Like most heroes, Steve Emerson denies that he is one. However, I would ask a simple question: what journalist has risked more than him to report on terrorist groups and their supporters worldwide? Steve will say he’s just doing his job, reporting the facts. But telling the truth, as everyone knows, can be a high stakes game. The death threats that he has received in the past were serious enough to warrant him to take all sorts of precautions. Thankfully, he’s still with us, reporting on very clear and present dangers to our national security from the Islamists’ terror networks.
Robert Capa was able to capture great photos, because he was not afraid to get close to his subjects, no matter the cost to his personal safety. Steve Emerson has been able to do the same on a journalistic basis with terrorist groups located right here in the US.
Almost ten years before 9/11, Emerson predicted that that Islamists would launch a major attack on U.S. soil, and warned of the imminent threat of bin Laden. He based such warnings on solid research into the clandestine operations of Islamist groups in the US, showing how under the cover of “charity” they were able to collect money for groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. By getting very close to his subjects, Emerson laid the groundwork for what later became the Investigative Project, one of the world's largest archival data and intelligence sources on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.
Richard Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism for the US National Security Council said of Emerson, “I think of Steve as the Paul Revere of terrorism… We’d always learn things from him we weren’t hearing from the FBI or CIA, things which almost always proved to be true.”
Such bravery, of course, comes at a price. Besides death threats, and traveling with armed guards when he testifies before Congress, Steve lives almost constantly on the road as he chases leads as well as funding for his nonprofit organization. Such devotion to a cause also makes a personal life practically impossible. If he wasn’t so committed to national security, Emerson could easily trade in his nonprofit status for a highly lucrative job with any of a number of print or broadcast outlets. Instead, he chooses to continue to expose the ongoing threats to the US posed by Islamists in a variety of forms.
He has been pilloried unjustly by the “politically correct” media and by supporters of Islamists, portrayed as an “Islamaphobe,” despite the fact that one of his most senior researchers is a practicing Muslim and that Emerson’s consistent stance has been anti-terrorist, not anti-Islam.
Groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) are the ones actually hurting all of us in the US, including Arab and Muslim-Americans. By crying “racism” and “bigotry” every time Steve uncovers ties to Islamist terrorist groups from so-called charity and civil rights organizations, which include the likes of CAIR and ISNA, they not only misuse and abuse those terms, but leave Arab and Muslim Americans actually more at risk for hostility and discrimination from Americans at large.
Rather than supporting moderate voices, which represent most Arab and Muslim Americans, Islamist groups and their supporters blanket the airwaves with shrill propaganda that incorrectly and dangerously paints convicted terrorist supporters like Sami al Arian, from the Florida chapter of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as victims. Such actions run the risk of alienating other Americans from mainstream Arab and Muslim-Americans since they may wrongly assume that CAIR and other such groups represent the majority.
It has also resulted in naïve journalists printing these groups’ “racist” fables as fact, instead of questioning the sources of such stories. When CAIR, for example, accused the show “24” of promoting stereotypes and creating potential backlash by representing some of the fictional terrorists as Arabs—imagine that—the Associated Press ran with the story that Arab-Americans were living in fear of violent reprisals because of the show. Strong contrary voices from the Arab-American community weren’t heard or sought out.
In the midst of all these diversionary tactics of the Islamists’ well-funded propaganda ministers, very real terrorist threats can be overlooked. That, however, is a story that neither AP nor NPR (or just about any other major media outlet other than FOX) apparently wants to pursue, and one that Steve Emerson has accurately called “The Grand Deception.”
Steve, of course, continues to be guilty of speaking the truth. He has exposed such groups for what they are, showed how they undermine our national security, and never backed down, no matter how many lawsuits they bring (and lose), and how many threats he gets.
The Islamist groups and their supporters can’t find any real evidence of bigotry or “Islamophobia” in Steve’s many books and speeches, so they typically return to one incident. In 1996, before Timothy McVeigh was apprehended for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Steve said in an interview that it appeared to have the hallmark of Islamic terrorists: maximum destruction.
As an Arab-American and descendant of Syrian Muslims, that statement did not offend me then, nor does it now. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center as well as multiple examples of terrorism throughout the world would have led any rational person to that same supposition, including me. The fact that it was not true in that particular case doesn’t make Steve, me, or anyone else a racist for making such a logical connection, no matter how much the Islamist bigots insist otherwise.
In the long run, death threats and defamation won’t have any real effect on Steve Emerson as he pursues his mission: to do whatever he can to prevent another 9/11. It is a quest that is at once quixotic and dangerous. But it beats not trying. Like Capa, Emerson knows that some stories must be told no matter how many risks they entail.
“If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough,” said Capa. This would seem to be Emerson’s operating philosophy as he remains on the frontlines of the War on Terror in pursuit of terrorists at home and abroad. And if it’s true, as he says, that he’s just doing his job, then we need many more Steve Emersons.
Emilio Dabul is a Mideast commentator and author of such essays as “One Arab’s Apology” and “An Arab-American Defends 24.”