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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
DR. LUND: Do the suicide bombers actually believe they're going to
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
East Jerusalem they stayed with an Arab family…and my parents and this family
truly bonded. Letters and holiday cards
were exchanged for years.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
DR. LUND: (Laugh) …Perhaps. This past week the bodies of Israeli
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
the time we have left, I want to discuss with you a few other issues, if that’s
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
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
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.
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.
it wasn’t only the farmers he went after.
He also fired the whites that kept the railroads running, which was
DR. LUND: Did the white farmers ever receive any compensation for their
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Kerzner made what could have been an intolerable situation … tolerable. For this I can only say, thanks Sol.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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”
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
…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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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'
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.
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.
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.
Is there any hope for these people?
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
You have news that I was not aware of.
Tell me more.
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
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
And what more about this agreement can you tell us?
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
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.
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.
of the mediation beyond Mbeki has been a key demand of Tsvangirai, who has
strongly criticized the South African president, accusing him of favoring
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.
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.
Yes…and polls show that the economy is the number one issue on the minds
LUND: Correct…and energy. Do you think Senator McCain will pick Romney?
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.
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.
Dick Morris predicts that McCain will go for, or should go for, Condi
Rice, Colin Powell, or Joe Lieberman.
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.
We better get off the subject of politics before we’re accessed of endorsing a
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.
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
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.
…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.
look forward to it.
Transcribed by BYU Television, Provo,
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.
reading I have also converted the font from 10-point Times New Roman to 12