Investigations

One of America's Most Dangerous Think Tanks Is Spreading Islamophobic Hate Across the Atlantic

The Gatestone Institute has pumped out reams of dangerous anti-Muslim propaganda, and its ties to UK groups deserve close scrutiny.

The Gatestone Institute, a New York-based think tank, has become one of the most important hubs in America’s Islamophobia industry, pumping out reams of dangerous anti-Muslim propaganda of the kind lapped up by far-right mass murderer Anders Breivik. The transatlantic dimensions of Gatestone’s influence have so far gone largely unnoticed, but its close links to several British groups, including the Quilliam Foundation, Stand for Peace and the Henry Jackson Society deserve close scrutiny.

Despite its virulent anti-Muslim racism, Gatestone has been able to maintain a large roster of contributors, including a number of Muslim authors. When I interviewed one former Gatestone contributor, Shiraz Maher, who now works at King’s College London’s International Center for the Study of Radicalization (and built his career on the back of his claims to be a reformed “ex-extremist”), he confirmed he had been paid for articles, but declined to say how much. However, a separate policy analyst, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, named a different UK-based Muslim writer on Gatestone’s books whom he claimed was being paid, in return for producing articles “on demand,” the tidy sum of $65,000 a year.

These figures fit with the fact that Gatestone’s revenue was reportedly $1.1 million in 2012 and that attendees at its events were at one point being asked for a "minimum donation of $10,000." When I pointed out to Maher the prominent Islamophobia in the writing of Peder Jensen aka “Fjordman” and a plethora of other Gatestone authors, Maher said he no longer contributed articles to the think tank. But others in the UK—who similarly style themselves as “anti-extremists” yet apparently see no irony in associating with this extremely Islamophobic (but also extremely well-funded) think tank—have forged links with Gatestone more recently.

Collective blame and the Quilliam Foundation

Chief among these is the Quilliam Foundation. In January 2015, just days after the Paris attacks, Gatestone spent approximately $100,000 taking out a full page advert in the New York Times. To drive home its implicit message that a “good Muslim” supports US power, two out of the three Muslims pictured in the Gatestone advert were posing next to the American flag. Mentioning violence in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt and “Africa,” the text of the advertisement effortlessly ignored all other violence in the world not involving any of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims and simultaneously glossed over the context-specific political factors at play in each conflict. The subtext was clear: Gatestone was advocating a mono-causal explanation for this violence and put the spotlight firmly on Islam.

Ostensibly a “counter-extremism” initiative, this advert was typical of how contemporary anti-Muslim racism is articulated: by generalizing specific behaviours and attributing them deterministically to religious ideology. This fundamental problem of collectively imputing blame is not negated by the fact that all 23 signatories were Muslims. Though the statement calls on “all people of conscience” to sign up, since the word “duty” is twice used in relation to Muslims it is clear that they, far more than others, are expected to prove they reject violence.

The Gatestone declaration serves the same function as the so-called ”Charter of Muslim Understanding,” which similarly called for Muslims to be required to make special denunciations. Commissioned by UKIP’s Gerard Batten, that document was called “frightening” even by pro-Israel Tory MP Robert Halfon, who compared it to a first step to wearing a yellow star, as Jews were required to do under Nazi rule. Nonetheless Lord Pearson of UKIP made a similar call, demanding that Muslims “address the violence” in the Koran, last year.

One signatory to the Gatestone statement was Tarek Fatah, who as Scott Long has noted, elsewhere conveyed the spirit of the advert in a concisely fascistic 140 characters tweeting: “If you are a Muslim on social media & have not yet tweeted ‘I am #CharlieHebdo’, than you are an Islamist and our enemy.” Usama Hasan and Maajid Nawaz of the UK-based Quilliam Foundation also signed the statement. 

That they had no quibbles about associating themselves with Gatestone is perhaps unsurprising since they also saw no problem legitimizing former English Defence League leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, who has proven himself to be an unreconstructed Islamophobe. Like that move, dire financial straits – following the removal of their government funding – may be what underlies Quilliam’s new association with Gatestone. (It's also tried hosting a “summer ball” and crowdfunding.) I contacted Quilliam twice via email and twice on the phone to ask if it was receiving funding from the Gatestone. No response was received.

The Henry Jackson Society and Student Rights

One UK organization known to have received funding from the same source as Gatestone is the Henry Jackson Society. The woman behind all this money is Nina Rosenwald, who has been dubbed the “sugar mama of anti-Muslim hate” by journalist Max Blumenthal. She funds Gatestone, where she is also president, via her New York-based mega-foundation, the Abstraction Fund, and through Abstraction she has also channeled money to HJS via its U.S. fundraising arm.

Though a relatively small amount—$10,000 in 2011 according to the site Conservative Transparency—this funding connection is significant because it puts HJS in some notorious company. The Abstraction Fund also gives Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum the majority of its funding, which it uses for projects like Campus Watch. This MacCarthyist blacklisting outfit has long sought to smear leftist staff at U.S. universities, just as the new pro-Israel Canary Mission project has done with students advocating for Palestinians’ rights. Though Canary Mission is operated anonymously, Pipes has been exposed by Blumenthal as working closely with those behind the project, to the extent that he provided a statement on Canary Mission’s behalf.

In light of these connections, the growing interest in Islam displayed by HJS (which I and colleagues from Spinwatch documented in our recent report on the think tank) and in particular, the work done by its own university watchdog arm, Student Rights to smear Muslim students on British campuses, fits a clear pattern in line with the Campus Watch/Canary Mission model. Many of these neoconservative Gatestone-linked groups also co-operate among themselves, for example Student Rights has reportedly worked “closely” with Quilliam. Another UK group associated with Gatestone, less well known than Quilliam or HJS/Student Rights but equally destructive in its use of American-style attack-politics, is the ironically named Stand for Peace.

Sam Westrop and Stand for Peace

Stand for Peace claims to be an "inter-faith" anti-extremism group and though it has no real office and is chiefly a website run by one person, it has been able to get media coverage in the Telegraph, Express, Mail, and Mirror. Occasionally the issues it raises appear to be legitimate concerns, but in many other cases even conservative actors, like the influential Archbishop Cranmer blog, have criticized its liberal and sometimes ludicrous use of the “extremism” smear. While SFP’s definition of extremism is not clear, its modus operandi is very similar to Campus Watch, Canary Mission and Student Rights (in short: blacklisting and smearing) and its targets are usually Muslims. Perhaps its most despicable action though was to portray humanitarian volunteer Alan Henning as a supporter of violence at a time that he was being held hostage by ISIL and shortly before they brutally killed him.

SFP has also sought to blacken the name of numerous charities providing aid to desperate people in crisis in Syria and Gaza. Its tenuous complains and dubious claims may have contributed to the withdrawal of government funding from certain Muslim groups branded “extremist”; the closure of bank accounts held by a number of Muslim groups and individuals deemed outside HSBC’s “risk appetite”; and the Charity Commission’s disproportionate focus on various Muslim groups.

SFP founder Sam Westrop, 26, is also listed as a "distinguished senior fellow" of the Gatestone Institute, alongside fellow Britons Douglas Murray of HJS, right-wing activist Denis MacEoin, Daily Telegraph journalist and MI6 conduit Con Coughlin, the zealous Christian Zionist and ex-British army officer Richard Kemp and former British ambassador Charles Crawford. Westrop also regularly contributes articles to Gatestone. One of these pieces, titled "The Real Islamophobia," is displayed prominently on SFP’s website. It is a fine example of the Islamophobia-denial that helps anti-Muslim hate to grow by downplaying the problem, belittling and blaming the victims: all activities in which Westrop’s American benefactor Gatestone specializes.

In "The Real Islamophobia," Westrop attempts to critique the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, author of the seminal book Orientalism. His antipathy for Said is unsurprising given his own glaringly orientalist views, articulated clearly after a trip to Jordan and Syria, when he mused, “I did not find the Arabs romantic. I found them interestingly hostile. A mentality of very irrational hatred was evident everywhere, venom regurgitated by government propaganda. Decades of despotic rule have kept a perpetual mob mentality.”

Meanwhile, Westrop has also been pictured lobbying Julian Brazier MP alongside members of the Shomron Liaison Office which advocates in favour of illegal Israeli settlements. With such extremist views how has Westrop been able to pass himself and his outfit off in the media as an arbiter of extremism? Even the BBC gave him—and Quilliam’s Usama Hasan—a television platform to air their views. (Notably, they spoke alongside Anne Marie Waters, who would later prove her own colours as an anti-Muslim extremism by trying to host a Mohammed cartoon exhibition with Tommy Robinson and other far-right activists.)

Westrop has from a young age been practicing getting himself heard in the media. The York University music graduate was involved with a website titled the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy while still an undergraduate student. Like Westrop’s other short-lived projects, the British Israel Coalition and British Muslims for Israel, IMED briefly provided a vehicle from which to access media platforms and he and his colleagues used the opportunity to defend Israeli state violence and demonize Muslims. (Again illustrating how interwoven these groups are, Shiraz Maher has at various points sat on the boards of IMED, Stand for Peace and Student Rights, while Tom Wilson, formerly of IMED, now works at HJS.)

Charles Jacobs and Baroness Cox

When I Nina Rosenwald, the sugar mama herself, about her funding of Quilliam and Stand for Peace, she initially replied to a query submitted via Gatestone’s website with a flat denial, stating: “We have no relationship with either and have not supported either.” After I pointed to the wording of a mini-site attached to SFP which hosts a report by Sam Westrop called The Interfaith Industry (explicitly described as being “produced by the Gatestone Institute” and “with the support of the Gatestone Institute”), she changed her mind, suggesting, “This may be an organization we funded at the suggestion of someone working on a specific project that we thought sounded worthy.” But she later forwarded an email from an accountant saying there was “no record” of any donation to the group and the references to Gatestone on the Don’t Fund Extremism mini-site which hosts the report were subsequently removed.

Though Rosenwald also claimed she had “never heard” of SFP, the group has other close links to Gatestone. Raheel Raza, who  is featured in the Islamophobic film Honor Diaries, is an advisor to SFP as well as a “distinguished senior fellow” at the New York think tank and a signatory to the same Gatestone statement signed by Quilliam’s leadership. Another key link in the chain between SFP and Gatestone is Baroness Cox, who sits on the latter’s Board of Governors (along with fellow Britons the Viscountess Bearsted and worryingly— as investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed has noted—the Times newspaper’s former editor and leader writer, influential conservative Lord Finkelstein).

When researching Islamophobia in the UK, many roads lead to Baroness Cox. The life peer, who was expelled from the Conservative Party in 2004 for backing UKIP has, with UKIP’s Lord Pearson, twice invited the Dutch Gatestone author and anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders to speak in parliament. She has long been closely connected with the Henry Jackson Society and its predecessor, Douglas Murray’s Center for Social Cohesion. She is connected to Daniel Pipes via the Jerusalem Summit and has been supportive of a number of new anti-Islam initiatives such as hosting the launch of Anne Marie Waters’ group Sharia Watch UK in the House of Lords in 2014. Similarly, she hosted a parliamentary event for SFP—again with UKIP’s Lord Pearson—at which Sam Westrop spoke, to launch its possibly-or-possibly-not Gatestone-funded report.

If Cox is a lynchpin of the UK neo-con right, Charles Jacobs plays a similar role on the U.S. political scene. The ultra-Zionist Jacobs founded both CAMERA and the David Project, which pioneered Campus Watch/Student Rights-esque harassment of pro-Palestinian university professors, notably by making the film Columbia Unbecoming which attacked Joseph Massad. In 2008 Jacobs founded Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT), yet another ironically named right-wing pressure group funded by hard-line Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s Family Foundation, among others. The group has been called out by Muslim and Jewish groups for waging a “destructive campaign against Boston’s Muslim community based on innuendo, half-truths and unproven conspiracy theories.”

Sam Westrop was a perfect fit. Though British, Westrop co-authored an article with Jacobs in September 2015 which described him as APT’s “research director.” No doubt what attracted Jacobs to Westrop was the latter’s belligerent attitudes. In their paranoid thinking almost all Muslims are extremists and any criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic and must be silenced. Thus Westrop has written, “We need to aggressively attack the very root of hatred and hypocrisy...It is about being on the offensive – advancing with a spear rather than trembling behind a crumbling shield. It is about standing up for what is right rather than dithering over what is acceptable.”

Colin Cortbus and the ‘anti-extremism’ brigade: throwing stones in glass houses

This kind of mentality makes “anti-extremists” like Westrop blind to their own hatred and hypocrisy. When I interviewed one of SFP’s so-called senior fellows, Colin Cortbus—a former UKIP member who now styles himself as an anti-extremism analyst—he confirmed that despite the pretentious title, he is an undergraduate student at Goldsmiths University. He confessed that he has never received any money from SFP and has only ever met director Sam Westrop twice. When I pointed out SFP and Westrop’s close links to Gatestone, Cortbus said he condemned the “vile views of [Geert] Wilders and [Robert] Spencer” (both Gatestone authors) “and those of their ilk.” Strangely, he even asserted he would not write for Gatestone himself and claimed to have a “zero tolerance” policy on racism.

Yet despite playing a part in calling out Anne Marie Waters’ Islamophobia, Cortbus remains associated with Westrop and SFP, an organization whose material has encouraged, emboldened and mobilized the English Defense League, just as Student Rights’ output has done. Cortbus also admitted he had passed information to Student Rights. Given the company he is keeping, it is deeply ironic that sensationalist smears spread by Cortbus sparked the absurd media witch-hunt of Goldsmiths sabbatical officer Bahar Mustafa, which recently culminated in an outrageous court summons. While pointing his finger at her for supporting black self-organization, he is in bed with a transatlantic web of anti-Muslim hate.  

The language of “counter-extremism” has become a cover for anti-Muslim racism. Inter-linked groups like Stand for Peace, Quilliam and the Henry Jackson Society are aggressive purveyors of what they call “anti-extremism,” while at the same time maintaining close links to —and themselves perpetuating—Islamophobic prejudice of the worst sort, typified by their connections to the Gatestone Institute. The establishment kudos and mainstream influence of these groups should alarm us all.

Author's note: In the process of researching this article, I contacted Sam Westrop of Stand for Peace/Americans for Peace and Tolerance, to give him the chance to respond to points made in this piece. He declined the opportunity and instead published a Gatestone Institute article calling me and my PhD supervisor David Miller “racist.” Our response to this baseless smear can be read at Spinwatch.org.

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. 

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