Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood: A Guide for the Perplexed

Everyone is spinning like crazy when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood these days. Depending on who is doing the yammering, the Brothers are either wild-eyed bomb-throwing terrorists or they are peace-loving democratic reformers.

Below is a selection of some of the things that people were writing about the Muslim Brotherhood, before knowing what the Muslim Brotherhood is was cool. My own views on the Brothers are none too charitable, but I have tried to select sources that have at least some semblance of objectivity, or even more than a semblance, or even, in many cases, are actually sympathetic to the Brotherhood (including several articles from Al Jazeera and a link to the Muslim Brotherhood's own English language website).

In Depth Studies:

The Society of the Muslim Brothers
"Richard P. Mitchell (Oxford University Press, 1969)
Book description from publishers' website:
First published in 1969 as part of a series edited by renowned Islamic scholar Albert Hourani, this book has been the standard source for the history of the revivalist Egyptian movement--the Muslim Brethren up to the time of Nasser. The Muslim Brethren are now well-recognized for their foundational role in the Islamic revival which has now taken on new, and perhaps dangerous, life in recent times. After having been out of print for over a decade, this reissue of the classic work makes it accessible to a new generation of scholars and students interested in the Muslim revival--a group whose numbers have increased dramatically in the past decade. The new paperback edition has a foreword by John Voll, a leading American Islamic scholar, discussing the subsequent history and continued significance of the Muslim Brethren."

The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise Of an Islamic Mass Movement 1928-1942
Brynjar Lia (Ithaca Press, 2006)
Book description from the publisher's website:
"This important book deepens our understanding of the influence of contemporary Islamism by providing the first definitive history of the meteoric rise of the mother organization of all modern Islamist movements, the Society of the Muslim Brothers. Founded in 1928 by a young primary schoolteacher, Hasan al-Banna, the Society rose to become the largest mass movement in modern Egyptian history in less than two decades, clashing with the ruling élite on a wide range of issues. Drawing on a wealth of new sources which include material by the Society’s veterans and dissidents, the Society’s internal publications from the 1930s and early 1940s, a collection of Hasan al-Banna’s letters to his father and security files from the Egyptian National Archives, Brynjar Lia examines the socio-economic and cultural factors which facilitated the movement’s expansion and analyses the keys to its success – its organization, internal structure, modes of action and recruitment techniques as well as its ideological and class appeal.

About the author (also from publisher's website):
Brynjar Lia is a Research Scientist at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and teaches at the Institute of East-European and Oriental Studies at the University of Oslo.
[Also by Brynjar Lia: Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of Al Qaeda Strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri.]

Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe
Pew Research Center, September 16, 2010
Description from Pew Website:
"Over the past two decades, the number of Muslims living in Western Europe has steadily grown, rising from less than 10 million in 1990 to approximately 17 million in 2010.1 The continuing growth in Europe's Muslim population is raising a host of political and social questions. Tensions have arisen over such issues as the place of religion in European societies, the role of women, the obligations and rights of immigrants and support for terrorism. These controversies are complicated by the ties that some European Muslims have to religious networks and movements outside of Europe. Fairly or unfairly, these groups are often accused of dissuading Muslims from integrating into European society and, in some cases, of supporting radicalism.

"To help provide a better understanding of how such movements and networks seek to influence the views and daily lives of Muslims in Western Europe, the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life has produced profiles of some of the oldest, largest and most influential groups -- from the Muslim Brotherhood to mystical Sufi orders and networks of religious scholars. The selected groups represent the diverse histories, missions and organizational structures found among Muslim organizations in Western Europe. Certain groups are more visible in some European countries than in others, but all of the organizations profiled in the report have global followings and influence across Europe."

The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West
Lorenzo Vindino (Columbia University Press, 2010)
From the author's website:
"In Europe and North America, networks tracing their origins back to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements have rapidly evolved into multifunctional and richly funded organizations competing to become the major representatives of Western Muslim communities and government interlocutors. Some analysts and policy makers see these organizations as positive forces encouraging integration. Others cast them as modern-day Trojan horses, feigning moderation while radicalizing Western Muslims.

"Lorenzo Vidino brokers a third, more informed view. Drawing on more than a decade of research on political Islam in the West, he keenly analyzes a controversial movement that still remains relatively unknown. Conducting in-depth interviews on four continents and sourcing documents in ten languages, Vidino shares the history, methods, attitudes, and goals of the Western Brothers, as well as their phenomenal growth. He then flips the perspective, examining the response to these groups by Western governments, specifically those of Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. Highly informed and thoughtfully presented, Vidino’s research sheds light on a critical juncture in Muslim-Western relations."

Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan
Caroline Fourest (Encounter Books, 2008)
Book description from the publisher's website:
"The name of Tariq Ramadan is well known in the West. Thanks to his urbane manner and articulate way of expressing himself – in a number of languages – this Swiss-born academic is a regular contributor to television and radio features dealing with Islam (and Islamism) and the West. In England, his reputation as a “moderate” has won him praise – and even an invitation from the Prime Minister to serve on the government’s task force on preventing extremism. Meanwhile, as the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan enjoys a certain status in Islamic circles – a kind of ambassador for his grandfather’s brand of political Islam.

"So who is the real Tariq Ramadan and what does he stand for?

"In this incisive and insightful study of the man, well-known French writer and journalist Caroline Fourest dissects the public pronouncements of Tariq Ramadan. Drawing on his numerous books, articles and speeches as sources, she demonstrates with chilling clarity that the West has been beguiled by Ramadan’s doublespeak.

"Tariq Ramadan is slippery. He says one thing to his faithful Islamist followers and something else entirely to his Western audience. His choice of words, the formulations he uses – even his tone of voice – vary, chameleon-like, according to his audience. In most people, this would be merely funny or irritating, but Tariq Ramadan is too influential a figure to be dismissed so lightly.

"Caroline Fourest does an incalculable service. In this long-overdue English translation of Brother Tariq she proves, once and for all, that Tariq Ramadan is not to be trusted. Ramadan has been portrayed as the Martin Luther King of Islam. This study reveals that he is a far more sinister character at the forefront of a militant and reactionary Islam."

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