Leaving Islam





Why is MPAC attacking Steve Emerson?

And what does it all mean for the war on terror?

By Robert Spencer


The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has identified its chief enemy. At a conference on “Countering Religious & Political Extremism” held on December 18 (and later televised on C-Span), it distributed a 48-page booklet attacking not bin Laden, or Zawahiri, or Zarqawi, but anti-terrorism expert Steven Emerson. Entitled “Counterproductive Counterterrorism,” the booklet sought to frame opposition to Emerson as a national security issue: “In order to enhance the security of our country, it is necessary to expose the vocal minority of Americans who continue to exploit the tragedy of September 11 to advance their pre-existing anti-Muslim agenda.”  

For months now, MPAC has been touting its new “National Anti-Terrorism Campaign” (NATC), garnering uncritical publicity in the media and even praise from government officials. The Campaign’s glossy brochure proclaims that “It is our duty as American Muslims to protect our country and to contribute to its betterment.” But like the old Whip Inflation Now campaign of the Ford Administration, the NATC is long on style and short on substance. It recommends, for example, that “All activities within the mosque and Islamic centers should be authorized by legitimate, acknowledged leadership…” That sounds great until one realizes that if a mosque is involved in terrorist activity, it is most likely with the complicity of mosque leadership — as per the Naqshbandi Sufi leader Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani’s 1999 testimony before a State Department Open Forum that eighty percent of American mosques were controlled by extremists.[1] The rest of MPAC’s recommendations are in the same vein, appearing to be more concerned about misbehavior by non-Muslim law enforcement officials in mosques than about the possibility of terrorist activity in those mosques. WIN buttons are one thing, but the consequences of false advertising by MPAC are much more deadly. Now with the publication of this new report, MPAC’s counterterrorism agenda seems to boil down to one substantive point: Steve Emerson, not Islamic terrorism, is the enemy.  

It is very revealing that MPAC would think that Emerson is doing so much damage — to the security of our country, no less — as to call for such a response. Emerson’s anti-terror work has won accolades from across the political spectrum. Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) says that “Steve Emerson deserves the highest prize — a Pulitzer or whatever it may be — for investigative journalism.” Richard Clarke, the controversial former National Security Council Counterterrorism official, has declared, “I think of Steve as the Paul Revere of terrorism.” He says that he would always go to hear Emerson speak, because “we’d always learn things we weren’t hearing from the FBI or CIA, things which almost always proved to be true.”[2] Andrew McCarthy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, called Emerson “a valuable source of information and knowledge. And in terms of trying to find places to look for evidence, he’s a very good person to talk to. He’s got a lot of insight.”[3] A.M. Rosenthal, former managing editor of the New York Times, declared: “Steve Emerson is one of the nation’s best national security correspondents.  His investigative work on radical Islamic fundamentalism is absolutely critical to this nation’s national security.  There is no one else who has exhibited the same expertise, courage and determination to tackle this vital issue.”   

 In examining MPAC’s charges, MPAC has unwittingly revealed much about itself; to the extent  the government or media continues the charade of portraying it as a “moderate” group, it becomes troubling — and not just for Emerson. A close inspection of MPAC’s charges against Emerson reveals more about MPAC that it does about Emerson: MPAC has fabricated or spread outright falsehoods and smears, raising significant questions about what the organization’s real sentiments are regarding Islamic terrorism.  

“Steve Emerson and his Investigative Project,” asserts MPAC, “are among those who scapegoat American Muslims, rather than provide constructive counterterrorism policy.” Yet on none of the forty-eight pages of “Counterproductive Counterterrorism” is there a single Muslim named whom Emerson has unfairly scapegoated. MPAC charges that in his work Emerson tars all Muslims with the terrorist brush, despite the fact that Emerson himself has repeatedly maintained that most Muslims have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism or terrorist groups. In his acclaimed documentary Jihad in America, Emerson even asserted that “although the militants may claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims, Islam as a religion does not condone violence.  The radicals represent only themselves – an extremist and violent fringe.” But MPAC ignores all that and charges on, claiming that “whether on television, in newspapers, or magazines, Emerson relies on his fail-safe methods of increasing fear and suspicion toward American Muslims.”  

For the record, Emerson’s landmark 1994 documentary revealed and exposed the existence of Islamic terror cells and leaders in the United States with uncanny accuracy. The film alleged an Islamic Jihad cell was operating in Tampa at the University of South Florida ; in 2003, USF Professor Sami Al Arian was indicted in a 50-count conspiracy as head of the Islamic Jihad in North America .  Emerson’s film exposed the existence of Hamas fundraising and terrorist meetings; since 9/11, the government has initiated prosecutions and asset forfeitures against the Hamas infrastructure in the United States . The film alleged an ongoing post-1993 World Trade Center bombing Jihad conspiracy against US targets; the 9/11 attacks proved him right. The film alleged that radical Islamic charities were operating in the United States under false tax-deductible cover; since 9/11, the government has initiated the investigation and closing of various Islamic charities, and the arrest of their leaders on terrorism-related charges. The film alleged that behind closed doors, various mosques and Islamic schools were the venues of extremist exhortations to carry out Jihad against Jews and Christians; since 9/11, Emerson’s revelations have been confirmed dozens of times. The film alleged, showing never-before-seen video, that secret terrorist conferences featuring the top terrorists in the world had been held in the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s; since 9/11, FBI and Justice Department prosecutions have revealed the existence of these terrorist conferences.  

Even though the mountain of evidence he had when he made the film in 1994 revealed the extent of the massive clandestine infrastructure of militant Islamic groups in the United States , Emerson repeatedly affirmed in his narration and in on-camera interviews that militant Islam did not represent the vast majority of Muslims. 

Because Emerson was so deadly accurate in pinpointing the murderous deception of  radical Muslim groups hiding behind veneers of false moderation, these very groups responded to the film by claiming that Emerson was attacking Islam and insisting that there was no evidence of any militant Islamic presence in the United States . MPAC joined other “mainstream” Islamic groups (often nothing more than reconstituted organs of Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations) in denouncing Emerson.  

And because Emerson has been so much more effective since 9/11, behind the scenes and publicly, working with the government, Congress and the media in exposing and revealing the Islamic terrorist networks in the United States, MPAC and other Islamic “civil rights” groups have continued in their efforts at character assassination.   

However, in attempting to portray Emerson as an anti-Muslim bigot and a fraud, MPAC circulates  outlandish inaccuracies and demonstrably false information. Since 1994, Emerson has had to endure an unceasing campaign of slander and false accusations spread by radical Islamic groups, pro-Islamic writers and self-styled “reporters” who have done the bidding of these groups, politically-correct reporters and editorialists, apologists for militant Islamic groups, extremist left-wing groups and even ultra right-wing wackos. Because of the Internet, unfortunately, the slanders against Emerson continue to circulate long after they have been proven false. 

MPAC accuses Emerson of engaging in “anti-Islam and anti-Muslim alarmist rhetoric” as long ago as the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; they quote him as saying that the bombing “was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible…That is a Middle Eastern trait.”  

If Emerson had really pointed the finger at Muslim terrorists, he would have been one of many commentators to do so in the days after the bombing. Those who actually did so on national news shows in April 1995 include former Congressman David McCurdy[4], former FBI official James Fox[5], international security expert Larry Johnson[6], the Washington Post, and the New York Times.[7]  In fact, FBI officials almost universally suspected Islamic terrorists in the first 24 hours after the attack. But even in criticizing Emerson’s comments, MPAC has distorted what he said. Emerson’s full statement was   different: “This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait and something that has been generally not carried out in this soil until we were rudely awakened to in 1993.”[8] The last part of the sentence, not quoted by MPAC, establishes that Emerson was talking about the tactics used in the attack, not who carried it out. If MPAC had wanted to present the truth, they would have seen that Emerson, following the arrest of the culprits behind the 1995 bombing, immediately stated that there was no evidence of any Middle East connection. Emerson has told me how he dissuaded Newsweek magazine editors on the Friday  following the bombing from doing a story about the connection to Islamic militants, turning down a $5,000 offer.

Nor does MPAC quote a contemporaneous interview by Emerson in which he stated that “there is no specific evidence about which groups are responsible.”[9] 


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[1] Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, “Islamic Extremism: A Viable Threat to U.S. National Security,” speech at U.S. Department of State, January 7, 1999.

[2] Zachary Block, “One Man’s War on Terror,” Brown Alumni Magazine, November/December 2002.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CNN, April 19, 1995 .

[5] CBS, April 19, 1995 .

[6] PBS, April 20, 1995 .

[7] April 20, 1995 articles cited in A Rush to Judgment, Council on American Islamic Relations, September 1995.

[8] CBS News, April 19, 1995 .

[9] CBS, April 20, 1995 .







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