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."

A Feminist Critically Examines the Muslim Brotherhood

Pro-Choix is a French feminist publication founded by Fiammetta Venner, Moruni Turlot, and Caroline Fourest. Although ProChoix originally began with a primary focus on the issue of abortion rights, it has significantly broadened its scope and now describes itself as "a magazine of investigation, reflection and analysis at the service of civil liberties under threat of essentialism, racism, fundamentalism and totalitarian ideology or anti-choice."

France did not legalize abortion until 1975 (the year Caroline Fourest was born). Twenty years later Fiammetta Venner published her groundbreaking book on the anti-choice movement: L’Opposition à l’avortement du lobby au commando. ("Opposition to abortion, from the lobbyist to the commando"). Although abortion remains legal in the first trimester, abortion laws in France are still significantly more restrictive than they are in the United States.

ProChoix official website. Their YouTube channel. You can also follow them on twitter.

Below is an article by Caroline Fourest that appeared in ProChoix in early 2005. Fourest is also the author of a biography of Tariq Ramadan (Brother Tariq), whose grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fourest's article focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that "The Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates often succeed in setting the public agenda for European Muslims." [The quote is from page 26 of the report "Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe". Look here for a summary of the report with excerpts as well as a link to the full report.]

Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood : a challenge for Europe
(by Caroline Fourest)
(direct link)

PARIS -The Western world, but Europe in particular, is the main battleground for the Islamists. European secret services regularly thwart terror attacks whose targets are on European soil. Last week, France, Germany and Italy separately uncovered alleged terrorist cells, including recruiters for the insurgency in Iraq.

But Europe is also the frontline for Islamists who have chosen a more «political» approach. Nearly five years ago, Sheik Yusuf Qaradhawi, star imam on the al-Jazeera news channel and president of the European Fatwa Council, was very clear: «With Allah's will, Islam shall return to Europe, and Europeans shall convert to Islam. They will then be able to propagate Islam to the world.» This theologian-widely listened to in the Arab world and in Europe-doesn't think that the reconquest need be violent. For him, Islam as religion will pave the way. «I affirm that this time, the conquest will not be done by the sword but by proselytism and by ideology.»

The Islamists who were trained or influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian group founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, share this vision. Since their failed attempt to seize power in Egypt, and even more since they lost the civil war in Algeria, Europe has become the top priority: The Islamists' third round. Whether they choose the jihadist option like Aymen al Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 man and mastermind, or opt for a «reformist» approach, Islamists trained by the Muslim Brotherhood all pursue the same dream, fed by Hassan al-Banna, to make «the flag of Islam float everywhere a Muslim lives.»

Islamist strategies diverge. Terrorists target symbols of the West through violence. Reformers, on the other hand, have made the struggle against Westernization their priority-one they lead from Europe, through mosques and radio shows and publications. In North Africa or the Middle East, where they pose a direct threat to the regimes in place, they are closely watched, even chased. But in Europe, they take advantage of free speech and democracy as well as the failure of Arab immigrants to integrate. Here, they recruit at their leisure-offering renewed pride and a political family united by a belief in radical Islam to thousands of alienated Muslims.

The West is used as a formidable base camp to recruit new troops. With them, the Islamists hope to take their revenge in the East. That's why the leaders of radical political Islam are found more often in London or Geneva than in Kabul or Baghdad.


Yusuf Qaradhawi, the telegenic imam, was once expected to become the Official Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. But he refused, saying that his mission in Europe was the priority. In fact, he retains great power of influence by presiding over the European Council of the Fatwa, based in London, which pronounces "fatwas" (religious rulings) for European Muslims. One of these fatwas justifies the use of suicide bombings against civilians. No other Islamic authority, in Egypt or in Iran, has ever dared to pass a similar ruling. Hamas, the armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, has in fact used this European ruling to justify its operations. The man who guides the Muslims of Europe also says that any contacts with Jews must be with «the sword and the gun.» Yet it is Mr. Qaradhawi whom the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, took in his arms July 17 during a rally in favor of the "chador" organized in the British capital.

This city, having become a haven for radical Islam, now has a new nickname, «Londonistan.» The media-savvy figures are well-known: Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada or Omar Bakri, a Syrian refugee who has never made a secret of his admiration for Osama bin Laden. Less talked about is the Leicester Foundation, created by Pakistani Islamists to propagate the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker who inspired bin Laden's call for Jihad against the «apostate tyrants,» and Sayyid Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi, the Pakistani theologian who advocates a return to Sharia law. Though a radical propaganda institute, the foundation received a prize from Prince Charles-more proof that the Islamists are quite right to bet on the naïveté of Western democracies. Perhaps, these states also hope, in return, for relative protection on their soil. Great Britain has, however, seemed to question this policy since police uncovered plans for terrorist attacks. But isn't it already too late?

The Geneva Connection

Another Islamist safe haven hasn't yet decided to act: Switzerland. With its long tradition of neutrality and its role as an international banking center, the country is hesitant to harass Islamists who still have the moral-and often financial-backing of Saudi investors. At the beginning of the 1960s, with the patronage and protection of the Saudi royal family, Hassan al-Banna's favorite disciple, Saïd Ramadan, was able to establish an Islamic Center in Geneva, which served as a refuge for the Muslim Brotherhood and as a base camp for fundamentalists trying to Islamize the Continent. Since his death in 1995, his sons, all on the administrative board of the Geneva Islamic Center, have kept up the fight.

The center's official director, Hani Ramadan, has just been fired by the Swiss Ministry of Education for condoning stoning as an act of purification and calling AIDS God's punishment in an article in the French daily Le Monde. He is also famous for calling on young men to refuse to serve in the French army during the war in Afghanistan, and for organizing several protests «against the impious» in front of the United Nations with former militants from the Algerian GIA terrorist organization. One of them actually spoke at the Geneva Islamic Center last Oct. 2. A report from the Swiss secret services also includes testimony from a former Geneva Islamic Center insider who says that he took part in 1991 in a meeting between Aymen al-Zawahiri, Omar Abdel-Rhaman, the man behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and two of Saïd Ramadan's sons: Hani and Tariq Ramadan.

Tariq Ramadan has provoked ample discussion in Europe and the United States. Hired last year by Notre Dame to teach «Peace between civilizations,» the U.S. denied him a visa on security grounds, bringing criticism from many quarters. But despite his apparently angelic and irreproachable message, Tariq Ramadan is indeed unqualified to teach on «peace between civilizations.» On television sets and in the many interviews he gives to the press, he presents himself as a man of dialogue, with no links to the Muslim Brotherhood: A thinker who merely puts in context the thinking of his grandfather, father and even brother. But in his cassettes and books, distributed in radical Islamist libraries and shops, he expresses a completely different discourse that explains and praises the teachings and methods of Hassan al-Banna, without any form of critical analysis. This makes him not only his grandfather's grandson (for which no one would reproach him) but his political heir. Tariq Ramadan openly supports Hamas as a «resistance» movement. He recently spoke out on the murder of an 8-year-old Israeli girl at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. «That act in itself is morally condemnable but contextually explicable,» since «the international community has put the Palestinians in the arms of the oppressors.»

True to the Muslim Brotherhood's new orientation, Tariq Ramadan has pronounced the West to be «dar el shaada,» which is to say the land where he is to undertake his religious mission. He takes advantage of his aura to tell young women that a good Muslim should be prudish, hence veiled, to describe homosexuality as a «mental imbalance,» justify polygamy, and to discourage mixed marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims. Furthermore, for all matters relating to theology, he advises his listeners to turn to his mentor: Yusuf Qaradhawi. Just like Mr. Qaradhawi, Tariq Ramadan says that he is waiting for the proof that al Qaeda is indeed responsible for September 11.

Tariq Ramadan wants to make America his next mission, hoping to seduce the African-American community, and even the American left-wing. Though intellectuals-often Arab and/or Muslim ones-have warned against his influence for the past 15 years, there have always been other intellectuals, more often than not progressive ones from the West, who get tricked by his double message, to the point of taking his defense. Even, and especially, when he claims to be a victim of an Islamophobic or Zionist conspiracy.

Herein lies the greatness and weakness of democracy: Even those who despise it know how to use it to their advantage. Whether terrorist or «simply» political ones, the Islamists post a grave threat to Western democracies. Can this underground guerrilla movement against individual and public liberties be endlessly tolerated in the name of these same liberties? And on the other hand, can these liberties be weakened without abandoning the ideals that make us different from the anti-democratic forces? The solution probably lies in the middle. And it certainly requires that extreme vigilance be maintained.

Caroline Fourest

Ms. Fourest is the author of «Frère Tariq» (Grasset, 2004). Alfred de Montesquiou translated this article from French.

mercredi 2 février 2005