Much has been written about the Muslim Brotherhood in the past few weeks, and for good reason. Since no one disputes that at present they are the most organized and ready-to-go political force in Egypt, there exists sound worry that they are well placed to assume power — if not immediately, then in the near future.
At present, the Brotherhood leaders pledge to not seek a presidential candidate and to be content with having a place at the table, as they do in the coalition that is meeting to write a new Egyptian constitution.
Their apparent stance of moderation is leading many pundits to proclaim that they are not a threat, that they remain but one force in an Egypt whose rebellion was sparked by non-Islamist and even secular-minded Egyptians, mainly composed of the country’s youth. Some have argued that their position has been exaggerated by those dreadful neo-cons who wish only to find a new reason to extend America’s imperial reach in the region, and who want our country to be the power guiding and later putting in place the kind of government friendly to U.S. interests.
Recently, a score of sober-minded analysts have responded with forceful arguments reminding their audience what the Brotherhood actually stands for, and what its real agenda is. In the Wall Street Journal, foreign policy columnist Bret Stephens pointed out that “it’s easy to be taken in by the Brotherhood.” Indeed it is. I sent my column to one friend who considers himself somewhat of an expert on the group, and he responded by telling me that Stephens is nothing but “a partisan” and a purveyor of “agit-prop” who is “not a scholar.”
That is a way of dealing with evidence that seems to be par for course for a new group of useful idiots who apologize for radical Islam the way fellow travelers used to apologize for Stalinism. They prefer to ignore what Stephens points to: “Eight decades as a disciplined, underground organization, outwardly involved in charitable social work, have made them experts at tailoring messages to separate audiences.” While the MB might sound moderate by the standards of Western society, Stephens adds, they are hardly “moderate by Western standards.”
Writing today on his blog at World Affairs Journal, Josh Muravchik notes that the problem is that so many administration analysts are “dominated by left-liberal ideologues [so] that too little rigorous analysis takes place.” He proceeds to go through the MB’s record to show its heritage of violence and its goal of creating an Islamist state, refuting the now discredited statement of NID James Clapper that the Brotherhood is “secular.” He reaches the sad conclusion that evidently “our intelligence analysts believe their main mission is to protect the world from benighted Americans who feel uneasy about radical Islam.”
In other words, damn the facts. But for those who prefer to assess the situation by dealing with reality, no better source exists than an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel, whose editors had the good sense to seek out the voice of the Brotherhood in Egypt and to carry out an interview with him. He is Youssef al-Qaradawi, the Muslim televangelist whose program Sharia and Life has been the no.1 hit on Al Jazeera for the past fifteen years. We are talking about a man who knew the Koran by heart by the time he was ten years old. It is not surprising that his weekly audience numbers 60 million Muslims each week!
The reporter, Alexander Smoltczyk, refers to al-Qaradawi as “the father figure of Egypt’s Muslim Broterhood,” a man who “hates Israel and would love to take up arms himself.” In one sermon, he asked God “to kill the Jewish Zionists, every last one of them.” In January 2009, he told his listeners that “throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler.” In his eyes, the Brotherhood and Muslims, evidently, are those who should finish the job in the present. He is not exactly what we would call a man of peace committed to non-violence.
This is the same Muslim leader welcomed to London by its former mayor, “Red” Ken Livingstone, for whom any enemy of the West is a friend. He told the mayor that while he was against attacks on homosexuals, he was not opposed to giving them 100 lashes if that was imposed by a Sharia judge. If the Muslim court makes it a punishment, that is clearly not an attack, as al-Qaradawi sees things.
And as for women? In his own words: “Blows are not effective with every woman, but they are helpful with some.” I wonder if al-Qaradawi agrees with the recent verdict by the upstate New York jury which found the American Muslim man who beheaded his wife guilty, even though he pleaded that he was innocent, arguing that she had violated the dictates of Sharia law. As the Der Spiegel writer notes, the Muslim scholar explained to him that “a woman does not have to ask her husband’s permission to blow herself up in an Israeli café.” I guess that anti-Western radical feminists will be delighted to hear this.
It also appears, readers learn, that a Danish researcher believes that he was the man responsible for instigating the protests against the cartoonist in Denmark who drew the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. These protests led to the Danish embassy being set on fire in Beirut, as well as threats against the cartoonist, who recently was almost killed in his home.
For those like Prof. Carrie Wickham, who believes, as I wrote earlier, that the Brotherhood was changed by events and now favors “public freedoms, democracy and respect for human rights,” the words of al-Qaradawi are rather chastening. As the Der Spiegel article explains, critics such as Christoph Spielberger cite the Muslim tradition of Taqiyya, or “misrepresentation to achieve a higher goal.” What this means is that those who trust the words of MB spokesmen to Westerners should think carefully before believing what they are told.
The article quotes pledges of adherence to democracy and a pledge not to demand any ideological line on Egypt by an MB spokesman, Mohammed Mursi. This sounds good, but as Smoltczyk writes, quoting Tariq Ramadan — the self-proclaimed moderate who is beloved by many in the West — its leaders know that “now is not the time to expose itself.”
As I argued on these pages, the group’s leaders are savvy, and hope that time is on their side That is why the United States should urge that elections be held as late as possible, and that in the interim, our country and others in the West should give the kind of aid the Reagan administration gave to Solidarity in Poland in the 1980s. Democratic activists both religious and secular should be given access to computers, printers, cell phones and whatever they need to spread their word. They should be given funds that enable them to organize their own parties and to establish headquarters throughout Egypt. Such aid can be given through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as through groups like the Republican and Democratic Party institutes that work to help the creation of democratic groups where they do not at present exist.
Only when alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood are built up and gain participants will a real level playing field exist. In such conditions, the Muslim Brotherhood, a minority group in Egypt, has a chance of remaining a minority in a new democratic Egypt.