ANALYSIS: The So-Called Moderation Of Rachid Ghannouchi

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Rachid Ghannouchi

Much of media has taken to characterizing Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood, as a “moderate.” Consistent with this designation, Ghannouchi has within the last six months been:

  • Invited to speak at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
  • Nominated for the Chatham House Prize awarded by a major think tank based in the UK
  • Hosted for a discussion by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID)
  • Hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) for a special dinner
  • Appeared at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

In covering Mr. Ghannouchi, the GMBDW has neglected to highlight a statement he signed in May 2009 calling for a “third Jihadist front” centered on Gaza. As we reported at the time, the statement was issued at a meeting in Istanbul where religious scholars and clerics met with senior Hamas officials.  According to a BBC report:

At a weekend meeting in Istanbul, 200 religious scholars and clerics met senior Hamas officials to plot a new jihad centred on Gaza. The BBC’s Bill Law was the only Western journalist at the meeting. In a hall crowded with conservative Sunni Muslim sheikhs and scholars, in a hotel close to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport speaker after speaker called for jihad against Israel in support of Hamas. The choice of Turkey was significant. Arab hardliners were keen to put aside historic differences with the Turks. As one organiser put it: “During the past 100 years relations have been strained but Palestine has brought us together.” Many delegates spoke appreciatively of the protest by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who stormed out of a Davos debate on Gaza two weeks ago.The conference, dubbed the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign, also gave impetus to Sunni clerics concerned about the growing power of Hezbollah, the Shia movement backed by Iran, which rose to international prominence in its own war with Israel in 2006. “Gaza is a gift,” the Saudi religious scholar Mohsen al-Awajy told me. He and other delegates repeatedly referred to the Gaza war as “a victory”. “Gaza,” he continued, “gives us power, it solves our differences. We are all now in a unified front against Zionism.”

The report went on to describe how the delegates referred to the creation of a “third jihadist front” and laughed at the deaths which had occurred during the Israeli action in Gaza:

In closed meetings after sessions delegates focussed on the creation of a “third Jihadist front” – the first two being Afghanistan and Iraq. The intensity of the Israeli attack had “awakened all Muslims,” Mr Awajy claimed. “Palestine is a legitimate theatre of operations for jihad (holy war),” he added.Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas leader based in Damascus, challenged Arab governments to “open their borders and allow the fighters to come.” Delegates from all over the Middle East, and from Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan and Indonesia applauded as he stabbed the air with a raised finger and declared: “There will be no agreement with Israel… only weapons will bring respect. “Mr Nazzal told his audience: “Don’t worry about casualties.” The 23 days of bombardment of Gaza, in which some 1,300 people, many of them civilians and nearly 300 of them children, are believed to have died, was “just the beginning” of the struggle, Mr Nazzal said. To laughter in the audience, another speaker noted that twice as many babies were born as children were killed during the war. Every death, I was told, was a martyrdom on the road to liberation.

According to a translation of the statement obtained by the GMBDW, among the signatories of the conference statement were the following global Muslim Brotherhood leaders:

  • Daud Abdullah ( Deputy Secretary General Muslim Council of Britain)
  • Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi (leader in-exile of the Tunisian Islamist movement known as Nahada)
  • Muhammad Sawalha (leader in the U.K Muslim Brotherhood, former Hamas military commander)
  • Dr. Hamam Sa’id, Jordan (Head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood)

It should be noted that among the signatories was Dr. Walid Musa’id al-Tabatibai (aka Walid al-Tabtabai), a well-known Kuwaiti parliamentarian and Salafi leader who authored a letter praising Osama Bin Laden. Dr. al-Tabtabai and Ghannouchi both spoke later at a December 2011 meeting of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GACC) held in Tunisia. The GACC was described in a 2005 media report as:

… a militant, anti-American entity established by more than 225 radical figures from across the Islamic world as a response to the US invasion of Iraq. The group’s initial statement condemned “the Zionists and the American administration led by right-wing extremists that are working to expand their control over nations and peoples, loot their resources, destroy their will, and to change their educational curricula and social system”. [20] In November 2004, Hawali and Auda were among 26 Saudi clerics, most of whom receive their salaries from the Saudi royal family, who published a religious statement urging Muslims to wage holy war in Iraq.

Rachid Ghannouchi (many spelling variations) is the leader of the Tunisian Islamist movement known as Nahda (aka Ennahda, Al Nahda) and can best be described as an independent Islamist power center who is tied to the global Muslim Brotherhood though his membership in the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) and his important position in the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), both organizations led by Global Muslim Brotherhood Youssef Qaradawi. An Egyptian news report has identified Ghannouchi  as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood “abroad.” Ghannouchi is also one of the founding members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a Saudi organization closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and dedicated to the propagation of “Wahabist” Islam throughout the world. Ghannouchi is known for his thinking on the issue of Islam and citizenship rights. Earlier posts reported on the return of Mr. Ghannouchi to Tunisia following his long exile in the UK.

Consistent with his participation in the GACC, Mr. Ghannouchi has had a long history of association with extremism and Palestinian terrorism. From 1988-92, the Islamic Committee for Palestine organized conferences and rallies in the United States that featured the leading lights of Islamic extremist movements throughout the world. One example of such a conference took place in Chicago from December 22-25, 1989 and featured Mr. Gahannouchi as a speaker.  Its theme was “Palestine, Intifada, and Horizons of Islamic Renaissance” and other speakers included Abd Al-‘Aziz Al’Awda, the “spiritual leader” of Islamic Jihad and Muhammad ‘Umar of Hizb Al-Tahrir, the Islamic Liberation Party.

In 1994, scholar Martin Kramer had reported on Mr. Ghannouchi’s his extremist background:

Assuming a valid distinction can be made between Islamists who are “extremist” and “reformist,” Ghannouchi clearly belongs to the first category. Since his last visit to the United States, he has openly threatened U.S. interests, supported Iraq against the United States and campaigned against the Arab-Israeli peace process. Indeed, Ghannouchi in exile has personified the rejection of U.S. policies, even as he dispatches missives to the State Department.

Kramer also notes the following statement by Mr. Ghannouchi in which he alleges that Jews are behind a “worldwide campaign against Islam”:

The Jews everywhere are behind a worldwide campaign against Islam. Islam and the West could reach an accommodation, he says, were it not for the worldwide machinations of the Jews, who fan the fires of mistrust. Beware the Jews, he admonishes the West: “We Islamists hope that the West is not carried away by the Jewish strategy of linking the future of its relationship with the Islamic world with a war against Islam.

In another article posted that same year on an Islamic website, Mr. Ghannouchi wrote:

Zionism can be seen as hostile to every element rooted in ethical and religious principles (excepting those remnants, which can be exploited as slogans and national myths). It both represents and serves the new existential ethos which transforms the human race into ‘marketing’ and ‘geopolitical’ units which can be deployed, rewarded or punished by the powers that be, who are accountable to no-one save themselves. Zionism, then, nurtured by and in turn nurturing this global pseudo-civilization, represents a secular onslaught on the heart of our Islamic nation. The Islamic project, by contrast, is its polar opposite, representing the hope that human civilization can be rescued from this new worship of the golden calf. To speak of saving Palestine from the Zionists is to speak simultaneously of one’s hope for a global liberation. The ‘Palestinian cause’ does not signify the simple reconquest of a patch of territory occupied by aggressors. It is not even about peace and war; Its implications go much further. For to strike at Zionism in Palestine is to strike at the enemy in its new citadel, which it has constructed at the centre of the world, in the very heart of our Muslim nation, in a land which has always been of unlimited strategic and spiritual fecundity. The West, as a civilization, seems set to extend its influence to the heartland of the Old World, the better to destroy the surviving traces of spiritual resistance which have remained intact there, and finally to obliterate mans remaining hopes for the rebirth of a civilization which is qualitative and humane, rather than quantitative and secular.”

As recently as 2002, Mr. Ghannouchi co-signed a statement that said “The bodies of the men and women of Palestine are shields against the Zionist agenda, which its greater target is to destroy the entire Islamic Ummah.” The statement was also signed by:

  • Mustafa Mashhour, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • Esam Al Atar, leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood
  • Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General for Hezbollah
  • Ahmed Yassin, the late former spiritual leader of Hamas

In March of this year, Mr. Ghannouchi said that the Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip, “is compatible with Israel’s aggressive nature”. In a May 2011 interview, Ghannouchi called for and predicted the end of Israel.

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