News & Politics

Is Notorious Islamophobic Think Tank Inspiring More Far-Right Terrorism?

More worrying is the prestige that the Gatestone Institute seems to be able to flaunt along with its considerable resources.

Islamophobic policies and rhetoric increasingly permeate everyday life in North America and Western Europe. Helping to shape this reality is a well-resourced and organised network of anti-Muslim think tanks, activists and journalists. At the heart of this constellation is an American think tank called the Gatestone Institute. A relative newcomer on the anti-Muslim hatemongers scene, it did not rate a mention in the Centre for American Progress’s (CAP) ground-breaking 2011 study, Fear Inc. But, backed by big money, it has rapidly since become a central player in what Nathan Lean has called the ‘Islamophobia industry’.

A counterjihad echo chamber

The family of Gatestone’s founder and president, Nina Rosenwald has long pumped millions of dollars into this anti-Muslim network, through various trusts and foundations including the Abstraction Fund, discussed shortly. For this reason, Rosenwald herself has been dubbed, by journalist Max Blumenthal, ‘the sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate’.  

Blumenthal notes that Gatestone emerged in 2011 as an offshoot of the right wing Hudson Institute. Since then it has become a hub for anti-Muslim ideologues of all hues; neoconservative, ultra-Zionist and so-called ‘counterjihad’. It has acted as a clearing-house, for example, for claims about Muslim ‘no-go zones’ (the likes of which ‘terrorism expert’ Steven Emerson was widely ridiculed for, including by UK Prime Minister David Cameron). Its articles carry fear-mongering titles such as: ‘‘Spain: Soon the Muslims will be kings of the world’, ‘Britain’s Islamic future’, ’The Islamization of France’, ‘The Islamization of Germany’ and ‘The Islamization of Belgium and the Netherlands’.

The theme of so-called ‘Islamisation’ is fundamental to the paranoid political imaginary of the counterjihad movement, combining anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. It is the notion that animates a network of groups under the banner ‘Stop the Islamisation of Nations’ (SION), and underpins street movements like Germany’s PEGIDA (an acronym of the German for ‘Patriot Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’) and the English Defence League (EDL) – and their respective copycat movements.

It is a favourite topic of many right-wing populist politicians like the infamous Geert Wilders, anti-Islam leader of the Dutch ‘Party for Freedom’, who, according to Blumenthal, calls Gatestone founder Nina Rosenwald a ‘good friend’ (perhaps why Gatestone recently published an article defending his call for ‘fewer Moroccans’ in the Netherlands, comments for which he is facing hate speech charges). ‘Islamisation’ was also, of course, the major preoccupation of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. In July 2011 he killed 77 people in an attack he called ‘gruesome but necessary’ and saw as a precursor to the civil war he believed was inevitable - that he hoped would drive Islam and Muslims out of Europe.

Eurabia conspiracy theorists and the Abstraction Fund

Breivik detailed his views – typical of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant counterjihad movement - on the ‘threat’ posed to Europe by Islam in a 1,518 page ‘manifesto’. Given that virtually every article that Gatestone publishes is suffused with the same assumptions (for instance ‘How Islam Conquers Europe’, ‘UK Islamic takeover plot’) it is no surprise to learn that the institute’s authors include many of the writers cited by Breivik in his notorious tract. Gatestone author Robert Spencer and his Jihad Watch website were mentioned 116 times, while Daniel Pipes and his Middle East Forum (MEF) got 18 citations. Other Gatestone authors mentioned in Breivik's lengthy screed include David Horowitz and the aforementioned Steven Emerson.

More importantly, Nina Rosenwald’s mega-foundation, the Abstraction Fund, provides funding to many of these organisations: the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy (CSP), Pipes MEF,  and many other Islamophobia industry groups besides. (Abstraction also gives to a host of pro-Israel organisations like CAMERA, MEMRI and the Zionist Organization of America, illustrating the increasingly common funding overlap between many anti-Muslim and some pro-Israel groups, observed in the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network’s recent report ‘The Business of Backlash’.) Interestingly, as well as presiding over the Gatestone Institute, Rosenwald is also financing it with money from the Abstraction Fund, albeit indirectly: as with other groups, the money is being channelled via a third party (MEF).

The Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum has some significant European links. Most notably, its ‘Legal Project’ has provided financial support to Geert Wilders during court cases related to hate speech laws. Other ‘critics’ of Islam it has helped with legal costs include France’s Christine Tasin, president of the counterjihad group Résistance Républicaine and Peder Jensen aka ‘Fjordman’, the prolific but little-known Norwegian blogger who was perhaps the greatest individuals influence on Brievik (cited at least 114 times in his manifesto). Fjordman, in turn, is a protégé of Swiss-British ‘historian’ Bat Ye’or (real name Gisele Littman), the grandmother of contemporary anti-Muslim pseudo-intellectualism, who developed the Eurabia conspiracy theory which lies behind concepts like ‘Islamisation’ and Muslim ‘no-go areas’. She too has been published by Gatestone and was cited in Breivik’s manifesto.

Mainstreaming Breivik’s ideology

While today relegated to the status of mere author, Fjordman’s central importance to Gatestone is clear from the fact that he was one of just a handful of people originally listed (in January 2013) as ‘distinguished scholars’ when the institute was setting up. Given his apparent influence of his ideas of Breivik, the importance he was afforded in Gatestone’s early stages and continued presence at the think tank, is alarming. After the attacks, some claimed it was ridiculous to say Fjordman bore any responsibility for the massacre. This is, notably, the precise opposite of what we are told in relation to so-called ‘Islamic extremist’ thinkers.

Furthermore, though the relationship between ideas and actions is indeed complex, the over-played distinction between ‘criticising an ideology’ and attacking Muslims as people is not so clear cut. As Sindre Bangstad has pointed out, visceral ‘fighting talk’ against Islam can very easily serve as incitement to attack against Muslims (or, as was the case in Norway, in 2011, against anyone who supports multiculturalism and is therefore perceived as a handmaiden of ‘Islamisation’.)

It is reasonable, then, to ask whether the Gatestone Institute, by creating an echo chamber fearmongering about Islam and demonising Muslims (see for example: ‘Islamic cannibalism’ and ‘Child Sex Slavery, Multicultualism and Islam’) is inspiring another Breivik?

Perhaps more worrying still is the prestige that Gatestone seems to be able to flaunt along with its considerable resources. Next to names like Fjordman are those of former U.S. ambassador John Bolton (chairman of Gatestone) and James Woolsey, former director of the C.I.A. (Gatestone advisory board member). The presence of such individuals – who have the ability to lend mainstream respectability to vehemently Islamophobic ideas – is something few counterjihad think tanks can boast. Besides Gatestone, the Centre for Security Policy which recently hosted a conference called ‘Defeating Jihad’ that three of the Republican nominees for presidential candidate attended, can also demonstrate an alarming degree of mainstream influence.

In this sense, while the danger posed by lone far-right terrorists like Breivik has long been clear, the establishment kudos and faux-respectability of bodies like the Gatestone Institute arguably gives us more to fear.

Hilary Aked is a London-based freelance writer and a PhD student at the University of Bath researching the pro-Israel lobby in the UK.