Under fire on Capitol Hill, Facebook decided to hire former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl to head its investigation into what conservatives call liberal bias in the social media giant. The effort is a big one, to be sure, and one that should not be headed by Mr. Kyl. The former Senator supported a number of anti-Muslim measures during his 30 years in public office and has used is influence to push a number of narratives that veer towards conspiracy rather than solid policy. Facebook’s credibility is on the line. Its efforts to address internal bias is likely an overreaction of criticism by Congress. In a sense, even forming such a commission acts as a de facto admission of guilt. Furthermore, Facebook has to consider its credibility among Muslim-Americans and Muslims across the world.
Facebook is growing across the Muslim world– and risks the end of such growth with hiring the former Senator. There is plenty of room for growth, with a 641% increase in users in the Middle East. Coupled with growth in North and West Africa, Pakistan, Central Asia, and Indonesia, alienating such a large proportion of the world’s population means billions of dollars in forfeited income. A crippled brand, strained credibility, and a visceral sense of ethnoreligious bias is a bad look for Facebook and one that could severely harm the billion-dollar company.
Kyl served three consecutive terms as Arizona’s junior Senator from 1995-2013 and three terms as the Representative of Arizona’s 4th District. Vice describes Kyl as an “anti-Muslim ex-Senator” when describing Facebook’s endeavor. Kyl returned to practicing law after his time in Congress– and all evidence shows that his core principles remained the same after his retirement. During the age of the Trump Administration, this should be especially alarming for a company already under public scrutiny. Facebook is likely going to inspire more criticism rather than reducing it through kowtowing to pressure from Republicans in Washington.
Should Facebook feel compelled to continue their internal bias audit, it would be better served by someone other than the former 4th most conservative member of the United States Senate. A combined commission of members of both parties would best fulfil this directive. Furthermore, a member from minority religious groups would ensure balance for the largest social media company. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported on a persistent anti-Muslim bias on the platform.
The former Senator’s political record is not one that protected Muslims’ rights, either at home or across the world. He voted in favor of both the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kyl co-sponsored authorization for American involvement in Libya that never came to a vote. He also voted for the Patriot Act and its extension. The Senator also held up the federal budget in 2009 based on a rumor that President Barack Obama was going to resettle Gazans to the United States.
He penned a column in 2012 stating he opposed hate speech legislation. In his column he defended the right of cartoonists to mock the Prophet Mohammed. Former Nixon Administrator Counsel and Bush-era critic John Dean wrote that Kyl and South Carolina Lindsey Graham were involved supporting detention of terrorism suspects. When put it context, Kyl’s public record is not conducive for a clear-eyed view of potential bias or political issues on the modern internet.
Kyl wrote a column in 2010 against the establishment of a mosque in downtown Manhattan near the World Trade Center. He included innuendo in his article, stating that “it’s not clear who is financing the project and what connection, if any, the donors have with groups abroad that seek to do harm to the United States and our allies. I would like to see those responsible for the approving the project ask those questions, but so far they have not.”
In 2009, Kyl hosted Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician in charge of the anti-Muslim Party for Freedom to display his film Fitna. Fitna rehashed a number of anti-Islamic propaganda talking points, including the idea that all Muslims hate all non-Muslims, as well as pinning the blame for terrorism on Islam. Wilders also said that he would ban the Qu’ran. In 2015, he told television host Larry King that the Obama Administration was losing to what he termed Islamic extremists. In 2010 he authored a piece on Breitbart against Iran’s nuclear program.
At a 2011 hearing on Capitol Hill, Kyl questioned the role of civil rights for Muslim-Americans. In an exchange with Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates, he said, “”I would think Muslim Americans would feel a special obligation to help in such investigations.” In 2017, Kyl played a major role in getting his former colleague Jeff Sessions confirmed as the United States Attorney General under Donald Trump.
Kyl’s professional relationships outside of politics are cause for alarm, as well. He is a member of the Center for Security Policy, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a hate group. According to the SPLC, the group created a 170 page report that “focused on what it called the “preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as shariah.” In 1994, Kyl was given the Keeper of the Flame award by the group and two years later he praised Benjamin Netanyahu at the group, saying “That…is why it’s crucial for the United States to stand with Israel on Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of the legitimacy issue — the issue of the Jewish people’s right to a state in their ancient homeland.” He also hosted a number of lectures on behalf of the organization.
Furthermore, the former Senator has a number of professional associations that are a cause for alarm. These could be a result of how Jon Kyl comprehensively sees the world. Kyl is a visiting fellow for the American Enterprise Institute, which ThinkProgress described as having an “Islamophobia problem.” Kyl wrote a column in 2003 supporting restrictions on Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military. He claimed that openness could encourage jihadists in prisons and the armed forces: “terrorists’ efforts to exploit a free society to conduct the wide range of activities necessary for effective terror operations.” In 2009, the Arab American Institute declared that Kyl was supporting the idea of a “clash of civilizations.”
If there was a clash of civilizations, it is between decency and the future of the world. Anti-Muslim and otherwise bigoted sentiment has sharply increased since the beginning of Donald Trump’s candidacy. There are many levers that people of all political stripes can do to push back on uninformed intolerance. For Facebook, the easiest means to do this is to ask former Senator Kyl to stick to his day job and not as a bias auditor.
– SPLC, The persistence of anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, 2018.
– US Senate, Vote on Use of Force in Afghanistan, 2001.
– US Senate, Vote on Use of Force in Iraq, 2002.
– San Diego Union-Tribune, Anything but clear: Senate weighs Libya resolution, 2011.
– US Senate, Vote on USAPATRIOT Act, 2001.
– Foreign Policy, Senator bases amendment on Internet rumor, 2009.
– Self Educated American, The Right to Offend, 2012.
– RealClearPolitics, A Mosque at Ground Zero?, 2010.
– The Hill, Kyl to Host Controversial Anti-Islamic Dutch Politician, 2011.
– The Telegram, Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders to screen Fitna film in Washington, 2011.
– Breitbart, We Cannot Allow a Nuclear Iran, 2010.
– CBS News, GOP Senator Turns the Tables at Muslim Rights Hearing, 2011.
– AZ Central, Retired Sen. Jon Kyl helping Jeff Sessions get confirmed as Trump’s attorney general, 2017.
– SPLC, Center for Security Policy.
– Center for Security Policy, 1994 Keeper of the Flame Award: Jon Kyl, 1994.
– Center for Security Policy, Center’s Kyl Welcomes an Israeli Reagan, 1996.
– Think Progress, The American Enterprise Institute’s Islamophobia Problem, 2012.
– National Review, Radical Chaplains, 2003.
– Arab-American Institute: Jon Kyl: Promoting the “Clash of Civilizations”, 2009.