Some Muslims Are Not Bad
The Message of PBS's "Crossroads" Series
By ALISON WEIR
April 17, 2007
I attended an extremely disturbing event Thursday night. It was
hosted by WETA, the PBS station in Washington DC, and was part of
the national launch of an 11-part PBS series, "America at a
Crossroads," to begin airing April 15. It featured clips from the
series followed by a panel discussion with some of those involved in
the films, moderated by Robert MacNeil. The panel discussion
represented a "wide" spectrum of opinions: all the way from, at one
end, suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists to, at the other
end, suggesting that some Muslims are not terrorists.
In other words, from what we were shown on Friday, it appears that
much of the series contains subtle, intellectually "acceptable"
Muslim-bashing. While the title of the series claims that it is
focusing on America, many of the clips seemed to be focusing, over
and over again, on Islam, largely examining "bad Muslims" (the
majority) with a few "good Muslims" thrown in (often consisting of
those who bash bad Muslims).
One entire program in the series, funded with federal money
dispensed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), is
dedicated to Richard Perle, the neoconservative strategist who
pushed for "regime-change" in Iraq and is now promoting it once more
in Iran. While his opponents are also included in the segment, Perle
is given the opportunity to rebut each one; the film was produced by
his associate Brian Lapping. The title of the program, "The Case for
War: In Defense of Freedom," seems to indicate a perspective that
few facts would support. While only short clips were shown on
Friday, Perle's approving, and welcomed, presence at the screening
seems to indicate a happy CPB-PBS-Perle relationship. Happy for
Perle that is; not for those of us who are less than pleased at
manipulations that destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives, at
least, and whose agenda appears to be an Israeli American empire
based on a mutilating sword, and whose deathly swath cuts many ways.
At the other end of Friday night's "A" through "C" gamut of views
was Michael Isikoff, whose rebuttal of Perle's claims about Iraq's
alleged weapons of mass destruction was deservedly applauded by the
audience. Isikoff's own clip portrayed him as a crusading
investigative reporter, a la Dustin Hoffman in "All the President's
Men." However, it turned out that Isikoff's form of crusading
reporting was not to uncover presidential malfeasance but to
expose "dangerous Muslims," i.e. those who oppose tyrannical regimes
or who dare to suggest that Hamas and Hezbollah are resistance
movements opposing brutal Israeli aggression.
Practicing the reverse of A.J. Liebling's dictum that the duty of
journalism is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable," Isikoff's offering in this series appears to be to go
after arguably the most attacked community in the US today. A few
miles away from where Isikoff was being feted by PBS for his work in
exposing "Muslim terrorists," Sami Al-Arian (who has never been
convicted of any crime, but who has spoken out passionately in favor
of Palestinian rights) is spending his fourth year in prison,
largely in solitary confinement. Perhaps Isikoff will now turn his
investigative skills to examining the role of Israel and its
partisans in Al-Arian's persecution and in the Crossroads series
itself. He may wish to begin with CPB's head, Cheryl Halpern, a
former chairwoman for the Republican Jewish Coalition, who,
according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, currently
sits on the board of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
(a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), whose
husband is a member of AIPAC, and whose family has business
interests in Israel. Her predecessor at CPB was similarly solicitous
of Israel, as are so many of the neocons now associated with the
organization.which brings me to my next point:
It is interesting that in an 11-program series focused largely on
the Middle East, no mention is made of the core issue of the region:
the enormous injustice perpetrated in 1948 when Israel ethnically
cleansed most of the indigenous population, and its ongoing and
ruthless efforts in this direction today. While the series focuses
on the activities of people who are opposing past and present
dispossession, it appears that no mention is made of the oppression
they are resisting. It is a little like describing the actions of
someone being attacked by wolves without mentioning the wolves.
The issues in the Middle East and 9/11 have far more to do with the
usual causes of war, competition over territory and resources, than
with religion. Nevertheless, there are religious dimensions to the
conflict, and it would certainly be valuable to explicate these. Yet
PBS ignores the fact that there are three major religions centered
in the Middle East, not just one, and that the major ethnic-
cleansing at the region's core was done in the name of one of the
two religions ignored in the series. If one of the religions is
going to be examined, with much of the focus on its alleged warts,
it seems to me that the other two should be exposed to equal
scrutiny. Why was this not done?
Fundamentalist Jewish settlers are among the most fanatic and
violent populations in the Middle East, and they proclaim that their
violence is endorsed, even required, by their religion. Growing
numbers of Christians endorse and fund this violent dispossession of
the world's original Christians and others, and also claim to base
their activities on their religion. Similarly, violent Jewish and
Christian extremists operate in the United States, some cells
defined, even by the US government, as "terrorist." While at least
six out of PBS's eleven programs focus on Muslims and their
connections to violence, not a single program focuses on Jewish
extremists who torture farmers, attack children regularly, and whose
core beliefs include the proposition that a non-Jew is "not worth
the fingernail of a Jew." Similarly, there is not a single program
examining American Christians who advocate violence at home and
abroad, and who eagerly anticipate mass slaughter, in the name, they
say, of their religion.
Moreover, with all this attention on Islam, one would at least
expect some depth from a $20 million, publicly funded series that
spends so much time on this subject. Sadly, however, despite a
surface appearance of balance, there is much to suggest that PBS has
actually provided little more than tokenism. In Washington DC there
are numerous scholars on Islam, many of them living and working
within a short distance of Friday's event. Yet, PBS gave us a panel
in which two Jews and one Christian informed us about Muslims. While
I suspect that no one would accuse the panelists of undue humility,
I sincerely doubt that even one would claim to be an Islamic
scholar. In addition, for the only program of the series in which a
Muslim is the main "expert" on Muslims, PBS has chosen to utilize a
woman whose new-found media fame, and resultant fortune, have come
from attacking Muslims.
Let me emphasize that I am not accusing PBS of hate speech. I fully
anticipate that the 11-part series will contain many uplifting and
accurate statements about Islam and Muslims. My expectation is that
the series will be skillfully produced, its approach will be
intelligent, and its tone will be tolerant. (One of the shows that
received Public Broadcasting Corporation funding for the series, by
neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a member of the Project for a New
American Century who previously worked under Perle, was deemed too
openly "alarmist" and has been postponed for further editing. A
second program, by yet another neoconservative, Robert Kaplan, is
also being held for broadcast later.)
Overall, I expect that the series will provide what appear to the
general public to be nuanced and thoughtful answers. My concern is
simple: that it will so rarely, if ever, ask the right questions.
Most of all, I am worried that in its many hours of programming, the
wolves, and these are many and diverse, will be missing.
In some ways, the title of the series is quite correct; America is
indeed at a crossroads, but of a very different nature than the
series discusses. Either we will continue to let our mainstream
media, from the "public" to the commercial, from the liberal to the
conservative, manipulate Americans into fear and hatred of Muslims,
thereby enabling Israeli and American aggression; or we will stand
up and oppose this media manipulation, and refuse to allow the
resultant policies of barbarism.
During the question and answer period following the screening, I
briefly raised a few of the points mentioned above. (Robert MacNeil
responded that PBS probably should have included something about
Israel-Palestine; Isikoff misconstrued what I said and then
disagreed.) Afterwards, several people came up to tell me they
agreed with my comments. One man who expressed deep concern at the
targeting of a minority population explained his own experience with
such activities: he had fled Nazi Germany at the age of seven.
Instead of undertaking a thinly veiled prosecution of Muslims in
which it found some of the accused "not guilty," it would have been
valuable for PBS to do what it claimed: examine ourselves and the
divergent paths from which we must choose. Either we will continue
in the direction promoted by Perle, Gaffney and others, and continue
destroying more and more of the globe, and quite possibly ourselves;
or we will turn back to efforts to build a nation and a world in
which ethnic agendas and outmoded tribalisms give way to universal
principles of justice, equality, and coexistence.
In my opinion the second path is not only the direction that
morality decrees, it is also the only path that will ever provide
the safety from violence and cruelty that we all seek for ourselves
and our children.
If you agree, I hope you will let PBS ombudsman Michael Getler
(http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/) know: 703-739-5290. He's never
returned any of my phone calls (even in his previous incarnation as
ombudsman at the Washington Post); maybe he'll return yours.
Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew
(www.ifamericansknew.org). Her blog is alisonweir.org. She can be
reached through either website.
PBS gave Perle hour to repeat debunked claims about Iraqi WMDs and
links to Al Qaeda
On the PBS series America at a Crossroads, former Defense Policy
Board chairman Richard Perle, in an April 17 segment titled "The
Case for War: In Defense of Freedom," made a series of assertions
about the Iraq war that have already been shown to be false. He
claimed that "all of the intelligence available to us suggested that
Saddam had weapons of mass destruction [WMD]. ... We all believed
that, which is why I object to referring to some of the things that
were said before the war as 'lies.' " In fact, the Bush
administration made several statements about Saddam's WMD
capabilities that "all of the intelligence available to us" did not
support. Perle then claimed that prewar Iraq had a working
relationship with Al Qaeda, a claim that has been debunked by the
Senate Intelligence Committee. Finally, Perle claimed that Osama bin
Laden's "network has been destroyed," even though U.S. intelligence
officials' have reportedly said that bin Laden is rebuilding his
According to a November 1, 2006, New York Times article, Robert
MacNeil, the host of the America at a Crossroads series,
said, "Anybody who thinks that this is a piece of pro-Perle
propaganda will be quite surprised." But although Perle, who
narrated the segment, speaks with people who are critical of his
positions on the war, the program never corrected Perle's false
assertions. An April 17 New York Times review of the Perle segment
noted that "Brian Lapping, the British producer who first proposed a
film about Mr. Perle, turned out to be his friend. Mr. Lapping later
recused himself from the project."
In the "Case for War" segment, Perle spoke with Stacy Bannerman, an
author and member of Military Families Speak Out, at a May 2006 Iraq
war protest in Washington, D.C. Bannerman said that the "scandal is
that Americans' lifeblood and hundreds of billions of dollars are
being sent to sustain an occupation that was never needed, for a war
based on lies." She asked Perle, "Why did you think we had to go
into Iraq?" Perle responded by claiming that "all of the
intelligence available to us suggested that Saddam had weapons of
mass destruction," adding: "We all believed that, which is why I
object to referring to some of the things that were said before the
war as 'lies.' "
In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, not all of the
available intelligence supported the Bush administration's claims
about Saddam Hussein's purported WMDs. For example, both President
Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell claimed that Iraq
had attempted to purchase aluminum tubes that, as Bush put it in an
October 7, 2002, speech, are "needed for gas centrifuges, which are
used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons." U.S. intelligence
agencies, however, disagreed over the purpose of the tubes. The
Energy Department and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence
and Research found that the tubes were ill-suited for uranium
enrichment, and their findings were included in the classified
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) provided to Congress in October
2002, and, reportedly, in the president's one-page summary of the
Similarly, Bush claimed during his October 5, 2002, radio address
that "Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, and is
rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons," even
though the available intelligence did not justify such an
unequivocal statement. A September 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency
report found "no reliable information" to substantiate the claim
that Iraq was producing or stockpiling chemical weapons. Moreover,
while the intelligence community believed Iraq possessed biological
agents that could be quickly produced and weaponized, the October
2002 NIE made clear that the agencies lacked hard evidence to back
up this assumption: "We had no specific information on the types or
quantities of weapons, agents, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal."
Perle claimed on the program that he has "heard many times the
assertion that there was no link between Iraq and terrorism," which
he called "simply false." But rather than claiming a vague "link
between Iraq and terrorism," Perle specifically asserted a
connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda on the program: "We know that
Saddam Hussein's intelligence apparatus trained Al Qaeda terrorists.
We saw the training facilities, and we have testimony from people
who were there when the training took place." Both before and after
the war began, numerous members of the Bush administration --
including Bush, Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, and then-
national security adviser Condoleezza Rice -- also asserted a
specific link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, as a March 2004 report by
the minority staff of the House Committee on Government Reform
documents. But as Media Matters has noted, a September 8, 2006,
Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded, "Postwar findings
support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment
that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa'ida training at Salman
Pak [training facility in Iraq] or anywhere else in Iraq." Moreover,
the Senate report indicated that prewar assessments were uncertain,
(U) The January 2003 Iraqi Support for Terrorism noted that
uncorroborated reporting since 1999 indicated that Iraq sponsored
terrorism training for al-Qa'ida at the Salman Pak facility. Iraqi
Support for Terrorism also said that:
Reporting about al-Qa'ida activity at Salman Pak -- ultimately
sourced to three Iraqi defectors -- surged after 11 September. The
defectors claimed that al-Qa'ida and other non-Iraqis engaged in
special, operations training at Salman Pak. It was subsequently
determined, however, that at least one of these defectors, whose
story appeared in [REDACTED] magazine, had embellished and
exaggerated his access.
Others repeated similar information but apparently did not have
first-hand access to it. No al-Qa'ida associates detained since 11
September have said they trained at Salman Pak.
(U) The CIA noted that additional information was needed before
validating the information, because of sourcing difficulties and the
fact that, at the time, al-Qa'ida could have offered such training
at its own camps in Afghanistan.
As Media Matters noted, a March 2, 2004, Knight-Ridder article
cited "a secret report by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence that
was updated in January 2003" in reporting that "[s]enior U.S.
officials now say there never was any evidence that Saddam's secular
police state and Osama bin Laden's Islamic terrorism network were in
league. At most, there were occasional meetings. Moreover, the U.S.
intelligence community never concluded that those meetings produced
an operational relationship, American officials said." Moreover, as
Media Matters has noted, the September 8, 2006, Senate Intelligence
Committee report broadly concluded that, based on postwar
evidence, "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed
Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests
from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support."
Later in the program, Perle discussed the war on terrorism with
Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Arabic newspaper Al Quds, who stated
that with the 9-11 attacks, Osama bin Laden wanted "to drag the
Americans to the Middle East, where he can fight them in his own
turf." Atwan remarked that "it seems [bin Laden has] trapped you."
In response, Perle claimed that bin Laden "is cowering somewhere in
hiding. Much of his network has been destroyed." But a February 19
New York Times article reported that, according to "American
intelligence and counterterrorism officials," Al Qaeda senior
leaders "have re-established significant control over their once-
battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up
a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan
border. American officials said there was mounting evidence that
Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily
building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area
of North Waziristan."
From the segment of PBS' America at a Crossroads titled "The Case
for War: In Defense of Freedom":
PERLE (voiceover): These demonstrators have gathered on the
[National] Mall and placed a pair of boots to commemorate every
American soldier killed in Iraq. I talked to one of the organizers
of the rally, Stacy Bannerman, whose husband served in Iraq.
BANNERMAN: Do you realize that within the last 48 hours, I've gotten
notification that two more of my friends' children have died because
of injuries that they sustained in Iraq? We need to get out of that
country. The scandal is that Americans' lifeblood and hundreds of
billions of dollars are being sent to sustain an occupation that was
never needed, for a war based on lies. Why did you think we had to
go into Iraq?
PERLE: Well, all of the intelligence available to us suggested that
Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Not only available to us,
but available to the United Nations, to the French, to the Germans.
There were -- even [former head of the United Nations Monitoring,
Verification, and Inspection Commission] Hans Blix, the inspector,
believed that Saddam was hiding things. We all believed that, which
is why I object to referring to some of the things that were said
before the war as "lies."
BANNERMAN: The lie I refer to is the lie that was sold to the
American people that invading Iraq was somehow directly related to
the attacks on America. That was a manipulation of the fear and the
sorrow and the pain of the American people.
PERLE: I didn't hear statements to the effect that Iraq was
responsible for 9-11. I did hear the argument, which I think is a
valid argument, that weapons of mass destruction, in the hands of
dictators who have relationships with terrorists, poses a danger to
the United States and one that we have to find a response to.
PERLE: But I believe the case for intervening in Iraq was and
remains valid. I've heard many times the assertion that there was no
link between Iraq and terrorism, and that assertion is simply false.
Abu Nidal, a well-known terrorist, lived and worked in Baghdad with
the full support of the government of Iraq. We know that Saddam
Hussein' s intelligence apparatus trained Al Qaeda terrorists. We
saw the training facilities, and we have testimony from people who
were there when the training took place. There were dozens of links
between terrorist activity, terrorist organizations, Saddam Hussein'
s intelligence apparatus, and even Al Qaeda. And the people who say
there were no such links are simply wrong. Leading politicians from
both political parties believed in Saddam' s sponsorship of
terrorism before the invasion of Iraq.
ATWAN: I met Osama bin Laden, and he was actually very keen to drag
the Americans to the Middle East, where he can fight them in his own
turf. It seems when he went there to blow up the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, it seems you played to his hands. It seems he
PERLE: First of all, he' s cowering somewhere in hiding. Much of his
network has been destroyed.
ATWAN: You are trapped in Iraq. Now Osama bin Laden enjoying
himself. He doesn't need to go and blow up the World Trade Center or
the Pentagon. He got, you know, a very fat 140,000 Marines and
American soldiers, and he open a branch, a franchise in Iraq now.
There is no reconstruction process at all. There is no security.
There is no law and order.
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