By Nathan Lean
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is one of the nation’s oldest and most influential conservative think tanks. It is a bastion of Republican values and has, since its founding in 1943, had its finger on the pulse of mainstream issues that have united the GOP. A number of U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have relied on the work of its scholars, and its board reads like a Who’s Who of red-state leaders.
But recently the AEI took a broad step to the right and firmly planted its feet on the other side of the line that divides the sensible Republican Party from fringe extremists. It announced that its resident scholar Michael Rubin would join blogger Robert Spencer, who is a vitriolic critic of Islam, and writer Claire Berlinski to lead a 10-day tour of Turkey. The excursion (whose participants must cough up more than $4,500 each) is being organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a right-wing activist group named for its founder, who in addition to being Spencer’s sugar daddy (Horowitz funds Spencer’s blog Jihad Watch and publishes his articles on FrontPage Magazine) has led campaigns against the Muslim Student Association and said such things as Islam is a religion of hate and Palestinians are “morally sick.”
It would seem that the AEI and people like Rubin would want to distance themselves from Spencer and his ilk. After all, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League labeled Spencer’s latest startup with blogger Pamela Geller, Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), a hate group. Other civil liberty organizations have offered similar labels. Perhaps most damning, though, are the words of Anders Behring Breivik, now being tried after confessing to massacring 77 people last summer in Norway. He gushed of his love for Spencer and Geller in the manifesto that mapped his murders. He even claimed that Spencer should be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
But the AEI has hardly backed away from such dangerous figures. In fact, it has increasingly embraced them, harnessing their growing nationalistic rhetoric tightly to the banner of GOP politics. Rubin is a classic example of the AEI’s seamy underside. He has been associated with such known Islamophobes as Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney, famous for spinning wild conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s supposed affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Horowitz. Additionally, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an AEI scholar who after 9/11 became a quasi-celebrity by selling her personal story of genital mutilation, recently seemed to find value in justifications that Breivik has offered for his deadly rampage; she said that because “all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.”
Rubin, who has considerable educational and governmental credentials, says that during the trip to Turkey he will discuss contemporary Turkish politics. Spencer’s presence alongside him is curious, if not outright troubling. Spencer does not hold qualifications that allow him to speak with authority on Islam or Turkey. In fact, religious studies professors at the university where he obtained his one-year graduate degree in early Christian history have consistently rejected the notion that he is someone whose writings are anything other than armchair agitation.
What could Spencer have to say about Turkey that is enlightening? The same frightening things he has been saying for years? As head rabble-rouser of the Islamophobia industry, this is his chance to whisper to a few well-heeled tourists more tales of “stealth jihad” and “creeping Shariah” and “terror babies.” Back in 2008, he warned that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along with President Abdullah Gul, would whittle away at Turkey’s secular state to reveal an inner Islamic monster that the military would eventually have to suppress by force. The craziness doesn’t stop there. The following year, he joined a Facebook group started by white nationalists called “Campaign for the Reconquista in Anatolia.” It advocated conquering Turkey and expelling/slaughtering the Muslim population—nearly 150 million people. Spencer later claimed he was “duped” into joining the group.
Do Rubin and the AEI really want to be bedfellows with people like Spencer? Espousing staunchly conservative worldviews is one thing, but abandoning the right side of the political spectrum to flirt with anti-Muslim fanatics is another. It is evidence that the Islamophobia industry is becoming dangerously infused into a discourse that should be working to exclude such blatant bigotry.
This article is based in part on information originally published in a two-part series on the website ThinkProgress. Click here to see “Conservative Think Tank Scholar Promotes Claim That Norway Terrorist Attacked Because He was Censored,” written by Ali Gharib, and click here to see “The American Enterprise Institute’s Islamophobia Problem,” by Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton.
Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of AslanMedia.com. He is the co-author of “Iran, Israel, and the United States” (2010) and the author of “The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims.” Visit him online at www.nathanlean.com and follow him on Twitter at @nathanlean.