Hesham Islam’s Saidian Narrative?


 Heshie and Eddie: Frauds of a Feather?

Claudia Rosett has a superb piece in today’s National Review Online (1/25/08), based upon her dogged investigation of Hesham Islam, the Muslim aide to Deputy Defense Secretary, Gordon England, putatively behind the recent firing of the Pentagon’s lone expert on jihadism and Islamic Law, Major Stephen Coughlin (USAR).   

Rosett’s tenacious reporting has uncovered some disturbing discrepancies in Mr. Islam’s “personal narrative,” as described in the Armed Forces Press Service under the headline, “Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary Focuses on Relationship Building,”—an account which is still available online at the Defense Department website.

She elucidates her specific findings, with regard to Mr. Islam’s claim to have survived an (invented) “Israeli bombing raid on Cairo” as a child, the omitted history of Mr. Islam’s family’s curious move to, and residence in, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the consolidation of  Baathist control, and the absence of coherent details provided by either Mr. Islam, or the Defense Department on his survival as young merchant mariner of the torpedoeing of his Iraqi vessel in 1979 (during the Iran-Iraq War), thusly: 

As told by Islam to the reporter, “The movie would open with Islam as a young boy growing up in Cairo, Egypt, huddling in terror as Israeli bombs came raining down, demolishing much of the building around him and his family.”

There’s one problem with this scene. As far as I have been able to discover, Israel during Hesham Islam’s entire lifetime has never bombed Cairo. Asked to explain this, the Pentagon spokesman duly conferred with Islam, and relayed to me by phone that Islam says this building-wrecking bombing raid took place during the 1967 Six-Day War.

But as for details that might substantiate the when and where in Cairo of this graphic scene, Islam “Doesn’t remember. He was seven years old.”It is of course possible that Islam was privy to a piece of history with which expert historians on the region are not acquainted. But if this tale is based solely on the unsubstantiated impressions of Islam as a seven-year-old, then what is it doing on the U.S. Defense Department website?

Queries I have made to a number of experts in Tel Aviv, the U.S., and Cairo itself all get the same reply: It didn’t happen. According to Michael Oren, author of the extensively researched Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Israel during the Six-Day War struck the Cairo airport, but “Israel did not bomb any residential areas of Cairo.”

The profile continues: “Next would be the scene of the teenager who moves to Iraq when his Egyptian naval officer father is transferred to help establish the Arabian Gulf naval academy Islam would later attend.” That family move to Iraq came as Saddam Hussein was consolidating his Baathist rule, though neither the Pentagon profile nor Hesham Islam’s Pentagon biography any makes mention of that context. In answer to questions, the Pentagon spokesman says Islam’s father was invited to Iraq by Saddam Hussein, but the spokesman doesn’t know when: “It was in 1971-1973 time frame.” Surely with Pentagon background checks, more exact information would be easily available? “It’s available,” says the spokesman, but “I don’t have his C.V. kind of thing.”The profile goes on to describe young Hesham Islam as a “merchant mariner adrift for three days in the Arabian Sea after an Iranian torpedo sunk his 16,000-ton cargo ship, drowning all but Islam and four of his crewmates.”That sounds memorable. But after more than a week of my repeated requests made by phone and e-mail, the Pentagon spokesman — despite being presumably in touch with Islam himself — was either unable or unwilling to provide such basic information as the name of the ship, or the date of its sinking. He just kept saying he was “looking into it.” But no answers. Before I began the marathon requests for specific information, the spokesman had speculated earlier, based on conversations with Islam, that the ship might have been called the Ibn Khaldoon, which might have been registered to the Iraqi merchant marine, and might have sunk sometime in 1979. A check with the U.K.-based Lloyd’s Register turns up two cargo ships registered in Iraq during that time and under that name, but no record that either was ever sunk, either in the 1970s, the 1980s, or beyond. One is still in service; the other was broken up — and not by a torpedo — only a few years ago.As for records of any incident fitting the generic description of a 16,000-ton cargo ship, under any flag, torpedoed by the Iranians and sunk in the Arabian Sea before Islam immigrated to the U.S. sometime in 1980 (the Pentagon spokesman can’t or won’t say exactly when in 1980), after searching news archives, shipping records, and consulting a number of naval historians, I have yet to come across anything that corroborates Islam’s Iranian-torpedo-in-the-Arabian-Sea story. There were ships sunk by the Iranians in 1980, as the Iran-Iraq war broke out — but that was happening in the Gulf, around the Shatt-al-Arab, on the other side of the Straits of Hormuz, hundreds of miles from the Arabian Sea. It is of course possible that this torpedoing, ship sinking, and rescue took place exactly as described in the Defense profile. But having showcased the scene for public consumption, why won’t Gordon England’s office provide basic factual information that could confirm this story? Does Hesham Islam not remember that, either? Does no one at Defense have it on file?


Equally revealing is Rosett’s summary account of the glaring biases—if not open, conspiratorial Anti-Zionism/ Antisemitism—apparent in Mr. Islam’s 139 pp. M.S. thesis from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, entitled, “Roots of Regional Ambition,” and published in 1992. I eagerly anticipate reading and commenting upon Mr. Islam’s “magnum opus” myself, shortly, but for now, here are Rosett’s observations:

In it, he devoted dozens of pages to lambasting Israel, and the influence of American Jews on U.S. politics. He deplored “Israeli activities which have detrimentally affected U.S. objectives but which have continued with impunity.” He argued that U.S. support for Israel “has negatively affected the attainment of U.S. objectives in the Middle East.” He blamed the influence of American Jews on U.S. policy for a host of ills, ranging from Arab “retaliation” against Americans, to jobs lost overseas, to hampering sales of “defensive arms to friendly Arab states.” 

Mr. Islam’s personal narrative, as well as his apparently warped “narrative history” of Middle East history—bears a striking resemblance to the late and unlamented Edward Said’s exploits.  

Said’s invented and cynically distorted biography (see Justus Reid Wiener’s, “My Beautiful Old House and Other fabrications by Edward Said,” Commentary, September, 1999) “justified” the tendentious drivel he successfully purveyed as “scholarship,” while providing this distressingly stupid “oeuvre” with immunity from serious critique and examination, until for example, his posthumous demolition, most notably, by my brilliant colleague Ibn Warraq’s “Defending the West—A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism”. .

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