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MENTALLY ILL MEDIA:
Islam Basher Claims to Unmask Cleric
Originally published in ConsortiumNews.com yesterday, 10 September 2010
Last month, Steve Emerson, a propagandist with close ties to Israel’s Likud and America’s neocons, went on a national radio program and claimed that Islamic cleric Feisal Abdul Rauf would likely not “survive” Emerson’s disclosure of supposedly radical comments that Rauf made a half decade ago.
Although acknowledging that his “investigation” was incomplete, Emerson offered the listeners to Bill Bennett’s right-wing radio show “a little preview” of the allegedly offensive comments by Rauf, the cleric behind a planned Islamic center in Lower Manhattan near the site of 9/11’s “ground zero.”
“We have found audiotapes of Imam Rauf defending Wahhabism, the puritanical version of Islam that governs Saudi Arabia; we have found him calling for the elimination of the state of Israel by claiming he wants a one-nation state meaning no more Jewish state; we found him defending bin Laden violence.”
However, when Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism released its evidence several days later, it fell far short of Emerson’s lurid descriptions. Rauf actually made points that are shared by many mainstream analysts – and none of the excerpted comments involved “defending Wahhabism.”
As for Rauf “defending bin Laden violence,” Emerson apparently was referring to remarks that Rauf made to an audience in Australia in 2005 about the history of U.S. and Western mistreatment of people in the Middle East.
Emerson purported to “fact check” Rauf’s statement on the death toll from the Iraq sanctions by claiming “a report by the British government said at most only 50,000 deaths could be attributed to the sanctions, which were brought on by the actions by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.”
What Emerson’s “fact check” ignored, however, was that Rauf was accurately recounting Leslie Stahl’s questioning of Secretary of State Albright on CBS “60 Minutes” in 1996. Emerson also left out the fact that United Nations studies did conclude that those U.S.-led sanctions caused the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five.
In the 1996 interview, Stahl told Albright regarding the sanctions, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Later, a competing academic study by Columbia University’s Richard Garfield put the sanctions-related death toll of Iraqi children, under five, at 106,000 to 227,000.
Emerson doesn’t identify the specific British report that contains the lower figure, although even that number – 50,000 – represents a stunning death toll and doesn’t contradict Rauf’s chief point, that U.S.-British actions have killed many innocent Muslims over the years.
Also, by 2005, when Rauf made his remarks in Australia, the United States and Great Britain had invaded and occupied Iraq, with a death toll spiraling from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands with some estimates of war-related deaths in Iraq now exceeding one million.
Far from “defending bin Laden violence,” Rauf’s comments simply reflected the truth about the indiscriminate killing inflicted on the Muslim world by U.S.-British military might over the years. Indeed, British imperialism in the region dates back several centuries, a point that Emerson also ignores.
Emerson next takes Rauf to task for asserting that the United States has supported authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes that have driven Muslims toward extremism.
Emerson “fact-checked” this comment by declaring, “This is justifying acts of terrorism by blaming the United States for the oppression of Islamic regimes of their own citizens. This also ignores U.S. aid of Muslim citizens in nations such as Kosovo and Kuwait.”
However, any fair-minded observer would agree with Rauf that the United States has supported many brutal and undemocratic leaders of Muslim countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran under the Shah, and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the 1980s.
Even President George W. Bush might agree with Rauf. A key Bush argument for “regime change” in the Middle East was the need for the United States to finally stop coddling dictators because their repressive practices were a central ingredient in the toxic brew that contributed to terrorism.
Emerson also slams Rauf for citing political – rather than strictly religious – motivations behind suicide bombings. According to an Emerson-cited clip from the 2005 talk, Rauf said:
Again, Rauf’s comments might seem commonsensical to anyone who has studied the phenomenon of suicide attacks. It’s well known that terrorist recruiters prey upon people who have suffered some personal loss or who harbor some grievance, to transform them into suicide bombers.
But Emerson instead provides a “fact check” that accuses Rauf of trying “to negate that suicide bombings are driven by Islamic religious beliefs and trying to equate terrorist activity to someone who doesn't get tenure.” Rather than a “fact check,” the comment is a gross distortion.
Similarly, Emerson cites Rauf saying in 2005 that terrorism, “whether it was done by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or by al-Qaeda or whoever is behind the bombings in London or those in Madrid, we can see that they were target political objectives.”
Again, Rauf’s point seems beyond dispute – for instance, the bombings in London and Madrid targeted countries that had joined Bush in the invasion of Iraq – but Emerson offers another “fact check” which declares: “Rauf again seems to justify terrorist acts by equating hitting civilians with political objectives.”
Regarding Rauf’s supposed desire to destroy Israel, Emerson singles out this comment by Rauf:
Emerson “fact check” on this quote condemns Rauf’s opinion as “a euphemism for the destruction of Israel, because Palestinian Muslims will quickly outnumber the Jewish resident[s] of Israel. Such a position is advocated by radical groups, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
But the truth is that a one-state solution, in which all the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine are treated equally, is a position fitting with American and other democratic principles, whereas any government that discriminates against one religious or ethnic group in favor of another goes against these values.
Many people around the world, including some leaders in Israel, have moved toward favoring a one-state solution in at least a modified form. The Washington Post’s op-ed page – a neoconservative bastion – recently published an article by George Bisharat, a law professor from the University of California, explaining why a one-state approach made more sense than trying to carve out two states.
He noted that former defense minister Moshe Arens had proposed that Israel annex the West Bank and grant citizenship to its residents and that Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin and Likud parliamentarian Tzipi Hotovely also have advocated citizenship for West Bank Palestinians.
Regarding the continued division of Israel and Palestine, Hotovely said, "The result is a solution that perpetuates the conflict and turns us from occupiers into perpetrators of massacres, to put it bluntly."
Though these right-wing Israeli politicians pointedly exclude Gaza and its 1.5 million Palestinians from the one-state approach, the larger point of Bisharat’s op-ed is that thoughtful Israelis of all political stripes are starting to come to grips with the consequences of more than six decades of repression against the Palestinians.
Thus, Rauf’s opinion is clearly not an extremist position, despite Emerson’s contempt for it and his effort to associate a one-state solution with the extremist Islamic Jihad.
Propagandists at Work
For much of Israel’s existence, right-wing Zionists, especially Likudniks (since the 1970s), have counted on American propagandists like Emerson to cover Israel’s political flanks in the United States. This has involved demonizing the Muslim world and Americans who express sympathy for Palestinians.
Yet, even as more enlightened thinking has begun to take hold in Israel, Emerson and similar Islam bashers have kept on whipping up American fears about Muslims.
That was what Emerson’s appearance on Bennett’s radio show was all about, as Bennett flogged his listeners to donate to Emerson “Investigative Project on Terrorism.”
Emerson depicted Americans as the victims of a radical Muslim plot to subjugate them. He also disparaged mainstream U.S. news organizations for objecting to the anti-Muslim racism that has pervaded the new, favorite right-wing “wedge issue” – the planned Islamic community center two blocks from “ground zero” in Lower Manhattan.
Emerson postured as the voice of the common man standing up to “the elites.”
His voice rising, Emerson said he had just looked at Time magazine’s Web site and “saw four articles in the span of two weeks all condemning anyone who opposed the Ground Zero Mosque as a racist. Mark Halperin ... wrote an outrageously stupid, biased and moronic article claiming that if we stop the Ground Zero Mosque we’re going to be creating new bin Ladens. This is the most outrageous argument.”
As the interview wore on, Emerson grew even more truculent – and more incoherent – declaring, “While the elites -- the New York Times, the Time magazines, Bloomberg, MSNBC -- they’re the elites and they think these [Islamic] groups are all fine and there’s no radicalism and there’s just the same percentage of radicalism in Islam than there is in Judaism and Christianity. ...
In language that bordered on threatening, Emerson boasted that his disclosure of the audiotapes would eliminate Rauf.
However, Emerson’s statement is untrue even based on the few snippets chosen by Emerson. For instance, Rauf is quoted as saying that whatever violence has been done by the West against the Middle East, “it does not justify the acts of bombing innocent civilians” by Islamic terrorists.
Emerson also attacks Rauf’s personality and mocks the cleric’s frequent appeals to religious tolerance.
Emerson’s rant prompted a frightened “Bob in Cleveland” to call in and ask, “How can we possibly prevail in the long run ... if they’re militarizing and training armies and in our culture people are sitting around watching movies. Don’t we need to militarize and beef up our defense forces?”
Emerson responded by demanding that the power of the U.S. government be turned on disfavored Muslims, like Rauf, including congressional hearings, which Emerson presumably considers more likely if, as many analysts expect, the Republicans gain control of Congress in November.
The Democrats have “been so obsequious to Imam Rauf they don’t deserve to get re-elected,” Emerson said.
[For more on Emerson’s history of twisting facts to protect Likud’s interests, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Rethinking Iran-Contra.”]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on September 11, 2010.