Hudson scholar Hillel Fradkin has published his opening remarks at Hudson Institute’s recent conference on the Muslim Brotherhood. He opens his presentation by asking why the study of the Muslim Brotherhood has been relatively neglected, particularly in comparison to the so-called “jihadist movements”:
This conference is on a most important subject—the subject of the organization, or group of organizations, known as the Muslim Brotherhood. The importance of this subject partially derives from the importance of another related subject: the worldwide Islamic phenomenon and movement variously known as Islamism, Salafism, radical Islam, militant Islam, political Islam and the like. Since the events of 9/11, we have all learned that understanding this movement properly—broadly, deeply and accurately—is a very great necessity. It is a necessity if we are to understand the present-day world situation and crisis and if we are to devise sensible policies to address them. To this end, an understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood is absolutely essential and arguably more important than anything else. Nevertheless, over the past few years the Brotherhood has not stood in the foreground of discussion and reflection.
The first reason he provides as an answer is that understandably, Al Qaeda has been at the center of public attention:
In the first place there have been other parts of the Islamist movement and phenomenon that have, so to speak, hogged the limelight—and naturally so. Since 9/11, for example, al-Qaeda has become a household word for more-or-less obvious reasons. It is the name of the jihadist and terrorist organization that, not only attacked us on that day, but also has established itself as the symbolic and sometimes organizational head of transglobal Islamic terrorism.
His second reason for the relative neglect of the Brotherhood is not often discussed which is that outside of Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood rarely, if ever, refers to itself by that name:
There is another, more accidental reason that the Brotherhood has escaped much scrutiny: it is not always operative under that name. This is somewhat true in the mostly Muslim world. It is emphatically true in other countries—in Western Europe and the United States, for example—with relatively large Muslim minority communities. In the United States the great majority of prominent Muslim organizations were founded by members of the Brotherhood from a variety of Muslim countries. Such organizations include the Muslim Student Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). But none of them expressly bear the name of the Brotherhood.
He then goes on to note that:
The natural and cumulative effect of these circumstances has been to make us al-Qaeda- and Wahhabi-centric and to place the Brotherhood in the shadows. But this is, to repeat, deeply regrettable because there is no other organization more fundamental to understanding the Islamist movement of today. There is no other organization that can match the Brotherhood’s length of history, staying power and extent of influence.
The remainder of the discussion is a useful introduction to the Muslim Brotherhood that makes asks one more important question about the leadership of the Brotherhood:
The net result is that it is now fair to ask who speaks most powerfully for the Brotherhood—the Egyptian branch and its present Supreme Guide Muhammad Akif, or the broader movement whose most visible leader and spokesman is Shaykh Yusuf al Qaradawi, an Egyptian to be sure but one who lives in Qatar and whose writ seems to run more broadly from the Gulf to London?
This paper, along with the papers of other conference speakers, will be published in the forthcoming Volume 6 of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, which will be a special issue devoted to examining the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.