Steven Emerson is the author of four books on the Middle East and, since 1993, the foremost specialist on the subject of fundamentalist Muslim activities in the United States. Formerly a staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a journalist for U.S. News & World Report and Cable News Network, he produced the documentary Jihad in America that PBS broadcast in November 1994 and won the George Polk Award for best television documentary. Daniel Pipes interviewed him on April 8, 1997.
Middle East Quarterly: Do fundamentalist Muslims pose a threat to the United States?
Steven Emerson: No doubt. All the major terror groups of a fundamentalist orientation have established deeply routed, well-organized cells and infrastructure here -- Hamas Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, as well as the Algerian groups, Islamic Salvation Front and Armed Islamic Group. They believe in the use of violence to carry out their doctrine and to achieve their goals. This is not just my assessment but the publicly stated view of top officials of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation who repeatedly state that deeply entrenched radical Islamic groups have the ability to strike here in the United States at will.1
MEQ: How do these groups intend to achieve their agenda in the United States?
Emerson: They use the United States as a sanctuary in which they can raise funds, recruit new members, directly control Middle Eastern operations, and initiate terrorists attacks. They also use it to spread da'wa [i.e., to propagate Islam].
MEQ: Did the fundamentalists assess the World Trade Center bombing of February 1993 as harmful to their interests?
Emerson: Yes, at this point Islamic fundamentalists are withholding attacks inside this country, so the current threat is much more to Americans overseas and other Western targets. Not only have funds from the United States paid for the terrorist attacks, but actual recruits have been sent from here on actual missions to fight "infidels" and set up jihad battlefronts in Algeria, Bosnia, Israel and the territories, Lebanon, Chechniya, and the Philippines.
MEQ: At some future point things here will change for the worse?
Emerson: The rage against the United States is increasing. In an environment that not only sanctions terrorism but mandates terrorist attacks against "enemies" of Islam, the question is how long the quiet can remain.
MEQ: The absence of attacks in America since 1993 does not mean the problem of fundamentalist violence has abated?
Emerson: Not at all. If anything, the threat is greater now than before the World Trade Center bombing as the numbers of these groups and their members expands. In fact, I would say that the infrastructure now exists to carry off twenty simultaneous World Trade Center-type bombings across the United States. And as chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons become available to them, the threat becomes ever more ominous. Just because someone holding a gun to your head doesn't pull the trigger should not be understood as the threat not existing. It would be suicidal to permit our national security to depend on the good will or rationality of radical fundamentalists.
MEQ: And in the meantime, what are they doing?
Emerson: They use the United States as a base to spread the word of extremism, to proselytize, and to recruit new members to their interpretation of Islam. They also make efforts to become entrenched and legitimate so that they can provide a base here for the entire panoply of radical policies inimical to the democracy, pluralism, and respect for the individual that characterize Western political life.
MEQ: Might the radical groups limit their violence to American interests outside the United States?
Emerson: No, because these groups are unable to restrict their hatred for the United States to certain geographical regions.
MEQ: You told Congress a year ago that "both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have not only raised considerable ... funds in the United States but have also set up operational headquarters in the US where terrorist attacks and military strategies are orchestrated."2 What proof do you have?
Emerson: Example one: Court documents video tapes seen and other intelligence material relating to the investigation by law enforcement officials of Islamic Jihad in Tampa, Florida. Prior to his assuming leadership of Islamic Jihad in Damascus in October 1995, Ramadan 'Abdallah Shallah had been an instructor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Equipped with several search warrants, the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service retrieved tens of thousands of documents showing that his Florida office had served as the major operational arm of Islamic Jihad outside Syria.
Example two: law enforcement has identified the Islamic Association for Palestine as the primary Hamas front group in the United States. Its December 1996 conference in Chicago included Islamic extremists from the Middle East, Hamas commanders based in the United States, and radical supporters of Hamas from all parts of the United States. Several of the more secretive sessions included a discussion about killing Jews and other "enemies of Hamas."
Example three: the activities of Hamas in the United States were revealed when materials relating to the case of Musa Abu Marzook, its operative arrested at JFK airport in July 1995, were publicly released. These documents clearly established that Abu Marzook had been dispatching agents to Israel to carry out terrorists attacks. Investigators even found the checks by which he paid his U.S.-based couriers.3
MEQ: Given the strength of this proof, why did the Israeli government announce on April 3, 1997, against seeking Abu Marzook's extradition?
Emerson: It feared an outbreak of terrorism just at a time when Palestinian-Israeli relations were already at the breaking point. I think it was a bad decision by the Israelis, who did not hold true to their principles: it showed that terrorists can win. Abu Marzook will be received as a hero who stood up and defeated the United States and Israel. Whenever terrorists make demands it's easiest to cave in and accept the demands, such as releasing someone like Abu Marzook; but as terrorists see that intimidation works and resort to this again and again, the longer-term price will be high. The Israeli decision was not a proud moment for those who believe in counterterrorism and justice.
MEQ: In a related case, why is Anwar Haddam, the leader of the Algerian group Islamic Salvation Front (or FIS), in an American jail since December 1996? Are the charges against him valid?
Emerson: Haddam came to the United States in 1993, ostensibly to seek political asylum but really to use it as a base to orchestrate FIS strategy and actual terrorist operations. The INS studied his case and determined in December 1996 that he had been directly involved in promoting acts of terrorism. Haddam was taken into custody when the INS ruled against his application for asylum, initiating the process of exclusion.4 FIS not only has its own military wing but it has major structural connections to the GIA [Armed Islamic Group], an organization that all agree is terrorist. That makes Haddam an official of an organization that has carried out terrorist acts. More importantly, he not only sanctioned terrorism but was involved in orchestrating attacks.
MEQ: Was the shooting spree carried out by a Palestinian gunman at the Empire State building in February 1997, killing one person and wounding six, related to the organized fundamentalist movement? The man, 'Ali Hasan Abu Kamal, left behind a note in which he accused the United States of using Israel as "an instrument" against Palestinians?5
Emerson: We don't know at this point. This is still being investigated. Indications exist that others knew of his attack. For example, Abu Kamal apparently purchased his weapon in Florida together with someone else from a mosque in Florida and practiced his new weapon on a target along with another person from that same mosque.
Even if turns out that Abu Kamal acted totally alone, I have no doubt that his compulsion to carry out this would-be massacre resulted from an intellectual environment created by the radical groups. He lived in an atmosphere that demonizes Jews, Americans, and other "enemies of Islam." Terrorism need not be directly organized by an ayatollah sitting in Qum or a Hamas commander in Gaza or Chicago. In the United States, as in Israel and some Arab countries, individuals take it upon themselves to avenge an "assault against Islam" or to "fight in the path of God" by killing innocents.
HOSTILITY TO THE WEST
MEQ: Please characterize the views of fundamentalists toward the United States.
Emerson: They have a visceral hatred of the United States and the values it represents.
MEQ: From what comes this hostility?
Emerson: In their own literature and speaking to one another they are very candid about seeing a profound an all-encompassing war between Islam and the West. Let me give you an exact quote or two from conferences of the Muslim Arab Youth Association, on organization sponsoring annual meetings since the late 1970s. Sheikh Mohammed Siyyam of Hamas declared in December 1989 that "the Islamic solution is the only solution, the fighting, that is the military solution, is the only solution ... America is the sworn enemy and it is from her that the Jews take the weapons and soldiers.6
Kamal Hilbawi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, told thousands of radical fundamentalists in Oklahoma City in December 1992, that the Palestinian cause is conflict "between truth and falsehood. Between two inclinations -- one Satanic, headed by Jews and their [Christian] co-conspirators and the other -- religious, carried out by Hamas, the Islamic people in general and the Islamic movement in particular."7
MEQ: These are exceptional statements?
Emerson: Hardly. I have analyzed materials from some ten MAYA conferences and have found repeated exhortations to audiences to strike against "infidels," to instill terror in the hearts of the "enemy", to slaughter Jews, to engage in jihad against the "West" and destroy it, and so forth. You get the picture.
MEQ: What are the short-range goals of fundamentalist Muslims in the United States?
Emerson: To strengthen worldwide their movements financially, politically and militarily.
MEQ: What about ultimate goals?
Emerson: Ultimately, incredible as it seems to us, to turn the United States into an Islamic country. They believe the world has to be made Muslim, preferably through da'wa but if necessary through other means. They seek to impose the Shari'a [Islamic sacred law] and even to resurrect the caliphate.8 The success of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan prompted some of them to turn their sights on Western targets. Strange as it sounds, they think that they brought down one super power: one down, one to go. You have to see the World Trade Center bombing in light of that ambition.
They are sometimes publicly explicit about this goal. The Muslim, a British-based Islamic fundamentalist publication, appeals to Muslims, "let us not hesitate in preparing for Jihad against the unbeliever--to subjugate the world to Islam."9 Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (or CAIR) openly declares that he would like to see the U.S. become a Muslim country.10Abdulrahman Alamoudi, head of the American Muslim Council, stated at the Islamic Association for Palestine conference in December 1996 that the United States will become a Muslim country, even if it takes a hundred years.
MEQ: Islamic history shows two main patterns of conversion: from above, by taking control of the state, or from below, through individual conversion. How do they hope to make the United States a Muslim country?
Emerson: Most fundamentalist groups in the United States seek to spread Islam through da'wa, by establishing moral leadership and proselytizing individuals. As the same time, keep two points in mind. First, the radicals also support groups that seek to topple, from above, the non-fundamentalist regimes in the Middle East. Second, strategies change. Hamas, or its precursor, for many years did not carry out violence in Gaza because it deemed themselves not to be ready for this. It adopted violent methods against Israelis only when saw the success of Islamic Jihad, which used violence, and was jealous of its popularity.
LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES
MEQ: If the fundamentalist groups and leaders hate the United States so much, why do they live here?
Emerson: It is an apparent paradox, but the United States is the best place to operate from. American laws make this country the freest in the world -- which is precisely what attracts foreign militants to come here. The FBI labors under serious restrictions that prevents it -- unless there is evidence of specific criminality -- from monitoring groups who advocate violence or other extremist policies. These groups know about the FBI's limitations and take advantage of them. They also take advantage of the fact that they are nearly impervious to infiltration by the authorities, speaking foreign languages and living in a different cultural universe. Living here benefits them in other ways too: modern technology makes it possible for them to spread ideas via faxes and the Internet all over the world, and instantly to transfer monies and give instructions.
MEQ: Is the United States more attractive for them than Western Europe?
Emerson: They are equally attractive, although Europe is closer to their homelands and a lot easier to infiltrate. On the other hand, Western Europe is a bit more arbitrary about imposing restrictions on immigrants. The United States seems less inclined to crack down on radicals.
MEQ: Why is that?
Emerson: For several reasons: the American belief in near-absolute free speech, the rights of immigrants, and the rule of law -- all principles I strongly endorse, by the way.
MEQ: What's the reach of the radical groups?
Emerson: They have created a substantial social-religious infrastructure in the United States like in the Middle East, one that is radicalizing segments of the Muslim population and getting them to see the United States as an "enemy of Islam." This extremist environment, which fails to get appropriate media attention, is rapidly growing. For evidence, just look at the growing numbers who attend radical conferences and the proliferation of militant Islamic organizations. Look also at the near-unanimous defense of Hamas and Hizbullah terrorism, among not only radical Islamic groups but even such "moderate" Arab groups and leaders, such as James Zogby. Look how the established Muslim and Arab organizations spread anti-American and anti-Semitic literature and videos.
MEQ: Which fundamentalist organization do you consider the most threatening?
Emerson: The ones that succeed most in deceiving the White House, Congress, and the media. They advance themselves politically largely by creating false-front organization that permit them falsely to portray themselves as moderates who reject violence and are committed to pluralism and civil rights. These groups remind me of David Duke, a former KKK leader who has also put together a "human rights" organization; or how the mafia created an Italian-American civil rights group to intimidate its critics; or the communist front groups of old.
MEQ: Which are some of those groups?
Emerson: The most duplicitous include the American Muslim Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, both Washington-based and portraying themselves as in favor of "civil rights" and "dialogue" but in fact dedicated to an ideology of violence, the suppression of true freedom of speech, and discrimination against women. These groups also defend and support militant Islamic terrorist groups.
Specifically, the American Muslim Council helped raise defense funds for Hamas terrorist leader Musa Abu Marzook; defended Omar Abdel Rahman, the militant cleric who organized the World Trade Center bombing; portrayed Iran and the Sudan as "moderate" regimes with good human-rights records; and headquartered Anwar Haddam, a leader of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (known as FIS), a fundamentalist group that has carried out horrific executions of (among others) Algerian women who refuse to wear a veil.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has branches around the country, was created by the Islamic Association for Palestine, a group that former FBI official Oliver Revell has labelled a Hamas front.11 CAIR attacks those who expose militant Islam as "defaming Islam." As such, it hopes to import the "Salman Rushdie rules" to intimidate opponents, though instead of proclaiming fatwas, it claims that their writings lead to "hate crimes" against Muslims. Toward this end, CAIR fabricates acts of anti-Muslim bias. For example, they claim both the arrest of Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook and the conviction of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman as acts of "anti-Muslim" persecution. CAIR is Hamas with a K Street address in Washington. But a terrorist in a suit remains a terrorist.
MEQ: Are the AMC and CAIR the only groups you consider dangerous?
Emerson: Hardly. The Islamic Circle of North America (or ICNA) proclaims in writing its support for jihad, or holy war, against the "enemies of Islam"; its U.S.-based conferences and publications are replete with the need to support the terrorist regime of the Sudan and the need to support "Islamic movements" in which category they include Hamas and the Islamic Salvation Front among others. ICNA's hatred of Jews is so fierce that it has taunted Jews with a repetition of what Hitler did to them.
The Islamic Society of North America features speakers who have issued radical attacks on the United States, Christians and Jews as well as fundraising events for arrested terrorists. The United Association for Studies and Research is Hamas' strategic arm in the United States; its leader, Ahmed Yusef, has called for the annihilation of Jews. The Islamic Association for Palestine and it cousin charity, the Holy Land Fund for Relief and Development are Hamas fronts. The World Assembly for Muslim Youth and the International Institute for Islamic Thought are two wealthy Islamic foundations that provide millions of dollars to other smaller radical groups. The Muslim Arab Youth Association has featured speakers who openly exhort their followers in the United States to carry out suicide bombings.
MEQ: The MAYA conference included calls to commit violence in the United States?
Emerson: Calls for attacks against the United States do not differentiate geographically between in or outside the United States, at least in the materials I have examined. But bear two important facts in mind. Documents from the World Trade Center trial show that several of the conspirators attended the MAYA convention in Oklahoma City in December 1992; there is good reason to believe that they discussed the World Trade Center attack at that time. Also, American intelligence suspects the famous expatriate Saudi Usama bin Ladin has ties to the two bombings against American troops in Saudi Arabia as well as to the World Trade Center bombing; my evidence also shows he has a network of financial and political extremists operating throughout the United States.
MEQ: But were they calling for violence in the United States itself?
Emerson: What's the difference? There's hardly any distance between support for terrorism against the "enemies of Islam" in Palestine and carrying out attacks against the "co-conspirators of the Jews" -- meaning the United States. Despite the claims of apologists, you cannot claim to favor peaceful dialogue with the West while supporting terrorism or a militant version of Islam that would destroy the West's very nature.
MEQ: What do you see as the appeal of fundamentalist Islam in this country?
Emerson: Its primary appeal has to with the esteem, hope, and empowerment that come from identifying with a strong and growing world-wide movement. It is the appeal of a minority which identifies as a majority and seeks to recapture the old glory days of Islam where Islamic achievements in science and society were unsurpassed; where worldwide Islamic geo-political power defeated Western efforts to subjugate it. It's a powerful emotion: observing thousands of second-generation American Muslims at meetings of the Muslim Student Association and other groups identify with Hamas and Islamic Jihad gives me a sense of the nearly overpowering draw of fundamentalist Islam.
It might seem strange that a way of life that so circumscribes individual freedoms would appeal in this country famous for the liberty of its citizens. But it's precisely that freedom that leads some to seek out a mental straightjacket that promises all the answers.
MEQ: Is fundamentalist Islam seen as upholding tradition?
Emerson: Yes, tradition and family values -- though family values for some Islamic fundamentalists means the right to carry out suicide attacks against Western families.
MEQ: Can you estimate the number of fundamentalists in the United States?
Emerson: No one really knows but one can extrapolate some numbers. I have attended conferences in Detroit, Oklahoma City, and Chicago that were attended by thousands of people yelling "Allahu Akbar" on hearing the announcement of a suicide operation against Israel. Based on the number of participants at radical Islamic conferences, the estimated membership rolls of a dozen other radical Islam groups, plus the number of subscribers to Az-Zaytuna, the Hamas publication, I assume there are at least one hundred thousand hard-core believers in militant Islamic fundamentalism. The number may actually be significantly higher.
I should stress that this is only a very small percentage of the total Muslim population that ranges somewhere between 5 to 8 million. Islamic fundamentalism is but an extremist off-shoot forwarding a totalitarian interpretation of Islam. It does not represent mainstream Islam, which advocates the principles of peace and remains overwhelmingly non-violent.
MEQ: How many individuals in the United States might be willing to participate in a terrorist act?
Emerson: Impossible to say. For example, at a New Jersey rally for Hamas, more than 1,500 supporters chanted "We buy paradise with the blood of the Jews." Does that make all 1,500 terrorists? Not at all. But nearly all 1,500 can be catalogued as subscribers of militant Islamic fundamentalism and theoretically a percentage of them could be called upon to carry out acts of violence.
MEQ: Do you discern common characteristics among them?
Emerson: No. The popularity of radical Islam crosses every single demographic and age category.
MEQ: What about geography?
Emerson: Due to immigration patterns, some cities have larger concentrations, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Oklahoma City, Tampa, and New York City as well as northern Virginia. These places usually serve as headquarters for these radical organizations.
MEQ: What about levels of education?
Emerson: As in the Middle East, you find that they run the gamut of education, from illiterates to doctors of philosophy. Nidal Ayyad, convicted for his part in the World Trade Center bombing, came from a solid middle class background, worked as chemist at Allied-Signal, and had gained financial and professional success. Those in charge of the Islamic Jihad command-and-control-center in Tampa, Florida, all had Ph.D.s.
MEQ: How about financial circumstances?
Emerson: Again, you find a wide range. This is interesting because to become wealthy in the United States means playing by the rules of the infidel. Most wealthy Muslim-Americans are not radicals but there are some, especially doctors and engineers, who are. Several CEOs have donated millions of dollars to Islamic fundamentalist groups.
MEQ: Do fundamentalist Muslims in this country tend to be immigrants or converts?
Emerson: Both seem to be represented. Take the gang that bombed the World Trade Center: it included immigrants who came as radicals, secular immigrants who became fundamentalists in the United States, second-generation Muslims, and converts to Islam. That said, two groups disproportionately make up the fundamentalist ranks: immigrants or second-generation American Muslims and disaffected non-Muslim Americans, especially blacks.
It is both ironic and tragic that many immigrants who come here to flee the violence of Islamic fundamentalism in their homelands subsequently converted to that very cause. Take the case of El-Sayyid Nossair, the Egyptian who assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane in November 1990. He arrived in the United States as a Westernized, secularized middle-class immigrant and become radicalized in Pittsburgh. As for American blacks, their alienation from and anger at white society has generated several movements that emphasize self-esteem along with secession. The Nation of Islam is one of them, and it often serves as an access to traditional (or Sunni) Islam -- and possibly to fundamentalism. American blacks comprise nearly 40 percent of the entire Muslim American population.
MEQ: You mentioned that the media is knowingly complicit in presenting propaganda of the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
Emerson: The media has used unwittingly and wittingly by Islamic fundamentalists. Most alarming are journalists who are used wittingly -- National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, to name a few. They promote a false definition of jihad as moral self-improvement so that it appears to be a pacifist doctrine. They portray Musa Abu Marzook as a man falsely accused of terrorist activities, even as a martyr, then reprint statements of his top aides, such as Ahmed Yusef, who claim he is a misunderstood moderate.12
MEQ: What are their motives?
Emerson: Maybe journalists at The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post have falsely presented Hamas front groups in the United States as "moderate" because they see these movements as genuine movements of self-determination. Or they believe these groups are oppressed by the West. Or they have an agenda that dovetails with radical Islamic fundamentalism and the truth would undercut some of their political objectives. National Public Radio and The New York Times do not provide any substantive reporting to the Hamas collaboration with Arafat because that would jeopardize the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.
MEQ: Do you offer information to these media outlets?
Emerson: Sure, but some of these reporters decline to accept evidence proving that the Hamas network in the United States is far more extensive than they report. I once offered a New York Times reporter documents clearly showing Hamas involvement with terrorism within the United States, to no avail. The Washington Post's assistant foreign editor, Jackson Diehl, has flatly ordered his reporters not to take documents proving Hamas terrorist activities in the United States. He has even changed the text submitted by Post reporters to reflect pro-Hamas sympathy.
MEQ: What topics should the media be covering about the fundamentalists?
Emerson: We in the media should expose wrongdoing in this instance, as we do with regard to the government, corporations, and other radical groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. For example, the media should expose how radicals have hijacked the leadership of mainstream Muslim organizations.
MEQ: What about American civil rights groups, have they taken a strong stand on this issue?
Emerson: No. There exists an unfortunate alliance between some radical Islamic factions and leftist groups, including such publications as The Village Voice and The Nation. Ironically, although The Nation came out against Khomeini's death sentence on Salman Rushdie, some of its writers (like Robert I. Friedman) have defend the same fundamentalists who support Rushdie's assassination.
MEQ: What about the record of academics?
Emerson: Again, not a pretty sight; many of them make excuses for the fundamentalists. A number of academics, including John Entelis, John Esposito, Yvonne Haddad, James Piscatori, and John Voll help justify the false notion of moderate Islamic fundamentalism by affirming the duplicitous public statements of savvy fundamentalists, rather than looking at the internal materials disseminated by these leaders, which is the real test of their views.
Even more troublesome is that some militant Islamic groups have made inroads to prestigious public policy organizations. The Council on Foreign Relations, for example, publishes a newsletter (the Muslim Politics Report) with the stated goal of providing a "more diverse" view on Islam. In fact, the newsletter usually carries apologetics for Hamas and other militant Islamic groups. When I pointed this out to the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, he replied that Hamas has a right to be heard. Even under a false cover, I asked? Presenting Hamas views as the council did is like introducing David Duke as a distinguished authority on human rights.
MEQ: What must the government do to prevent a future rash of violence?
Emerson: There's not much that can be done to preempt groups promoting extremism and the ideology of violence. Regulations called the Attorney General's Guidelines restrict law enforcement so that it can preempt these groups only when it has evidence ahead of time of a crime about to happen. Effectively, however, and particularly with militant immigrants, the knowledge of illegal activity is found out only after the event.
MEQ: These limits mean that nothing more can be done?
Emerson: Some steps can be taken. The government should enlarge the pool of Arabic translators; establish a real expertisze in fundamentalist Islam; ensure better and more effective coordination of intelligence among its many agencies and branches; and top officials should avoid embracing U.S.-based Islamic groups that really represent radicals and terrorist supporters. This both legitimizes them and crowds out moderate Muslims.
MEQ: Do law enforcement agencies take the threat of fundamentalist groups seriously?
Emerson: The threat of radical Islamic violence in the United States is no doubt taken very seriously, as indicated by an extraordinary series of public statements made last year by CIA Director John Deutch, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials. But that doesn't mean law enforcement agencies are always capable of preventing it.
MEQ: Do you see a need for more laws?
Emerson: It would be a good idea to apply the ones already on the books. President Clinton's Executive Order in January 1995 froze the assets of 14 terrorist groups (twelve Arab or Muslim, two Jewish) but little came of it. FBI and other investigators recommended that, pursuant to the Executive Order, millions of dollars be frozen but the administration rejected those recommendations, with the exception of $800,000 of terrorist assets that had to be frozen since their existence was made public.
More laws are not likely now. Although incidents like the explosion of TWA flight 800 in July 1996 -- which ironically now appears to have been the result of a structural malfunction -- keep public sensitivity high, and it immediately led to an increase in Federal air safety regulations, there has lately been a relative relaxation on issues of security. The consensus about the threat to the United States depends upon public perceptions. Were bombs to start going off in the United States, there would certainly be a demand for more strict anti-terrorism laws.
MEQ: What about the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, which included new laws against terrorist fund-raising and conspiracies hatched in the United States?
Emerson: Theoretically it should be effective, but the law has yet to be fully defined or implemented, let alone tested.
MEQ: In two Wall Street Journal articles, you established that both President and Mrs. Clinton, as well as Al Gore, had met with fundamentalist representatives affiliated with terrorism.13Have such incidences been repeated since then?
Emerson: Yes, they have. The Islamic groups' records, as well as official records released by the White House, show that the Executive Branch, the State Department, and the FBI continue to meet with radical or anti-American Islamic groups that openly support terrorist leaders (like Hasan at-Turabi of the Sudan) or even raised money for the defense of terrorists (such as for Musa Abu Marzook).
MEQ: Why does the Clinton administration meet with them?
Emerson: The radical groups have gained political clout derived from their growing demographic influence. In addition, there's a spirit of moral relativism and political multiculturalism that expands the definition of acceptable political groups to include even Islamic extremist groups. To which I reply, if they meet with these groups there is no reason not to meet with the Ku Klux Klan, the Nation of Islam, and other extremists.
MEQ: Can the U.S. government cut a deal with the groups, so that each side leaves the other alone?
Emerson: Leaving aside the moral cravenness of such a deal and its long-term futility -- deals embolden terrorists to carry out more terrorism -- it cannot work even in the short term. Unlike secular groups, radical Islamic ones cannot neatly compartmentalize their enemies. They see the whole of the West as their enemy, including its governments, private institutions, and cultures. Moreover, they cannot compromise their ideology. For militant fundamentalists, any deal with any part of the West contradicts their bedrock doctrine of imposing Islam on the West. Deals are part of a deception. They would be broken when it becomes expedient to do so.
MEQ: How did you find this topic, which, other than your efforts, has been virtually invisible to the American public?
Emerson: I actually stumbled across it quite by accident. In December 1992 I was a correspondent with CNN and on assignment in Oklahoma City to do some interviews on another subject entirely. On Christmas Day I found myself with nothing to do. While looking for a fast-food restaurant, I passed a convention center where I saw thousands of Muslims dressed in traditional garb congregating in the streets and entering the center. At first, my own ignorance led me to think they might be extras on a movie set.
When I went inside, I discovered what was really going on. Radical groups were openly declaring themselves to be Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah, and even Gama'a Islamiya (Omar Abdel Rahman's group in Egypt). They made absolutely no effort to hide their identity or their agendas. Just going to the stalls I collected a phenomenal amount of material, some of which I have subsequently showed on national television. Alarmed, I called a FBI official in Washington to see if it was aware of their existence. I was even more shocked to discover the FBI did not know this conference was taking place.
MEQ: Have these groups become more discreet since you've made public what they say?
Emerson: Yes, the broadcast of Jihad in America caused them to become more careful. It also had the unintended effect of driving them further underground while teaching them to adopt a false presentation of themselves as moderates or academics or humanitarians. The agenda remains the same: spread and promote militant Islam, justify Hamas and other groups, and insinuate totalitarian groups into American public life.
MEQ: The fundamentalists often speak harshly of you, both in their own counsels and publicly. Have they tried to intimidate you?
Emerson: Without going into too many details, there have been efforts at intimidation that go beyond your garden-variety efforts. Obviously they've been unsuccessful, but it is an occupational hazard.
MEQ: Have you had to take steps to protect yourself?
Emerson: For obvious reasons, I cannot get into this matter. I would gladly leave this subject alone if I wanted a more quiet and secure life. But I can't leave it because I don't see that anyone else is willing to tackle it.
1 Testimony of Acting Director of Central Intelligence William Studemann to the House Judiciary Committeee, Apr. 6, 1995; testimony by Director of the FBI Louis Freeh to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Mar. 12, 1996; speech by Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch to Georgetown University, Sept. 5, 1996; testimony by Acting Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Feb. 6, 1997.
2 Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia, Mar. 19, 1996.
3 For details, see Yehudit Barsky, "Terror by Remote Control," Middle East Quarterly, June 1996, pp. 3-9.
4 "Exclusion" seeks to remove undesirable aliens from the United States, prevent their acquiring the rights of citizenship, or ever returning to this country.
5 Associated Press, Feb. 25, 1997.
6 Speech recorded at the MAYA conference, Kansas City, Missouri, December 1989.
7 Speech recorded at the MAYA convention, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, December 23-28, 1992.
8 The caliph, or vice-regent of God, inherited the Prophet Muhammad's temporal responsibilities. Although the caliphate remained powerful for only two centuries, the institution continued to exist in vestigial form until its abolition by Kemal Atatürk in 1924. Reviving the caliphate implies an intention to deemphasize or even bring down borders between Muslim states.
9 The Muslim, March-May 1989, page 3.
10 Minneapolis Star Tribune, Apr. 4, 1993.
11 The New Republic, June 12, 1995.
12 The Washington Post, Mar. 1, 1997.
13 "Islamic Terror: From Midwest to Mideast," Aug. 28, 1995 and "Friends of Hamas in the White House," Mar. 13, 1996.
Related Topics: Muslims in the United States, Radical Islam, Terrorism | June 1997 MEQ
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