By Hussein Ibish
October 1, 2009
A lot of readers seemed to benefit from and enjoy my evaluation of Irshad Manji from yesterday's Ibishblog posting, and I have been asked to give my views on another charmer, called Brigitte Gabriel. I argued that Manji is not an Islamophobe as has sometimes been alleged, but that she is an anti-Arab racist and an ignoramus to boot. About Gabriel, there can be no doubt. She is one of the most vicious, venomous and possibly deranged Islamophobes and bigots presently active in the United States.
As one reader pointed out, Manji is taken more seriously than Gabriel, who is widely regarded as a kook and fanatic. But she certainly has her audience on the far right, especially among bigoted and/or ignorant Christian right and ultra-Zionist circles. And she has produced two well-selling if preposterous books published by St. Martin’s Press, a very (otherwise) respectable publisher, and has been on Fox and other news outlets too often for the comfort of any sane or sober person. Therefore, no doubt my readers who wanted a small review of her activities are right. Here goes.
In 2008, Gabriel was described by the New York Times Magazine as a “radical Islamophobe,” which is probably the gentlest way to put it. She appears to be the scion of a South Lebanon Army (SLA) family, the SLA being the mercenary force set up by Israel in southern Lebanon, run first by Major Saad Haddad who died in 1984 (the same year her biography has Gabriel “moving” to Israel) and then by Antoine Lahad (who now runs a Lebanese restaurant in Tel Aviv). Her book, Because They Hate: a survivor of terror warns America (St. Martin's Press, 2006) purports to be, among other things, the story of her life. At varying times she has claimed to have lived for either seven or ten years, depending on the source, in a bomb shelter with her entire family.
Her account of the Lebanese civil war is nonsensical and completely incoherent, holding that the war in the 1970s was a “jihad” by a non-existent “Islamic army” against the Christians of Lebanon. On the other hand, her career began with Pat Robertson’s “Middle East Television” which pioneered this fictionalized version of the conflict in Lebanon during the war itself, and this association might help explain her bizarre characterizations of the war. The SLA was the host of “Middle East Television” from 1982 until the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the concomitant collapse of the SLA in May 2000, when the station relocated to Cyprus.
She claims that:
I was raised in the only Christian country in the Middle East, Lebanon. A lot of people think the Middle East has always been made up of Moslem countries. That is not true. There once were two non-Muslim countries in the Middle East. One is a Jewish state called Israel which is under attack for its existence today and the other was a Christian country called Lebanon now under a Moslem majority controlling influence. When Lebanon got its independence from France in the 40's the majority of the population was Christian. We didn't have any enemies.
At no time in her life was Lebanon in any meaningful sense a “Christian country,” having not had a Christian (or any other) majority for many decades, let alone having ever been a “non-Muslim country.” In fact, Lebanon was and is a mixed society without any majority population, including large and diverse groups of both Christians and Muslims. The spirit of sectarian chauvinism and mythology that pervades all her thinking about Lebanon and the Lebanese is distressingly familiar and can only be profoundly depressing to anyone who understands the delicate balances between the myriad sectarian and ethnic communities that make up a very small country which has no majority population.
Gabriel quite extraordinarily casts the Lebanese civil war that began in 1975 as a “jihad” launched by Muslims against Christians:
When the Moslems and Palestinians declared Jihad on the Christians in 1975 we didn't even know what that word meant. We had taken them into our country, allowed them to study side by side with us, in our schools and universities. We gave them jobs, shared with them our way of life. We didn't realize the depth of their hatred to us as infidels. They looked at us as the enemy not as neighbors, friends, employers and colleagues. A lot of Muslims pored in from other Muslim countries like Iran -- the founder and supporter of Hezbollah, one of the leading terrorist organizations in the world today. They came from Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The Lebanese civil war was not between the Lebanese, it was a holy war declared on the Christians by the Muslims of the Middle East.
Again, for anyone with any experience of Lebanon and the Lebanese not only is the complete disregard for reality in favor of the most shameless and self-deluding sectarian chauvinist myths disturbingly familiar, but so is the tendency to blame the largely self-inflicted wounds of the Lebanese civil war (in the worst instances often self-inflicted by sectarian groups themselves through vicious periods of infighting) on foreigners. It is not clear if this is a manipulative sleight-of-hand or if she really doesn't know the most basic Lebanese history herself, but Gabriel's contention that the founding of Hezbollah is part of a jihad declared in 1975 does not square with the fact that the organization was founded in 1982 as a direct consequence of Israel's invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, not in 1975 and not as a consequence of the conflict between Lebanese groups.
There are many strange interpretations and characterizations of the civil war in Lebanon available from various quarters, but this must be one of the most fanciful and least convincing, not to mention tendentious, of them all. In another striking passage, Gabriel claims that “Syria shelled Israel along with Hezbollah the Iranian financed holy warriors” and that because of the shelling, “by 1982, Israel was fed up with Syria’s repeated attacks on its northern border” and therefore invaded Lebanon. In fact, Syria was not engaged in shelling Israel prior to the 1982 invasion, and Hezbollah did not even exist until after it. Again it is hard to know whether Gabriel is deliberately deceptive or amazingly ignorant.
Her Islamophobic hatred being very extreme, Gabriel frequently resorts to the bestiary and other classic racist tropes to denounce Islam and Muslims:
America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy: Islam… If you want to understand the nature of the enemy we face, visualize a tapestry of snakes. They slither and they hiss, and they would eat each other alive, but they will unite in a hideous mass to achieve their common goal of imposing Islam on the world.
Gabriel vehemently denies that there can be such a thing as a moderate Muslim, only a “non-practicing” one:
I call it a practicing Muslim and a non-practicing Muslim. I think it is a better description than “moderate” and “radical.” A practicing Muslim goes to mosque, prays five times a day, doesn't drink, believes God gave him women to be his property - to beat, to stone to death… He believes Christians and Jews are apes and pigs because they are cursed by Allah. He believes it is his duty to declare war on the infidels because they are Allah's enemies. That is a practicing Muslim.
She goes on to state that this kind of evil, “practicing” Muslim constitutes 98 percent of all Muslims world-wide. It is hard to know if Gabriel has any sense of how preposterous she sounds, since she appears to be consumed with hatred and completely unable to grasp how her words might appear to a rational person: “The difference between the Arabic world and Israel is a difference in values and character. It's barbarism versus civilization. It's democracy versus dictatorship. It's goodness versus evil.”
Gabriel regularly accuses Muslims of not recognizing the civilian status of non-Muslim civilians. However during the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon, she dismissed any concern for Lebanese civilians killed in the fighting, declaring, “These ‘civilian casualties’ are terrorists and terrorist families and terrorist sympathizers. Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists!” As with so many bigots, racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes, projection is a primary symptom of her psycho-pathology.
Her second book, They Must be Stopped: why we must defeat radical Islam and how we can do it (St. Martin’s Press, 2008), is a virtual compendium of all the themes and tropes of contemporary American Islamophobia. Virtually no element is missing, with a special emphasis on the dangers posed by ordinary Muslims living in Western societies.
She even goes so far as to insert, not once but twice, the same absolutely fabricated quote from the Quran, claiming that it commands “all Muslim women” to ensure that they are “screening themselves completely except for one or two eyes to see the way,” and falsely attributing this nonexistent command to Sura 33:59. Her citation for this is two ludicrous sources that transform into Quranic text an interjected and extremely debatable explanation which was clearly marked as an insertion into their translation by Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali.
Her first use of this fabrication is cited to a hate-mongering website called “Prophet of Doom,” while her second reference to it, oddly enough, is cited to a different, and apparently related although hardly more reliable source, a book subtly entitled Prophet of Doom: Islam’s terrorist dogmas in Mohammed’s own words (CricketSong Books, 2004). This use of the same fabricated quote from two different, although possibly related, sources calls to mind the image of Gabriel and her staff haphazardly combing the blogosphere and hate literature for anything, no matter how preposterous, that she can use to incite negative sentiments against Muslims and Islam.
The fact that St. Martin’s Press would not only attach its name to such shameless bigotry, but would permit the bare-faced fabrication of a quotation from the Quran which is cited to two alternative sources, neither of them with the least credibility, speaks very poorly of the publisher and its editors, and of the tactics generally employed in Islamophobic rhetoric
Some newspaper reports suggest that Gabriel is furious that a group of Arab evangelical convert-extremists including “Walid Shoebat,” Zak Anani and others have been undermining her position as the most notable Arab Islamophobe in the United States, reportedly telling her staff, “Not only are these creeps Arabs, but two of them are Palestinians!” According to the same account, “Shoebat” gloated after a particularly extreme right-wing radio talkshow appearance, in which he called for either the conversion or extermination of all the 1.25 billion Muslims in the world, “let the spoiled brat from South Lebanon top that!”
Her extremism has been too much for a number of people who have regretted working with Gabriel. At a 2004 “concert against terrorism” at Duke University Gabriel referred to Arabs as “barbarians” and made many other patently derogatory remarks. The Duke Chronicle reported at the time that, “Junior David Gastwirth, who organized the event, apologized on behalf of the Freeman Center for Gabriel’s comment. ‘She went against what she was going to speak about. We by no means agree with what she said,’ Gastwirth said.”
In addition, in a letter to the Chronicle, the Duke students who led the groups which organized the concert -- Gayle Argon, and Mollie Lurey, co-coordinators for Students Against Terror, and Rachael Solomon, Student president for the Freeman Center for Jewish Life -- wrote, “Had we known Brigitte Gabriel’s speech would have been as inflammatory and offensive as it was, we would have unhesitatingly removed her from the speaker list. Despite her detestable aberration, the message of the concert and rally still came through, and The Chronicle failed to portray that adequately.”
All of this leads one inevitably to conclude that Gabriel is a nut whose hateful views are so extreme that many people who are initially attracted to her end up running as quickly as possible in the other direction sooner rather than later. She certainly has never had, and undoubtedly will never get, the kind of respectability or audience of Irshad Manji or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But, preaching to the choir of the fearful, hateful paranoiacs of the Islamophobic right, Gabriel certainly does harm, in the same way that the birthers, truthers, death panelists and teabaggers have been since the inauguration of President Obama. We are living in an era in which the extreme right, including and especially the racist right, feels completely sidelined by the results of the last election and is in a full blown hysteria (you lie, YOU LIE!).
This is a time in which the quivering, terrified, weepy panic of Glen Beck, who gives every impression of constantly being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, speaks to and for the sentiment of a large segment of the right. It is to this same sentiment, and this same apoplexy of fear and hatred, which Gabriel speaks. She may be marginal, but after our summer of town hall discontent, one can't seriously think this kind of hysteria isn't dangerous.