In her New York Times bestselling book, Dark Money, Jane Mayer investigates the influence-peddling practices of the excessively wealthy class—e.g. Koch brothers—on US democratic institutions. She reveals, with a sense of alarm and foreboding, how corporate donors-cum-political ideologues have strategically purchased increasingly larger portions of the democratic deliberative process. Though located in the United States, these ideologues can extend their reach as far as money can buy, including across international borders, in Parliament and legislative assemblies here in Canada.

M103 Hearings and CPC Derailment

In recent weeks, Canada’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage has conducted hearings to deliberate a whole of government strategy to combat systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia. The hearings were prompted by the passage of M103, a motion that passed with solid majority support.  When it was debated in the House of Commons, Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MPs and their media allies (e.g. Rebel Media) opposed the motion.  They argued that including the term “Islamophobia” introduced an ambiguity that could, if left unspecified, chill freedom of speech. The freedom of speech argument was a distraction, for reasons I have addressed elsewhere. The motion merely requested a study on systemic racism and discrimination; it did not legislate anything, nor anticipate any future legislation.  Despite the motion passing the House of Commons, CPC MPs on the Standing Committee have used the committee hearings to re-debate the motion, as if it hadn’t passed at all.

CPC and Foreign Organizations of Hate

The CPC strategy has been effective; but it also raises a fundamental concern about whether and to what extent the CPC has allowed US ideologues to purchase Canada’s democratic deliberative space. CPC MPs invited select witnesses to testify before the committee who have virtually re-debated the terms of M103.  One witness who recently appeared before the Standing Committee is Pakistani-Canadian Raheel Raza.  According to her website, she studied English and Psychology at Karachi University.  Her interest in travel led her to take a course on tourism, which led to a career with Scandinavian Airlines. Importantly, Raza has no formal training or expertise in anti-racism studies, anti-discrimination policy development, or in the study of Islam.  She draws upon her own identity as an “observant, practicing Muslim” to generalize about what Muslims want/need or do not want/need. This is a common strategy among CPC witnesses: their life experience is proffered as a basis for government policy decision-making.

Raza’s lack of relevant expertise, however, is not my concern. Rather, it’s the institutional affiliations she has to influence-peddling institutions in the United States. These institutions have alarmingly exercised their financial clout to influence political outcomes in the US and elsewhere. Ms. Raza serves as Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Gatestone Institute (formerly the Stonegate Institute) and is a member of the Clarion Project Advisory Board. The Gatestone Institute is led by its founder, American Nina Rosenwald, heiress to the Sears-Roebuck fortune.   Max Blumenthal described Rosenwald in The Nation as “The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim hate”. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a US-based organization that tracks hate-groups in the United States, has described the Gatestone Institute as “anti-Muslim”. For instance, Rosenwald and the Institute sponsored the 2012 US speaking tour of Geert Wilders, the anti-Muslim politician in the Netherlands. The Anti-Defamation League described Wilders as follows:

“Geert Wilders, Dutch Parliamentarian and head of the fourth largest party in Holland, has sought to advance a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda for many years. Wilders has described Muslims as a threat to European democracies, has advocated for banning immigration to Holland from Muslim-majority countries and promoted legislation that will severely restrict the practice of Islam, including a ban on the Qur'an in Holland.”

The Clarion Project, Raza’s other institutional affiliation, regularly propagates the paranoid fear of Muslims sleeper cells operating in the shadows across the United States. The SPLC has described Clarion as :  “an anti-Muslim group” that “distributes a number of films promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.” Clarion’s conspiracy-theory paranoia took a particularly virulent form in the 2008 US Presidential election.  According to the 2011 report, Fear, Inc., which examined the financial network of the Islamophobia industry in the US,Donors Capital Fund gave USD $17 million to Clarion to distribute its DVD Obsession: RadicalIslam’s War Against the West to “more than 28 million swing-state voters before the 2008 [US] presidential election.”  In other words, through the largesse of America’s conservative financial elite, Clarion used the DVD to influence a presidential campaign. That campaign was tainted with the bigotry and racism of Donald Trump’s “birther” conspiracy against Barack H. Obama, and the  remarkable belief among at least 29% of Americans that Obama was and remains a Muslim, as if that was a bad thing or somehow disqualified him from being president. While Clarion’s ruse failed, it left a politically toxic wake behind it, the repercussions of which we are now observing in the US.

Foreign Institutions Undermining Democratic Transparency in Canada

An examination of the website of both the Gatestone Institute and Clarion reveal that they do more than get advice from Raza. They provide her a platform to disseminate a particular message that coincides with their institutional support of conspiracy theories and paranoia about Islamists operating in the shadows. Her message is promulgated through these institutions, which are the beneficiaries of “dark money” donors who have created the conditions for nativist politics and a new respectability to White nationalism. Alarmingly, these institutions are not limiting themselves to the US political landscape. As reported in the Intercept, Rosenwald’s Gatestone Institute stoked the fires of Germany’s recent election by publishing paranoid—and inaccurate—stories about Europe’s Muslims, to the delight of the ultra-right wing party AfD, which benefitted electorally from such propaganda.

Organizations like Gatestone and Clarion are spreading their paranoid style of politics abroad.  And thanks to the CPC and the more extreme-right Rebel Media, they are, unbeknownst to Canadians, now poisoning our democratic space. Shortly before Ms. Raza testified before the Standing Committee, Rebel Media announced that she will host a brand new show called “Muslim Sense”.  As Jennifer Yang of the Toronto Star writes, Rebel Media “has drawn controversy for its anti-Muslim coverage.” Yang most recently wrote an impressively investigated article concerning a Toronto imam who was alleged to have made anti-Semitic statements in an Arabic sermon. Yang adeptly explains how the imam’s Arabic was inexpertly translated. In doing so, she reveals suspicious concurrences that, in the aggregate, perpetuated prevailing stereotypes of Muslims and Islam as violent, intolerant, and anti-Semitic. I don’t know what we can expect from Ms. Raza’s show, though I suspect Rebel Media’s existing track record offers insights.  Of course, Ms. Raza is free to believe and say what she wants. She is free to say it in Canada or in the United States, whether online or through whatever broadcaster gives her airtime.  Her views and speech are irrelevant to my concern. 

What should concern EVERY Canadian is that the CPC’s leadership brought her to appear before a House of Commons Standing Committee without accounting for or disclosing to the Canadian people Ms. Raza’s institutional affiliations to foreign, dark-money-supported, ideological organizations. This foreign-funded, international stealth campaign, which has enlisted the Conservative Party of Canada, is something that should concern all Canadians, no matter what their political orientation.  Why are our elected leaders allowing outside, foreign interests that operate in the shadows of private contract to corrupt the sovereign integrity and democratic quality of our public institutions? When any federal party in Parliament invites someone associated with foreign-funded and foreign-based ideological organizations that propagate hate against a distinct people, they owe Canadians an explanation. Otherwise, all they do is subvert the sovereignty of Canada, and undermine the public’s confidence in Canada’s democratic institutions.