymous. The JFC has propped up multiple anti-muslim organisations in the past such as Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), provided funding for hardline Zionists such as Aish International (see below), and even financed illegal settlement construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories via The Jerusalem Foundation. Also in 2014, Clarion received $50,000 from the pro settlement, Irving I Moskowitz Foundation. Moskowitz used this foundation to channel his wealth into building projects of settler movements that work to create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Other Clarion Donors have included: The Benjamin Netanyahu-funding billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the conservative christian run Giigle Foundation, fellow anti-muslim financiers The Randolph Foundation and The Snider Foundation, as well as the ‘Sugar Mama of Anti Muslim Hate’, Nina Rosenwald’s affiliate, The William Rosenwald Family Fund.
LAYER 3 – Aish Hatorah (Fire of Torah)
Aish are a Jewish ultra-orthodox outreach (kiruv) movement which attempts to convert secular/atheist Jews to the ultra-conservative Haredi sect. They’ve been described by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic as “Jewish extremists” and “just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today”. Goldberg recalls a conversation he had with Aish representative Ronn Torossian:
“I think we should kill a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill…If someone from a town blows himself up and kills Jews, we should wipe out the town he’s from, kill them all.”
Desperate to fight the ‘threat” of assimilation the late Rabbi Noah Weinberg founded Aish in 1974 in a Jerusalem apartment. Its humble beginnings now a world away from the current Aish behemoth which now spans five Continents and is patronised by celebrities and billionaires.
Today they continue the fight against the “problems” intermarriage and assimilation began by their founder Weinstein – Its mission is to “turn the tide of assimilation”. They segregate by gender. Advocate a nuclear “first strike” on Iran. Its Rabbis demand of Jews eventual “ full and complete observance of the entire Torah”. Further, Aish Rabbis preach that families should disown their apostate family members and only halacha sanctioned divorces are “proper” divorces.
However, Rabbi Weinstein had a cause beyond his war on Jewish assimilation and intermarriage; the state of Israel. He personally provided the seed money to establish The Sderot Media Center. Aish’s site explains “Rabbi Weinberg believed passionately in the idea of Israel activism”. Weinberg’s Zionist tribalism had an appeal beyond the ultra-Orthodox. He recruited non-religious Jews to his cause. The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) was established to “foster support and appreciation for Zionism” and Aish are a member. Weinberg’s quote below could be seen as the core motive for the Clarion Project’s incessant dehumanising anti-Muslim propaganda.
“If there is a threat to the Jewish nation, or to the Western world, it cannot be ignored. We must meet the challenges facing us head on and do whatever we can to remedy the situation.”
Both Clarion and Aish deny their involvement with the other but the overlaps are manifold, too many to list. ‘Jerusalem U’, likewise founded by Rabbi Raphael (Robert) Shore also denied their links to Aish. However, the links were proven by former Orthodox Jew Shmarya Rosenberg who describes Jerusalem U as “an Aish Hatorah missionary front meant to prey on unsuspecting non-Orthodox Jews”.
The same Raphael Shore is a former Aish employee and the founder and CEO of Clarion. He has produced all of the Clarion anti-Muslim films. His brother Ephraim heads Aish from it’s headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem. All four of its Directors have ties to Aish Hatorah, while Aish and Clarion once even shared an address. The many links continue up the present. Clarions forthcoming (secretly funded) propaganda film ‘ Kids: Inside The Terror Factory’ is being made by Wayne Kopping of ‘Jerusalem U” and Shoshana Palatnik, daughter of Aish’s Lori Palatnik.
Aish connections are littered throughout Clarion and, as a result, the Muslim Reform Movement. Previously mentioned Clarion Editor, Meira Svirsky, claimed ownership of the Muslim Reform Movement on behalf of Clarion. Svirsky is part of the faculty at Aish Hatorah and is married to an Aish Rabbi. A petition was subsequently initiated on change.org by the “Friends of The Muslim Reform Movement” urging Trump to meet with the MRM. These “friends” are registered as the Clarion Project. The petition was launched on Clarion’s site by the same Meira Svirsky. The seemingly infinite number of links between Clarion and Aish only serve to reinforce an assumption that many observers are already beginning to make: Clarion was formed to act as an ‘independant’, propaganda arm of the Aish International juggernaut.
LAYER 4 – The Israeli Government
Aish have received strong support from the Israeli Government. They were granted the final two sites adjacent to the Western Wall. From here, they installed their “Second Temple” opposite the wall. In 2001 The Israeli Foreign Ministry partnered with Aish to create ‘The Hasbara Fellowship”.
The Hasbara Fellowship had a document leaked earlier this year, part of their propaganda booklet that instructed students of what terminology to use when discussing Israel-Palestine. These instructions include:
Instead of Israeli-Palestinian conflict —> Arab/Israeli conflict
Instead of ‘Settlements’ —-> Neighbourhoods
Instead of ‘Hamas/Hezbollah’ —–> ‘Iranian-backed Hamas’, ‘Iranian-backed Hezbollah’.
MRM and Biedermann: a match made in Heaven?
When the MRM sent out their 2016 founding declaration, it was as expected, largely ignored by those it was aimed at. As Jasser describes below:
We spent significant resources on this outreach over a period of ten months. We reached out through snail mail, e-mail, and telephone to over 3,000 mosques and over 500 known public American Muslims. We received only 40-plus rather dismissive responses from our outreach, and sadly less than ten of them were positive. In fact, one mosque in South Carolina left us a vicious voice mail threatening our staff if we contacted them again.
Unsurprisingly however, this declaration did appeal to the Christian conservative, Texas Republican Representative Kyle Biedermann, and his office reached out to Clarion’s ‘reformers’. The MRM held no issue in collaborating with Biedermann, resulting in the widely discredited ‘loyalty oath’, which among other things, aims to poll muslims on the specifics of exactly what they do and do not believe.
That the MRM and Biedermann’s paths would happen to cross, is down to more than just mere coincidence or political networking. Apart from the obvious embrace of far right ideologies, the two share in common a history of controversies which emanate from, among other things, a broken moral compass. The anti-abortion Biedermann can be seen here dressing as a ‘gay Hitler’ while making a Nazi “sieg heil” salute. Taste it appears, is not his strong suit.
Furthermore, during a messy divorce/custody battle with his ex wife in a Texas district court, some rather disturbing details emerged. Republican Party-affiliated website TexasGOPVote.com, warned of his chequered past during Biedermann’s campaign run, reporting on and providing court documents that show (among other distressing allegations) a district court “judge called Biedermann a ‘very sick’ man who at one point was ordered to stay 100 yards from his family members and to avoid contacting his daughters by telephone”. The article was titled “Court Documents Say Texas House Candidate Kyle Biedermann Mentally Abused his Children; Was Physically Abusive to Their Mother”, and called for further scrutiny on those “candidates for public office who claim to have conservative values”.