RECOMMENDED READING: "In Search of Moderate Muslims"


American Enterprise Institute scholars Joshua Muravchik And Charles P. Szrom have written an article for Commentary Magazine titled “In Search of Moderate Muslims” in which they address the recent article in Foreign Affairs by Robert Leiken of the NIxon Center which argued for great U.S. involvement with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The authors refute Leiken’s claim that the Brotherhood is democratic beginning with the enthusiasm of the Brotherhood for elections:

In their essay, Leiken and Brooke make much of the Brotherhood’s participation in Egyptian elections, contrasting this to the stance taken by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq, who threatened to treat all voters as “infidels.” Jihadists, they write, “loathe the Muslim Brotherhood . . . for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy.” But how much is proved when a group that is excluded from power espouses democracy? As Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, the Saudi journalist who now heads the al-Arabiya television network, has put it, “The problem is not in giving power to Islamists—the problem is that [afterward]it will be impossible to take it out of their hands by democratic means.”

The authors then take note of the non-democratic structure of the Egyptian Brotherhood itself:

In the case of the Brotherhood, one powerful reason to heed al-Rashed’s warning is the fact that the organization is not itself democratic. Instead, it is headed by a “General Guide” who is elected for life by the fifteen-member General Guidance Council. Nor is the council itself elected by the rank-and-file; rather, it perpetuates itself by selecting new members to fill vacancies as they occur. The entire structure of the organization is top-down, resembling the so-called “democratic centralism” of Western Communist parties. And the membership is secret. It may be objected that the group is officially outlawed in Egypt and therefore forced into clandestine practices. But it enjoys enough breathing room to have run an open and highly successful national-election campaign, so surely it could democratize itself if this were among its priorities. A better glimpse into the group’s ethos was offered in 2005 when, splitting away from the movement, some members complained in a public statement that the Brotherhood’s internal dictum was: “I listen and I obey.”

Finally, the authors note the Brotherhood’s position on women, “apostates” and the Caliphate:

As for the Brotherhood’s endorsement of women’s rights, the only female among the hundred-plus candidates fielded in the 2005 election signified her own views in an article she wrote for the Brotherhood website entitled, “Men are Superior to Women.” And as for minorities, when an Alexandria court ruled in April 2006 that the interior ministry should allow citizens of the Baha’i faith to list their religion on identity cards, Brotherhood members of parliament responded with outrage, arguing in debate a month later that adherents of Baha’i were apostates who deserved death. Finally, contrary to the Brotherhood’s protestations of democratic conviction, statements in its literature and by some leaders confirm that it aims to create a new caliphate over the Islamic world.

Next, the authors take up the claim that the Egyptian Brotherhood is moderate:

If the Brotherhood is lacking in democratic credentials, what of its claim to moderation? True, the group does not engage in violence and has strongly condemned terror bombings in Egypt and some other Arab countries. On the other hand, it applauds the killing of Israelis in general and of Americans in Iraq….[The Brotherhood] statement consciously makes no mention of a country called Israel. As Akef explained on another occasion, “There is nothing in our dictionary called ‘Israel,’” only “Zionist gangs that occupied an Arab land after kicking out its residents.” In a similar vein, Akef has called the Holocaust a “myth.” The symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood is a Qur’an bracketed by crossed swords, and its pronouncements—like the chants of its demonstrators—continue to affirm the importance of jihad. Its website, moreover, features an article explicitly rejecting any attempt to define jihad “in an apologetic way that stresses only the dimension of individual self-discipline.” Rather, jihad can, “of course, entail the use of force when peaceful means are not successful.” Leiken and Brooke, among others, argue that some younger Brotherhood members hold more liberal views. No doubt; but as the Brotherhood worked on a new party platform late last year, the elders seemed firmly in control. The draft program, leaked to the press, contained a number of relatively liberal formulations, but it also explicitly advocated the exclusion of women and non-Muslims from the nation’s highest offices. More startling, it sought the creation of a Supreme Ulama Council as a supervisory body above Egypt’s civilian government—a Sunni version of the Iranian system of theocracy.

Later the author moves to a discussion of U.S. Islamist groups noting their history of “dissimulation.”:

On top of this, Islamist groups have a certain history of dissimulation. Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and their ilk are quite frank in their mania, but others are cagier. The Muslim Brotherhood’s website sometimes says one thing in Arabic and something quite different in English. And, in common with much of the rest of the Muslim world, these groups play monotonous semantic games with the word “terrorism,” claiming to reject it but applauding the murder of Israeli infants as “resistance.” Such habits of dissimulation extend even to the U.S. In this country there are few avowedly Islamist organizations, but several groups have abetted or fronted for the radicals.

Following a curious discussion on the evils of the American Muslim Council, an organization with virtually no visible presence since the imprisonment of its former leader, the authors take of the case of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID). After reviewing criticism of CSID by critic Daniel Pipes, the authors cite a statement by a CSID figure carried in the journal of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood:

The threat to Islam and Muslims does not come from the United States or the West; rather, it comes from the extremists who operate freely within our midst. It is high time that Muslims end their silence about terrorism under the guise of supporting “legitimate armed freedom struggles.” The attacks of September 11, 2001, should have been a wake-up call for Muslims everywhere that there is something wrong with their communities, that they have neglected to take stock of a cancer of extremism that has now grown into a beast of global proportions. . . . While the vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorism, the fact is that they also do not do anything against it. Poisoned by conspiracy theories on how the American and Israeli intelligence agencies were behind 9/11, a large number of Muslims are focusing on the “war against Islam and Muslims” and hence fail to see that radical and militants Islamists are waging a far more lethal war against Islam and Muslims.

The authors provide a glowing review of the statement:

This is exactly the message Americans have been hoping that Muslim opinion leaders would address to their religious brethren. It is also presumably what Daniel Pipes meant when he said that “moderate Islam is the solution.” Yes, it comes from a former Islamist. But is that a bad thing or a good thing? Such cold-war heroes as Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, Arthur Koestler, Milovan Djilas, and many others were former Communists. Few can understand the malign logic of a totalitarian ideology as well as those who have been inside it themselves—or inside cognate ideologies like the socialism of Britain’s Labor Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, who invented NATO, or of the Portuguese leader Mario Soares, who led the pivotal fight to snatch his country from the grasp of the Communists in 1974.

Not withstanding that MPAC itself has repeatedly characterized groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah exactly as “freedom fighters” , helped to support the idea that of a war against Muslims, and even suggested that Israel might have been behind 911, relying on a single statement alone would seem insufficient to establish an organization’s moderate credentials. CSID has numerous individuals associated with the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and has a history of attempting to steer the language of terrorism, Jihad for example, in a manner which would support the global Islamist movement. It is curious that the article authors attempt to delve beyond simply the statements of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood claiming to support democracy, yet fail to do so in the case of CSID.

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