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Steve Emerson’s Fantastic Obsession

by LOUAY SAFI

What would an investigative reporter turned director of a private intelligence operation, who is increasingly obsessed with proving that mainstream Muslim American organizations are radical, do when he fails to find evidence to support his obsession? Human decency and Ethical conduct dictate that he give up his obsession and admit that he was wrong. Steve Emerson, the director of the shadowy Investigative Project, thinks otherwise. Rather than doing the right thing and give up his bigoted endeavor, he decides to use fantasy to forge evidence and prolong his compulsive obsession.

Emerson belongs to a network of anti-Muslim pundits who, driven by bigotry and exclusivist ideology, are bent on marginalizing Muslim Americans, and using unscrupulous tactics to distort the image of Muslims and instill fear of Islam and Muslims in the American public. Their strategy is to repeat their unfounded accusations against mainstream Muslim organizations so as to create a public record and then use it to incite federal officials and agencies against Muslim Americans. The idea is that if they can repeat a lie long enough, and use different media outlets to propagate their accusations, the lie in time becomes “believable” and takes the semblance of “truth.” Obviously, they have not heeded Abraham Lincoln’s wise advice: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

In a recent article published in the National Review Online (June 28, 2007) under the title “Radical Outreach: Bush coddles American apologists for radical Islam,” Emerson lashes out against President Bush for appointing a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Emerson made it clear that he resents Bush’s initiative, which is aimed at mending fences with the Muslim world, and fauls OIC for being critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians under military occupation.

Emerson was particularly upset that President Bush distinguished between Muslims in general and fringe extremist groups whose attacks on innocent civilians have been condemned by Muslim communities throughout the world, and by mainstream Muslim organizations. By making a distinction between ordinary Muslims and extremists, Emerson proclaims, Bush advances the “very talking point [that] is the refuge of America’s supposedly [sic] mainstream Muslim organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Islamic Society of North American (ISNA).”

To undermine the distinction between mainstream and Muslim extremists, he goes to the website of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and picks up a news release that was published in 2004. The news release reported then the decision of the US Navy Chief of Chaplains to remove an article by Salman Rushdie that was intended to instigate Muslims against the West and westerners against Islam. I wrote to Rear Admiral Louis V. Iasiello, then the Navy Chief of Chaplains, asking him to reconsider the decision to publish such a divisive article of the website of the Navy Corps. Chaplain Iaseillo realized that it was a mistake to republish the article on the Navy website and order its removal.

Emerson takes the news release and turns its content upside down, and without any ifs, maybes, or buts he attributes to me the divisive argument advanced by Rushdie. Emerson writes: “In 2004, LOUAY SAFI, a top ISNA official, went further, writing that the ‘assertion by ‘world leaders’ that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam is nothing but a piece of propaganda and disinformation that was meant to appease Western Muslims and to maintain the coalition against terrorism.'”

Emerson ignores the context of the above statement and omits a key phrase that shows clearly that the quoted argument was that of Rushdie and not my own as he claims. Here is the paragraph which Emerson misquotes in its totality:

“Salman Rushdie’s article ‘Yes, This is About Islam,’ originally published in New York Times, argues that the assertion by ‘world leaders’ that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam is nothing but a piece of propaganda and disinformation that was meant to appease Western Muslims and to maintain the coalition against terrorism.”

Emerson representation of my position is not simply an error of omission, but a gross distortion of my words and a malicious attempt to put a spin on my statement so as to support his thesis of assigning anti-American views to Muslim American leaders, scholars, and organizations. My correct position is in complete opposition to what Emerson presented and is not easy to miss as it is spelled out in the subsequent paragraph. Here is my response to Rushdie’s argument:

“In his letter, Dr. Safi pointed out that the article not only insult the overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide, particularly American soldiers of the Islamic faith, who every day put their lives on the line . . . but its cynicism cannot be easily missed as it accuses the commander in chief, and virtually all senior members of the government, of duplicity.”

Mr. Emerson has in the past used innuendo and half-truths to malign mainstream Muslim individuals and organizations, but he has recently reached a new low as he is now willing to use fraud and fabrication to undermine Muslim Americans. His unscrupulous attacks and insinuations against Muslims in general and Muslim Americans in particular must be condemned by every American of conscience, as his hatful and divisive message would, if left unchecked, confuse the public and undermine the efforts to isolate extremism and defeat terrorism.

LOUAY SAFI is the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center. He writes and speaks of issues of democracy, human rights, modernization, and Islam-West relations. He published eight books and numerous articles. His commentaries can be viewed on his blog at aninsight.org

 

 

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