A "horrendous crime" that "violates every major objective of Islam."
That's how Daisy Khan, founder of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality described the recent kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. Despite similar denunciations of Boko Haram's actions by Muslim religious leaders, activists, organizations, and intellectuals across the world, right-wing media are set on using the kidnappings as a justification for their Islamophobic narratives and their attempt to make Boko Haram the face of Islam.
Boko Haram is a marginalized terrorist organization operating out of Nigeria whose murky ideological goals include eliminating secular education. In recent history their attacks have concentrated on schools, killing Christian and Muslims alike who speak out against them. Before the kidnappings, Boko Haram attacked two mosques in August 2013, murdering more than 65 Muslims.
On May 12, Fox News turned to Aayan Hirsi Ali, the anti-Islam activist often cited to support right-wing media's Islamophobic constructs. Hirsi Ali appeared on The Kelly File with host Megyn Kelly, where she insisted that Islam not be separated from the "outcome, the kidnappings, the violence" of Boko Haram and argued that Muslims need to acknowledge "that there is something wrong in the first place." From The Kelly File:
KELLY: You want to call attention to violence of girls in the Muslim world and then we see this. In the wake of this, we have the first lady who is making a call for attention to these girls, which is good, but she doesn't mention in her radio address the girls are Christian and the captors are these radical Jihadist. Do we need to understand that?
HIRSI ALI: You have to understand that somehow it is derived from Islam unreformed. I think there is a possibility for Islam to be reformed. I think the opportunity is right here, but I think it all begins with acknowledging that there is something wrong in the first place.
Hirsi Ali is well known for her anti-Islam rhetoric, once claiming that Islam was a "cult of death." Her rhetoric has propelled her into the conservative media spotlight which has highlighted her efforts to smear Islam as a religion of violence; for Hirsi Ali and other right-wing outlets, Boko Haram serves as a perfect example to support their seemingly endless Muslim fear mongering.
The Daily Caller used Boko Haram's attacks as a new reason to bash Muslim groups, criticizing a mosque that did not "excommunicate Boko Haram", and suggesting that these Muslim organizations are responsible for Boko Haram's ideology if they do not publically condemn the terrorists. Breitbart made no attempt to veil the site's anti-Muslim views, claiming that Boko Haram's "behavior is absolutely par for the course in Islamic history," and that Islam has a history of "sex slavery, (of both boys and girls), polygamy, sex trafficking, and the brutal subordination and cyclical massacres of religious minorities."
In reality, Boko Haram is a marginalized, radical group that does not represent the tenants of the Islamic faith or the Muslim tradition. The Daily Beast's Dean Obeidallah argued that the group's views are so far removed from the religion that media should "stop referring to the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram as 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamists' or anything else involving the word 'Islam.'" Obeidallah cited Muslim leader Imam Shamsi Ali who called Boko Haram's leaders " 'blasphemous' for claiming the Koran sanctions their violence against innocent people since it's not only 'contrary to everything Islam stands for' but also it's 'a crime against God and humanity.'"
Muslim organizations have condemned the group and its actions. Though as Sohaib Soltan explained for Time, it should not be the responsibility of Muslim groups to constantly condemn the actions of terrorists, and that holding all Muslims accountable for "condemning evil at the hand of other Muslims" is built upon a flawed premise because with this expectation comes the "inherent assumption that somehow radical violent extremist cults can legitimately speak for Islam."
As CNN's Arsalan Iftikhar also pointed out, these murders and kidnappings are not supported by the Quran, which Iftikhar says "states quite clearly that 'oppression is worse than murder' and that nobody 'shall force girls to commit prostitution'."
Conservative media have largely ignored these outspoken Muslim scholars in favor of voices like Hirsi Ali's that help them demonize the entire Muslim faith by using the actions of a marginalized terrorist group.
A Daily Beast article relying on anonymous criticism of Hillary Clinton was latched onto by conservative media, who selectively quoted the article to smear the former Secretary of State for not officially designating the Nigerian group Boko Haram a foreign terrorist organization.
As Maggie Haberman noted in Politico May 10, following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram, conservatives began hyping a report from the Daily Beast which quoted an anonymous official criticizing the former Secretary of State for previously turning down requests to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, implying that such a designation could have prevented the kidnapping.
The "actual details," as Haberman explained, revealed that experts at State were concerned an official designation would negatively elevate the group and lead to an inhumane response from Nigeria (emphasis added):
Clinton found herself on the receiving end of questions about the kidnap of 300 Nigerian girls. The Daily Beast reported that Clinton's State Department declined entreaties from congressional Republicans and others to label Boko Haram, the group responsible for the kidnappings, a terrorist organization. Secretary of State John Kerry gave the group that designation last year.
During Clinton's time at State, "The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials," the Beast quoted a former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussion as saying.
Republicans have widely circulated the original Daily Beast story. The actual details of why the Clinton-run Department declined to affix the group with terrorist status are complicated- her former Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, was reportedly concerned about elevating the group among extremist outfits, and potentially giving the Nigerian government latitude to go after them in an inhumane way.
Media Matters has explained that Clinton did put top Boko Haram leaders on the terrorist list, and academic experts on Africa confirmed the Department's fears that a designation for the whole organization could have severe negative consequences. Additionally, before Boko Haram was ultimately designated an official terrorist organization under Secretary Kerry, the group had been a part of peace talks with the Nigerian government which were reportedly "on the verge" of producing a ceasefire. As soon as the designation became official, they abandoned the talks.
Some of this relevant context was included in the original Daily Beast article, but was buried toward the end. Conservative media were able to conveniently ignore the details while promoting the out-of-context attack on Clinton's tenure.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly invited anti-gay hate group leader Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) to comment on HGTV's decision to cancel a program that would have starred a rabid anti-gay extremist, pushing the FRC's own talking points to baselessly frame HGTV's decision as an attack on Christians.
On May 6, Right Wing Watch reported that David Benham, who along with his brother Jason was slated to star in a fixer-upper reality show called Flip It Forward, had an extensive record of anti-choice, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim activism. David Benham explained to far-right radio host Janet Mefferd in 2012 that he and his brother had participated in a protest of the Democratic National Convention to take a stand against "homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation," abortion, divorce, and "demonic ideologies" circulating in the education system. Benham has also compared the anti-gay marriage fight to the struggle against Nazi Germany and highlighted Leviticus' prescription of death for gay sex.Benham's views on Muslims are no kinder; he has declared that "Islam takes life and enslaves it" and protested in front of mosques while shouting "Jesus Hates Muslims."
Faced with a public outcry, HGTV announced on May 7 that it had "decided not to move forward" with Flip It Forward.
During the May 8 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly asked Perkins to weigh in on the controversy. Kelly suggested that while HGTV would have been condemned for cancelling a show featuring gay stars, the Benhams were being punished because, unlike gay people, Christians' rights aren't as "protected and recognized in this country":
From the May 8 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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In the wake of the Roberts Court's latest attack on the constitutionality of race-conscious law, right-wing media are mischaracterizing the decision and Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent in a dishonest attempt to frame civil rights precedent as "racial discrimination."
On April 22, the Supreme Court ruled in Schuette v. BAMN, a badly split opinion in which the Court's five conservatives rejected long-established equal protection law under the Fourteenth Amendment to uphold Michigan's voter-approved ban on affirmative action. Right-wing media immediately began misinforming about the case, ignoring the serious consequences it could have for minority rights in the United States. By effectively overruling the "political process" doctrine, which forbids setting up a separate and unequal tier of political participation for a disfavored minority, the conservative justices reopened the door to the rigging of political systems, previously disallowed because of its negative impact on communities of color.
NRO continued its misinformation campaign about Schuette in its April 22 editorial, claiming that affirmative action is itself a form of prohibited racial discrimination. The editorial went on to call Sotomayor's dissent in Schuette "legally illiterate and logically indefensible" and "offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law." To bolster the claim that Sotomayor is preoccupied by "ethnic-identity politics," the editors whistled to the 2009 right-wing media smears that the justice was a racist because she once referred to herself as a "wise Latina." From the NRO editorial:
In a perfectly Orwellian dissenting opinion, which she read dramatically from the bench, Justice Sotomayor argued that the decision of the people of Michigan to end racial discrimination is itself an instance of racial discrimination and that the only way to mitigate such racial discrimination is through the mandatory maintenance of racial discrimination. In this opinion she was joined by Justice Ginsburg, with Justice Kagan recusing herself from the case. Justice Sotomayor argued that Michigan's Proposal 2, which mandates race-neutral state policies, is the sort of legislation used to "oppress minority groups." By outlawing racial discrimination, she argued, "a majority of the Michigan electorate changed the basic rules of the political process in that State in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities."
Justice Sotomayor is here arguing in effect that if a constitutional referendum doesn't go the NAACP's way, then its effects are invalid. This is not an exaggeration: Justice Soyomayor argues explicitly that Michigan's voters would have been within their rights to, for example, lobby university authorities to adopt race-neutral admissions standards but that by adopting a constitutional amendment insisting on race neutrality, thereby transferring the decision from the education bureaucrats to the people themselves and their constitution, they "changed the rules in the middle of the game." Her opinion is legally illiterate and logically indefensible, and the still-young career of this self-described "wise Latina" on the Supreme Court already offers a case study in the moral and legal corrosion that inevitably results from elevating ethnic-identity politics over the law. Justice Sotomayor has revealed herself as a naked and bare-knuckled political activist with barely even a pretense of attending to the law, and the years she has left to subvert the law will be a generation-long reminder of the violence the Obama administration has done to our constitutional order.
On April 21, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that President Obama plans to use his constitutionally-granted pardon power for certain eligible nonviolent drug offenders serving excessive sentences, a systemic approach to clemency that was most recently used by former Republican President Gerald Ford. In response, Fox immediately turned to right-wing media guests to push the false idea that this proposal is unconstitutional and unprecedented.
Before President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, defendants convicted of selling or using crack received sentences nearly 100 times more severe than those convicted of selling or possessing cocaine -- despite the fact that the drugs are essentially the same thing. Those convicted and punished under the disparate sentencing guidelines were disproportionately black. The Obama administration's decision to use the pardoning power to commute unduly harsh sentences would, according to Attorney General Holder, apply to those offenders who were sentenced under the "old regime."
This proposal would not overturn their convictions, but would shorten their now-outdated sentences.
Fox Business host Lou Dobbs reported on the clemency proposal by asserting the attorney general's explanation for the need to ameliorate systematic discrimination was one of Holder's "fictions" and was "ludicrous" because the Civil War already eliminated slavery. Dobbs also hosted right-wing media figures to accuse the president of "gutting the Constitution and separation of powers doctrine at the same time." Fox News' Special Report pushed a similar narrative, with correspondent Mike Emanuel uncritically repeating a former Bush II official's claim that "this is yet another example of Obama going around lawmakers" before misleadingly claiming "Orrin Hatch said Congress, not the president, has the authority to make sentencing policy. Hatch called on Mr. Obama to work with Congress, rather than, once again, going it alone."
Fox News' Megyn Kelly also took exception to the Obama administration's proposal, hosting NRO contributor Andrew McCarthy on The Kelly File to rail against the announcement. Kelly, upset that "convicted -- convicted" drug offenders might finally have their sentences commuted, characterized the proposal as executive overreach on the part of the Obama administration. McCarthy agreed with Kelly and claimed that Obama's use of the pardon power was a "massive abuse" and tantamount to "rewriting the federal narcotics laws which he personally thinks are too severe."
Led by Sean Hannity, Fox News has devoted 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming to cheerleading for a Nevada range war.
Media Matters examined Fox News' weekday programming from 4 p.m. through 11 p.m. ET since it first started covering the story.
Fox News began agitating for a range war on April 9, sympathetically portraying Cliven Bundy as a folk hero based on the Nevada rancher's refusal for two decades to pay the required fees for grazing his cattle on public land. While Nevada reporters have made clear that Bundy is "clearly wrong" and "breaking the law," Fox has waged a PR campaign romanticizing Bundy and the armed militia groups that fled to his ranch and forced a standoff with federal agents who were executing a court order that allowed them to impound his cattle.
Fox Radio hostTodd Starnes fanned the flames by implying that federal agents could be "strung up" for confiscating Bundy's cattle, regardless of a court order. Even after the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would return the cattle to Bundy, Hannity asked Bundy whether he was worried that government agents might kill him.
Hannity has effectively turned his Fox News show into a public-relations firm for Bundy and the militias backing him, dedicating more than 1 1/2 hours of coverage since April 9 to effectively agitating for armed conflict with the federal government.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of Fox News programs from April 5th to April 17th. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Bundy, Nevada, ranch!, cattle, Bureau of Land Management. The search included the Fox programs The Five, Special Report, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, The O'Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity.
The National Rifle Association's top lobbyist reacted to the formation of new gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety by calling the group's founder, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a "billionaire nanny" and attacking the group's plan to spend $50 million on gun safety initiatives.
Everytown for Gun Safety was launched on April 16, and will feature the recently combined efforts of Bloomberg initiative Mayors Against Illegal Guns and grassroots gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Everytown says it "will ask Americans to join the fight to reduce the gun violence that kills 86 Americans every day and affects every town -- big cities and small towns alike." The group will work in Washington while also "moving beyond Congress to bring the fight for common-sense gun policies to state capitols, corporate boards, and state and federal elections -- fields of play formerly occupied almost solely by the gun lobby."
Bloomberg announced in The New York Times that he plans to spend $50 million this year on gun safety initiatives. Republican and Democratic officials, including President Bush's secretary of homeland security and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sit on the board of Everytown, as do several prominent survivors and family members of victims of gun violence.
Conservative media have rallied behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a political activist known for her toxic anti-Islam rhetoric after Brandeis University cancelled plans to grant her an honorary degree. Right-wing media have painted Hirsi Ali as a champion for women's rights, but instead appear to use her views on gender as a rhetorical gateway to attack the religion of Islam and highlight Hirsi Ali's view that Islam is a religion of violence and a "cult of death."
On April 8, Brandeis University announced that it would reverse course in awarding an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) known for her critical views of Islam. The New York Times reported that while Brandeis has invited Hirsi Ali to speak, it could not "overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with" its values, labeling her past statements as the reason it revoked the degree.
Since the announcement, conservative media figures have rushed to defend Hirsi Ali, some using her life experience to explain away her Islamophobic comments. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called the move an "example of a war on women" and argued that the university had "caved to Muslim thugs." Fox News' Sean Hannity said the university's decision was an "example of left-wing appeasement." On April 10, Fox contributor Monica Crowley asked, "Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are people who, like Ali, have left the faith and are willing to courageously speak about it? And yet when somebody does show the guts and gets out there to do it, this is how they're treated?"
But Hirsi Ali is not moderate in her views of Islam -- once referring to the religion as "a destructive nihilistic cult of death" in a 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard. The New York Times reports that Hirsi Ali has also "advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that 'violence is inherent in Islam' and that 'Islam is the new fascism'." In a 2007 Reason interview, she also called for Islam to be militarily crushed and suggested the Constitution should be amended to permit oppression of U.S. Muslims.
Hirsi Ali has similarly used her position at AEI to push for antagonistic relations between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries, even criticizing President Obama for not "associating Islam with extremism." In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, How to Win the Clash of Civilizations, Hirsi Ali highlighted her views that Islam "is at war with America" and wrote that Western civilization "needs to be actively defended" against Islam.
Although Hirsi Ali has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, her narrative that violence and misogyny are inherent to the religion of Islam is problematic, but it is also what has recently propelled her into the conservative media spotlight. Right-wing outlets such as Fox have been notorious for amplifying Islamophobic voices in an effort to spread fear that Muslims are 'taking over,' while pushing the idea that Islam is adverse to Western values.
Conservative media have greatly enabled anti-Islam propaganda, and have had a significant role in propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion and is therefore something the United States must fight against. On April 9, Fox host Andrea Tantaros exemplified this when she defended Hirsi Ali by arguing "we are" at war with radical Islam because "they are going to kill us, as the Qur'an states according to Bernard Lewis and many other scholars, they're going to kill us, Sean, until we are all Muslims or ruled by Muslims."
Fox and other conservative voices such as Pamela Geller, Zuhdi Jasser, and the National Review use figures like Hirsi Ali to boost their own anti-Islamic positions as legitimate, giving them cover to continue spreading anti-Muslim hate. Conservative media's rush to uphold Hirsi Ali's story is therefore much more a defense of their own Islamophobic narratives than of Hirsi Ali herself.
Violence against women in any form is a serious issue in many societies, and to limit the discussion by portraying it as a problem specific to the Muslim community, while dehumanizing an entire faith, is irresponsible, inimical to the cause of women's rights, and it is Islamophobic.
As Evelyn Alsultany, author of Arabs And Muslims in the Media and associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Media Matters, Hirsi Ali "has not promoted any kind of true understanding of Islam, but has provided justification for the public and the government to perpetuate racism." Alsultanty explains further:
While she has brought attention to oppression that some Muslim women face, she has done so by simplistically blaming Islam. As a result, she has powerfully contributed to naturalizing the idea that Islam in and of itself is the enemy of democracy and civilization. This idea has serious consequences. It has led to Muslims in the West facing a spectrum of experiences, from hostile questions about their faith to hate crimes. It has provided justification for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, that has negatively impacted the lives of Muslim women through war.
Communications director to the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ibrahim Hooper similarly pointed out that Hirsi Ali's rhetoric hijacks legitimate issues and "demonizes Islam." As Alsultany concludes, "we need to find a way to discuss a serious problem -- violence against women in a way that does not present the problem as exclusive to Muslim women."
From the April 9 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News criticized the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a case involving a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to serve a same-sex couple, inviting a hate group leader to condemn non-discrimination laws and asserting that prohibiting businesses from refusing service to gay people is a form of "involuntary servitude."
On April 7, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Elane Photography, a New Mexico studio that was sued under the state's non-discrimination statute after its owner refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Though it's unclear what motivated the Supreme Court's decision, opponents of LGBT equality condemned the Supreme Court for allegedly refusing to protect religious liberty.
One of the Supreme Court's critics was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), who appeared on The Kelly File with Megyn Kelly to condemn New Mexico's non-discrimination law:
From the April 4 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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From the March 31 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Megyn Kelly's staunch rejection of sexist rhetoric on Fox raises the question of whether she will press Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) on the sexist treatment of his former aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, in a new report on the George Washington Bridge scandal he commissioned.
In the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal, Christie commissioned the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to investigate and find out who was responsible for the unnecessary lane closures that gnarled traffic for days on the busy bridge. The resulting report largely absolved Christie of responsibility for the lane closings, but has come under fire for the investigator's ties to the Christie administration and their failure to interview key witnesses.
The report also faced heavy criticism for the sexist, "unusually personal" treatment of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff. Bridget Anne Kelly was not interviewed by the investigators, however the report nonetheless concluded that she was the only person in the governor's office involved in the lane closings and lobbed a number of personal, sexist attacks against her. From The New York Times (emphasis added):
Gov. Chris Christie, seeking to stanch the damage the scandal had caused to his political fortunes, fired her [Kelly] as his deputy chief of staff after that, calling her "stupid." But the report commissioned by Mr. Christie and released Thursday doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.
Though the lawyers who wrote the report did not interview her, they explain her conduct in unusually personal terms -- she is out of the office attending to a family member who had been hospitalized; a brief relationship "had cooled" at the "behest" of the man, Mr. Christie's campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
The report raises these details but does not explain how or why they would have prompted her to send the damning email. It simply concludes that "events in her personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind."
Ms. Kelly's friends also said that they were struck by what they felt was a gender bias in the report, noting that the personal language describing Ms. Kelly is not used to describe David Wildstein, even though he is pegged as her co-conspirator.
Fox News attacked the Obama administration for announcing a delay to the Affordable Care Act that resembles administration delays by other presidents, such as President Bush's 2006 delay of the Medicare Part D penalty.