In what may be the mostly timely and important book of the year, Michael Widlanski lays out the current predicament that confronts America—and the West—and the potential consequences if we don’t recognize, acknowledge and combat it. The book is titled The Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat .
At a time that we find the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) welcomed into the White House, having taken control of Egypt’s parliament, and having backed off their pledge not to run a candidate for president in the upcoming elections, the message of Widlanski’s book hits home. This White House visit reversed a longstanding U.S. policy of no formal contacts with the Brotherhood. As Andrew McCarthy, the former U.S. Attorney who successfully prosecuted the “Blind Sheikh” involved in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, wrote in National Review, “Obama has overlooked the MB’s intimate ties to Hamas, which self-identifies as the Ikhwan’s [the Muslim Brotherhood] Palestinian branch and is formally designated a terrorist organization under American law. Administration officials have absurdly portrayed the Brothers as ‘secular’ and ‘moderate,’ although the organization, from its founding in the 1920s, has never retreated an inch from its professed mission to establish Islam’s global hegemony.”
McCarthy added that “The administration further hailed the Brotherhood’s triumph in post-Mubarak legislative elections and made a point of abandoning the policy against formal MB contacts—though, in now-familiar Obama fashion, it simultaneously claimed that this ‘outreach’ broke no new ground.”
I point this out because it exemplifies what Widlanski’s book is about. Our media, our intelligence agencies, our government—particularly the Obama administration—and academia have all sought to downplay the truth about radical Islam, and the threat it poses to the West. In doing so, they have actually aided our enemies, in some cases quite knowingly. He also highlights the media’s negligence in investigating terror organizations and their operations in the U.S. Widlanski argues that a number of European countries, faced with a more immediate demographic threat, have begun to act to combat the threat in ways that we have not in the U.S.
In a recent interview with Accuracy in Media, Widlanski described the main sources of terror threats we face today:
“There are, basically, two or three major terror centers in the world today. The terror ideology, a lot of it originally came out of Arabia, what today we call Saudi Arabia—the Wahhabi doctrines that became the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has moved around to various parts of the Middle East. It is the spiritual godfather of al-Qaeda. It is also the spiritual godfather of Hamas. The second major terror center, Arab-Islamic terror center, is in Tehran. The regime of the Ayatollahs came to power to spread jihad throughout the world, and they’ve been very successful.”
Michael Widlanski is an Arabic-speaking specialist in Arab politics and communication. His doctorate, which is one of five degrees he holds from three different universities (including three of them from Columbia University in New York) dealt with Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent, and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, the Cox newspaper Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a Special Advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991 and 1992, and as a Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security editing secret PLO archives captured in Jerusalem. He taught Middle East politics and communications for 10 years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The following are excerpts from my interview with Wadlinski in late March while he was in the U.S. to launch his new book. You can read the transcript or listen to the full interview here .
Widlanski: [I] grew up in New York City—Manhattan, on the West Side. I went to Columbia University. I was my high school’s newspaper editor, and I was a reporter at the Columbia Spectator and the Editor of the Columbia-Barnard course guide, which was the number one journal of its kind in the country for evaluating teachers by students. I was the New York Times correspondent at Columbia for two years, working in the Times’ newsroom as a reporter. They used to use me all over town. That’s where I basically learned the craft of journalism—from the top people at The New York Times.
Widlanski: …the Timesmen and Timeswomen of 30, 40, and certainly 50 years ago—even 20 years ago—the ultimate Times reporter was not inside his story, or her story. They stood outside the story, reporting about what other people were doing. They didn’t inject themselves into the story. They didn’t inject their views into the story. They tried—they didn’t always succeed, but they tried—to be impartial observers, basically extensions of the public to give the public maximum information, maximum good analysis, and I think they did it pretty well. They weren’t supposed to be inside the story. What I see from [Tom] Friedman—and I saw this from the time he was a reporter who earned half of the Pulitzer prize in 1982, 1983, in his coverage of Beirut and the Sabra and Shatila massacre—is that he was always injecting his views, and what he wanted the story to be, rather than what the story actually was.
Widlanski: Before coming on today with you, Roger, I reviewed the Times articles on this terror case in [Toulouse] France over the last four days. When you look at all the articles, the thing that stood out to me immediately was, they never referred to this guy as a “terrorist,” and they almost never referred to the incident itself—or what he’d done earlier—as “terror.” They referred to him as a “suspect,” as a “militant”—both in the headlines and in the bodies of the articles. They also spared the readers some of the tough details. I mean, this was a man who deliberately murdered a rabbi and three children. What he did was, he shot the rabbi and two children, and one eight-year-old girl ran away. He ran after her, grabbed her by the hair, held her down to the ground, and shot her while he was holding her down by the hair. Now, this is not a “militant.” This is not a “suspect.”
Widlanski: This kind of coverage—this exact kind of coverage—is what you got from The New York Times when they were covering Fort Hood, when they were covering Major Nidal Malik Hasan. They treated him as a “suspect,” “allegedly”—I mean, the whole world saw the mass murder in public! They also never mention that the person is a Muslim.
Widlanski: [Osama] bin Laden knew that he was going to die, but he wanted to inspire whole generations. 9/11 was inspiring people. Al-Qaeda’s online magazine is called Inspire. That’s what they’re after. So for the Western media to take this attitude of “We don’t see ‘Muslims,’ we don’t see ‘Arabs,’ we don’t see ‘Islamists,’ we see ‘suspects,’ we see ‘militants,’” and then for The Washington Post and The New York Times to write all these articles about “What seems to be the cause of this is that somebody spoke to him badly a few years ago,” or “There aren’t enough jobs for French Algerian workers,” or “There seems to be a housing problem in certain suburbs of Paris”—come on! Get off it! It’s not that way at all!
Widlanski: Now when you take somebody like bin Laden, or [Ayman al-] Zawahiri, they are what is normally called “jihadis,” or Salafi Muslims. They want to go back to the conditions at the time that Muhammad began to lead the Muslim community. Mohammed, according to Muslims, was both a prophet and a general—and because he was a successful general, his prophecy was believed to be legitimate. He was a man who participated in scores, even hundreds, of battles. This is not the same kind of background as Jesus or Moses, as Isaiah. First of all, somebody whose whole career is devoted to forcible conquest and conversion—that is their ideal. They want to go back to that ideal. Now, I don’t know if it’s only 5%, 10%, or 25% of the world’s Muslims who believe this, but many believe this, and they want to follow that model.
Widlanski: Instead of looking at themselves and saying, “You know, we should be educating our people better, reading more books, and working on that,” they say, “Our leaders are corrupt, one of the things that’s corrupted them is the Western world, so we have to send a message: We have to destroy the corruption.” So they reach out for a popular topic that will gather everyone together under their umbrella, such as striking the symbols of Western finance—the World Trade Center—or the symbols of Western power—the Pentagon and the White House. You have a symbolic attack on the United States. It doesn’t matter if you kill 3,000 people or 50,000—or if you kill 100,000. The important thing is that you’ve made a symbolic attack: You’ve weakened America; you’ve weakened the “Great Satan.”
Aronoff: Many of these journalists in the West who seem to be sympathetic—to cover for them in incidences like what’s happening in Toulouse, France today—obviously wouldn’t want to live under this system. How do you explain their seeming sympathy, or protection, of this viewpoint, this ideology, and the actions that it generates?
Widlanski: I think one of the keys to this is to understand that there is a kind of an anti-colonialist, anti-hegemonist point of view which grew in American universities in the 1960s, and especially afterwards, in the 1970s and ’80s, which swept through academia. The two biggest proponents of this point of view, what is sometimes called “anti-hegemonic theory” or “post-colonial theory” are, or were, Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. They were the two people who were cited most on all course syllabi in universities from Columbia to UCLA. Said was an English professor. He’s now dead. Chomsky was a linguistics professor. They were both very radical, very activist. Said was a spokesman of the kind, and a writer, for the PLO, although he wasn’t really very much of a Palestinian, didn’t know almost any Arabic. Chomsky, an all-purpose anti-Western propagandist.
Widlanski: Barack Obama went to Occidental College, then transferred to Columbia, then to Harvard Law School. He apparently studied and socialized with Edward Said and with his friend Rashid Khalidi. This anti-colonialist point of view, this view that America’s thrown its weight around too much, especially in the Third World, was the hallmark of Said’s writing his book Orientalism. This point of view is very much at home right now in a large part of academia, and, I daresay, in a large part of American officialdom, people who have been in the State Department, the CIA, and, today, in the White House. They feel very comfortable with this point of view. They think that America should be apologizing for what it’s done in the world. I’m not saying America didn’t make mistakes, I’m not saying America’s always been right, but to say that every place America has gone in the Middle East—when it’s usually done acts of service for other people—that America was only interested in invasion and oil, and in exploiting people, I think this is wrong.
The Iranian Threat
Widlanski: So we know that the Iranians are involved in terror. We know that they’re working on a bomb. And yet, people who produce the National Intelligence Estimate at the CIA—particularly at the CIA—have been consistently wrong on Iran…They want a nuclear bomb for its blackmail effect. That’s clear. They also want a nuclear bomb, perhaps, to use.
Widlanski: Israel has more abilities than people understand. Israel has a lot of abilities. It may not have enough abilities and enough warplanes and enough other means to stop the Iranian program in its tracks for ten years, to get everything that Iran has, but it can do a lot of damage to Iran, and it should get the help of the United States, of Britain, France, Germany, and others. Instead, you have the Europeans often playing this kind of middle game, because they get their oil from Iran. Eventually…Israel will have to act by itself, if these other countries don’t act. Israel will have to act, and Israel will get support from some of the Sunni countries, such as Saudi Arabia and maybe some of the other Gulf Emirates, who are very worried about Iran. They won’t get public support, probably, but they’ll get private support, and the Israelis will do a better job than most people think. It could be that President Obama wants to leave this as an option for himself in October, if he needs some kind of October Surprise. I don’t know, I don’t want to be cynical, but I would leave that as a possibility.
Widlanski: I call it “Arabist Spring.” It’s more the product of people who are from the Arab lobby who have been trying to come up with terms in Arabic which they don’t understand, like intifada, which they don’t understand. Then they have no—they can’t cover what they say. There’s no backing for what they say. The fact is that tumult in the Arab world. Is that going to lead to democracy any time soon? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Widlanski: When Obama appeared in Cairo [in 2009], he invited the Muslim Brotherhood to his talk at Cairo University. You’ve had comments like this from Hillary Clinton and from Lieutenant General James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. They’re not that worried about the Muslim Brotherhood. Well, frankly, they have to try to believe in what they believed before, because it’s been a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: They had problems with Mubarak, now they don’t have Mubarak—and they probably wish they did. For all of his faults—and Mubarak had plenty of faults—he was still the limited autocrat that we knew, rather than the more bloody autocrat that we may get to know. That’s the same problem that Jimmy Carter discovered with the Shah of Iran. The Shah of Iran was no hero. He had plenty of problems. But for Jimmy Carter and some of these other people to believe that Ayatollah Khomeini was going to be a saint, and it was going to lead to relations with the United States—well, they came to a very bitter awakening. It could be, as people spoke of Carter losing Iran, people will speak about how Obama lost Egypt.
Widlanski: Al-Jazeera is no friend of America, no friend of peace. Al-Jazeera’s controlled, to a large extent, by the regime in Qatar, which basically uses al-Jazeera as a stalking horse for pan-Arab nationalism and pan-Islamic nationalism. They aim it at people they don’t like. It’s a very dangerous station. They became the mouthpiece for Osama bin Laden for a while, and we were very worried about them—as we should be. There were people in the United States, such as Tom Friedman, who believed that they were the wave of the democratic future.
Widlanski: The business about Arafat and Cleo Noel [U.S. ambassador to Sudan]: The National Security Agency captured, on tape, a phone call from Arafat to the organization known as Black September—it was really just part of the Fatah organization of Arafat’s, a special unit—where he ordered the murder of Noel…and a Belgian diplomat. The U.S. had this information for more than 20 years.
Widlanski: First of all, the most important thing to know is, we can win. We can win. The United States, Israel, the other democratic countries can defeat terrorism. We have to develop people in our intelligence agencies, our media, our academia, who are willing to look at the Middle East the way we used to look at the Middle East—without ideological blinders. They have to know language—they have to know Arabic, they have to know Farsi—and they have to know history. History is the most important thing. If you know history, you don’t get surprised. Then, when we know with whom we are dealing, we can deal much better, because terror is fundamentally a battle of the mind. You have to know your enemy. A few men with box-cutters can do extraordinary damage. A few men with a moving van parked at the World Trade Center could have killed 50,000 people if they’d put the bomb a little closer to the pillar—far worse than 9/11.
Dear Fellow Media Watchdogs:
In the last AIM Report, I laid out the facts as well as the views of the opposing sides in the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. I cited NBC’s deceptive editing of the 911 recording to make it appear that Zimmerman was a racist, and ABC’s footage of Zimmerman arriving at the police station that they originally claimed as proof that Zimmerman had not been beaten up by Martin before shooting him.
I didn’t yet have the CNN story about how their audio experts were able to discern that Zimmerman was most likely referring to Martin as a “coon.” But as with NBC and ABC, CNN had to backtrack and acknowledge that they were wrong, and said that the word was more likely “cold.”
Author Jack Cashill, in an article  for the website American Thinker, put it this way: “Together, these three deceptions—and there will be more—have established Editgate as the most consequential high-level fraud in the left’s long history of what might be called ‘race-gating.’ By this, I mean the purposeful media corruption of a racially oriented story.”
He correctly added, “The media’s willingness to lie for the cause should shock no one to the right of Bill Ayers. What is particularly troubling about Editgate is that the major media, which once served as a firewall against fraud, now seem eager accomplices in its commission.”
To further highlight the media’s selective use of race when it comes to crime stories, Cashill cited another story that occurred just as Trayvon Martin’s case was gaining national attention. On March 15, 2012, Jose Carranza, 32, “was quietly sentenced to 155 years in prison for brutally executing three innocent black college students in a Newark, New Jersey playground.”
While the story did receive some national coverage when the crime occurred in 2007, it was minimal outside of New Jersey where it took place. “Like George Zimmerman,” wrote Cashill, “Carranza is of Peruvian descent. Ironically, what protected Carranza was the fact that he was ‘undocumented.’ The headline ‘Illegal Alien Kills Black Innocents’ appealed to no one in the Media-Democrat complex.”
Angela Corey, the special prosecutor appointed by the governor of Florida to investigate the case, decided to not take the case before a grand jury, which was interpreted to mean that she was taking first-degree murder off the table as a possible charge against Zimmerman. But the family of Trayvon Martin said they were “not surprised” by the decision and were “hopeful” that Zimmerman would soon be arrested. If justice is to be achieved, it would be very helpful if the media behaved responsibly. We’ll be watching.
For Accuracy in Media Roger Aronoff