The PBS Controversy and Charles Le Gai Eaton
by Stephen Schwartz
Last week, in a reportage for FSM - the antidote to the "mainstream media" - Contributing Editor Alex Alexiev, one of the most authoritative Western experts on radical Islam, described the fate of a documentary video of which he was co-producer. Titled Islam vs. Islamists, the documentary deals with contentions between moderate and radical Muslims in the West.
Controversy over Islam vs. Islamists has wider and narrower aspects bearing on the topic it addresses. The documentary was financed, for a series titled "America at a Crossroads," by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). It was to be put on television by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The presumption voiced by those who conceived "America at a Crossroads" – that the documentaries would introduce positive messages about the war on terror on the politically-correct PBS stations – may have been unrealistic, to say the least.
Whatever the bureaucratic backstory, Islam Vs. Islamists was rejected by PBS. Mr. Alexiev learned during the agony of dealing with PBS that one of the latter's executive producers for the series, Leo Eaton, professed an expertise on Islam derived from his father, a British Muslim named Charles Le Gai Eaton, and known as Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton.
I am reluctant to impeach the integrity of a son for the views of his father; however, PBS functionary Leo Eaton allegedly declared to Mr. Alexiev and his colleagues on the project that he had turned to Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton for consultation about Islam. Yet Leo Eaton's perceptions of the situation of the faith of Muhammad are questionable on their face. For example, Leo Eaton wrote, in a set of notes dated December 22, 2006, and released by Mr. Alexiev, that in Islam, "moderation & extremism clearly depend on where you're standing."
Well, of course the definitions of moderation and extremism in Islam, along with every other ideological or intellectual difference in history, depend on where you're standing. If you stood with the Egyptian Pharaoh and opposed Moses in his quest for the freedom to worship the One God, you would define idolatry and Abrahamic religion differently than if you supported the liberation of the House of Israel. If you were a Nazi you would view the Second World War distinctly from the way you would if you were a British patriot living in London during the Blitz. Leo Eaton repeated a platitude without content, to better avoid the reality which is that moderate and extremist positions are universally recognized and well-understood among Muslims. Although in his notes, Mr. Eaton asserted his awareness of the conflict between moderate Muslims and extremists, to make the distinction a relative one is to nullify the authority of the moderates and to maintain, in the West, the perception of a uniform, radical Islam, which favors terrorism.
Leo Eaton also demanded that assessment of Saudi financial influence on Wahhabi Islam in America – an extension onto our national territory of the Saudi state cult that represents the most extreme and violent form of fundamentalist Islam – be made by "a State Department spokesperson or some other properly-credentialed analyst." Here one can only laugh: everyone concerned with the situation of American Islam knows that State has exercised insufficient vigilance in monitoring Saudi religious colonialism in the U.S. In addition, the majority of "properly-credentialed analysts" – if the term refers, as it usually does, to academics affiliated with Saudi-financed programs at Western think-tanks and institutions of higher education – has acted consistently and overwhelmingly to suppress the truth about Wahhabism and its campaign for global control of Sunni Islam. State is afraid of Saudi-Wahhabi influence, while most of the "properly-credentialed analysts" are cautious to a fault, or bought off.
To emphasize, Leo Eaton averred that his father is the source of his own expertise on Islam. May we then examine the recent record of Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton? Eaton père has been known for years in Europe as a journalist, diplomat, and spiritual Muslim, or Sufi. Then last year, the befuddled British authorities, eager to respond to the Islamist radicalism that blew up the London Underground and shut down Heathrow airport, but reluctant to confront it directly, announced one of the worst-conceived proposals in the recent history of Western policy-making.
This scheme involves a road-show around Britain conducted by Islamist acolytes, and titled with extraordinary clumsiness and bad taste, "The Radical Middle Way." The bizarre intent is to substitute a rhetorically inflammatory but "peaceful" Islamist "radicalism" for violent "extremism," although ordinary, mainstream Muslims argue that there is no difference between the two, and that they reject both. The real aim seems to be to obscure the Islamist threat in Britain. "The Radical Middle Way" is headed by author and academic Tariq Ramadan, who has been barred from entry to the U.S. It includes the infamous Hamza Yusuf Hanson, the formerly-strident radical Muslim preacher from Walla Walla, Wash., who has sought to reinvent himself as a Sufi advocate for religious reconciliation. Also along for the ride is Hanson's current "master," Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a Mauritanian who teaches at a religious university in Saudi Arabia. The "Radical Middle Way" exemplifies the deceptive tactics of Hanson and others in trying to reinvent themselves as "tame" Islamist ideologues.
Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton was enlisted in the campaign by Ramadan, Hanson, and Bin Bayyah. Shaykh Hasan appears as a minor entrepreneur of spirituality, avid to gain publicity for his personal insights into mysticism. But yoking the legacy of Sufism, which is respectful of non-Islamic faiths and seeks pluralism within Islam, to the political ideology of Ramadan and the deceptions of Hamza Yusuf Hanson, another huckster of the divine, will not free British Muslims of domination by the extremists.
If the UK authorities made an egregious mistake in launching the "radical roadshow" of Ramadan, Hanson, and Co., PBS has made an even worse error in entrusting supervision of documentary productions about Islam to someone under the influence of "Islamist-political Sufism." Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton has written books distributed by Fons Vitae, a publisher with a tilt toward a little-known ideological trend called "Traditionalism." The latter seeks to absorb the monotheistic faiths into a primordial and hierarchical religiosity, in which the cruel idolatry of Pharaoh and the monotheism of Moses are put on an equal level. But as I have written elsewhere, nobody can serve both Pharaoh and the One God, and modern theories legitimizing Egyptian paganism inevitably embody contempt for Jews. It should not be surprising that "Traditionalism" produced a notable and fierce pro-Nazi wing.
An extraordinary consequence of the chaos wrought in Western society by the atrocities of September 11, 2001, has been the revelation of a profound incapacity on the part of political and media elites in the democracies to distinguish their real friends and allies among Muslims and Islam experts from their adroit enemies. The presence of Leo Eaton, representing the attitudes of Shaykh Hasan Le Gai Eaton, in evaluating PBS documentaries on Islam, represents a conflict of interest. Journalists and documentary makers cannot properly investigate radical Islam if they are subject to editors and producers who sow confusion about so dangerous a phenomenon, at the same time as said editors and producers admit that their sources on these topics are aligned with self-confessed radicals.