Twitter has once again demonstrated that humor is far from dead even in these grim times. Around the world Twitterati have been glued to their timelines checking out the latest comedic offerings under the hashtag #foxnewsfacts. This all followed Fox News’ beloved commentator Steven Emerson claiming amongst other things that “In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in. “
Most people only saw the brief clip relating to Birmingham but the full interview is even more disturbing. Firstly his wording shows that he believed Birmingham was not the only Muslim-only city in the United Kingdom. So which other ones was he thinking of? There is not even a Muslim-majority city. Just to spice it up he also proclaims, “Europe is finished.”
Sarah Palin must be worried that Emerson is trying to steal her throne as the queen of gaffesChris Doyle
Sarah Palin must be worried that Emerson is trying to steal her throne as the queen of gaffes. As even the British Prime Minister David Cameron commented it was clear that Emerson was “clearly a complete idiot.”
Ramping up the hyperbole
Emerson was not the only one. How did the Fox News presenter react to hearing Birmingham being so traduced? Did she challenge Emerson? Not for a nanosecond. Instead, she actually endorsed his comment: “You know what it sounds like to me, Steve? It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.” In fact the presenter was none other than Jeanine Pirro who has also just recorded a ranting monologue. . “Muslims need to kill all radical Islamists” and “it is time for this to be over and to stop sending American dollars to any Arab country that does not support this mission. Pakistan at the top of the list” - well Pakistan is sort of close to the Arab World. She had clearly been listening to her boss Rupert Murdoch. Will the great Australian media mogul be pleased? Well he had just tweeted that “Maybe most Muslims peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” In 125 characters Murdoch held all 1.6 billions Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of ISIS, al-Qaeda and other “Jihadist” groups.
From the boss, to the presenter, to the so-called expert, Fox News has spared no effort in ramping up the hyperbole, exaggerating the threat and blaming an entire community as a whole. But this is Fox News, so does it matter? Sadly, of course it does. There are those who take it seriously, who see anything and everything uttered on Fox News as gospel. One survey has shown that Fox news viewers are less informed than those who watch no news at all – well with “experts” like Steve Emerson, one can understand why. Public perceptions about Islam and Muslims in the U.S. and Europe are largely negative and often distant from reality. A 2014 poll in the U.S. found that favorability towards Arab Americans had dropped to just 36 per cent. An Ipsos poll in 2014 found that although the Muslim community in France amounted to 8 per cent of the population, French people believed it to be around 31 per cent; in Britain the figures are 5 per cent actual versus the public perception that it was 21 per cent.
But the role of Steven Emerson deserves closer attention. Much of the online jokes were directed not for the first time at Fox News with little attention to this so-called expert. David Cameron was actually an exception in slamming Emerson by name perhaps because he shied away from attacking a news channel.
Emerson is not just a Fox News favorite but a well-known and consulted supposed “expert” on Islamic terror. He has appeared in front of Congress “dozens of times,” apparently consults with the FBI on terrorism issues and been praised by a host of former administration officials. So how come a man claiming to be an expert in such a vital issue to U.S. and indeed global security is so profoundly ignorant and how did he ever get treated seriously in the first place? Where on earth did he ever find any information, any research to suggest that Birmingham was Muslim-only city? (The actual figure is about 21 per cent). Emerson has not revealed how he came to such a conclusion, but almost certainly because there was no research done at all. If someone claims Chicago is an all-black city, it would be pretty safe to assume that this was just made up as it clearly bares no conceivable resemblance to reality.
The reality is that Emerson has form. In 1995, he proclaimed that the Oklahoma bombing “was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.” A Roman Catholic carried out the bombing that killed 168 people so Emerson apologized for jumping to conclusions then too. Of course, he did not apologize for saying that it is a Middle Eastern trait to kill as many people as possible. He also got it wrong over the Boston marathon bombings and the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. Leading journalist Robert Friedman accused Emerson of “creating mass hysteria against American Arabs” following his “Jihad in America” documentary. AP reporters in 1997 also made serious allegations that Emerson provided them with what he claimed was an FBI report showing that major American Muslim organizations had ties to terrorist groups. However the document they said was found to bear striking resemblance to something that Emerson himself had produced.
Emerson has rarely lost an opportunity to sensationalize the Islamist threat and Fox is happy to provide a platform. It probably still will even after this embarrassment. But will the American political classes now abandon him? The U.S. administration, Congress and the various intelligence services should have never have used him and should surely drop him now. It is time that the United States political system was reliant on genuine experts on Islam dedicated to providing high-level impartial assessments, certainly prepared to confront the serious challenges but not blinded by ideological agendas.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.SHOW MORE