Reader Damon Perry has commented on a GMBDW post on Lorenzo Vidino’s piece titled “Five Myths About The Muslim Brotherhood” , recently published in the Washington Post. We have elevated Mr. Perry’s comments to a post because we believe the issues he raises speak to the very nature of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, and we needed sufficient space to provide a proper response. Mr. Perry writes:
Vidino observes that there is no globally centralised, decision-making MB movement. But who says it is? Vidino doesn’t cite anyone that makes that claim, so the alleged myth of it being “a super-organization, a global Muslim Brotherhood central entity directing or coordinating the activities of these groups” is, as GMBDW claims, a straw man. One gets the feeling that the task of myth-busting was drummed up by editors at the Washington Post, to which Vidino felt obliged to angle his analysis towards, though his March 2nd piece for the HSPI refutes that view. Straw man aside, Vidino’s analysis, in my view, rightly observes that the GMB operates through networks of personnel, funding, and – most importantly but not exclusively – ideology. Perhaps he undermines his own admission of the GMB’s material and operational networking by emphasising it as an “ideological movement.” But nowhere does Vidino claim that it is only united in terms of ideology. This makes sense, since it is precisely through this ideology that other more material and operational connections are given meaning. The picture Vidino paints of a decentralised GMB isn’t actually that controversial. After all, the shar’ia that the Brothers wish to incrementally implement in society is not conceived as the responsibility of the caliph or even the Islamic state to enforce, but as everyone’s duty. This conception is based upon the classical Islamic doctrine of Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil (al-Amr bi’l-Ma ‘ruf wa-l-Nahi ‘an al-Munkar), in which all Muslims are encouraged to proactively progress the shari’a as a moral and legal code (see Prof Michael Cook’s work on this doctrine). There is simply no need for a centralised, order-giving Islamintern, though there is, in Martin Kramer’s words, what might be called an Islaminform, a global village of organisations bonded in a loose sense by the sharing of resources, staff and information, and of generally similar long term goals of Islamising human society. GMBDW takes issue with Vidino’s analysis in an unclear way. On the one hand, it claims – rightly – that the idea of “a super-organization, a global Muslim Brotherhood central entity directing or coordinating the activities of these groups” is a straw man, but on the other hand it appears to argue for the existence of such an entity, raising the possibility of – but providing no evidence for – an oath which all Brothers swear. GMBDW criticises Vidino for arguing against a centralised command centre for the GMB, but – whilst there may be some influential nodes in certain regions of the overall network – it offers no evidence or argument that there is such a centre. Instead, it pushes the notion that there is “a complex and sophisticated organization structure.” Yet this is not the same as a central command. And I don’t think it is something that Vidino would deny.
We will take up the key issues one at a time:
1) Is the Global Muslim Brotherhood Only An Ideological Network?
Mr. Perry correctly observes that Vidino’s analysis allows that the Global Muslim Brotherhood interacts though “personal, financial, and ideological” ties, However, Vidino also claims that each Brotherhood entity “operates independently” pursing what ever goals it deems appropriate. As he wrote:
Though they interact through a network of personal, financial and ideological ties, Brotherhood entities operate independently, and each pursues its goals as it deems appropriate. What binds them is a deep belief in Islam as a way of life that, in the long term, they hope to turn into a political system, using different methods in different places.
While we agree that the Global Muslim Brotherhood most certainly interacts personally, financially, and ideologically, we took issue in our post with the assertion that the Brotherhood entities “operate independently” bound only by a common belief. We noted that the only evidence cited by Vidino for this assertion were statements by Brotherhood leaders themselves, certainly suspect given the truth-telling challenges among those very-same leaders that been revealed in the past. In fact, we believe that there is insufficient public data for any analyst to claim an understanding of the how the Global Muslim Brotherhood is even financed, much less how it is organized and led.
Mr. Perry also offers a new assertion in support of the independence notion, that “shar’ia that the Brothers wish to incrementally implement in society is not conceived as the responsibility of the caliph or even the Islamic state to enforce, but as everyone’s duty.” We will not take up this assertion in depth but only comment that, once again, there is no evidence offered for this idea and many public statements by Brotherhood leaders exist to the contrary.
2) Did The GMBDW Claim There Is A Muslim Brotherhood “Super Organization”
Mr. Perry writes that we appeared to argue for such an organization by “raising the possibility of – but providing no evidence for – an oath which all Brothers swear.” However, that is most certainly not what we intended to communicate by including the information about the oath which is, in fact, required of Egyptian Muslim Brothers in their organizational bylaws. Rather we raised the issue of the oath because the whole notion of a Global Muslim Brotherhood is sometimes ridiculed by making references to oaths, “decoder rings”, and other seemingly preposterous notions. In fact, Mr. Vidino wrote in his HSPI piece:
Senior members of the Brotherhood have repeatedly made clear that, at the international level, it is not a structured organization of card-carrying members, but rather an ideological movement that transcends formal affiliation. Membership comes by adopting certain ideas and methods, not by swearing allegiance or signing one’s name in a secret registry.
We thought it appropriate to point out that there was indeed precedence for such an oath and that given the poor state of knowledge about the internal workings of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, it would seem premature to claim that there is not such a phenomenon at work in the Global Muslim Brotherhood. In essence we were simply saying that until sufficient information becomes available about the covert side of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, analysts should exercise the appropriate degree of caution in making assertions about how the Global Muslim Brotherhood is structured.
3) Did GMBDW Criticize The Post Piece For “Arguing Against A Centralised Command Centre For The GMB,”
Mr. Perry writes that the GMBDW “pushes the notion that there is ‘a complex and sophisticated organization structure'” at work in the Global Muslim Brotherhood. Actually what we wrote in the post was:
….documents and other material discovered buried in a residential backyard and introduced as evidence in a federal terrorism financing trial revealed a complex and sophisticated organization structure for the US Muslim Brotherhood..
Would Mr. Perry or anybody else dispute that those documents provide substantial evidence of exactly such a structure? In fact, prior to the time that the documents were revealed, we ourselves would have been skeptical about such structure existing within the US but we were forced to reorient our thinking based on the evidence that was revealed. We add to that the public banding together of the European Muslim Brotherhood into the Federation of Islamic Organizations In Europe (FIOE) and the evidence that major global political campaigns of the Global Muslim Brotherhood such as those centered on the Danish cartoons or the Gaza Flotilla also show evidence of a degree or organization going beyond what is possible for a purely ideological network,.
We do want to thank Mr. Perry for his extensive comments. We have always hoped that the GMBDW might, in addition to its role in daily reporting on the Global Muslim Brotherhood, become a forum where relevant issues could be debated in a reasonable manner. We hope that readers always feel that comments are welcome and we encourage comments as well thought out as Mr. Perry’s.