Investigative Project on Terrorism executive director Steven Emerson claims that radical Islam is alive and well in America - thanks to the tacit cooperation of government agencies which embrace the very groups they should be investigating.
Steven Emerson's delicate delivery belies the pungency - and punch - of his words. Whether this is the result of having heard it all and said it all in every possible forum is not clear. In fact, delving beneath the surface of radical Islamic activity, only to discover additional layers with each dig, could just as easily have the opposite effect on one's demeanor. Particularly when the information being uncovered is pooh-poohed in some fashion. Or when its disseminator is dismissed as alarmist at best, and anti-Muslim at worst.
But Emerson - an investigative journalist turned NGO director - doesn't appear to be perturbed on a personal level. It's the public response to what he claims is a pernicious network of terrorist cells within the United States, fronted as humanitarian organizations, that gets to him.
"The US government, the media and the intelligentsia are witting and unwitting enablers of radical Islam," says Emerson, a best-selling author, whose books include American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (2002) and Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the US (2006), and creator of the prize-winning documentary film Jihad in America (1994).
Here earlier this month to speak at the seventh annual conference of the International Institute for Counterterrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, Emerson, who founded and heads the Washington DC-based Investigative Project on Terrorism, gave The Jerusalem Post an overview of the situation he believes will only really be solved when Islam undergoes a genuine reformation.
In an hour-long interview at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv on the eve of the conference, Emerson, 50, punctuated this sentiment by pointing to the Dolphinarium across the street - the site of the 2001 suicide bombing that left 21 people dead and more than 100 wounded.
"What we're looking at," he says, poker-face intact, "is the marker of where 'lesser jihad' was carried out against young Israelis at a discotheque."
What is the purpose of conferences on counterterrorism? Do they have any effect?
Conferences are ubiquitous - mainly good for networking and making contacts. In the intelligence community, the best way of developing information and getting new ideas is to meet people who do different things in the same area. And conferences also bring in revenue for the organizers.
What about meeting people with different views on terrorism and how to combat it? These conferences, both in Israel and abroad, seem to have such a wide range of ideological slants as to render them useless.
Oh yes. Take the Aspen Institute's annual terrorism symposia, for instance. There participants believe that Prozac and therapy should be dispensed to terrorists. It's so "Kumbaya" that one would gag if forced to attend. It all comes down to the Harvard University view of terrorism, according to which terrorists carry out aggression because they are "humiliated." It's the pseudo-psycho view that offers justification for the committing of violent acts, and ends up blaming the victim rather than the terrorist. This is ridiculous, of course. I feel humiliated when I get a ticket; but that doesn't mean I get to shoot a cop. The whole field became a gravy train in Washington for many people after 9/11, thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars dispensed by the US government to think tanks and academic centers.
These centers are overwhelmingly anti-American and anti-Israeli, and thus full of pro-Islamist ideologues or just plain charlatans. My organization does not take a dime of government money, so we are free to call the shots as we see them.
How do you see General Wesley Clark, the keynote speaker at the ICT conference this year, for example?
Clark is not someone for whom I have much respect, since he's been championing the notion that we should be talking to Iran and Syria, effectively rewarding them for their terrorist activities. He has also spoken about being nicer to terrorists. In fact, in 2004, when he was running for president, he sent a tape of an address to a radical Muslim convention, greeting participants as though they were members of the Rotary Club. Now, this was a combined group of the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America, both of which have long been affiliated with radical Islamic groups, and whose previous conventions have been full of invectives for the US and Israel, replete with calls for jihad. Had Clark cared to do any due diligence, he would have discovered the extremist ideologies of these groups. But either he didn't bother to investigate, or he simply bought into the propaganda that these two groups were "moderate."
Even after I pointed out these groups' ulterior radical agenda in a debate I had with him on cable television about the appropriateness of his speaking before them, he continued to perpetrate the charade that all he was doing was engaging in "outreach" to innocent Muslim groups.
The new book and documentary film I'm working on - The Grand Deception - is about how the US government, the media and the intelligentsia are witting and unwitting enablers of radical Islam, by accepting front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood or for Hamas as credible and legitimate. This is particularly egregious at the highest levels of the government - such as the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department and the FBI - who meet and greet groups they should be investigating, not embracing. This sends a terrible signal to genuine Muslim moderates and the Muslim rank-and-file, reinforcing their sense that it is the radical groups who are respected by the government.
There is a criminal trial presently under way in Texas of a suspected Hamas charity. The revelations that have emerged in the trial - probably the most striking findings since those that came out in the 1949 Alger Hiss trials - are that the Muslim Brotherhood had secretly set up shop in the US under the cover of "charitable" organizations, with the specific purpose of waging jihad from within and subverting the United States until it became a Muslim country. Yet, neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post published these findings.
This sounds reminiscent of the Cold War era, with witting and unwitting "fellow travelers" in the West furthering the communist agenda.
Then, too, there was a refusal to recognize that there were communists and communist fronts in the US, put up by the Soviets. This is the same type of structure, but much more extensive and less likely to fall down on its own.
Why is it less likely to "fall down on its own?"
Because it's ideologically and religiously based.
Communism was ideologically based, and for some it was even a kind of religion.
Yes, but it ultimately fell down because of its internal economic contradictions. Radical Islamic ideology transcends economics. That's why Hamas beat the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank-Gaza elections, and why Fatah got its ass kicked in the war in Gaza. Because, whereas the PA doesn't stand for anything other than corruption, Hamas adheres to a genuine ideology of destroying the West and the Jews. It's not going to be swayed by having villas on the sea.
You're saying that money is not its driving force, yet much of your research involves following the money trail. Isn't it relevant, then?
Money is relevant, but dollar-for-dollar, Islamist terrorist attacks are cheaper than any other type of terrorism.
Because it's not done for profit. Take the 9/11 attacks. At a cost of $500,000, they caused $500 billion worth of damage. That's a great rate of return. Even though the US Treasury has done a good job of seizing terrorist assets, al-Qaida is on the resurgence, and Saudi Arabia, despite the ritual slap on the wrist, continues to pump tens of millions a year into radical Islamic groups.
Speaking of which, how could those attacks have taken everybody by surprise?
There are several reasons, other than the obvious failure on the part of intelligence and law-enforcement services to connect the dots. The perpetrators of the attacks were regular visitors of known mosques; they were well taken care of; they were given logistical support, such as drivers' licenses. The FBI leadership's self-serving explanation was that these guys were working alone and therefore couldn't have been stopped. That's bullshit, and FBI agents have admitted to me that it is. The dirty secret of 9/11 is that there was logistical support from members of the Muslim community in the United States.
What could possibly be the motive of the FBI to ignore subversive activity in the first place, and fail to investigate it afterward?
I want to make a distinction between the FBI field agents and FBI headquarters. The headquarters are where the "suits" hang out, away from reality on the one hand, and subject to political winds on the other. The field agents, in contrast, know exactly what they're dealing with. But they are given instructions to go and "make nice" with the Muslim community in their districts.
Well, it's proper for the FBI to have good community relations with all ethnic groups. But the question is: Whom are you going to anoint as the representative of a given group, in this case the Muslim community? The FBI has allowed itself to be manipulated into anointing the Muslim Brotherhood as representatives of the Muslim community.
Why is the FBI not reaching out to the moderates?
The sad reality is that the vast majority of institutional organizations in the hierarchical Muslim spectrum represent the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis or the Salafists. It's a microcosm of the Muslim world. And we deceive ourselves into believing that the American Muslim community is somehow insulated from the "paranoia propaganda" that exists in the Muslim world as a whole - that which claims the Christians and the Jews are out to subjugate Islam.
Where does this alleged self-deception come from?
To a certain extent, it comes from naivete. It reflects our own belief system. If we don't lie, we don't expect others to lie. If we don't hide behind a religion, we don't expect others to do so. Radical Muslims have no compunction about hiding behind the banner of Islam, while crying racism any time they're criticized and conflating criticism of their groups with criticism of their religion. Politicians run for cover at that point. And the media goes along with it.
Jews are accused of crying anti-Semitism whenever Israel is criticized. Why is this any different?
While perhaps the use of the term anti-Semitism is sometimes excessive, at least there's a heterogeneity of opinions within the Jewish world and Israel. Such heterogeneity does not exist within the Muslim world. You either support Hamas or you're considered a heretic. Nobody is allowed to dispute the views of the Muslim Brotherhood. Jihad, then, becomes obligatory for everybody. As for the distinctions between anti-Semitism and "Islamophobia," there are several: According to the Justice Department's annual bias reports, there are at least 10 times more hate crimes committed against Jews than against Muslims. But the news coverage reflects the opposite percentage.
Secondly, Muslim groups in the West routinely fabricate or exaggerate "hate crimes" against Muslims; they even categorize the arrests of Islamic terrorists as hate crimes. Finally, the entire concept of "Islamophobia" was invented by radical Islamic groups in Britain in the 1990s as a means of discrediting legitimate fears of radical Islam.
If, as you claim, the vast majority of institutional Muslim organizations represent the radicals, is there such a thing today as "moderate Islam"?
There is a moderate Muslim tradition that exists. You can see it in the actions and behavior of some Muslim leaders in the US - like Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani and Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser - religious Muslims who have rejected terrorism and extremism. There are also secular Muslims - such as intellectual Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is one of the bravest women I have ever met. But since she's rejected Islam entirely, she has no religious standing.
And, as courageous as the above figures are, they don't have the following that CAIR [the Council on American Islamic Relations] does, because Saudi Arabia's not supporting them financially. There exists no Saudi "Peace Now" movement to back them. There's virtually nobody in the established Islamic hierarchy that will support any Muslim who denounces holy war. Of course, there are the ersatz moderates who assert that jihad does not mean holy war - that it only means striving. These are the propagandists who whitewash Islamic extremism.
Do all these Muslim leaders really support jihad, or are they afraid to come out against it for fear they will be targeted for assassination by radicals?
So far, there is no reformation going on within the Islamic world. The imams who espouse jihad and the killing of Jews and Christians are sincere in their belief. A relative handful of individual Muslim intellectuals and leaders have spoken out, but they have not garnered a major following. It's a fact of life that those willing to stick their necks out of the foxhole risk getting shot at.
You make a distinction between the "suits" in the FBI and organized Muslim institutions and the rank-and-file in the field. Extending that analogy to the American people as a whole, would you say that The New York Times and The Washington Post are perhaps not representative of the majority?
I definitely think the analogy can be extended, and that the American public gets it: They understand there is a problem with radical Islam.
The elite newspapers, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal, systematically censor the news in order to downplay the threat, or at worst, literally distort the facts to falsely portray radical Islamic groups in the United States as victims, which is exactly in line with the victimology propagated by these groups. If misreporting were a crime, a lot of reporters would be in jail.
How do you answer your many critics who accuse you of being paranoid and a conspiracy theorist?
That I wish my conjectures had not come true. In 1994, when I did the film Jihad in America, I was accused of being alarmist and histrionic. Yet, every Islamic radical in that film was subsequently indicted, convicted or deported. And if you look at a map of cells or groups operating in the US over the last 15 years, you will see that virtually every radical Islamic group has had a presence in the US, in more than 100 cities. I deal with information - hard, cold facts based on documents, recordings or impeccable law-enforcement sources. The reality I predicted in 1994 came to fruition in 2001. Had I investigated an easier group, let's say the Ku Klux Klan, I can assure you I would have been lauded all around, with no charges of being a conspiracy theorist. Its just that the KKK does not have a powerful PR machine with sympathetic members of the press.
In spite of all that, and in spite of the 9/11 attacks, why does one get the sense that people in the West are not as shaken by the phenomenon as they should be?
Because people only believe there's a threat when there's violence. If a group is only spreading its word, or only transferring money to suicide bombers in Israel, it isn't perceived as a threat.
Still, 9/11 did arouse awareness that terrorism is present. The point I have been stressing is that terrorism is the ultimate culmination of political Islam - political Islam being the indoctrination that Islam will reign supreme, and that Shari'a will be the law of the land.
How do you rate Israel's response to terrorism?
Israel responds in the same way most Westerners respond. If there's blood in the streets, they respond. If there's not, they don't. That's why Yasser Arafat was touted as a "man of peace," when all he was was a terrorist thug. His legacy will be the introduction of the greatest amount of arms and explosives into the most concentrated territory in the world on both sides of Israel's border. So now Israel has three Lebanons. This is not only Arafat's legacy, but that of the Israeli politicians and of former US president Bill Clinton, who brought them together, and whose advisers for seven long years deliberately averted themselves to the consistent and massive violations of the Oslo Accords by Arafat and his henchmen.
What about incumbent President George W. Bush - whose own legacy will include backing Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Egypt's control of the Philadelphi corridor and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's being supported as a moderate?
Indeed, Abbas is not capable of doing anything - not even tying his own shoelaces - let alone controlling any security force or representing anybody other than himself and his family. It's a charade that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is propping up. That Bush has bought into the malarkey is partly a function of Israeli leaders' blinding him to the cold reality.
Why would he allow himself to be blinded?
He was getting hit over the head by the press and politicians who kept saying that he wasn't "engaged" - a euphemism for putting pressure on Israel, propounded by the likes of [former US ambassador to Israel and current Brookings Institute fellow] Martin Indyk and [former Mideast envoy and current director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy] Dennis Ross. This euphemism has resurfaced as a result of Bush's being besieged on Iraq. Needing a foreign policy victory that Rice said she could deliver, Bush went along with it. And he basically lost control of his agencies.
I can't claim to know what goes on in his head, but I believe he truly knows some of these [Islamic] groups are bad. Still, he does contradictory things. For example, a couple of months ago, he spoke at the Islamic Center of Washington and announced that he was appointing an American representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference - a group that has supported suicide bombings. Bush referred to them as moderates. He also spoke at a mosque that is funded by the Saudis and which has distributed virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Christian literature. All of this was orchestrated by State Department Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes.
Has Bush, perhaps, relinquished his earlier convictions - those that dominated his speeches in the immediate aftermath of 9/11?
He goes back and forth, one minute denouncing "Islamofascism," another saying that peaceful jihad has been hijacked by the those who "pervert" Islam. What crockery! Jihad is jihad.
Yet a distinction has been made between holy war and spiritual jihad - between the "lesser" jihad and the large.
What we're looking at right here [he points to the Dolphinarium below, the site of the June 1, 2001 suicide bombing that left 21 dead and more than 100 wounded] is the marker of where the "lesser jihad" was carried out against young Israelis at a discotheque. Though it's true that moderate Muslims may interpret jihad as a spiritual struggle, radical Islamic clerics who aren't trying to "spin" the West say openly that jihad means only one thing: fighting for the sake of imposing Islam. And it's both obscene and corrupt that certain media outlets talk about it as though it were no more than quitting smoking or cleaning up the environment. The 3,000 killed on 9/11, and the 1,500 Israelis killed during the second intifada, died because the perpetrators were carrying out jihad.
Where does Iran come into all of this, and how do you explain the Bush administration's talk of negotiating with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
Iran plays a vicious role in world affairs, though it is not the spiritual center of jihad; that still resides in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, certain terrorist groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, could not exist without the training and funding they receive from Iran. The reason the US suddenly decided to invite Iran to negotiate was repeated pressure from the anti-Israel types - i.e. the Council on Foreign Relations, so-called Middle East "analysts" and the media - who kept saying that no harm can come of talking to the Iranians. Well, harm does come from talking. You wouldn't have sat down in 1933 with the Nazis. Yet that's exactly what's being done today. Iran is being given legitimacy by coming to the table. Which is exactly what Iran wants - not to reciprocate the gesture by any agreement on its part to lower the temperature, but to use the talks as a cover for continuing to carry out covert activities against the West.
What has to happen for the temperature to be lowered?
An Islamic reformation, and that's not in the cards in the short term. Absent that, a resolve to confront the sources of terrorism without wavering.
A reformation from within?
That's right. And it will be plenty bloody. Unfortunately, however, before that happens, Muslim nations like Iran will acquire weapons of mass destruction. They will acquire nuclear bombs, and when Ahmadinejad says Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth, he really means it. And if he had the weapons to carry that out, he'd use them.
Where US policy vis a vis Iran and radical Islamic terrorism is concerned, will it make any difference whether a Democrat or a Republican wins the next presidential election?
It might make a difference. In the debates so far, several of the Democratic candidates have been taking the military option off the table, whereas few Republicans have. For some Democrats, even openly acknowledging the term "radical Islam" is hard to stomach. This makes Osama bin Laden's recent statements [on the tape he released on the sixth anniversary of 9/11] particularly telling. He actually recommended that Americans read books by [left-wing author] Noam Chomsky, who cites examples of American imperialism, and [former CIA analyst] Michael Scheuer, who says that the US does not understand the Muslim predicament. Scheuer's reaction to this endorsement was pride, rather than shame. Of course, Scheuer's answer to bin Laden is for the US to drop support for Israel, which he contends will appease bin Laden and result in his backing off attacks on the US. Neville Chamberlain practiced this thinking a bit earlier - and everyone knows the tragic results.
That Scheuer was allowed to stay at the CIA while propagating this nonsense tells us a lot about why the US totally misread bin Laden.
The ultimate question is whether any president has the guts to do what is necessary. And what is necessary is military action to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities. This doesn't mean the massive carpet bombing of urban centers. It means the pinpointing and elimination of underground facilities, with the purpose of retarding the nuclear program. It's an issue of buying time. But then, Israel's whole existence has been one of buying time.
How did you get into the business of exposing jihadist activities?
I was an investigative journalist. After producing Jihad in America in 1994, I thought maybe I'd do another film on a different topic. But I'd collected so much material on radical Islamic groups - material nobody else had - that I kept getting contacted for information from certain members of the media and law-enforcement agencies. It was clearly a vacuum that needed to be filled. So I established the Investigative Project on Terrorism to carry out in-depth investigation of these groups, and go into areas that the FBI wouldn't be allowed to, either because of freedom-of-speech restrictions or because of political correctness. In any case, the FBI's mission is not to serve as a truth-detector. Its mission is to prevent or solve crime. So, if a mosque or other Islamic organization lies about its aims, it's not up to the FBI to correct that impression among the American public. That's the work of the media or an NGO. And mine is probably the only non-profit organization - funded only by American contributions, taking no money from the US government - that's taken on the radical Islamic states.
Is it true that you consider your life to be in danger, and that as a result you are always looking over your shoulder?
No. Well, the office has a false cover. And I had to move out of my co-op 12 years ago, because my address had been publicly identified. Let's just say that I know there's a lot of radical Islamic animosity toward me. Even in transcripts that were recently declassified by the Justice Department, Hamas claimed that I was behind all of the bad press it got in the 1990s. I wish I had been responsible, but I wasn't. Still, the impression that I had been could mobilize somebody to do something bad. So I do take precautions. Whenever I speak somewhere that is made public beforehand, I have to have some type of security. I don't let it affect my behavior in general, though. Nor do I have a bodyguard. Having one would be more cumbersome - and conspicuous - than not having one.
Have you received concrete threats?
In the past I have. But I don't take the threats I receive via voice- or e-mail seriously. Someone who's really interested in doing something harmful isn't going to telegraph it. I am determined not to let the Islamists carry out their campaigns of intimidation against me or anyone else.