Host: "Now this latest wave of violence in the Middle East has brought intense focus on American foreign policy. In fact that very topic seems to have superseded the economy as the biggest issue in the presidential election, at least for now. Election issued aside, how the President handles this latest crisis is a topic for much debate. For more o0n this we're joined via Skype by Steven Emerson. Steven is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. Thanks for taking time to speak to us today Steven."
Emerson: "Good morning or good afternoon, whatever time it is up there. "
Host: "Well it's both actually. It's the middle of the day so we'll call it both. First question I guess, what do you think of the Obama administration's reaction to the attacks and the internet video?"
Emerson: "Well I'm going to be perfectly honest. I thought it was the lowest point in his career and I was embarrassed by what they said. First of all the initial response was they condemned outrageously this video and to apologize for it when it wasn't the US government that produced it; it was a private US citizen. Number two the second statement that was made by Secretary Clinton was almost like a regret that we had the First Amendment. And third, the fact that the President actually contacted Google to take it down betrays the whole bedrock of Western civilization, free speech. So the problem here is that we acted as if we did something wrong, the US government, and two we reacted as if free speech was a curse that we should try to limit. That's why I thought that the response was craven, we should have stood up for free speech, and I think it also reflects on the fact that the new Arab Spring was intended to basically show that democracy in the Muslim world would allow new movements to emerge and use politics as a way of expressing themselves democratically. What it turns out is that they're using it to basically impose autocratic or totalitarian rules. That is, they insist that free speech should not be allowed in the US and that criticism of Islam should be actually criminalized."
Host: "Let's talk a bit more about this film because whether or not this is what spawned these protests and the violence that we're seeing, not just in the Islamic world but across the world now, is up for debate. There are some thoughts out there that this is a greater plot, which we can talk about in a second. But this film, the timing of its release in the Arab world, dubbed in Arabic, seems to lend a lot of credence to the fact that there is more to this than meets the eye. In fact, this film may be being used as a device to foment anti-American sentiment."
Emerson: "You're actually right on two points. One, first of all the film was actually put on YouTube in June, but on September 8th a major Egyptian television station put on ten minutes of the film. That's what also started the inflammatory riots. And two, there was a report five days before the actual riots in the Egyptian Jemaah Islamiya – that's a terrorist group that operates in Egypt now freely – issued a publication or sent some type of announcement that there wou8ld be riots against and protests against the US Embassy on September 13. So now there's a question, why did US intelligence ignore this warning?
Host: That's a good question Steven. I was hoping to get an answer to that myself.
Emerson: I can tell you the House Intelligence Committee is going to be investigating it this week.
Host: Good. Well here's another question for you. American foreign policy is obviously being drawn and quartered right now because of the way that they have reacted toward what's been going on throughout the world. But here's the thing Steven. Is it possible that they're working behind the scenes to mitigate the reactions to this like maybe slow it down a little bit?
Emerson: Listen, I was watching Al Jazeera yesterday and what was fascinating was that they interviewed a whole series of Muslim scholars with Ph.Ds . All were trained and gotten their Ph.Ds in the US but are now living in the Middle East. And to a person, each one of them (UI audio skips) mitigate this was end any criticism of Islam and to criminalize that component, basically ending the First Amendment. That was a universal, unanimous explanation of how to end it. What happened was that even the Al Jazeera correspondent said, 'Wait a second now, free speech is a bedrock of the United States. How can you be demanding that?' And they said in response, 'Free speech doesn't extend to defamation of Islam.' Now that means they don't understand the West and it means also they're using their new-found freedom to express new views. It used to be they were protesting US foreign policy, now they're protesting the values and freedoms in the US.
Host: All right Steve I want to bring this back around to something that has been touched upon and we've touched on a little bit here, is the fact that there may be more to this than just the film and the protests therein, is the fact that 9/11, the date, the anniversary was just last week. Everything coincided or coalesced around that date. Does this indicate that terrorism, the greater plot behind this protest and what happened in Benghazi, does this indicate that al Qaeda, the Taliban, whoever is a greater threat than what we were led to believe?
Emerson: I don't think that this is an al Qaeda problem. I think this is a much larger problem. I'm writing a story for my web site, which is I have to plug it, www.investigativeproject.org, which is the Investigative Project on Terrorism. We specialize in radical Islam. The name of my opinion piece is called 'It's Radical Islam, Stupid.' This is not al Qaeda. Yes, they got involved absolutely. They always try to exploit things. There's a larger issue. When you see thousands of people rioting throughout the Middle – look, what happened when they elected democratic elections in Egypt? And in Tunisia? We're seeing more violence than ever before. Have you ever seen a Western mob attack a Muslim embassy or consulate because of the tens of thousands of videos by Islamist sheiks calling for the killing of Christians and Jews? It's never happened before. And so we operate by the system of freedom of speech and non-violence and pluralism. Now because they're in power they can impose new rules on the West.
Host: Steven is it possible that this is the other side of the coin when it comes to the Arab Spring? That movement to democracy is still in its nascent stages, and now this could be the protest movement against that. And clearly it's something that the Arab world and the Islamic world does not want to see based on what we're seeing with these protests. This is not a democratic thing going on here.
Emerson: Well the irony here of course is that so many pundits including this administration said that if we get rid of autocrats like Mubarak, autocrats running Tunisia and allow free elections this will stop violence because it will allow these political parties that had been repressed like the Muslim Brotherhood to enter into the political arena and that will satiate their need to do other things like violent attacks. The irony here is that now that they're empowered they are now establishing a new world order. I can predict, and I usually don't predict anything but let's say sports scores, and I usually am correct on that one especially when it comes to teams like the Mets. However in this case the fact that President Morsi of Egypt is now establishing a new alliance with Iran and Turkey, they're establishing a new brotherhood, Muslim Brotherhood worldview. And I predict in the next two years we're going to see Syria operated by a Muslim Brotherhood government, Jordan will be toppled. I think that we're going to see a whole range of regimes that are basically run by the Muslim Brotherhood movement. And remember, the Muslim Brotherhood is the parent of al Qaeda, it's the parent of Hamas, it's the parent of Jemaa Islamiya. Same values but different tactics.