Transcript of the 22 July 2008 BYU Television interview of Dennis F. Stevens by Host John L. Lund.   




DR. LUND:     We’re here today to spend a half-hour with Dennis Stevens, Hollywood film producer, director, writer, former Reuter’s journalist and guest BYU lecturer.  The subject of today’s interview is Israel…where Mr. Stevens was among those Reuters journalists who covered the 1991 Gulf War.  (To guest)  Was this the beginning of your fascination with Israel? 


STEVENS:     It started earlier than that with a book I read entitled “Eagle in the Sky,” by Wilbur Smith, who later became a friend.  But my interest in Israel really turned into an obsession when in November 1990; Reuters assigned me to cover the Gulf War from Israel for a three month period beginning in December 1990. 


DR. LUND:     We’ll get into that experience in a minute…but first, you once had a weekly email newsletter with over 2,500 subscribers.  But you abandoned it and now write a weekly commentary which you tell me that you only share with a mere 90 or 100 friends and former high school classmates.  What happened?    


STEVENS:     You’ve touched a nerve.  …I approached Amazon dot com about creating an advertising sponsored web site wherein I would write four or five assay commen-taries per week.  Jeff Bezsos gave me a limited amount of time to convince him that I could pull a minimum of 4,000 weekly hits to such a web site.  Anything less would not be viable for advertisers.  I came up short and Bezos walked away.  Not my only or most costly failure in life…but one that nevertheless disappointed me a great deal. 


DR. LUND:     The fact your commentaries took a conservative point of view didn’t weigh on Bezsos’ decision? 


STEVENS:     I’m not using that as an excuse.  If I were getting the hits, being a busi-nessman I’m sure Jeff would have given me a chance, regardless of my political persuasion. 


DR. LUND:     You once told me that a subscriber was more likely to read an emailed version of your weekly newsletter than if they had to go to the trouble of bringing up a web site in order to retrieve it. 


STEVENS:     Yes and where I was emailing the newsletter to over 3,000 subscribers, I would have probably needed over 5,000 in order to count on the 4,000 weekly web site hits that Bezos was expecting me to pull before he would became involved.  


Interestingly, I had fans who told me that they would click on the web site two or three times a day so that I could meet my minimum goal.  I had to point out that each time they did, they would have to use a different email address as Bezos was smart enough to have anticipated that possibility. 


DR. LUND:     Not surprisingly, you have dedicated fans.   … In your earlier newsletters, you’ve written many articles on Palestinian terrorists and in preparation for this interview I’ve had the opportunity to read several of them…which I admit are very good.   As far as the term “terrorist” goes, are you not really describing a group of people suffering under Israeli occupation who are merely rebelling?   


STEVENS:     The one thing the terrorists don't like is being called terrorists.  They prefer to be called 'jihadists.'  They believe it is their religious duty to spread Islam throughout the world, by any means at their disposal.  


DR. LUND:     Then why call them terrorists.  Why not refer to them as jihadists? 


STEVENS:     When someone violently targets civilians, that's what it is…terrorism!   


DR. LUND:     Good point. …I understand you have access to several Palestinian sour-ces as a result of your days at Reuters, covering the Gulf War from Israel.    


STEVENS:     That’s true, but my sources are not terrorists.  That, however, doesn’t mean that terrorists leaders are difficult to interview.  You just phone them up.  They are proud of their goals and achievements, and glad to have a platform for promotion. 


DR. LUND:     Do you think they should be given such a platform?  


STEVENS:     Absolutely.  Because the Western media tends to play down or ignore the realities of radical Islam, I think it’s necessary, therefore, to educate people on what the war on terrorism is really about by giving a genuine glimpse into the psyche of suicide bombers and their recruiters.  


DR. LUND:     So what is the psyche of a terrorist? 


STEVENS:     A lot of people think that terrorism is about pieces of territory - that Hezbollah just wants to get the Shaba Farms back, for example.  Others think that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the whole rest of the alphabet of Palestinian terrorists simply want to destroy Israel or that al-Qaida wants America out of the Middle East.  But one thing that has really been driven home to me is that they are looking to serve Allah by spreading Islam around the world.  That's what makes them do what they do. 


DR. LUND:     It is often said of terrorists that desperation and poverty - sometimes mental illness - is at the root of their actions.  Is there truth to that?     


STEVENS:     It's true that if you watch CNN or read The New York Times, you would get that impression.  Because whenever there's a suicide bombing in Israel, right away they present human interest stories about how the bomber is poor and living under Israeli occupation.  And this is in spite of the fact that in the history of modern civilization, there's no other instance of people under occupation blowing themselves up.  


But if you were to specifically ask them whether they were carrying out their operations because of poverty and desperation, they would get offended and call it Zionist pro-paganda.  They would explain that suicide is forbidden in Islam, and that blowing one-self up in the midst of innocent men, women and children does not constitute suicide, but rather jihad for Allah - that therefore it is not only allowed, but it is the creed.  


DR. LUND:     Do the suicide bombers actually believe they're going to paradise?  


STEVENS:     The suicide murderers themselves, and even some of the mid-level terrorists, absolutely believe they're going to paradise, where they will be met by 72 dark-eyed virgins.  The senior leaders, however, don't seem to believe a lot of what they tell their acolytes.  What is interesting about the 72-virgin thing that recruiters and would-be bombers repeat all the time is that it is not in the Koran.  The Koran describes a paradise for martyrs as having virgins and full-breasted maidens, but the number 72 doesn't appear.  That comes later, in the Hadith…the oral tradition.  And this under-scores the heart of the problem - that at its very foundation there is no argument for terrorism.  It's so easy to deconstruct.  But most of the media out there take the ter-rorists' lying responses and move on to the next question without challenging them. 


Another thing worth noting is that whenever a terrorist tells a reporter how brave they are and how they’re not afraid of the Israeli Zionists – they are always surrounded by women and children.    


DR. LUND:     Is this because they believe Israelis try to avoid killing women and children?  


STEVENS:     Absolutely.  


DR. LUND:     Do they say so, or is this your interpretation?  


STEVENS:     They won’t acknowledge it.  But my problem is not with the terrorists who don't acknowledge it; it's with the Western reporters who don't acknowledge it.  Because whenever there's an Israeli anti-terror operation in which Arab civilians are killed, right away we have this moral equivalency between the side that tries to minimize civilian casualties and the side that tries to maximize them.  


The Jerusalem Post has reporters that interview these terrorists all the time and the terrorists are very proud of their goals and ideology, unlike the Western media that report on them.  Talk to any terrorist and he'll be very open about his aim to destroy Israel as a stepping stone to achieving his ultimate goal of spreading Islam across the world. 


DR. LUND:     You say that you have Palestinian sources, which are not terrorists.  Have you ever interviewed an actual terrorist? 


STEVENS:     Not in person.  But thanks to one of my sources I did for awhile exchange email with a Hamas terrorist leader from Gaza.  Actually, in my newsletters I was merely giving him a platform from which to explain himself.  I didn’t analyze what he said, but merely quoted him.    


This came to an end when a Jack Bauer type knocked on my door and flashed identi-fication indicating he was from Homeland Security and advised me that my email ori-ginating in Gaza had been intercepted and that they wanted to know what was going on.  


It took me about three hours to assure the agent that I wasn’t a threat to national secu-rity, but I decided that perhaps it would be a good idea if I creased receiving emails from known terrorists. 


Actually, the experience left me with a note of confidence that our government was doing its job and that night I said a prayer for George W. Bush. 


DR. LUND:     Amen.  …If I hear you right, you’re telling me that Palestinian terrorists want to get their ideology out to the most people possible and that they believe that the best way to do so is to have an open microphone.  Weren’t you concerned that you might become a mouthpiece for such terrorists?  


STEVENS:     From my perspective, what I'm doing is trying to educate people on what the war on terrorism is really about.  We often embolden terrorists without even realizing it, through policies of evacuation, withdrawal, dialogue and negotiations. 


The terrorists are very open about the fact that if you evacuate territory, they are going to use that territory to stage further attacks toward your annihilation.  If you sign a cease-fire with them, they call it a hudna, which comes from the Koran.  It's the truce that Muhammad signed on his way to conquering Mecca, which he later violated.  For them, a cease-fire is the chance to rebuild and regroup and prepare for the final goal of the enemy's annihilation.  So what I was trying to do in my weekly newsletters was educate Americans on what works and what doesn't work.  


DR. LUND:     In your newsletters, you kept writing that their ultimate goal is global jihad.  But there are so many different groups who oppose each other.  Can you really talk about the Sunnis and the Shi'ites - or Fatah and Hamas - in the same breath?  


STEVENS:     On the ground there are a lot of different factions all vying for power.  But when it comes to fighting the enemy, they unite.  


DR. LUND:     Do you hear support among terrorists for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?  


STEVENS:     Absolutely.  Any dictator who threatens to annihilate Israel is admired by Palestinian terrorists.  Anyway, if you pay them enough money, they're going to do your bidding for you.  And Iran is giving a fortune not only to Hamas, but to Fatah's al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which coordinates on a regular basis with Hezbollah, which we all know is backed by Iran and Syria.  


DR. LUND:     Before disengagement, critics of the withdrawal said that Israel would be abandoning the territory to an al-Qaida state in the making.  Now, you and others refer to it as an Iranian proxy.  Which is it?  


STEVENS:     What's the difference, really, when they're all fighting for the same thing?  Al-Qaida is certainly ideologically present in Gaza, where it has ties with Hamas.  But at the moment, there isn't much difference between the goals and the way attacks are carried out between these and Iranian-backed terrorists.  They're fighting the same enemies - America and America's proxy, Israel.  


DR. LUND:     You admit having had email contact with a Hamas terrorist.  How informed was he about American and Israeli politics? 


STEVENS:     He was well-versed, certainly on Israeli politics.  Interestingly, when there was a report about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's health issues, several leaders of al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade phoned the Jerusalem Post to make sure that he was OK, because they wanted to make sure that he would stay in power.  


DR. LUND:     Although I think I know the answer, I want to hear it from you…WHY?   


STEVENS:     Because they would rather have a Kadima-led government than a Likud-led one.  Olmert is more accommodating; his actual election platform was withdrawal from the West Bank, and the terrorists love that, because for them a withdrawal is more territory from which to attack Israel.  When it comes to American politics, they under-stand the difference between Democrats and Republicans, but they don't know so much about the particulars of the US presidential candidates.  They consider all Americans as infidels, but they're going to support whichever political party in America they believe will help them achieve their short-term goals - and the Democrats are more outspoken on withdrawing troops from Iraq.  Furthermore, Barack Obama is talking about sitting down with the Iranian president, so they'd all prefer to see a Democrat win the presidential election.  In fact, in April, Ahmad Yusuf, the chief political adviser to Hamas in Gaza, endorsed Obama and compared him to John F. Kennedy.  


DR. LUND:     What you are saying, then – is that these terrorists want to negotiate?  You claim they view all Americans as infidels, yet Ahmad Yusuf compared Obama favorably to Kennedy. 


STEVENS:     They support negotiations with the West, because they see negotiations as a sign of weakness on the part of the West - as a sign that they're bringing the West to its knees. 


DR. LUND:     Do they mention specific events to illustrate that they are "bringing the West to its knees"?    


STEVENS:     Just a few weeks ago, al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad attempt-ed to attack the Erez crossing and failed.  Olmert's response was to pull IDF troops a little bit further back into Israel.  In a Jerusalem Post interview, a Popular Resistance Committee spokesman said that this is a sign that the Israeli paper tiger is going to fall.  He compared the retreat from Erez to the retreat from Gaza, to the retreat from Leba-non and to giving Palestinians territory in the West Bank.  


DR. LUND:     You’re indeed lucky to have your many sources.  How did this come about?  Do they go back to your tenure as a Reuters journalist during the Gulf War? 


STEVENS:     Actually the potential sources came about before that.  …In November of 1975, my parents toured the Holy Land and the Middle East.  But the tour they were on was sponsored by an Arab tourist group.  So they got a great look at Greece, Egypt, Jordan and East Jerusalem, but were unable to cross over into Israel proper. 


In East Jerusalem they stayed with an Arab family…and my parents and this family truly bonded.  Letters and holiday cards were exchanged for years. 


n January of 1991, when I was in Israel for Reuters, I tracked down this family and found that one of the sons, who remembered my mother well, ironically was a 39 year old tour guide for journalists traveling into Gaza and the West Bank.  He told me that he was about 13 when he met my mother and was impressed with her kindness and good heart.  He said he really didn’t remember my father except that he was upset that he couldn’t cross into Israel to attend his Rotary meeting, which likely would have gotten him special recognition for having traveled the most distance.  Today that 13 year old boy, Farid Issa, is 46 years old and still working as an interrupter and guide for jour-nalists traveling into the West Bank and Gaza.  In fact, he recalls helping out my niece, Gloria Riviera, when she was reporting from Israel for ABC News, a couple of years ago. 


In any event, Farid and I hit it off and he has been a friend and reliable source for ac-cess to Palestinian leaders and news events ever since.  During the Gulf War, he ar-ranged for me to interview Palestinians who are now leaders of terrorist organizations.  Thanks to Farid, I actually have the current cell numbers of several Palestinian terrorist leaders. 


But they’re not hard to get an interview with.  I guarantee you that if I gave you their cell numbers and you called them up and said you were from The Jerusalem Post or Salt Lake’s Deseret News, they'd love it.  Any reporter, retired or not, who wants to interview a Palestinian terrorist will find that it's very easy to do.  


DR. LUND:     Do you have to pretend that you're on their side when you talk to them? 


STEVENS:     No.  They relish the opportunity to debate, to tell you their beef isn't with Jews, but with occupiers, which is a huge lie.  Just look at the Palestinian media.  It's full of Nazi-like propaganda - with Jews portrayed as pigs and monkeys.  This causes many Palestinians to have a total misconception about Jews as all evil.  


DR. LUND:     Couldn't one argue that there are plenty of Israelis who see Arabs in gen-eral and Palestinians in particular, as all evil?  


STEVENS:     Maybe there are misconceptions on both sides, but on one side there are people telling their kids to become suicide bombers and kill Israelis indiscriminately in cafes, and on the other side, there are people advocating freedom and democracy.  So you can't compare the two.  


DR. LUND:     You avoid risk by interviewing terrorist leaders via email or by telephone.  Isn’t there a risk for journalist’s interviewing these terrorists that they will be kidnapped or killed? 


STEVENS:     If you look at the kidnappings of journalists in the Palestinian areas, you'll note that they were carried out by masked gunmen - not by a particular terrorist inter-viewed by a reporter.  I’m led to believe that when you go in, they protect you.  


DR. LUND:     You mentioned that Gloria Riviera, of ABC News, is your niece?  I under-stand that she covered Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.  Would you suggest that for an exclusive interview, she put herself in the hands of a terrorist organization leader, based upon his word that she would be protected? 


STEVENS:     Definitely not.  I wouldn’t want either Gloria or her husband, Senior Foreign Correspondent for ABC News, Jim Sciutto to go anywhere near Gaza or the West Bank.  But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t go. 


Gloria has been to Israel many times and always managed to do an exceptional job in getting the facts out…which leads me to believe that she has pretty good sources of her own.  …Perhaps she and I should compare notes.  She could give me the liberal perspective and I could indoctrinate her with the conservative perspective. 


DR. LUND:     (Laugh)  …Perhaps.  This past week the bodies of Israeli reservists Ehud

Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were traded for the release from prison of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar and four captured Lebanese guerrillas.  Did this seem like a fair trade to you? 


STEVENS:     No.  And the terrorists are very proud of these kidnappings, because they understand that average Israelis really can't tolerate even a single soldier being in such a situation, and that therefore Israel is probably going to release Palestinian prisoners or sign a cease-fire in order to try and get them back.  To them, when Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, it just goes to show that kidnapping works.  And let’s not forget, there’s still one other Israeli soldier still in the hands of Hamas.  That is Gilad Schalit. 


DR. LUND:     Yes…and we pray that he is still alive in good health. 


Are the terrorists surprised that Israelis value each individual soldier enough to want to make big deals to get them back?  


STEVENS:     I wouldn’t know about that.  But what they do express is finding anything about Israeli society that they can exploit.  


DR. LUND:     What do the Palestinians think of 9/11? 


STEVENS:     That's one topic they don't like discussing.  The only thing they say is that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy.  They say, "Don't pin that on us."  They simply don't want to be associated with it.  


On the other hand, many al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade guys walk around with high-powered assault rifles that were provided by the US, and openly state that they used American funding…American arms and training…to shoot at the Israelis.  They admit that if it hadn't been for those things, they don't think the second intifada in 2000 would have been as successful as it was.  They credit the American training for a lot of dead Jews.     


DR. LUND:     These were weapons and training the Americans provided for Fatah to fight Hamas?  


STEVENS:     That was the logic - pitting one bad guy against the other.  We saw how well that worked.  America gave hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, training and weapons to Fatah.  Then Hamas took over Gaza - and terrorists are now showing off how they're using American jeeps, American assault rifles and even some shoulder-mounted machine guns to hit Israeli targets. 


DR. LUND:     Incredible! 


How do Fatah terrorists talk about PA President Mahmoud Abbas?  


STEVENS:     They say that he's their leader, and that every attack they carry out is sup-ported by him.  They don't say that he orchestrates the attacks, but that the attacks are not contradictory to Fatah's platform.  In other words, al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade is not some random offshoot of Fatah; it's the leader of Fatah's security forces.  


DR. LUND:     How do you think terrorists envision the future of the region?  


STEVENS:     They're certain of victory.  They're certain they're going to destroy Israel, and that it will cease to exist.  When you ask them how they can believe that, when Israel has the mightiest military in the Middle East, they point to Israel's defeat against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 as proof that it's a paper tiger.  


DR. LUND:     Are they unaware of other reasons why Israel might not be destroyed - such as the fact that it's a flourishing, modern society, with endless construction and other accomplishments?  


STEVENS:     They know that Jews are industrious, but what they see is Israel in retreat.  They don't really pay attention to its hi-tech sector, as long as they can fire rockets into the area where the hi-tech sector is located.  They truly believe that missiles are going to be flying over the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in the very near future.  


DR. LUND:     But how do they envision their own society, in the event that their goals of defeating Israel and the US are achieved?   STEVENS:         That's just it.  They have no plan beyond jihad.  Look, there are a million and a half Arabs in Gaza - some would say trapped there.  Can you imagine if there were a million and a half Jews trapped there?  They'd build Singapore.  When you ask the terrorists about why they haven't built anything in Gaza, they say that they can't build anything until they get all of their land back.  They don't seem to have a long-term plan beyond that. 


DR. LUND:     That’s just amazing…and rather sad at the same time. 


Do you think Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? 


STEVENS:     I sincerely hope not.  I personally think it would be a mistake in that it would risk uniting all Iranians against both Israel and the United States…the United States for letting it happen.  I’d rather see a movement from within Iran to oust Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and become a peaceful nation, with ties to the That said, Israel has to determine if Iran means what it says about destroying Israel?  When its leaders repeatedly call for Israel's annihilation, after referring to it as a cancer and using other rhetoric not heard on a national level since the Nazi regime's depiction of Jews, is this just rhetorical flourish?  Or do they really hope and plan to destroy Israel?   


Israel also has to determine if Iran can actually do it?  One can hope and even plan to do something outrageous, but that does not necessarily mean that one can accomplish it.  So, Israel has to ask itself if Iran can destroy Israel, or at least murder a high enough percentage of its population and destroy enough of its infrastructure to enable surround-ing Arab states to invade and do the rest of the job that the majority of Arabs favor …even if some of their governments have a peace treaty with Israel. 


DR. LUND:     Does Israel think the Iranian leaders are bluffing? 


STEVENS:     Why would they bluff?  And why would one think they are bluffing given their faith-based hatred of Israel?  I use the term "faith-based" not to argue that Islam necessarily demands the destruction of the Jewish state, but because that is what the Iranian leaders believe Islam demands. 


Iran is ruled by people who believe it is God's will to destroy the Jewish state.  It is also a country rapidly acquiring the ability to use nuclear weapons to achieve this goal – through direct attack, handing nuclear weapons to terrorists or both. 


There has never been a hatred as deep as Jew-hatred nor is there one today.  And hatred of the Jewish state is similarly unparalleled.  The depth of Iran's hatred for Israel was made evident again last week in a story from the Olympic swim trials in Croatia.  The Iranian government ordered its athlete not to participate when it learned that one of the other swimmers was a Jew from Israel.  There are no nationals other than Israeli Jews with whom nationals of another nation would refuse to enter a swimming pool. 


This unique hatred explains why the forms of deterrence that have worked in the past do not seem applicable to the Iranian regime.  The most obvious one, the one that rendered nuclear war highly improbable during the Cold War, was MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction.  MAD was so simple a child could understand it: You bomb me; I bomb you.  Our people die en masse; your people die en masse.  No matter how vile the Soviet regime was, MAD worked because Soviet leaders wanted to live. 


DR. LUND:     What you’re saying is that MAD works only with the sane. 


STEVENS:     Precisely.  We regard a defining element of sanity as the desire to live.  And we regard a defining element of morality as the valuing of human life.  Neither applies to Islamists such as those who govern Iran.  Their motto, as so often expressed by its Hamas and Hezbollah allies, is "We value death as much as you Jews, Ameri-cans, Westerners in general, value life."  For people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the vision of millions of Iranian Muslims dying from a counterstrike while Israel burns is not frightening; it is a necessary sacrifice. 


DR. LUND:     The question then is whether Israel or anyone else can stop these plans from materializing. 


STEVENS:     The one nonviolent way of doing so is sanctions.  A worldwide vise of economic, social and political sanctions against the Iranian regime should be tried and might work.  That is certainly my first choice and, one presumes, Israel's as well. 


But it now appears unlikely that the world is willing to suffocate the Iranian regime as it did the South African apartheid regime.  Iran has oil; South Africa had none.  Iran has worldwide support from Muslim regimes, which do not threaten a fellow Muslim regime, especially over its being too anti-Israel; South Africa had virtually no such allies.  Iran has almost automatic support from at least two Security Council members, Russia and China; South Africa had no equivalent support.  And much of the world is more focused on white racism against blacks than about genocidal threats against Jews. 


DR. LUND:     And you’re suggesting that therefore, if the world does not unite in ostracizing the Iranian regime, there remains only one other way to stop it from attempting to destroy Israel – destroy its nuclear facilities. 


STEVENS:     There are strong arguments against Israel doing so.  But if Israel believes that Iran will soon have the ability to attack it with nuclear weapons, and that Iran will do so, it is difficult to argue that Israel wait and run the risk of experiencing another Holocaust. 


DR. LUND:     Let’s hope and pray that it doesn’t come to that. 


With the time we have left, I want to discuss with you a few other issues, if that’s alright? 


STEVENS:     Go ahead. 


DR. LUND:     Zimbabwe.  …As a journalist you covered the Zimbabwe War of Indepen-dence on Rhodesia’s’ western border…from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. 


STEVENS:     Off and on, I covered the last five months, from November 15th, 1979, to mid April, 1980.  The guerrilla uprising led by Robert Mugabe, known as the bush war, heated up in 1973, and began even before that.  …so it was a long struggle. 


DR. LUND:     The Church has a lot of members, both black and white, who are citizens of Zimbabwe and I’ve read many of their communications.  They live each day expect-ing it to be their last.  …What is going on there?  


STEVENS:     Where do you start? 


DR. LUND:     You mean, where do you start in explaining what has led to this total destruction of a supposedly democratic country? 


STEVENS:     Exactly.  When Robert Mugabe took over the country in April of 1980 Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe), was the bread basket of Africa, able to export 80 percent of its food products.  Under the socialist-communist Mugabe, it has turned it into the basket case of the world, with its citizens starving to death.   


DR. LUND:     You’ll agree that Mugabe’s biggest mistake was seizing the farms of the white owners.     


STEVENS:     Absolutely.  He seized the land from experienced white farmers and gave it to those loyal guerrilla fighters who fought the uprising with him against the Ian Smith government.  Problem was that these former guerrillas had not a clue as to how to run a farm.  In seizing the land, many of the white farmers and their families were slaugh-tered, and their experience and expertise in farming died with them. 


Running a farm takes a lot of knowledge and skill.  I know because my father and his father were farmers and my dad, who had a masters degree in agriculture and taught it at the high school level.   


But it wasn’t only the farmers he went after.  He also fired the whites that kept the railroads running, which was another disaster. 


DR. LUND:     Did the white farmers ever receive any compensation for their losses?    


STEVENS:     If they vacated voluntarily by a certain date they were supposed to receive a payment, a mere pittance of what the land was worth.  But the farmers had to go to court and make their claim in order to receive even the pittance. 


My understanding is that only a handful of white farmers ever received any compen-sation and what they received was less than five cents on the dollar. 


DR. LUND:     Did I read correctly that Zimbabwe, grappling with a record 2.2 million percent inflation, yesterday put into circulation a 100-billion dollar bank note, in a bid to tackle rampant cash shortages? 


STEVENS:     Yes, and on Monday, that 100-billion dollar bank note was worth approxi-mately one euro, or U.S. sixty-three cents. 


When I left Zimbabwe in 1980, the Zimbabwean dollar was worth exactly one British pound.  I came back to Zimbabwe in 1985 to work on a documentary of the Selous Scouts, a group of black and white mercenaries who fought on the side of Ian Smith, during the bush war.  The documentary was for SABC and M-Net.  When I left in 1986, the Zimbabwean dollar was still worth a respectable sixty-nine cents U.S..  Now it takes Z$100-billion to match that amount.


DR. LUND:   I read a Reuters article where you made your headquarters for covering the Bush War the Victoria Falls Hotel, which I understand was closed and boarded up at the time.  What was this like? 


STEVENS:   It turned out to be one of my most memorable lifetime experiences.  One of the ABC News senior correspondences covering the Zimbabwe War of Indepen-dence from Bulawayo was killed in late 1979.  When ABC learned that Reuters had assigned me to cover the rebel crossings across the bridge from Livingston to Victoria Falls, they proposed a deal.  ABC News would loan me a state-of-the-art Betacam video camera in exchange for occasional uplink satellite feeds.  


Reuters accepted the deal and provided a Volkswagen bus with a 350 amp generator.  I towed a “C” type dish for uplinks to the satellite referred to as the bird.   The bus and trailer were loaded with five gallon cans of gasoline.  At first I had no idea of where I would be staying in Victoria Falls, or even if I could safely get to … and stay there. 


DR. LUND:   And that was where hotel magnet Sol Kerzner stepped in? 


STEVENS:   Indeed.   At the time, Sol Kerzner was the head of Sun International Hotels, which owned the famous Victoria Falls Hotel which, as you mentioned was closed and boarded up.  It also had no power at the time, which was needed to pump water from the hotels’ deep well.   


DR. LUND:   I think I see where this is going.  …You used the 350 amp generator for duel purposes? 


STEVENS:   That’s right.  I clipped in behind the breakers and provided power from my generator to the kitchen, refrigerators, air conditioning and one section of the hotel’s luxurious rooms. 


DR. LUND:   I also read where Sol Kerzner often had food and delivered to you, at his expense, from across the border in Livingston? 


STEVENS:   That’s true.  In addition to food, he also kept me supplied with fuel for the generator.  I later learned that Reuters was reimbursing him for the fuel deliveries, but not the food.    


The food Sol Kerzner sent from Livingston included filet mignon steaks, exotic sauces and spices, fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, butter; together with some South African wines, which became a steady diet.  …A world-class kitchen and utensils at your disposal …it was great.  Another plus was never having to change your bed sheets.  Whenever the bedding became soiled, you just moved to a different suite.   


Sol Kerzner made what could have been an intolerable situation … tolerable.  For this I can only say, thanks Sol. 


Although I didn’t know it at the time, Kerzner was impressed with the material I was putting out on the war, particularly my interview with the Selous Scouts.  Believe me, blacks fighting on the side of Ian Smith was major news, especially in the States, and I was reporting it. 


DR. LUND:   I suspect that the American media thought you were making it up. 


STEVENS:    I was accused of exactly that by both Reuters and ABC News …until I produced irrefutable video footage proving that the articles I was submitting were true. 


DR. LUND:    If you ask me, that’s quite an indictment of the western media. 


STEVENS:    That’s what got me thinking about one day lecturing to journalism classes on the subject of media bias. 


DR. LUND:    I understand that while you were making the Victoria Falls Hotel your headquarters, you had a special guest. 


STEVENS:    That’s right.  The author Wilbur Smith passed through Victoria Falls on his way to Zambia, where he was born and grew up on a 30,000 acre ranch.  Smith heard that there was an American Journalist staying at the closed and boarded hotel and became curious. 


DR. LUND:    This is the author of the book, “Eagle in the Sky” that first got you interested in the plight of Israel? 


STEVENS:    That’s correct.  I was cooking dinner one evening when there was a loud banging on the service entrance door.  I grabbed my Army Model 1911 .45 caliber semi-automatic and cautiously opened the door.  The man standing before me introduced himself as a fellow writer and asked if he could interview me. 


He looked harmless enough, so I invited him in and throwing another one of Sol Kerz-ner’s filet minions on the grill, I invited him to have dinner with me. 


He casually said that his name was Wilbur Smith.  I recall memory bells going off.  In 1975 I had read a hardback novel entitled “Eagle in the Sky.”  Could it be?  It had to be.  And it was.  …Wilbur ended up spending two nights, choosing to sleep in the Livingston Suite … one I had not yet tried. 


During dinner, when I revealed that I was previously a motion picture producer, Wilbur expressed disappointment in the screenplays based on his previous works; which in-cluded “The Dark of the Sun,” starring Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux;  “Gold,” staring Roger Moore and Susannah York; and  “Shout at the Devil,” starring Roger Moore and Lee Marvin.  With the possible exception of “Gold,” I thought these films were great, but wasn’t prepared to tell that to Wilbur. 


When I asked about “Eagle in the Sky,” Wilbur said that “Shout at the Devil” and “Gold” director Peter R. Hunt was interested in directing “Eagle” for producer Michael Klinger.  But Peter, who had directed the James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” was afraid of the novel’s downbeat, non-Hollywood ending, where the hero is horribly disfigured when his jet fighter crashes and burns.  And, of course, the disfigurement is one of the key plot points of the story and could not be changed. 


Ironically, a year earlier I had directed a business film that included an experimental process for growing human skin in the laboratory.  When I mentioned this experimental process to Wilbur, he instinctively knew where I was coming from. 


Later, when Michael Klinger dropped his option on “Eagle in the Sky,” my mentor, Duke Goldstone, picked it up.  This was done at my suggestion.  Goldstone later assigned the right to Jacob Shapiro, a former 20th Century Fox Vice president.  We were set to go into production in Israel beginning in September of 2000; and in fact had shot several aerial sequences with the IAF and a few scenes with the secondary actors when, unfortunately, Aerial Sharon triggered the Second Intifada by taking a stroll on the Temple Mount. 


Israel immediately cancelled its war insurance thus the Second Intifada put a halt to any thought of filming in Israel by non Israelis; since you could no longer get the insurance required by the investors.  


DR. LUND:    So where does the film “Eagle in the Sky” stand today? 


STEVENS:    It was put on the proverbial shelf, where it still remains.   


DR. LUND:    Is it true that later Wilbur invited you to join him in a white water rafting trek down the Blue Nile, from Lake Tana? 


STEVENS:    In 1994 I received an e-mail from Wilbur asking if I would join him in Ethiopia while he did some research for the sequel to a novel he had just completed entitled “River God,” which was to be published the following February. 


I immediately answered in the affirmative.  The research consisted of visiting the monastery believed for a time to have housed the Arc of the Covenant on an island located on Lake Tana and a nine and-a-half day safari down the Blue Nile from Lake Tana to Famaka, just across the border in the Sudan.  It was a harrowing journey but one that ranks high in my most memorable experiences.   


DR. LUND:    I wish we had time to go into this memorable experience in more detail, but I want to get back to your interview with the Selous Scouts.  (Pause)  I understand you were the only journalist to be given full access to the Scouts’ Secret camp and to interview their leader, Major Ron Reid-Daly, the 47 year-old soldier who was once regimental sergeant-major of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, known as “The Incredibles.”  


STEVENS:    I was introduced to this band of brothers in December of 1979.  …While holed up at the Victoria Falls Hotel I received word that Major Reid-Daly was willing to meet and be interviewed by me in an undisclosed location.  I was told that on a certain day, between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, a helicopter would land on the huge lawn behind the Victoria Falls Hotel and that I would have sixty seconds to scramble aboard before it took off.  Fortunately I was able to get aboard with ten seconds to spare. 


I was blindfolded and flown to the Scouts training camp, which I later learned was at Lake Kariba.  The camp was aptly named “Wafa Wafa,” which roughly translates, “If I die … I die.” 


Reid-Daly’s outfit consisted of more than one thousand integrated volunteers: whites, blacks and even some black women.  The unit moto – PAMWE CHETE – is also most apt, spelling out in no uncertain terms the very composition of the Selous Scouts – All Together. 


DR. LUND:    I cannot help think that the Shonas and Matabelles fighting side by side on the side of Ian Smith, against the insurgent, Robert Mugabe would almost be comparable to the Iraqi Shias, the minority group, and Sunnis both joining forces with George W. Bush to fight against Saddam Hussein, a Shia – prior to the U.S. entering the war in Iraq. 


STEVENS:    True.  …Robert Mugabe was a Shona, which was and still is the dominant Bantu tribe in Rhodesia, the country now known as Zimbabwe.  …The Matabele, better known as the Ndebele were a minority tribe like the Sunni in Iraq, only unlike the Sunni – except for the days of Cecil John Rhodes – the Matabele never held power.  But in Cecil Rhodes’ day, they ruled the major portion of the inhabited area of what is now Zimbabwe and much of southern Zambia. 


DR. LUND:    And for those in our audience not familiar with South African history, just who was Cecil John Rhodes? 


STEVENS:    Cecil Rhodes, of Rhodes Scholar fame, was the founder of DeBeers, who made his fortune by buying out most of the mining claims with respect to what was widely known as the “big hole,” in Kimberley, South Africa.  


DR. LUND:    Which turned out to be the greatest diamond find in the world.  …But tell me, how did that interview with the Scouts go?  


STEVENS:    The first night in camp, I was invited to have dinner with Major Ron Reid-Daly and a gorgeous 24-year old sergeant named Mary Kumalo.  In addition to being a Selous Scout, Mary Kumalo was also the Scouts doctor.  She was tall and muscular and slim enough to make Grace Jones look overweight. 


DR. LUND:    Grace Jones, the Jamaican born singer and actress from the James Bond film, “A View to a Kill,” and John Milius’s “Conan the Destroyer.” 


STEVENS:    Exactly.  Mary Kumalo, whose mother was Hispanic from Argentina, was a Matabele princess, a direct descendent of King Lobengula, the son of King Mzilikazi, the leader of the Ndebele who established a new kingdom in present day Zimbabwe after being driven north by the Boars in 1837.  Fifty years later, in 1888, Lobengula granted Cecil John Rhodes the mining rights to part of his territory in return for 1000 rifles, an armed steamship for use on the Zambezi and a monthly rent of 100 pounds.   


DR. LUND:    And who is buried within a few hundred feet of Cecil Rhodes at Matopos Hills’s “World’s View” National Park, a short distance south of Bulawayo. 


STEVENS:    I see you’ve done your homework. 


DR.  LUND:    I do my best.  …But tell me more about this tall, muscular princess who also happened to be a doctor. 


STEVENS:    Sergeant Kumalo was extremely interested in hearing about my uplink equipment.  In 1979 there were no such things as e-mail and cell phones; and most journalists in the bush, with no phone service, filed their stories the old fashion Reuters way; which consisted of placing their reports in a small silver container attached to a carrier pigeon which when released flew to Salisbury. 


On the other hand, I had the ability to uplink and send video images together with sound to the South African Broadcasting Company in Johannesburg.  SABC retransmitted the videos to London … and London sent the footage on to ABC News in New York. 


DR. LUND:    I imaging this was state-of-the-art for its time. 


STEVENS:    It was, and I promised sergeant Kumato that if she were to drop by the Victoria Falls Hotel that I would show her how the equipment worked. 


DR. LUND:    And did she ever drop by? 


STEVENS:    Two weeks later.  After showing her the equipment, I persuaded her to grant me an on camera interview.  With the Falls in the background, I locked the camera down for the various angles and did the only on camera interview in which I appeared during my Rhodesian tour.  It was shown around the world.  Thanks to e-mail, Dr. Kumato and I have managed to stay in touch. 


DR. LUND:    I once read where Robert Mugabe took revenge against those who opposed him, once he gained power.   


STEVENS:     That’s correct.  Especially the Matabelle, which showed the most support for Ian Smith.  When Magabe came to power he sent those Shonas loyal to him to exact revenge against the Matabelle for their support of the Smith government.  The result is that today the Shona make up 82 percent of Zimbabwe’s population while the Mata-belle, who primarily occupy the western part of the country, consists of only 14 percent.  By comparison, in 1979 the Shona made up 75% and the Matabelle 21 percent. 


DR. LUND:    And if I understand you, these Matabelle did not simply move out of the country. 


STEVENS:    No, most were killed. 


(Dr. Lund takes a long pause, shaking his head) 


STEVENS:    May I add one more comment? 


DR. LUND:    Of course. 


STEVENS:    Most of the Matabele realized that while they would like the right to vote, they had a pretty good life under the British backed Ian Smith government …at least a lot better than their black African neighbors …and feared that if Mugabe’s Marxist


Guerrillas were to come to power, all of this might come to an end…which it did.  So when in 1973 a group of African mercenaries banded together to become the Selous Scouts and fought for the Ian Smith government, many Matabeles rushed to join the group. 


The black contingent made up of 80 percent of the Scouts, with about five percent of that contingent Shonas, who speak a different Bantu dialect than the Matabeles.  The rest were English and Afrikaans speaking whites.  Surprisingly, everyone got along well and the Scouts bought the Ian Smith government another seven years before defeat. 


Many black Rhodesian citizens, some Shona but mostly Matabelle, or as the latter is generally known, the  Ndebele, feared that the communist philosophies of Mugabe would result in fixed elections and eventual land reform proposals that would result in fiscal disaster…which is exactly what happened.  Sadly, the plight of the white farmers was largely ignored…until it was too late.  What I find interesting is the number of blacks who instead of voting for a fellow black, used their heads and continued supporting Ian Smith, a white man. 


DR. LUND:    And, as you say, history has proven their fears to be correct.  …Where does the name “Selous” come from? 


STEVENS:    The Selous Scouts were named for a group of Cape Providence fighters during the Boar War, led by Fredrick Courtney Selous.  


DR. LUND:    How appropriate.   … But what about today?  …I understand that Zimbabwe's chronic economic crisis has left at least 80 percent of the population living below the poverty threshold and with mass shortages of basic goods in shops.


You've heard the phrase "never again" in connection with Nazi Holocaust during World War II.  Those words are meant to keep the reality of the horror of the crimes perpetrated against more than 6 million human beings in the forefront of our minds as we move into a future that many people think will be different.   


Supposedly, Zimbabwe has free elections.  Do you anticipate that a majority of Zimba-bwean citizens will eventually say, “Never again,” rise up and soon vote Mugabe and his terrorist tactics out of office? 


STEVENS:      I'm not optimistic.  We have a bad record on such terror.  In the 20th cen-tury – from Armenia to the Nazis to the Soviets to Mao to Pol Pot to the Kurds and Rwanda – more than 50 million people have been deliberately killed. 


Whether you call it a holocaust, genocide, mass murder, tribal rivalry or whatever words are used to disguise the imposition of power over innocent people by despots – the only thing different about today's hell delivered on fellow humans is the person doing the evil – and the means used. 


I believe Zimbabwe is slow-motion genocide before our very eyes.  Censorship!  They no longer have short wave radio – which told us everything that was happening – because the government jammed it out of existence – they don't have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph anything.  People are shocked, stunned, be-wildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of many folks' homes. 


Mugabe fixed and stole the last presidential election.  And he will do so in future elec-tions.  Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was nearly murdered several times and sought sanctuary in the Belgian Embassy. 


Zimbabwe is supposed to be a democracy, but people are made homeless, starved, tortured, beaten, burned alive and whatever else can be devised.  It's a field day for thugs who act with impunity and the blessings of Mugabe. 


People, male or female, of any age or education or profession, are targeted if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, or look the "wrong" way, or say the "wrong" thing, or are believed to have voted the "wrong" way, or live in the "wrong" place, have the "wrong" religion, job, social beliefs or skin color – black or white. 


DR. LUND:    Is there any hope for these people? 


STEVENS:    I don’t know.  Some pundits are pointing to the fact that yesterday Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a deal laying down the frame-work for formal talks on forming a power sharing government.  But whether or not that will solve the deep political crisis, I have no idea, but I doubt it. 


DR. LUND:    You have news that I was not aware of.  Tell me more.    


STEVENS:    As I understand it, it was the first meeting in 10 years between the two, who are widely believed to detest each other.  They supposedly sat at a conference table separated by South African President Thabo Mbeki who mediated the deal.   


DR. LUND:    Did they meet in South Africa or Zimbabwe. 


STEVENS:    I read somewhere that the agreement was signed in Harare's Rainbow Towers Hotel after weeks of deadlock…since Mugabe was re-elected on June 27 in a widely condemned poll boycotted by Tsvangirai because of violence against his supporters. 


DR. LUND:    And what more about this agreement can you tell us? 


STEVENS:    All I know is that Mbeki said the agreement committed both sides to an intense process to try to complete substantive negotiations as quickly as possible.


There have always been wide differences between the positions of Tsvangirai’s MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF that will have to be overcome if there is to be any negotiated solution to the crisis.  Some of the differences are so entrenched that I find it difficult to see how they could be resolved quickly.  Both have demanded to be recognized as Zimbabwe’s rightful president. 


Mugabe has frequently called Tsvanfirai a puppet of former colonial ruler Britain.  But he is supported by 100 percent of the Matabeles and at least half of the Shonas. 


Expansion of the mediation beyond Mbeki has been a key demand of Tsvangirai, who has strongly criticized the South African president, accusing him of favoring Mugabe.  


DR. LUND:    You don’t sound optimistic that a compromise can be reached. 


STEVENS:    That’s correct.  I hope that I’m wrong, but my prediction is that the actual negotiations are going to be a lot tougher than anticipated.  And the MDC's aim of easing Mugabe out of power or sharing executive power with Tsvanfirai in a transitional government will never happen without outside military action.   


DR. LUND:    WOW!  …Let’s hope and pray that you’re wrong. 


STEVENS:      Amen. 


DR. LUND:    While we still have a few minutes left...let me ask who you think will be John McCain’s vice presidential pick?  …Keeping in mind that BYU does not endorse any political candidates.   


STEVENS:      McCain needs to win Michigan.  If McCain wants to win the election he will pick Mitt Romney…who will also give him much needed credibility on energy and the economy and be a major factor in fund raising. 


DR. LUND:    Yes…and polls show that the economy is the number one issue on the minds of Americans. 


STEVENS:    And energy. 


DR.  LUND:    Correct…and energy.  Do you think Senator McCain will pick Romney? 


STEVENS:    No. 


DR. LUND:    Who do you think he will pick? 


STEVENS:    Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty…or Tom Ridge.  More likely Pawlenty than Ridge.  A long shot would be Alaska governor Sarah Palin, an up-and-comer who could unite the conservatives.  But since McCain is far from conservative this choice, while a good one, is unlikely.    


DR. LUND:    Why not Romney?  He’s a moderate, like McCain. 


STEVENS:    Mitt has too much gravitas.  McCain would fear that the American people would think that perhaps Romney should be the president…and McCain’s ego couldn’t handle that. 


DR. LUND:    Dick Morris predicts that McCain will go for, or should go for, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, or Joe Lieberman. 


STEVENS:    Don’t forget that Morris is a Democrat.  And when was the last time he was correct in any of his predictions?  I just don’t understand why the Fox News Channel puts him on the air.  He’s an embarrassment. 


DR. LUND:     We better get off the subject of politics before we’re accessed of endorsing a candidate. 


STEVENS:     You’re not going to ask me who I think will be our next president. 


DR. LUND:     You can tell me when we’re off the air.  …One final question.  When are you going to continue your lecture series?  I caught one of your performances in the David O. McKay auditorium at BYU-Hawaii and I confess that in 55 minutes you gave me enough thought provoking material to keep my mind working for days. 


STEVENS:     That’s kind of you to say.  Truth is that it’s a health issue.  I’m just getting too old to memorize 55 minutes of material and prance around the stage with a micro-phone as if I were still in my twenties and performing in a night club. 


DR. LUND:     Or on stage, as you did in Manhattan debut of The Fantasticks. 


STEVENS:     I was only an understudy for Jerry Orbach, Kenneth Nelson and Richard Stauffer.  But I did manage to get in a lot of performances. 


DR. LUND:     And judging by your BYU lectures – great performances they were. 


(TO CAMERA)      …We’ve just spent the past half hour with Dennis Stevens, a filmmaker, lecturer, retired journalist, and writer of thought provoking commentaries.   (Pause)  …For BYU Television, I’m John Lund.   


(TO STEVENS)         Thank you for a most informative half hour.  We should do it again. 


STEVENS:     I look forward to it. 






Transcribed by BYU Television, Provo, Utah, USA 


Stevens’ note:  The above is an exact transcript of a 26 minute TV interview sans commercial breaks – except that the transcriber misspelled many names of which I have taken the liberty of correcting.    


For easier reading I have also converted the font from 10-point Times New Roman to 12 point Arial.