WHEN IT COMES to Islam and Muslims, the Western world by and large has turned on the news to learn about this faith and its people. The danger of this kind of education is manifesting in the actions of Americans, with hate rallies popping up around the country, mosque burnings on the rise, and Muslim citizens being attacked in public and in their own homes.
A striking example of how the media plays a role in these hate crimes is the case of Randolph Linn, who attempted to burn down a Masjid in Toledo, Ohio. He confessed in court that “he had gotten ‘riled up’ watching Fox News.” After confessing what provoked his crime, the judge presiding over his case asked Linn if he knew any Muslims or if he knew anything about Islam. Linn responded, “No, I only know what I hear on Fox News and what I hear on radio.” (source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/randolph-linn-fox-news-mosque-arson_n_2345708.html)
At the heart of this media fear-mongering that influenced Randolph Linn so profoundly, are many unqualified Islamophobes playing the role of pundits and experts. These Islamophobes are all too willing to tell the public their uninformed version of Islam—using war, Middle Eastern politics, tragedy, and terrorism to advance their careers.
One example of this kind of fake expert is Wayne Simmons, a self-described “terrorism analyst.” Simmons himself became news recently when he was indicted for lying about having 27 years of CIA experience.
Wayne Simmons was often looked to for information on “Islamic” terrorism based on his falsified CIA experience. According to CNN, “Simmons regularly made extreme and factually dubious statements pertaining to terrorism and national security. Just this January, he claimed there were ‘at least 19 paramilitary Muslim training facilities in the United States.’” With his fabricated “insider information,” Simmons leads audiences to believe that Muslims are an eminent threat in the US. (Source: http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/15/media/wayne-simmons-tv-commentator-arrested/index.html)
However, Simmons’ fear-mongering and lying didn’t just affect domestic opinion and politics. He was also indicted for using his fake credentials to gain government security clearances and advise military personnel overseas.
Simmons has done untold damage domestically and globally. But he is not the only “expert” in the media who manufactures anti-Muslim sentiment.
With no higher education than a high school degree and one year of a business administration course, Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian, positions herself as an expert in Middle Eastern politics and all things Islam.
The fact that she lived through the Lebanese Civil War is her only claim to expertise on Terrorism, Islam, and Muslims. She self-styles her experience living in civil war as “surviving Islamic terrorism,” as the title of her book proclaims: Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.
However, the war that Gabriel claims was one of Muslim “terrorists” against Christian “victims” was in reality much more complex. In part it was a Muslim versus Christian war, but it was also an inter-Muslim and inter-Christian war, where ethnic, secular, and religious groups often shifted alliances.
In 2007, at the Christians United for Israel annual conference, Gabriel delivered a speech full of bigotry, confusion, and nonsense. Gabriel said, “[…] It’s the difference between good and evil [applause]…. this is what we’re witnessing in the Arabic world, they have no soul, they are dead set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call ‘Allah’ which is very different from the God we believe… [applause] because our God is the God of love.” (Source:
In this speech, Gabriel seems to not realize that she herself is an Arab, and in fact possesses a soul. She confuses her own Arab ethnicity with the religion of Islam. And she fails to remember her own language, Arabic, where the word for “God,” even to Christian Arabs, is “Allah.” Whether she is pandering to an audience she knows is ignorant about these facts or she herself has truly forgotten, it is impossible to know.
But Gabriel’s confusing and dangerous ranting goes beyond muddling the cause of the Lebanese Civil War, or what the difference is between an Arab and a Muslim. She also claims to be an expert on what Muslim extremists looks like.
Gabriel told Australian news, “a practising [sic] Muslim who goes to mosque every Friday, prays five times a day, and who believes that the Koran is the word of God, and who believes that Mohammed is the perfect man and (four inaudible words) is a radical Muslim.” (Source: http://www.loonwatch.com/2009/04/a-case-study-in-sincere-hypocrisy-brigitte-gabriel/) Claiming that any Muslim who exercises their right to practice their faith is an extremist, is ironically an extreme view itself.
Gabriel, and her ill-informed and bigoted rhetoric, is frequently invited on Fox News to speak about her “expertise” and has even produced programs on terrorism for “Good Morning America” and “Primetime.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is another Islamic “expert” sought out by the media. She is an ex-Muslim who rose to fame in Europe because of her self-appointed mission to expose “the repressive nature of Islam.” It was this and her stance on immigration that led “to an invitation from the Dutch Liberal party to join them and, very rapidly, to a seat in parliament.” (source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/may/21/jasonburke.theobserver)
According to The Guardian, “Hirsi Ali had falsified her original asylum application in Holland, saying that she had not come from war-torn Somalia as she claimed, but from Kenya, where she had lived peacefully for 10 years. The fact that she had lied was well-known, retorted Hirsi Ali, making the point that she was fleeing a forced marriage. Not so […] the marriage was not made under compulsion [nor] was Hirsi Ali raised in a strict Muslim family.” After these discoveries, Holland found itself in political crisis. (source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/may/21/jasonburke.theobserver)
Yet in spite of her track record of lying, Hirsi Ali was invited to take up a position at a conservative think-tank in Washington DC. (source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/may/21/jasonburke.theobserver)
And she has also been invited to speak to her “experience” and “expertise” on BBC, CNN, Comedy Central, and ABC News, among other media outlets.
Having been invited on many news programs and interviews, the Western media looks to Hirsi Ali’s opinion about Islam and Muslims as a resource. Claiming in one interview with Reason Magazine that “Islam should be defeated […] because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.” (source: https://reason.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-trouble-is-the-west/singlepage)
Hirsi Ali fans the flames of anti-Muslims sentiment. And she is basing her information on nothing more than conjecture and her falsified experience of living in Somalia during civil war.
Hirsi Ali has no real evidence to support any of her claims about Islam nor about the events in her own life. Hirsi Ali’s climb to fame has resembled that of Gabriel’s. Hirsi Ali claims to be an expert simply because she is from a Muslim country. This does not an expert make.
Hirsi Ali, Gabriel, and Simmons are just a few of many fake experts in the media who claim to know all there is about terrorism, Islam, and Muslims. When in reality, their credentials never add up.
This is not to say that Muslims never commit acts of terrorism. It is a fact of the world that we live in that a minority of Muslims do commit heinous crimes against humanity, claiming legitimacy through Islam. These problems won’t go away if we deny that they are real. They won’t go away if fake experts continue to offer up the legitimacy of Islam to these extremists. And they won’t go away if the media and Islamophobic pundits keep isolating and edging out of the discussion the majority of Muslims who want no part in extremism.
What Can We Do?
We Muslims do have a lot of work to do in terms of excavating the pluralistic and compassionate society that Islam fostered in its first communities and in its golden age. But we can never get back to this place if we are constantly trying just to survive the vitriol and the flame of anti-Muslim sentiment stoked by fake experts.
We need to concentrate on being proactive instead of always being reactionary. We need to both understand what is expected of us by the media (emotional, irrational, and dangerous) and what Islam requires of us (patience, rejection of anger, having wisdom).
We must help non-Muslims to realize that if they wouldn’t want people to learn about their religion from the news media, then they shouldn’t learn about Islam from that source, either. And we have to get the message across that learning about Islam from Islamophobes is just like learning about Judaism from anti-Semites.