"There is no American version of Wilders. The issues at the center of Wilders’ platform aren’t particularly debated in the US. And there seems to be very little publicized antipathy between the greater Muslim community in the US, and any particular congressman. America has a long history of integration, and as a result does not face the same internal challenges as does Europe. Europe could become a battleground for terrorists in a way that America may not", says Michael Schreiber, American investigative journalist and maker of the New York Times-documentary 'Al Qaeda’s new Front'. Politiek-Digitaal interviewed him.
Politiek-Digitaal: Can you tell me something about your job?
My employment at the New York Times has concluded. When I was there, I was an associate producer with an investigative unit with New York Times Television. Our unit was contracted by the public television station WGBH in Boston to produce episodes of the documentary program Frontline. As an Associate Producer I was responsible for research and logistics for the most part. I would investigate a subject and write reports that were used to construct the documentary by the Producer/Director.
Foto: Michael Schreiber
Politiek-Digitaal: The American television channel Fox News has just recently labelled the Dutch people as ‘prostitute-visiting, coke-sniffing child-murderers’. After the murder on Theo van Gogh, it even seems as though the foreign countries’ image of the Netherlands as a tolerant country, has become an image of the Netherlands as a nation in civil war. The Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, minister Bot, therefore sees it as his task to rectify these caricatures of the Netherlands. Are the Netherlands rightly worrying about their image?
I can’t speak for my country on this. And I imagine the quote you cite from FOX News was uttered during an opinion-oriented broadcast. My guess is that for the average American, the Dutch people aren’t really on the radar. I doubt the same can be said for the rest of Europe so I can’t really evaluate Minister Bot’s efforts.
Politiek-Digitaal: In the introduction of your documentary ‘Al Qaeda’s New Front’, you give Europe the name ‘Eurabia’. A continent that was once a safe refuge for immigrants, may now have become the new target for the Jihad. Whereas America was spared from a second attack after 9/11, Europe has now become the new front of Al Qaeda. The failed integration of some 18 million Muslims in Europe, will now become the breeding ground of radical Muslim terrorism, so you write. Do you really think that Europe will become the new battleground and that America will be left alone? Is there anything that Europe can learn from America when it comes to fighting terror?
I do not think that America will be left alone and there’s nothing in the documentary to suggest that. I think however, that Europe could become a battleground in a way that America may not. One reason for this is because of failed integration. America has a long history of integration, and as a result does not face the same internal challenges as does Europe. This is exacerbated by Europe’s open borders, and the transient nature of terror threats. America’s challenges for the time seem to be more external, whereas Europe’s are more internal.
Politiek-Digitaal: After Theo van Gogh was murdered, all eyes were on the Netherlands. American newscasts interrupted - on election night! – their broadcast to report on the attack. What made the ritual killing on a rather unknown Dutch director so newsworthy?
I wasn’t aware that election coverage was interrupted. There is an old saying in the American newspaper business. “If it bleeds, it leads.” My guess is that Van Gogh’s killing got the coverage it did here because it was a messy, ugly crime, and a recognizable last name. Nothing more. Lots of television in the US gravitates to messy, ugly things.
Politiek-Digitaal: In your article ‘Terror’s Unforeseen Forces’, you give an account of your conversations with Geert Wilders, Mohammed Jabri (Muslimparty) and Kay van de Linde (campaign advisor). Do you think we can compare the tensions that emerge from those discussions, with the ones in the American popular debate?
Politically, I don’t think there is much of a comparison. And frankly, the issues at the center of Wilders’ platform aren’t particularly debated in the US. There is no popular movement in the US to halt all non-western immigration. None of our members of congress have had to implement the elaborate security precautions that Wilders has – at least not publicly. And there seems to be very little publicized antipathy between the greater Muslim community in the US, and any particular congressman.
Politiek-Digitaal: What was your impression on Geert Wilders? What was the situation in which you talked to him and how well was his security arranged? Would an American version of this politician have to be afraid for his life?
My impression of Geert Wilders was that he was absolutely willing to answer any question I threw at him, which is exactly what a journalist looks for. I do not think it my place to comment on his security. I will say that we met in the lobby of a hotel. And security was present. There is no American version of Wilders as far as I can tell. Many American politicians have security details for one reason or another.
Politiek-Digitaal: Dutch artists, politicians and writers who speak critically about the Islam, are being threatened. America on the other hand seems especially vulnerable when on foreign territory. A great number of American journalists has been kidnapped in Iraq, some of which decapitated. Has this had an effect on the functioning of the New York Times when it comes to bringing the news to the people and publishing opinionating articles?
Journalists going to Iraq know the risks, which is a credit to them. By foreign territory do you mean Iraq and Afghanistan? If so, there are wars going on there which America is involved, so Americans would naturally be especially vulnerable. But they are not as vulnerable as the Iraqis allied with the Americans, who are dying in far greater numbers, and with considerably less coverage in the US. I do not know what, if any, effect this has had on the Times.
Politiek-Digitaal: It is customary for American newspapers to publicly express their preferred candidate during the last few days of elections. The New York Times ranged itself on the side of John F. Kerry. How does that work? Do you vote amongst the co-workers or do the chief editors determine who is the favourite candidate? Does this not interfere with objective reporting?
Many newspapers endorse candidates. I’m not sure how it works, but I imagine it is something the editorial board, and other senior people consider. I wasn’t asked.