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Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 2): Quasi-expertise by Neocons & Zionists

Steven Emerson, one of godfathers of Islamophobia and "terrorism" quasi-expertise

Some of the pioneering researchers who wrote on the subject include Evan F. Kohlmann (with his 2004 book "Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network"), Steven Emerson ("Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad", coauthored with Lorenzo Vidino in 2006), John R. Schindler ("Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qa'ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad", 2007), Christopher Deliso ("The Coming Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West", 2007), Shaul Shay ("Islamic Terror and the Balkans", 2007), and Stephen S. Schwartz with a series of articles published in various outlets.

Unfortunately, these works are neither professional nor objective since their authors belong to the same interest groups, all united in a quest to revive post-9/11 xenophobia and convince Europeans and others that Islam is the enemy. Representations of a link between Islam and terrorism were deployed by authors whose careers operated on the necessity of such beliefs: individuals whose "expertise" was not an objective evaluation of the situation at hand, but rather an extension of narratives that preconfigured Muslims in a violent way.

To begin with Steven Emerson, a notably Islamophobic journalist and a conspiracy theorist that spun the news world into a frenzy of speculation and generalization, his early anti-Muslim remarks must be placed within the context of his work. As the director of the for-profit SAE Productions, founded just months before the attack in Oklahoma City, Emerson's group was paid more than $3 million by his other business venture, the non-profit Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), to research links between Muslim terrorists operating abroad and attacks by members of their alleged cells in the United States.

Standing in front of a charred portion of the building, in 1995 Emerson reported that "This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait. Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East." That simple remark led other journalistic enterprises to offer more of the same, opening the floodgates as it were, for the identification of an elusive culprit. It was later discovered that an American Timothy McVeigh perpetrated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil at that time.

Earlier in 1990, Emerson argued for the conspiracy theory that "Iran was behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103" (also known as the Lockerbie bombing), and later claimed that the "US has become occupied fundamentalist territory" and he described Birmingham in England as a city "where non-Muslims simply don't go in" (and eventually had to apologize). Emerson cannot speak any Middle Eastern language but he is a perfect fit for the agenda-driven neocon-dominated world of terrorism punditry, associated as it is with right-wing or pro-Israel organizations. The political journalist Alexander Cockburn observed that Emerson's prime role is to whitewash Israeli governments and revile their critics.

According to Philip Giraldi, a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the "counter-terrorism industry" in the United States is largely invisible, but its cost is not, amounting to tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Steve Emerson was one of the first prominent product of the proliferating expert witness phenomenon, all of whom testify for the prosecution in what has been sometimes dubbed the "guilty verdict industry."

Evan F. Kohlmann, an Emerson protégé and yet another self-described terrorism expert, is perhaps the most successful exploiter of the terrorism as a cash cow school of expert witnessdom. Kohlmann has never worked in law enforcement, intelligence, or served in the military. Everything he knows about terrorism is derivative, coming from individual research in libraries and, more often, over the internet. Kohlmann even lacks the tools that the academic world would require. He does not speak or read any of the primary languages that relate to terrorist groups, to include Arabic, Urdu, and Pashto. He has never even traveled to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Most intelligence professionals agree that without practical experience Kohlmann has no idea at all of counter-terrorist operations.

Kohlmann's work postulates that Bosnian Muslims are "linked in a worldwide conspiracy with Al-Qaida affiliates in Afghanistan in order to plot their violent strikes against the United States." It's an extremely sloppy and poorly edited book in which author is making cardinal mistakes starting from names of the places, and people (even ex-Croatia's President), to the flipping of geographical positions of numerous places. Ina Merdjanova, a PhD in religious studies focused on the Balkan Muslims, has described the Kohlmann's book as "a unique (at that time) and valuable compilation of empirical documents on the role and activities of the mujahideen in Bosnia during the war, but his sensationalist evaluations, and in particular his ideological sketching of post-Dayton Bosnia as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism, do not hold up." His book was declined by University of Pennsylvania Press, but was endorsed by a Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik who cited it 25 times in his manifesto.

Nevertheless, Kohlmann as an "expert witness" is a habitué of the US judicial system. He has frequently appeared in court where he is paid as much at $400 per hour by the prosecution in terrorism cases, netting the company he founded a total of $1.2 million in fees for testifying and "consulting" with various government agencies. Kohlmann has provided testimony in thirty trials in the United States, plus several more in Europe. The cases are often based on charges of conspiracy or supporting a terrorist organization, where the individual's guilt is established by association. The demand for Kohlmann's expertise by prosecutors is not surprising, he tends to demonize Islamic groups, and to link disparate groups and individuals into an encompassing narrative of international terrorism.

Defense lawyers have condemned Kohlmann's typical testimony as unqualified, slanted, sensationalist, prejudicial, and based on nebulous, irrelevant associations. In an analysis of Kohlmann's testimonies, law professor Maxine Goodman advises that he is "motivated by unfaltering devotion to one big idea" and a "single, central view of the world." Marc Sageman, a former naval officer, CIA Case Officer and practicing psychiatrist believes Kohlmann "tells stories" and describes his work as "so biased, one sided and contextually inaccurate that (it does) not provide a fair and balanced context for the specific evidence to be presented at a legal hearing."

Kohlmann's other works are not much different from his book and testimonies, for example, in one of articles he hyperbolically described Hezbollah as a "terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the entire Western world." This piece was co-authored with Rita Katz, an Israeli and yet another "terrorism expert" from Emerson's IPT team. Kohlmann also published articles in collaboration with Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a subsidiary of the notorious American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Shaul Shay belong to the same camp. He is a former Israeli intelligence officer and openly writes from a pro-Israeli perspective, arbitrarily naming all enemies as "terrorist." Shay thus believes in a worldwide terrorist conspiracy led by Iran and repeats ridiculous claims that Izetbegović wanted to establish an Islamic state with the help of Tehran. He also tries to fit everything into the "clash of civilizations" thesis by Samuel P. Huntington, a key neoconservative mastermind. According to Marko Attila Hoare, a historian of the former Yugoslavia, Shay's book is "merely very bad" and contains some rather endearingly naive sentences related to geography and demographics of the Balkans.

Also, Shay's "run-of-the-mill-first-year-undergraduate-quality potted history repeats some of the historical and other factual errors," in particular at the expense of the Bosnian Muslims. There are numerous misspellings of names: Alija becomes 'Ilia,' Čengić become 'Kengic,' Vojvodina becomes 'Wivodena,' and so on. Hoare also states that "if one simply ignores everything Shay's book has to say about Balkan politics, then one can glean a few nuggets of information from it concerning the politics of radical Islam globally and of the Muslim states of the Middle East, but this is not enough to recommend this book when there are much better treatments of these topics available."

Finally, there's Stephen S. Schwartz who moved to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in 1999 and lived there for the next 18 months, so he has some first-hand experience. Schwartz, the son of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, has a rather bizarre history, being at one time a member of a left-wing revolutionary Trotskyite revolutionary group and using the name Comrade Sandalio, and then converting to Sufi Islam in 1997, taking the name Suleyman Ahmed. In his "The Two Faces of Islam" (2002), Schwartz argued against the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia.

However, Schwartz was definitely in line with the basic neoconservative agenda to advance the interests of Israel. He maintained that the elimination of the Saudi regime would go far to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict on terms sought by Israel, because the Saudis provided a major source of "support and encouragement for radical rejectionists among the Palestinians." He supported the Iraq War, and as Iran became the primary neocon target for war, Schwartz began to equate "political Shiism as a malevolent danger comparable to Wahhabism." He also bashed secular Syria, claiming it's the "totalitarian Alawite tyranny" and that the leaders of Syria and Iran are "united by homicidal fantasies." He was a friend and public defender of Emerson, and other neocon pundits.

Now the question is, why would the Neocons and Zionists be so interested in the European periphery like the Balkans? From the strategic point of view, it's not a region where you sought strong allies, so obviously they have theoretical rather than practical reasons in mind. For many years, the Zionists are trying to represent the ongoing ethnic Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a "war of Islam against a Western bulwark" for gaining political support from the Westerners, and such view also perfectly fits under the above-mentioned "clash of civilizations" thesis. Thus, the Muslim Balkans become some kind of "European Palestine," an alleged source of danger for non-Muslims or "European Israelis."

This twisted myth was promoted even at the highest political level, for example, an Israeli politician Yosef Tommy Lapid in 2002 during the meeting with then Croatian President Stjepan Mesić claimed that "Israel and Croatia are united by a problem of terrorism which is also threatening the entire Western world" and that "Bosnia will become a serious threat to Croatia, like Palestine is for Israel." Similar statements were made by numerous other Israeli politicians while visiting Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and other countries. It's popular even today and over the past several months, pro-Israeli Czech President Miloš Zeman and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, also spoke about Bosnia as a "potential threat to Europe."

See also:

Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 1): A Brief Overview
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 2): Quasi-expertise by Neocons & Zionists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 3): Quasi-expertise by Denialists
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 4): Regional Quasi-expertise under Israeli influence
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 5): US Governmental Accusations and Pogorelica Case
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 6): US Governmental Accusations and Lobby Groups
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 7): Foreign Mujahideen
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 8): Wahhabi Movement
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 9): From the Balkans to Syria, and Back
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 10): Recorded Attacks
Potential Terrorism in the Balkans (part 11): MEK in Albania

Robert Novak

Robert Novak is a social anthropologist and human rights defender with more than five years of experience in the Open Society Institute (OSF), an organization campaigning for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. His research interests include law and religion, human rights, comparative ethics, and international relations. Born in Osijek, he lives and works in Zagreb.