MPAC Exposes Steve Emerson's Self-Serving Distortions

January 28, 2004

Steve Emerson
Steve Emerson

Let us deconstruct the mind of Steve Emerson, such as it is.

Emerson starts by inhaling deeply and deciding that he is actually Salman Rushdie:

"(quoting Art Torres at our convention)... there has been a steady stream of attacks in the Qu'ran including specific verses taken out of context and on the Prophet. These attacks are vicious. They're mean spirited and politically motivated."

Sounds familiar, the notion of twisting the Qu'ran and attacking the Prophet Mohammed for evil purposes. This is exactly what Salman Rushdie was accused of; and as a result, a fatwa calling for Mr. Rushdie's death was issued by Iran and supported by militant Islamic groups around the world.

Bookstores were bombed. Translators of Mr. Rushdie's book were stabbed and assassinated. Mr. Rushdie was consigned to live under the permanent threat of being executed. But here we have the head of the Democratic Party issuing the exact same language issued by radical Islamic groups against Salman Rushdie."

To compare the observation made by Art Torres that vicious attacks have been made on the Qur'an by Steve Emerson and his ilk to the death sentence placed on Salman Rushdie is laughable. Steve Emerson's opinion has proven time and time again to be all but irrelevant, precisely because of this type of absurd hyperbole - a type of manufactured, crazed pattern of deliberately misrepresenting individuals and groups that has become Emerson's trademark.

In reality, if Emerson had done his homework, he might have come across a few salient points that would have fleshed out his analysis. Salman Rushdie wrote a work of fiction that was seen as critical of the Prophet and his family, for which he garnered the anger of some Muslims outside the United States, and ended up with a death sentence issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. He never falsely accused anyone of anything, he just wrote a novel. Steve Emerson on the other hand is not under any death sentence, he is just being outed for his bigoted and ignorant statements. We at MPAC opposed the attempt by some misguided Muslims to condemn Rushdie, and we took a stand in favor of his free speech rights to be impolite. We also favor Steve Emerson's free speech rights. We just realize we shouldn't take his comments too seriously.

The real difference between Steve Emerson and Salman Rushdie is that Emerson is a bigot who has made a career of rhetorically shooting Muslims first and asking questions later. Exhibit A is his announcement that Muslims were behind the Oklahoma City terror attack. Before any facts were available, the impartial and unbiased Steve Emerson had kangarooed his way to the incorrect conclusion that Muslims were behind the attack. But why let facts get in the way of a good argument? Has Steve ever gone to the American Muslim community and apologized for consistently slandering our community and attempt to make amends? Alas, Steve Emerson does not have that sort of integrity. See this telling analysis of Emerson's work for more background:

www.salon.com/books/feature/2002/03/05/emerson/index.html

In 1995, he bizarrely claimed in the Jewish Monthly that Islam "sanctions genocide, planned genocide, as part of its religious doctrine." He then declared in the Jerusalem Post that "the US had become occupied fundamentalist territory." Emerson brings to mind the most paranoid anti-communists of the 1950s. His pathetic attempt to recast himself as only a righteous seeker of Islamic extremists does not fit the facts. His is more a struggle to keep legitimate American Muslim organizations from participating in the political life of their country, for fear that they would advocate for causes he does not support, such as freedom and a state for the Palestinians. Not very democratic of him.

The second part of Emerson's rant is a pastiche of out-of-context quotes, to which he adds his own heavily biased editorial slant in order to trump up a false charge of MPAC being an "Islamist" organization. If he had paid attention to the content of our last Convention (which he probably did and chose to ignore), he would have quickly realized that MPAC is on the other end of the religious spectrum from the "Islamist" movements. We are religiously progressive, a point that we make repeatedly in our events and on our website and in our literature. Our communications director has been quoted by the LA Times calling Saudi Arabia a fascist state. It could hardly have escaped even the rusty mind of Steve - and, of course, it hasn't. But the reason he persists in this association is that in Emerson's mind, any Muslim group that calls for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is "Islamist". Using his logic, we would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim who would not qualify. This is evidenced indeed by the fact there is not one credible, mainstream American Muslim organization that has not come under attack by Steve Emerson and his ilk for precisely this reason.

Let us respond to several of his quotes in particular. The one he repeats with the most gusto was Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati's remarks on a radio talkshow on September 11, 2001. Salam made an ill-considered remark made in response to a caller's accusation that Islam was responsible for 9-11. At the time of the show, we had no idea who was responsible for the attacks. The nation was in shock, and Salam was placed in a difficult position. It was the most stressful day of his professional life. But Salam's comments were not the same as a carefully considered and debated MPAC Position Paper, and should not be placed on that level. One wonders why Emerson's quotes don't include a syllable from our recent counterterrorism paper. Salam himself recognized his error, apologized in person to the members of the Muslim-Jewish dialogue, and in print in an op-ed in the LA Times. We are still waiting to get Steve's apology for his anti-Muslim hate speech.

He then attacks Salam Al-Marayati for arguing that the over 1000 people detained on secret evidence after 9/11, none of whom were convicted of being involved with 9/11 in any way, should be given due process and an open hearing. We say, if they are Al-Qaeda, lock them up, if they are innocent, let them go. This principled stand gets twisted by Emerson into support for terrorism. What can we say to such meaningless slander? With "logic" like this, if Steve Emerson's Fox News gig ever runs out, he could get a job running show trials in Third World countries.

His attack on Aslam Abdallah, an MPAC member, but not on the board of directors, is also a complete misfire. Many Americans have been skeptical of the Bin Laden audiotapes, but for Emerson such curiosity is another example of American Muslim perfidy. Why is that exactly? Frankly, several Democratic critics of the Iraq War made the same point; that we need to finish the job with Bin Laden. The second quote from Aslam Abdallah:

"Those who are part of the political Zionist movement in America want to ensure that no one ever comes close to challenging their power in Washington? They want to silence (American Muslims). The best way to discredit Islam and Muslims and use all the propaganda tools against them."

is proven correct by Steve Emerson's life's work.

Emerson goes on to quote Ali Mazrui, a SUNY-Binghampton professor who said, the following during our 2002 convention:

"There is also suspicion that some members of the Bush administration in collusion with Israel are more than ready to plunge the Middle East into turmoil in the hope that the final outcome would be to the territorial advantage of Israel and the strategic advantage of the United States. All this is part of the emerging external sadism of the United States, a readiness to hurt others abroad."

There is nothing wrong with Professor Mazrui exercising his first amendment rights as an eminent academic and writer to take issue with the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy toward the Muslim world. If Emerson disagrees that the United States is hurting others abroad, so be it. He is free to argue why this is not the case, and perhaps change professor Mazrui's mind, if he's up to the challenge. Again, we must ask, what exactly is Emerson?s point in trotting out these quotes?

Emerson moves on to taking one of several MPAC statements on the violence in Palestine and Israel out of context. He conveniently ignores MPAC's repeated denunciations of suicide bombings and terrorism. He just simply can't understand that it might actually be possible that 35 years of a brutal occupation culminating in an Israeli offer to the Palestinians of their very own Bantustan might have something remotely to do with Palestinian violence. We've always thought that is rather obvious and doesn't need a formal statement, but in Emerson's case, we stand corrected. We repeat, is it OK with Steve Emerson to have an opinion that he does not agree with, or do people who disagree with Steve Emerson automatically belong on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations? Who is Steve Emerson?

He then goes on to Hezbollah, the Shia Lebanese militia that fought Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon for almost 20 years:

"...this attack, for all the pain it caused, was not in a strict sense, a terrorist operation. It was a military operation, producing no civilian casualties -- exactly the kind of attack that Americans might have lauded had it been directed against Washington's enemies." (from MPAC's 1999 position paper)

As we've established above, Emerson has a bizarre and self-serving definition of terrorism, in which any act of violence by a group he doesn't like is terrorism. We define terrorism as political violence specifically targeting civilians and non-combatants. Using that definition, which is the one used by many respected terrorism experts, the attack on our Marines in 1983 does not qualify for the term. Let us be clear, we completely deplore the attack on the US Marines, but the Marines were a combat unit in an active war zone, and that is a highly relevant fact. That simple fact seems to have eluded the intellect of Emerson, again, probably on purpose. As to the long war between Israel and Hezbollah, let us remind Emerson of two things. First, the Shia of Lebanon did not invade Israel and occupy half the country for 3 years, it was the other way around. Second, it was that occupation that created Hezbollah, which did not exist prior to the Israeli invasion. We stand by the right of any occupied people to resist their occupier. If Steve thinks that right does not exist, we're glad he wasn't in charge of organizing the French resistance 60 years ago.

Emerson also criticizes us (as terrorists!) for not cheering the cruise missile assault on a Sudanese veterinary medicine factory by Bill Clinton. Even Bill Clinton's ardent supporters now admit that was based on the thinnest of evidence, and most likely had nothing to do with Bin Laden or terrorism. At the time, many Republicans felt Clinton was just trying to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal. We feel that it is hardly necessary to seek Steve Emerson or his ilk's approval for disapproving of violence.

Finally, he attacks MPAC for suggesting that due process is an American value. The shutdown of three Muslim charities, whose public reputations were unblemished prior to Treasury's action, was a matter of serious concern to all American Muslims. We have consistently argued that the charities deserve their day in court, that the government should allow full due process, that the evidence should be produced and subject to challenge, and that if individuals are guilty of wrongdoing, they should be indicted. We have also asked that the charities hand over their funds in part to third-parties that can use the funds for what they were originally intended, and we have gone so far as to get Treasury Department approval for this plan. In fact, we have been in consistent, close contact with the Treasury Department over this issue, receiving their respect and praise as a result.

It is surprising that Steve Emerson can find these little nuggets from years ago, and yet didn?t bother to read our definitive evaluation of US Counterterrorism policy we published last year. It was favorably reviewed by General Brent Scowcroft, among others. Nor has he taken much notice of our many statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including our endorsement of a two-state solution in the position paper of 2002, and our analysis of the Roadmap last year, both of which are readily available on our website. And he completely misses the deep differences on religious matters between MPAC and the conservative strains in Islam. Why is he able to do so much digging and yet miss the point? Is it a failure of logic? Is it a lack of synapses? Or is he just a bigot who is determined to stop the legitimate participation of American Muslims in the political process?

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