There have been some very interesting reactions to Max Blumenthal’s investigation that revealed the virulently anti-Muslim and pro-Israel donors behind the American Islamic Congress (AIC).
That organization’s best known employee is the Mauritanian-born social media activist Nasser Weddady.
Weddady was briefly in the national spotlight when he was mysteriously parachuted in by the Governor of Massachusetts to speak on behalf of the Muslim community at the interfaith service in Boston in the days after the marathon bombing, replacing the well-known Muslim educator and imam Suhaib Webb.
As Blumenthal reported, the notorious anti-Muslim activist Daniel Pipes “has promoted the AIC as one of the ‘moderate groups’ presenting a counter-weight to Muslim organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which he has repeatedly labeled as a front for a secret plot to place the US under the control of ‘sharia law.’”
AIC, and its executive director Zainab Al-Suwaij, have been major promoters of the US war in Iraq as well as beneficiaries, reaping millions of dollars in government patronage from both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Neither Weddady nor the AIC, where he serves as outreach director, nor Al-Suwaij have responded to Blumenthal’s article, and did not respond to queries when he was researching it.
The Clarion Project leaps to AIC’s defense
But AIC did receive a vigorous defense from Ryan Mauro, the “National Security Analyst” for the Clarion Project.
The Clarion Project – previously known as the Clarion Fund – is notorious for producing several wildly Islamophobic films including Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West and The Third Jihad. It’s latest film, Iranium, argues for war against Iran.
Mauro notes that CAIR shared Blumenthal’s article in its email newsletter and says:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is yet again undermining its own “moderate” credentials by slamming its Muslim rivals (and true moderates) for being part of an “Islamophobia” network and exposing its own Islamist agenda in the meantime.
He also asserts that “There is a wide opening for a group like AIC to compete with CAIR,” confirming that the view that AIC is a tool to fight groups that the Islamophobia industry and Zionist ideologues disapprove of is shared more widely than just by Pipes.
Both AIC and the Clarion Project share many of the same anti-Muslim donors, including Sheldon Adelson, the Casino magnate who believes Palestinians are an “invented people,” and is the main bankroller of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a massive donor to the US Republican Party.
According to the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, the Clarion Project received more than $17 million from one funder, Donors Capital Fund, in 2008 alone.
That massive sum, which originated from an anonymous individual, helped pay for the distribution of millions of DVD copies of the hate-film Obsession.
The Center for American Progress report argues that Obsession was “the single most powerful piece of media over the past five years in persuading average Americans to the Islamist threat.”
Donors Capital Fund, as Blumenthal reported, has also been among the AIC’s “most reliable” financial supporters.
Wealthy, ultra-conservative individuals, including billionaires Charles and David Koch, use Donors Capital Fund as a conduit to support climate change denial, anti-union and other right wing causes as well as Islamophobia, according to SourceWatch.
The Clarion Project’s board of advisors includes, as Eli Clifton puts it, “some of the most high-profile and established propagators of Islamophobic rhetoric,” including Daniel Pipes and Frank Gaffney.
Interestingly, The Clarion Project shares a board member with AIC in Zuhdi Jasser who narrated the anti-Muslim propaganda film The Third Jihad.
If the Clarion Project’s defense of AIC was supposed to help the organization’s credibility with anyone other than extreme anti-Muslim elements, it is more likely to do precisely the opposite. It only confirms how closely held AIC is within the portfolio of think tanks and outfits supported by Donors Capital Fund, Sheldon Adelson and other bankrollers of hate.
AJC former communications director: “neo-Nazi wingnuts”
A quite salty reaction came from Ben S. Cohen, the former communications director for the American Jewish Committee. Incensed at the perceived attack on Weddady, Cohen called Blumenthal and me “neo-Nazi wingnuts”:
Free Arabs editor weighs in
The other notable response has come from Ahmed Benchemsi, editor-in-chief of the website Free Arabs, which came in for heavy criticism in Blumenthal’s article. Weddady is the co-founder of the website.
In his response, Benchemsi names me and Blumenthal as “master conspiracy investigators,” and “conspiracy theorists,” though Blumenthal’s article was, in fact, researched and written – extremely well, I may add – entirely by Blumenthal.
Benchemsi does not (and cannot) refute any of the hard facts about AIC’s funding from anti-Muslim hate groups, but he does try to put some distance between Free Arabs and AIC, asserting that Nasser Weddady’s association with the site is extracurricular and has nothing to do with his work at AIC.
Notably, Benchemsi also now says that the Free Arabs website’s “design and technicalities have cost around $25,000 until now, all paid by my personal savings and a donation of an Arab journalist friend who vowed to remain anonymous, i.e. away from the slander circus.”
This is interesting because until 8 May, the Free Arabs website stated on its “Who supports us?” page, “Development of the initiative was enabled by Ahmed Benchemsi’s fellowship at Stanford University’s program on Arag [sic] Reform and Democracy at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.”
This has now been deleted from the Free Arabs website.
As Blumenthal reported, the leadership of the Stanford program has habitually supported US military intervention in Arab countries from Iraq to Syria.
But after Lina Khatib, the Stanford program’s director, wrote to The Electronic Intifada to disavow any formal role for her program in supporting Free Arabs, Benchemsi no longer mentions Stanford.
Yet Benchemsi’s response is interesting for another reason; while ostensibly putting distance between Free Arabs and AIC, he divulges that his own ties to the Islamophobia industry-funded group go back to 2005:
My first contact with AIC was in 2005. I was then serving as the publisher and editor-in-chief of a weekly newsmagazine in Morocco and as such, was facing jail time and a prohibitive fine for allegedly “defaming” a government official. AIC’s Jesse Sage, who visited my office in Casablanca on a brief trip to Morocco, spontaneously offered to help by launching a solidarity campaign in the US. The same offer was reiterated 2 years later after I was accused of “offending” the King of Morocco (and later, on numerous similar occasions). Over the years and judicial hazards, I built a close relationship, then a personal friendship with Jesse, who later introduced me to Nasser Weddady.
Blumenthal reported that Sage is “a protégé of hardline anti-Muslim activist Charles Jacobs” who founded the David Project, the organization that works to suppress independent scholarship about Palestine and Palestinian solidarity activism on US campuses.
As noted, Weddady has not responded to Blumenthal’s article and went uncharacteristically silent on Twitter for several days, until he tweeted out a link to an article in The Atlantic:
Halvorssen Mendoza is president of the Human Rights Foundation, a group that promotes military intervention, and is also director of the Oslo Freedom Forum, a “shindig—launched in 2009, and on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum” (The Oslo Freedom Forum is, incidentally, where Free Arabs was first conceived by Weddady and Benchemsi).
In his Atlantic piece, Halvorssen Mendoza describes Weddady’s role in campaigning for Abdulemam, who had been sentenced to 15 years in prison amid Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on human rights defenders and protestors.
Halvorssen Mendoza has also defended Weddady on Twitter, calling Blumenthal’s article “fiction” and explicitly exploiting the Abdulemam case:
It’s all well and good that Weddady spoke out for Abdulemam, but it is cynical – to say the least – of Weddady and his defenders to now use Abdulemam to deflect attention from the disturbing revelations about the American Islamic Congress and the major support it receives from the most virulent Muslim-haters in the world.
Abdulemam, after all he’s been through, does not deserve that.