RECOMMENDED READING: “Europe’s Underestimated Islamists”


Former Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson has written an article titled “Europe’s Underestimated Islamists.” The article begins:

In early 1959, a small West German intelligence operation stumbled over a sensational find: U.S. collusion with the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the West German sources—two ex-Wehrmacht soldiers who were in Washington’s pay but still felt loyalty to their old German bosses—Washington was supporting one of the Brotherhood’s top men, the Geneva-based Said Ramadan, son-in-law of the movement’s founder Hassan al-Banna, in the hope of using him in the global battle against communism. The U.S. double-agents wanted to know if the West Germans would also help support Ramadan. Bonn’s response was an unequivocal “no”: not because of ethical qualms about doing business with the Brotherhood but because of practical considerations. “Ramadan doesn’t possess the slightest influence in the Orient,” read an evaluation by the head of the West German intelligence operation, Gerhard von Mende. “A connection with him would only yield negative consequences.” Von Mende was neither the first nor the last to have underestimated the Brotherhood or its leaders. In its 83-year history, the movement has time and again been written off as out of date, broken, or otherwise a non-force. Most recently, Western analysts of the Middle East upheavals were quick to portray the Brotherhood as out of touch and, basically, inept. U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper reduced it to a “largely secular” movement[2] while anthropologist Scott Atran argued that its “failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on Jan. 25 [2011] has made it marginal to the spirit of revolt now spreading across the Arab world.”[3] News pages had similar coverage with the Brotherhood’s absence in some Cairo neighborhoods seen as indicative of its declining importance.[4] Of course, as is now known, the Brotherhood played a leading role in the Egyptian uprising and its wake.[5] This should have come as no surprise. For all its flaws, mistakes, and disastrous decisions, the Brotherhood is one of the most resilient organizations in modern history. Its longevity is due to one of its defining characteristics: an almost intuitive ability to assume new forms while pursuing its ultimate goals and carving out niches of influence. In its eagerness to write off the Brotherhood, the West has shown a distinct lack of attentiveness to the group, leading to decades of blunders.

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