Steven Emerson, the self-styled terrorism expert, has enjoyed quite a rebound since Sept. 11. Best known for his 1994 Frontline film "Jihad in America," which painted an ominous picture of Muslim terrorists and
terrorist sympathizers lurking in the United States, Emerson has always been highly controversial. His defenders see him as a voice crying in the wilderness; critics accuse him of being a propagandistic crank. After he went on TV to suggest, immediately after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, that Muslim terrorists were responsible, many mainstream news organizations shunned him. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, Emerson is suddenly being embraced as that slightly eccentric uncle we all should have paid more
Now Emerson is trying to cement his Cassandra image -- and capitalize on it -- with "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us," a quickie, large-print book that, minus the appendices, totals just 175 pages. This sensationalistic, poorly reasoned book will do nothing to enhance Emerson's stature among serious scholars.
The "expert" who emerges from "American Jihad" is a heavy-handed scaremonger who fails to grasp -- or deliberately blurs -- the most rudimentary distinctions between different radical groups…Whether this
egregious conceptual flaw, which renders most of his book all but worthless, is the result of a political agenda to demonize passionate supporters of the Palestinian cause as terrorists or terrorist
sympathizers, or is simply the result of hysteria and/or ignorance, is unclear…
Nor does Emerson's at times loose way with the facts inspire confidence. For example, he recounts the story of Ghazi Ibrahim abu Mezer, a Palestinian who in 1997 was arrested and charged with planning to bomb New
York's subway system. That's a scary enough story, but Emerson wants to make it scarier, by tying Mezer to the radical Palestinian movement. Emerson writes that Mezer had applied for political asylum in the U.S. "on the grounds that he was in danger of arrest by Israeli law enforcement thanks to his membership in the Hamas organization."
In fact, Mezer's application asserted that he had been falsely accused by Israeli authorities of belonging to Hamas. American law enforcement officials denied that abu Mezer was a member of Hamas, or that Hamas was involved in the bombing attempt in any way. James Kallstrom, head of the New York FBI office, at the time said "it is totally wrong to say that these individuals are connected to and directed by Hamas." Hamas also disavowed any involvement. Emerson fails to report any of this…
Emerson won't admit it, but radicals within the pro-life movement, for instance, have killed more innocent American civilians in the U.S. than has Hamas or Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad. Indeed, Emerson's book doesn't contain a single example of Hamas, Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad carrying out terrorist activities in this country.
That's because there are none, according to Vince Cannistraro, a former director of counterterrorism for the CIA. "Neither Hamas or Islamic Jihad, which have an infrastructure in the U.S., political organizations in the
U.S., has ever targeted Americans here," Cannistraro told Salon. "It would be counterproductive to their cause. And their focus is Israel and occupied territories."
Robin Wright, author of "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam," agrees, noting the Palestinian groups "don't target the American embassy or consulate in Jerusalem. That's not what their goal is. Their focus is on Israel."
In fact, Cannistraro dismisses Emerson's entire thesis. "It's total bullshit," he says. "He's trying to say people who move to this country and set up charities and think tanks and are associated with Hamas and Islamic
Jihad and Hezbollah, that there's some kind of connection between them and Sept. 11, that there's a liaison or support network. He doesn't know what he's talking about…"
Early in "American Jihad" Emerson tries to come across as a moderate, stating that Islamic extremists represent "but a tiny fraction of the total number of American Muslims." Yet in the very next paragraph he quotes approvingly from a source who insists Muslim extremists have taken over "more than 80 percent of the mosques that have been established in the U.S." And he fails to mention his 1995 claim in the Jewish Monthly that Islam "sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine," or his warning in the Jerusalem Post that "the U.S. has become occupied fundamentalist territory…"
As the Oklahoma City bombing illustrated, for someone who has dedicated his adult life to tracking terrorist activities, Emerson has a pretty shaky track record when it comes to analyzing attacks. Following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing he told CNN viewers Yugoslavs were the likely suspects. And the next year, when TWA Flight 800 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean just off Long Island, Emerson was sure a bomb had brought it down. Neither theory turned out to be accurate…
The truth is, Emerson uses the word "terrorist" the way Sen. Joseph McCarthy used to use the word "communist." Trying to discredit as terrorist sympathizers the Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the country's largest Muslim-American groups, and one that has been welcomed into the White House in recent years…to suggest, as Emerson does in "American Jihad," that militant Muslims groups around the world, including those battling Israel, are targeting Americans at home, simply creates confusion and anxiety, especially among casual readers and TV viewers who have only a passing knowledge of the topic.
Then again, perhaps confusion and anxiety were Emerson's goals from the start.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, today called on the Indian government to do more to halt communal violence in that country’s state of Gujarat.
More than 540 people have been killed in violence since last Wednesday when 58 Hindus died in a train fire allegedly set by Muslims. Those killed in the train fire were returning from Ayodhya, the site of a 16th century mosque razed by Hindus in 1992. Hindu militants are planning to begin construction of a temple on that site in mid-March.
Most of those killed since the train incident have been Muslims. Survivors say that Indian security forces have not done enough to protect Muslim communities.
In its statement, CAIR said:
“We urge the Indian government to take swift, sustained action to end mob violence in Gujarat and to prevent the spread of violence to neighboring areas.
“We demand that Indian law enforcement authorities ensure the safety of all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation. Perpetrators of violence must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
“And finally, we call for a just and comprehensive resolution to the Ayodhya mosque dispute.Concerted action must be taken immediately to deal with this inflammatory issue. The construction of a Hindu temple at the mosque site could serve as a spark to ignite a renewed cycle of violence.”
CAIR also asked American officials to pressure India to set up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the incidents of the past week and to determine how such violence may be prevented in the future.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations began a nationwide voter drive today, seeking to register more than 100,000 Muslim voters before the November elections. The effort started on the festival of Id al-Adha, which comes at the end of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Here in Washington, the council offered registration forms and voter guides to the thousands of Muslims gathered for prayers and a bazaar at the District of Columbia Armory. Registration drives also took place at festivals in California, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, council officials said.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the council, which is an advocacy group here, said he wanted to encourage voting so that the size of the country's Muslim population which his group puts at roughly seven million, but others much lower would begin to translate into political power.
"Voting used to be an option," Mr. Awad said. "Now it is a must. Since Sept. 11, Muslim people feel disenfranchised. They feel they do not get the same political attention as other minorities…"
In the council booth at the festival here, volunteers provided directories that listed telephone numbers for members of Congress, other federal agencies, political parties and news organizations. They also distributed
pocket-sized guides with instructions on how to write a letter to a newspaper editor, what to do if the Federal Bureau of Investigation requests an interview, how to react to "anti-Muslim hate crimes" and what
to do if faced with discrimination at work or on an airplane.
An introduction to the voter guide says: "Muslims in America share a set of common values and interests that they should support and make known to others. By backing candidates that share our interests and concerns, you can help improve the moral, social and economic environment of this great land…"