Ahnaf Kalam, writer, researcher, and regular contributor to the Middle East Forum's Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), a counter-Islamist publication, was interviewed by Sam Westrop, director of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch, in a December 2nd Middle East Forum Webinar (video). Kalam discussed the phenomenon of Islamists' apparently faking hate crimes and its role in advancing their agenda.
Kalam's prime example is Islamist sheikh and street preacher Uthman ibn Farooq, a Salafi preacher in San Diego who proselytizes and debates passersby in "street dawah," an invitation to convert to Islam. Farooq's online presence through the YouTube channel of his organization, the One Message Foundation, generates "hundreds of thousands of subscribers and viewers." In March 2022, Farooq released a video publicly claiming that "a knife-wielding man shouting anti-Muslim slurs" stabbed him. Kalam said the sheikh's video quickly went viral "across the globe."
The lack of any video evidence of the physical altercation and some questionable blood shown in a photo the sheikh posted following the alleged attack documenting the alleged altercation prompted Kalam's suspicions that no such attack had occurred. Curious to pursue the "red flags" raised by the sheikh's claim, Kalam made a series of inquiries with several law enforcement agencies in San Diego and could not find any police report, despite Farooq's previous claims that he had filed one shortly after the alleged attack. After Kalam reported his discovery in an FWI article, Farooq issued a statement that he would not release details about the attack out of fear that he would be further targeted by Islamophobes.
Despite Kalam's reporting outing Farooq as the possible "Jussie Smollett" of Islamist hoaxers – making false claims to advance a victimhood narrative – Kalam said none of the media outlets who "jump[ed] on the story" to publicize Farooq's claims issued a retraction or clarification of the apparent hoax. Kalam believes hoaxers, such as Farooq appears to be, are desperate to convey false narratives to the public and attract supporters to their cause by portraying themselves as the "victimized underdog" in a world of "oppressors."
He recounted how, while attending ILMCON, a Salafi convention held in Aurora, Colorado, he challenged Farooq in person to explain his apparent hoax. During the Q&A, Kalam asked Farooq for evidence to support his claims about the attack. Triggered into a defensive tirade while cornered, Farooq shouted and accused Kalam of being "a liar" and an "Islamophobe." For asking Farooq to prove his allegations, Kalam was forcibly ejected from the building.
Kalam said Farooq's efforts to spread an apparent victimization hoax is "not the exception." While there are many actual attacks against Muslims, the number of "fake Islamophobic hate crimes" staged by Islamist Muslims, albeit small, is on the rise. Although some of these fake hate crimes have been "debunked," Islamist advocacy groups, such as the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), work to promote these narratives "without a moment of scrutiny."
In 2016, for instance, a Muslim student in Louisiana reported that two Trump supporters shouted "racial and religious slurs" at her and "forced" her to hand over her wallet and hijab. After the attack was revealed to be staged, she was charged with filing a false report. In 2017, a Muslim student at San Diego State University reported that two men made comments about "Islam and Muslims and Donald Trump" and stole her purse, backpack, and car. She later retracted the part about her car being stolen, and investigators determined her claim was a hoax. At that point, she stopped cooperating with law enforcement's investigation.
Kalam said that while Islamist organizations such as CAIR and MPAC back such hoaxes to advance their agenda, they cannot make their claims "remotely believable." Many of these cases rely upon "boogeymen" who are usually described as "Trump-supporting ... racist white men."
In Farooq's case, it is irrelevant to his supporters that his claim appears to be false. Kalam contended they so "desperately" want his story to be true that they cast aside all scrutiny and caution. While many of his fellow Islamists at the Colorado convention supported Farooq, an example of the increasing internal divisions among Salafists arose unexpectedly. A video of a conference panel at which Farooq challenged the Salafist Islamist Daniel Haqiqatjou in a heated debate generated 50,000 views on YouTube. Commenters roundly criticized Farooq.
By and large, however, Kalam said such hoaxes have less to do with "internal Muslim politics" than with targeting the American "political right." The common theme of Islamists' fabricated claims is the demonization of Trump supporters. Perpetrators of "manufactured hate crimes" seek to silence critics of Islam or Islamism by smearing them as "Islamophobic," the better to hide the hoaxer's lies.
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.