Christian Action Network Mounts Comeback with Islamophobic Agenda
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 12:23:25 PM EST
Martin Mawyer's Christian Action Network, a two-decade-old anti-gay and anti-National Endowment for the Arts organization, is back on the scene with `Islam Rising,' a film, it claims, 'exposes the dangers of radical Islam to the Western world.'

Months before the current controversy over the building of an Islamic community center a few blocks from Ground Zero brought a host of professional anti-Muslim bigots out of the woodwork, a small group, long associated with a bevy of Religious Right causes, was marketing its own brand of Islamophobia.

Welcome to the world of the Christian Action Network.

Martin Mawyer's CAN

Throughout the past two decades, the Christian Action Network CAN), founded in 1990 by Martin Mawyer, has been a relatively marginal, yet occasionally effective, Religious Right enterprise. During the early-nineties' epic congressional battles fought over the conservative movement's efforts to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the CAN received a fair amount of notoriety. These days, the Christian Action Network is involved in what they would probably describe as an even more epic battle: The fight against the Islamization of the Western World.  

"CAN has always operated on the fringes of the Religious Right," Rob Boston, Senior Policy Analyst for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, told me via an email. "Its budget is about $1 million a year, which is pretty small by Religious Right standards. Over the years, it has focused on various issues - the NEA, gays and now Islam bashing. Martin Mawyer tends to alight on whatever issue he thinks will be most lucrative."

Back in the day, the most memorable stunt pulled off by the Forest, Virginia-based Christian Action Network (http://www.christianaction.org/) came, as Jack Fritscher wrote in an essay called "What happened When: Censorship, Gay History, & Mapplethorpe" (Censorship - A World Encyclopedia -- http://www.jackfritscher.com/OtherAnthology/CensorshipEncyclopedi a.html), when Mawyer "tried to set up a display of sexually explicit `offensive' art by [Robert] Mapplethorpe, [Andres] Serrano, and mystic-photographer Joel-Peter Witkin in the Capitol Building. Mawyer was banned from the building before [it] opened, and then was closed down by House Speaker Thomas Foley after fifteen minutes of fame in another location. Mawyer claimed he was being censored; Foley ruled Mawyer was violating house rules on lobbying in the Capitol."

Mawyer thought he had it all figured out: flashing a few Mapplethorpe photos or pictures of Serrano's "Piss Christ" would convince legislators that tax-payer money - through the NEA -- was  supporting this work, and voila, the end of the NEA.

The NEA was established in 1965 through the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, and its mission was "To foster the excellence, diversity and vitality of the arts in the United States, and to broaden public access to the arts." Although it didn't quite work out the way Mawyer had envisioned - the NEA continues to function to this day - his antics definitely added an explicit raciness factor to the congressional debate.

Marginal, but occasionally effective

While such top shelf Religious Right organizations as Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition and Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family were digging their heels into the Republican Party and making noise in Washington, Mawyer's Christian Action Network (CAN) played the role of provocative outsider; stuck in sort of single-issue limbo. Ultimately, hectoring by CAN, the American Family Association and David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture paid off; kind of. Not only did these organizations raise a great deal of money for their crusade, the NEA, although not stripped of its funding, was convinced to alter its mission and limit funding of so-called controversial artists.    

Boston said that he was "most familiar with CAN's work in the 1990s, when gay bashing paid its bills. The fund-raising letters the group was issuing then were so over the top that they often looked like parodies of right-wing direct mail produced by The Onion, if there had been a Onion back then. I never took the group too seriously because, other than issue crazy direct mail, it never seemed to do anything. Mawyer wasn't speaking at Religious Right conferences, rarely appeared in the media, had no grassroots presence and had no champions in Congress. In other words, CAN was no Christian Coalition."  

Where once CAN's enemies were avant-garde artists and the government agencies that supported them, now Martin Mawyer's Christian Action Network has turned its attention to Islam.

CAN promotes 'Islam Rising'

According to Rachel Tabachnick, writing here at Talk2Action, CAN has been actively promoting a documentary called "Islam Rising: Geert Wilders' Warning to the West" (http://www.islamrising.com/), which had its debut in the Congressional Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on Saturday, May 1, 2010. (Wilders is a prominent member of Parliament in the Netherlands and is well known for his harsh criticism of fundamentalist Islam. He is also pro-gay.)

Tabachnick pointed out that the film was shown "prior to the `Mayday, A Cry to God for our Nation in Distress' .... [an] event [that] was centered on the `Reclaiming the Seven Mountains' campaign to take Christian dominion over media, education, family, religion, government, arts and entertainment, and business.  The event featured a who's who of the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and an array of other Religious Right leaders including... David Barton."  

On its website CAN describes "Islam Rising" as "a 50-minute film that exposes the dangers of radical Islam to the Western world and features the internationally acclaimed Dutch politician, Geert Wilders."

Martin Mawyer, president of CAN, said Islam Rising is "a daring film.... [and] a dangerous film.  It's an attempt to show Americans how Europe is being be brought to its knees by radical Islamists and how they are making inroads into the United States."

As part of its promotional campaign for the film, CAN has put up several billboards along major interstate highways on the East Coast. According to CAN, "Six billboards will be on display, starting in South Carolina, by the middle of April."

In late June, Jackie Faye of WIS News 10 in South Carolina reported that "A billboard along Interstate 26 is catching a lot of eyes, and viewers are calling our newsroom about it. Some think it's offensive, and others just want to know what it means.

"On a stretch of highway from Orangeburg to Columbia, one sees advertisement on billboards scattered along the side of the road. But this billboard stands out, reading `Islam Rising Be Warned.'"

"I am not going to judge what they meant, I'm just going to take it as-is," Habeeb Abdullah who has been a member The Islamic Center of Columbia, South Carolina since nearly its beginning 30 years ago, told Faye. "They say Islam is on the rise -- which is true, it is on the rise -- but there is nothing to be afraid of from Islam."

According to Faye, "The billboard is owned by Revelation, which rents out billboards all over. The cost depends on size and location, and can run from $500 to $2,000."

In late-March, the blog "Bartholomew's Notes on Religion" pointed out that several longtime anti-Muslim activists, including Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, and Geert Wilders himself had all pulled out of attending the premiere of the film.  

Rob Boston explained more on Americans United for Separation of Church and State's blog "The Wall of Separation," where he reported that he had received a phone call from a reporter in the Netherlands "seeking information" on the Christian Action Network. "The Dutch reporter, Kustaw Bessems, was interested because a prominent member of parliament there, Geert Wilders, had been scheduled to attend the May 1 Los Angeles premiere of" Islam Rising. Boston cited a number of Martin Mawyer's anti-gay statements and, thereafter, Wilders pulled out of the event.      

For a donation of $25, CAN will send you a copy of Islam Rising; for $45, you can get 5 copies; and, for $110, you will receive enough copies (25) of the film to distribute to your favorite major league baseball team.  

"The new DVD is interesting because it is at least evidence of some activity on CAN's part," Boston told me. "Even a low-rent DVD costs money to produce, and I have to wonder who's paying Mawyer's bills for this. But in the end, I suspect the group will remain on the fringes, eking out just enough money to make it possible for Mawyer to pay his mortgage.

"In my view, the continued existence of CAN is proof of what one person can achieve if he has access to a right-wing mailing list and absolutely no shame."




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