Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Steven Emerson: Combating Radical Islam

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Steven Emerson: Combating Radical Islam

Article excerpt

Defeating Jihadist Terrorism

On Christmas afternoon in 1 992, Steven Emerson, then a staff reporter for OSiN, noticed a large group of men in traditional Arab clothes congregating outside the Oklahoma City Convention Center. At first, he thought they were extras for a movie - until he remembered the date. So, he explored a bit; inside, he discovered a conference sponsored by the Muslim Arab Youth Association. The vitriol of the speakers, replete with hateful rhetoric against Jews, Israel, and America mixed with exhortations of violence toward these enemies, alarmed him. Spontaneous shouts of "Kill the Jews" and "Destroy the West" came from the authence throughout the event.1

Worried by what he had witnessed, Emerson notified a contact in the FBI, only to be told that the agency knew nothing about the conference and also lacked a mandate to investigate it because no criminal activity had occurred or was irnminent.2 This experience indelibly impressed him, leaving a sense of government weakness and suggesting the need for a private agency to explore the threat of radical Islam within the United States.

On graduation from Brown University, Emerson (b. 1954) went to work as an analyst on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He served as an international investigator and helped shape the aid package to Israel and Egypt following the Camp David accords in 1 978. He honed his skills while working for the committee until 1982, during which time he developed an abiding interest in Middle Eastern affairs.

In 1986, he joined U.S. News & World Report where he worked as a national security correspondent. During this time, he authored two books: Secret Warriors: Inside the Covert Military Operations of the Reagan Era3 and The Fall of Pan Am 103: Inside the Lockerbie Investigation* In Secret Warriors, Emerson argued that technical breakdowns, bureaucratic disarray, presidential interference, and professional jealousy contributed to the inertia of America's elite forces.5 This perception may have played a large role in convincing him that government alone is inadequate to the challenges of modem terrorism. In The Fall of Pan Am 103, he promoted the theory - then held by the U.S. government - that Iran was responsible for the bombing of the flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Since that early experience in Oklahoma, Emerson has emerged as a powerful independent force who works with U.S. security services but carries out investigations on his own in areas beyond their reach. He does not take any funds from the government. In 1995, he established his own think tank, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), which has since conducted investigations into many Islamist and terrorist groups and individuals. The IPT has stirred up more hornets' nests than many government agencies. Its acute focus has allowed it to hone in on targets that broader agencies missed. Emerson's initiative has paid off handsomely.

NEW NONGOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES EMERGE

The Islamist campaign to implement Shari'a law presents a grave challenge to the United States and all Western countries. And while a security apparatus has arisen to defend against these threats, several nongovernmental bodies have emerged as critical adjuncts in the effort to identify those who work within the law to change the Western way of life.

Compared to Western Europe, the United States has an unusual approach to domestic political extremism. Since 1976, the FBI has officially conducted surveillance of extremist and potentially violent groups under the attorney general's guidelines, established after revelations of misconduct and abuses arising from the COINTELPRO initiative, a secret program through which the FBI disrupted both far-left and far-right groups.6 However, the extremely well-coordinated attacks of 9/11 exposed gaping holes in the area ofhuman intelligence and impelled the government to reexamine and recalibrate this policy7

In response, the FBI relaxed its guidelines for investigations of religious extremists, and the federal government now allows information to be shared between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. …

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