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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1722

Steven Emerson directs the Investigative Project, which claims to be the largest intelligence and data-gathering center in the world monitoring militant Islamic activities. This book is based on his active, full-time investigation of these activities since 1993 and reveals how large numbers of terrorists, perhaps thousands of them in dozens of organizations, have infiltrated American society. This book argues that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, often referred to as 9/11, were not isolated or random events but were the results of coordinated efforts by organizations and individuals who live, work, and plot in such American locations as Brooklyn and New York City; Chicago; Oklahoma City; Omaha; Ontario, California; and Tampa, Florida. Extremist Muslim leaders such as Abdullah Azzam have called on Muslims to “carry out jihad no matter where they were, even in America. . . . The word ‘jihad’ means fighting only, fighting with the sword.” Indeed, after Emerson’s Public Broadcasting System documentary Jihad in America aired in 1995, he says U.S. officials informed him that a South African Islamist death squad was looking for him and that he should “go underground.”

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Emerson traces the activities of a host of Islamic militant organizations: the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA), Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), American Muslim Council (AMC), the Republican Brotherhood, Alkhifa Refugee Center (also known as the Office of Services for the Mujahideen, which was the predecessor organization to al-Qaeda), El-Sayeed Nosair, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (which has given millions of dollars a year to support Hamas activists), and the Advice and Reformation Committee (ARC). To support his claims, he takes his readers inside the meetings of many of these organizations, at which they may hear repeated calls for the extinction of Israel and the destruction of the United States—for jihad. Even organizations that appear on the surface to be engaged in charitable fund-raising to help Palestinians in refugee camps emerge in Emerson’s research as covers for providing funds and supplies to terrorist organizations.

On the other hand, as Emerson acknowledges, “militant Islamist views are confined to a relatively small slice of American Muslims.” He profiles several “courageous” Muslim heroes in this country such as Seifeldin Ashmawy, Khalid Duran, and Sheikh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani. Ashmawy has provided strong evidence of militant extremist infiltration of the United States. Kabbani, testifying before the State Department, provided insight into “the Wahhabism movement that has given birth to many of today’s extremists.” Beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but flourishing only after 1920, as a result of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Wahhabism is a fiercely puritanical and iconoclastic belief, the religion of the al-Saud family (the rulers of Saudi Arabia), and firmly tethered to Islamic militancy and the idea that Islam must be reformed with the sword. It is this connection that may result in a “struggle within the United States” according to Sheikh Kabbani. Emerson claims further that Islamic extremists may have taken over 80 percent of the more than twelve hundred mosques in the United States, most of which are funded by Saudi money and most of which subscribe to Wahhabism, which “supports the spread of Islam through violence.” Emerson argues that the militant fundamentalists pose a grave threat “not only to American institutions and lives, but also to moderate Muslims” everywhere.

Emerson provides several appendices to support and elaborate his principal claims. One of the most fascinating is Appendix C, titled “The Terrorists’ Support Networks: The Sea in Which the Fish Swim.” In this section Emerson details the nature, operations, and funding of nine separate militant Islamic networks operating within the United States under the wide protections granted in this country to organizations for research, charitable work, or civil rights activities. These nine groups provide significant support for terrorist organizations and are thoroughly radicalized. The nine include the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) formed in 1977; the American Islamic Group (AIG), now defunct; the Islamic Cultural Workshop (ICW), based in Walnut, California, from 1992 to 1999; and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which publicly condemns terror and defends the civil rights of Muslims in America against racial profiling while defending the actions of suicide bombers and developing connections with Hamas. CAIR stands accused by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of being tethered to a platform that supports terrorism. The American Muslim Council (AMC) was created in 1990 as a tax-exempt educational organization dedicated to explaining Islam to the public. Emerson argues that the AMC supports radical Islamist causes, champions Hamas terrorists and Middle Eastern terrorist regimes, supports Hezbollah, and routinely issues anti-Semitic and anti-American statements. Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) was established in 1972; it comprises mostly Muslim supporters who are of South Asian descent and is allied with Jamaat-e-Islamiya in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), founded in 1988 as a nonprofit social welfare organization complete with a 501(c)(4) tax status, sponsored a rally in Washington, D.C., in 2000 supporting the Al-Aqsa intifada between Palestinians and Israelis and in support of Hamas and Hezbollah, the principal organizers of terrorist attacks on Israel. Its leaders also participated in several other rallies that proclaimed death to all Jews and celebrated attacks on American installations and the suicide bombings in Israel. The American Muslim Alliance (AMA) was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in California in 1994 and operates as a political action committee, its leaders appearing in support of Hamas and openly supporting violence against Israel. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) operates out of Plainfield, Indiana. Founded in 1981, it serves as an umbrella organization for hundreds of Islamic organizations in the United States, according to Emerson. Muzammil Siddiqi, as president of the Islamic Society of Orange County in California, served as the president of the Board of Directors of ISNA until November, 2001; he made statements supporting radical Islam, “glorifying the jihad in Afghanistan,” and condemning America for its support of Israel. ISNA has held large conferences to raise funds for the terrorist groups.

Emerson’s work at times seems to depend more on labels and loaded terms such as “radical” and “militant” than close analysis and argument, but his descriptions of the activities, speeches, and public and private statements of these organizations and their leaders make it clear that a significant number of Muslims in this country are hostile to Israel, opposed to the Jewish presence in the Middle East, support the violent actions of the Palestinians and other makers of jihad, and are hostile to U.S. interests and activities in the Middle East. Appendix A, “Current and Recent Militant Islamist Groups in the United States,” maps the locations and activities of such groups as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups in the United States. Appendix B: “Current and Recent Terrorist Front Cells and Groups with Direct Association with Terrorists,” lists each organization, such as al-Qaeda, with its supporting or originating organization, its principal U.S. offices, and any offshoots or cells that Emerson has discovered.

Emerson’s book is disquieting for a number of reasons, partly because it appeared after 9/11 and partly for its sweeping claims about the infiltration of Islamic terrorist and extremist groups into the United States. It is disquieting as well to anyone who may be fearful of the sort of witch-hunt mentality that humans periodically exhibit. His strategy is to support his claims by quoting the speeches, texts, Web sites, and other documents emanating from various Muslim organizations and individuals to show specifically how they defame and revile Jews, call for the destruction of Israel, attack U.S. support of Israel, and call for jihad (with “the sword”) against both Israel and the United States. The responses to Emerson’s work, especially in the form of press releases, hostile reviews, and Muslim Web sites are largely ad hominem, very shrill, and capitalize on some embarrassing mistakes that Emerson made prior to this work, especially in his erroneously attributing the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April, 1995, to militant Islamic groups. Another problem lies with his associations with rather right-wing radio and TV talk shows, whose full-voiced support of Emerson’s warnings and the airtime they have given him in the post-9/11 environment raises cautionary flags for the suspicious reader. Those caveats aside, what Emerson says in this book makes for chilling reading.

Certainly history is full of writers and orators who have raised their voices in warning and exhortations but were ignored and decried as racists and warmongers; one thinks, for example, of British statesman Winston Churchill (1874-1965). History is also full of demagogues like the communist-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) and members of the vigilante Ku Klux Klan. Emerson, however, seeks to sift the terrorists from the general populace of U.S. Muslims and to show that not all Muslims either here or abroad are terrorists. Indeed, he devotes a section of the book to celebrating some Muslim heroes. Even so, the book is not a dispassionate, scholarly analysis or a cool, evenhanded presentation. It is itself a jihad, a call to arms for every American citizen to be alert, a posting of danger signs widely over the face of the country and in its cultural and social life. His subtitle asserts that there are “terrorists among us,” and he makes an alarming case for their numbers. Readers must ask how to protect themselves from such terrorists and their acts on one hand, and how to protect the freedoms of innocent Muslims—and themselves—in an open-armed culture on the other. However, discernment and fairness are always hard sells when war is the business of the day. Emerson’s book will be better judged by history than by the current perspective, which is surely influenced by post-9/11 anger and hysteria. Americans have a history of culturally and politically induced myopia and hysteria—such as the genocide of the American Indians, the World War I phobia against anything German, and the incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans during World War II. It is important to keep in mind that for every Muslim terrorist living in the United States today, there are thousands of Muslims who are innocent of any conspiracy against their country.

Sources for Further Study

Commentary 113 (March, 2002): 77.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (March 17, 2002): 10.

The Weekly Standard 7 (February 25, 2002): 39.

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