Hasbara Speaker Makes 2nd Appearance at Joint Staff College ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Feb 14, 2008 at 01:31:36 PM EST
Outside the walls of the Pentagon, studies suggest that the actions of the United States itself, post 9-11 and especially with the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, have played a significant role in elevating the incidence of terrorism worldwide. But a busy cadre of pseudo-experts appear to be pushing Pentagon consensus towards the view that global terrorism is due to an allegedly warlike and expansionist tendency within Islam. According to a post on her website Brigitte Gabriel, who makes frequent speaking and media appearances billed as an expert on the Middle East and Islamic terrorism, was slated to appear sometime this week, along with US Major Stephen Coughlin, on a panel at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk (JFSC). This will not be Gabriel's first appearance at the JFSC.
On June 13, 2007 Gabriel gave a talk at the college that was recorded and broadcast on C-Span [partial transcript] and in a subsequent question and answer period Brigitte Gabriel appeared to lie in response to a question about her connection to Hasbara, a pro-Israel effort-- described charitably by a California Jewish weekly as "a unique Israeli invention, a special blend of public relations, propaganda and dissemination of information mixed with a few drops of explanation and apologetics" or, less charitably, as simply a propaganda outlet --which lists Gabriel as a featured speaker.
Hasbara played an active role in distributing the controversial “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” and advertises the movie on its website. Following her talk, Gabriel told her JFSC audience that "you cannot trust having a Muslim in office. When he has to make a decision to either be loyal to the United States or be loyal to Islam."
"It is about finding a clear purpose in a confusing world with too many choices. It is about purifying the world. The way forward is clear: kill or be killed... Kill and the Messiah will come. It is about seeing the world in black and white... This, in short, is where bloodbaths begin." - Jessica Stern, on terrorism, from Terror In The Name Of God: Why religious Militants Kill

Brigitte Gabriel's claims, reminiscent of 50's-era hysteria over alleged communist subversion, fit neatly with Stephen Coughlin's assertion that Islamic front groups are trying to subvert the United States and "destroy western civilization from within." Both Gabriel and Coughlin ply a brand of pseudo-scholarship that is popular and apparently growing more influential within top level US military circles as well as seemingly lucrative, intellectually bankrupt and rather similar to the rhetoric of the Islamic terrorist groups such pseudo-experts say they oppose.  

Recently, a controversy has broken out over an attempt to fire Stephen Coughlin who the National Review Online variously describes as the Pentagon's "top expert on Islamist doctrine" or an "authentic, influential scholar of Islam" and, in the ensuing uproar on the American right, US Congressional Representative Sue Myrick stepped in to investigate. Now Coughlin, rather than being fired, has been reassigned in what some are billing as a promotion.

Coughlin's main claim to expertise in Islamic studies appears to be one lengthy (333 page) paper he submitted, to the National Defense Intelligence College,"in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Science of Strategic Intelligence" entitled To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad [link to  PDF file] and which argues that for Muslims (presumably worldwide) Jihad is a 'duty reflecting a requirement of Allah that is defined as "warfare against non-Muslims to establish the religion." '

The extent to which such views on Islam, rather than being anomalous or fringe, have increasingly become the standard consensus within the Pentagon is indicated by a 2006 Pentagon report, "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers", that asserted suicide bombing enjoys mainstream sanction within Islam. As described by WorldNetDaily, the only significant publication on or off the Internet, slanted or not, to notice the report :

'Pentagon briefings show intelligence analysts... found that most Muslim suicide bombers are in fact students of the Quran who are motivated by its violent commands  making them, as strange as it sounds to the West, "rational actors" on the Islamic stage.

In Islam, it is not how one lives one's life that guarantees spiritual salvation, but how one dies, according to the briefings. There are great advantages to becoming a martyr. Dying while fighting the infidels in the cause of Allah reserves a special place and honor in Paradise. And it earns special favor with Allah.

"Suicide in defense of Islam is permitted, and the Islamic suicide bomber is, in the main, a rational actor," concludes a recent Pentagon briefing paper titled, "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers." '

One Powerpoint presentation on Islam, by Major Jason Orlich, currently reputed to be "hot" and making the rounds in the Pentagon, portrays Islam as inherently bloodthirsty and bent in world domination and concludes with a lengthy checklist of acts generally considered abhorrent that Mohammad would supposedly condone or had committed. Orlich played a key role in instigating the lengthy investigation of Muslim military chaplain James Yee, who was subsequently completely exonerated.

Orlich's presentation, in slide #4, features a lengthy quote from Walid Shoebat, another featured Hasbara speaker along with Brigitte Gabriel and who, along with two other men as part of a group billed as the "The 3 ex-Terrorists", appeared a paid panel at a recent anti-terrorism conference, held at the US Air Force Academy, which reportedly would be written up as a report on terrorism for the Pentagon and to present to members of Congress. The claims to expertise on terrorism, of Shoebat and the other two "ex-terrorists" of his group, rest mainly on their claims of having formerly been PLO, Hamas and Hizbollah terrorists. But those claims have not been independently verified and the veracity of both Shoebat's account of his past, and that offered by his fellow "ex-terrorist" group member Kamal Saleem, have recently been challenged by several different parties, from Canada's top terrorism expert to a woman who says she's talked to one of Walid Shoebat's relatives who challenges Shoebat's autobiographical account.

"For four years, Jessica Stern interviewed extremist members of three religions around the world: Christians, Jews, and Muslims... she discovered that the Islamic jihadi in the mountains of Pakistan and the Christian fundamentalist bomber in Oklahoma have much in common." - From frontspiece, Terror In The Name Of God

Since 2004, Walid Shoebat and Brigitte Gabriel have been two of the most high profile of a small army of self-appointed "experts", on Islam, the Middle East, and terrorism who have appeared on TV, radio shows, print and in movies bringing American audiences an alleged 'truth' ; Islam, they claim, is inherently bloodthirsty and doctrinally bent on world domination, so Islamic terrorism worldwide, and contemporary conflict in the Middle East, cannot be addressed either non-violently through negotiation, compromise or widened cultural understanding.

Rather than sitting on Pentagon panels and decrying Islam as as a religion supposedly bent on world conquest or depicting Muslim-American citizens as inherently disloyal in broadcasts, going out over C-Span, at Joint Forces Staff College seminars, Jessica Stern doesn't simply play the role of "Terrorism expert" ; she actually is one. Stern, a lecturer at Harvard, traveled the world, for four years, from refugee camps in Lebanon and prisons in Pakistan to prisons in Florida and rural towns in Texas, interviewing members and former members of violent religious terrorism groups. She came to some unsurprising conclusions - religious militants within Christianity, Judaism and Islam tend to share similar motivations.

Jessica Sterns's claim to expertise on world terrorism is well established. By contrast, the claims of Walid Shoebat and Brigitte Gabriel to expertise in the realm are, at best, shaky. Neither has official credentials in the field of terrorism studies and the objectivity of both is heavily compromised. Walid Shoebat is a Christian Zionist whose eschatological view demands an apocalyptic military confrontation, centering around Israel, between Christian and Muslim armies. Both Shoebat and Gabriel are linked, through a welter of ties, to the Israeli Likud Party and may even be currently paid by the Israeli right. Both have demonized Islam in the rawest of terms, and Brigid Gabriel went so far as to state, at the 2007 Christians United For Israel conference, that Muslims and Arabs in the Middle East "have no soul".

The appearance of Brigitte Gabriel at the Joint Forces Staff College and Walid Shoebat and his fellow "2 ex-Terrorists" at the US Air Force Academy raises questions that are at once both baffling and troubling - what are such dubiously credentialed individuals doing advising the US government on matters of great military importance ?

"In post 9/11, there is no denying about the existence of a very concerted effort by anti-Muslim Jesuits, pundits, rabbis and their paid agents, some even masquerading as secular humanists, to demonize Islam. So, it is not surprising to see a mushrooming growth of self-styled `experts' on Islam. Their audacious claim, without any formal training, let alone on the language, of the subject material, is so ludicrous that it only reminds me the story of a barber who pretended to be a medical surgeon." - Habib Siddiqui, December 17, 2003, Media Monitors Network [source]

OK, the whole "You can't trust Moslems because they have to choose between the US or Islam" thing...where have I heard that before?

Oh.  Right.

As I recall, the same thing was said in regards to none less than John F. Kennedy, only instead of the "Great Islamic Conspiracy" it was the "Great Catholic Conspiracy" and the dominionists of the age were ranting about how Kennedy would have to choose between the interests of the US and the interests of the Pope.

I also seem to recall very similar things having been said since time immemorial in regards to Jewish people--and the whole "You can't trust Jews, they're loyal to their own before their nation" ending up with some, ahem, extreme unfortunateness starting in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and another round (which turned even more misfortunate) around the late 30s in particular.

Then again, I can't say I'm shocked.  I mean, we have neopente dominionist groups like "Watchmen At The Walls" who've outright called publically for progroms against Moslems and gays :P  (And they've been pushing for the same in private much longer.)

by dogemperor on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 05:19:54 AM EST

They are the spiritual descendants of the Tsarist era "Black Hundreds." The Black Hundreds campaigned against Russia's Jews a hundred years ago, their descendants today, the Watchmen, campaign against Muslims and gays.

by khughes1963 on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 08:28:31 PM EST

Before you do, you might want to clarify the difference between "Hasbara" (Israeli PR/Propaganda) and "Hasbara Fellowships" (Aish HaTorah's pro-Israel program for college students)  israelactivism.com is the website for Hasbara Fellowships and Brigitte Gabrielle is part of the speakers' bureau for Hasbara Fellowships.

In fact, I think your article would be stronger if your focus shifted from Hasbara speakers to Islamophobic speakers.  It is disturbing that blatantly Islamophobic speakers are spreading disinformation and hate-speech, disguised as educational events at not only US government sponsored, but military events.  The connection of several of these speakers to organizations that publically embrace the word "Hasbara" -- the PR/Propaganda of a foreign government with its own interests in promoting Islamophobia -- is cause for even further concern.

Also, I think that California Jewish Week's description of Hasbara would be better characterized as favorable than charitable, since its conclusion about Hasbara's failures (rather than challenging Israel's actions that contribute to its image abroad) is that better Hasbara is needed.

by Rusty Pipes on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 05:15:54 PM EST

Your criticisms are helpful. I wanted to draw out Shoebat's & Gabriel's association with Hasbara because the two get presented, widely, as experts on terrorism (and Gabriel appeared to publicly deny it in her June 2007 JFSC appearance) but do not choose to announce that association - which casts doubt on their ability to objectively assess terrorism. There's nothing wrong with being a Hasbara Fellowship speaker, but it's an inherently partisan affiliation.

Also, I agree that I need to draw out the Hasbara/Hasbara Fellowships distinction although based on the sorts of groups linked to on the (official) Hasbara website I'm not sure there's too much difference in terms of the message the two present.

As far as taking Islamophobia head on, I'll be doing more of that but I think a targeted focus on the influence of Likud-linked NeoCons within the DC Beltway is in itself very important because the influence of this group is considerable and rarely noted or challenged. Indeed, I'd argue its influence has been magnified, in part, from a lack of critical assessment.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 09:18:37 AM EST

The only distinction I would draw is that Hasbara is the Propaganda/PR.  Israel's Foreign Ministry has many means of disseminating Hasbara, Aish HaTorah's Hasbara Fellowship speakers being just one of them.  In some blogging circles, accusing someone of quoting Hasbara is perceived as accusing the person of being an Israeli operative (while one may only be repeating what was learned in Sunday School).

by Rusty Pipes on Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 03:01:54 PM EST

These are the same folks who would be up in arms about "Communist subversion" forty years ago. Their perceived enemies may change, but the mindset remains the same.

by khughes1963 on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 08:26:03 PM EST
The John Birch Society's claims on the threat of "communist subversion" were not very different and, some have noted, the Birch movement, ostensibly secular, had more of a Christian underpinning than is generally acknowledged.

by Bruce Wilson on Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 09:21:42 AM EST

After reading about the uproar over a Danish cartoon including death threats to the artist, I wonder if Brigitte Gabriel and her cohorts have a valid point buried in there somewhere. I don't know but the Muslims don't seem to be helping their cause much with this sort of violence and mayhem.

by Frank Frey on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 01:22:49 PM EST
I would like to make clear that I find the whole "three terrorists" incident as well as the whole idea of trying to turn the US Military into a modern day Crusader force repulsive. The point that I was trying to make(and doing a bad job of it) is that there are dangerous elements within Islam. But to focus exclusively on these elements and try to paint all of Islam as just these elements is wrong and bigoted.

by Frank Frey on Fri Feb 15, 2008 at 03:29:54 PM EST

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