Steven Emerson is a leading authority on Islamic extremist networks and their activities, from violent jihad to stealth jihad. The founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Emerson has testified before Congress on numerous occasions and regularly assists government agencies with combating radical Islam. On June 4, 2009, he spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York City about the future of jihad.
Steven Emerson began his talk by evaluating the potential impact of Barack Obama's address in Cairo, which was delivered earlier that day. He disputed the notion that the speech would alter either perceptions of America in the Middle East or the broader fight against Islamic radicalism, asserting that it is "not going to change the war on terror."
However, Emerson argued that Islamist organizations in the U.S. will rejoice at the president's statements, particularly his call to relax scrutiny of the kind of Islamic charities that are sometimes used to fund terrorism. Emerson believes that such overtures will convince Islamist lobby groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that their stigma is being erased and that they are about to be welcomed back into the mainstream.
Emerson noted that Obama's downplaying of the Islamist threat exemplifies the "unraveling of the consensus that started to develop about the dangers of radical Islam" after 9/11. This threat goes well beyond terrorism, extending to a nonviolent, stealth jihad of "infiltrating or subverting or intimidating … or changing the American system by affecting our values, such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech."
In his view, stealth jihad is just as dangerous as violent jihad, if not more so, because it is mostly legal and operates below the radar. Emerson lamented that "Americans don't seem threatened by anything less than the act of violence," even though prominent Islamists like cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi speak of conquering America and Europe via proselytizing, conversion, immigration, and ultimately the ballot box.
Emerson argued that terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11 are "counterproductive" for Islamists, as they bring unwanted attention to their agenda and disrupt the more promising strategy of stealth jihad. However, he maintained that intermittent acts of violence, such as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the murder of Theo van Gogh, help Islamists get their way by promoting fear among Westerners.
Unfortunately, the elites do little to illuminate the true perils of Islamism. The media continue to facilitate Islamists by whitewashing their aims and legitimizing radical groups that pretend to be moderate. He also noted that while the FBI deserves credit for finally cutting ties with CAIR, the government is ever more reluctant to use the term "Islamic terrorism." As Emerson explained, "If you can't identify the enemy by who he is, you can't expect to defeat him."
Emerson concluded by emphasizing that the threat from both violent and stealth jihad is real and shows no signs of abatement, pointing to a Muslim Brotherhood memo from nearly twenty years ago that outlines plans for "destroying the Western civilization from within." "Unless we act and recognize this danger immediately," Emerson warned, "the future is bleak."
Summary account by David Rusin.