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Obama’s Brotherhood Moment

Posted By Robert Spencer On February 2, 2011 @ 12:45 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 22 Comments

Game over: Barack Obama has endorsed a role for the Muslim Brotherhood in a new, post-Mubarak government for Egypt.

This should come as no surprise. Obama has behaved consistently all along, from his refusal to back the protesters in Iran, who were demonstrating against an Islamic Republic, to his backing of these protesters in Egypt, to whom he has just given a green light to establish a government that, given numerous historical precedents, will likely be the precursor to an Islamic Republic.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that a post-Mubarak Egyptian ruling group “has to include a whole host of important nonsecular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.”

Robert Malley, an Obama adviser and Mideast negotiator for Bill Clinton, explained that Obama’s expression of willingness to see the Brotherhood as part of a ruling coalition in Egypt was a “pretty clear sign that the U.S. isn’t going to advocate a narrow form of pluralism, but a broad one.”

In The Post-American Presidency, Pamela Geller and I profile Robert Malley, Samantha Power, and other fierce foes of Israel in the Obama Administration. In light of the information we reveal in the book, the Administration’s stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood comes as no surprise. But the ideology and goals of the Muslim Brotherhood will come as a surprise to most Americans, especially now that the mainstream media is retailing numerous soothing falsehoods about the group. Thus they warrant a closer look.

Contrary to claims that it is a moderate organization, the Muslim Brotherhood is actually the prototypical Islamic supremacist, pro-Sharia group of the modern age. Founded by Hasan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood emerged as a response to colonialism and Western influence in the Islamic world. Al-Banna wrote that “a wave of dissolution which undermined all firm beliefs was engulfing Egypt in the name of intellectual emancipation. This trend attacked the morals, deeds and virtues under the pretext of personal freedom. Nothing could stand against this powerful and tyrannical stream of disbelief and permissiveness that was sweeping our country.” His remedy? Restoration of Islamic law as the ruling principle of governance.

Al-Banna consequently decried Kemal Ataturk’s abolition of the Caliphate in secular Turkey, which he complained separated “the state from religion in a country which was until recently the site of the Commander of the Faithful.” Al-Banna characterized it as just part of a larger “Western invasion which was armed and equipped with all [the] destructive influences of money, wealth, prestige, ostentation, power and means of propaganda.”[1]

Al-Banna’s Brotherhood had a deeply spiritual character from its beginning, but it didn’t combat the “Western invasion” with just words and prayers. In a 1928 article al-Banna decried the complacency of the Egyptian elite: “What catastrophe has befallen the souls of the reformers and the spirit of the leaders?…What calamity has made them prefer this life to the thereafter [sic]? What has made them…consider the way of struggle [sabil al-jihad] too rough and difficult?”[2] When the Brotherhood was criticized for being a political group in the guise of a religious one, al-Banna met the challenge head-on:

We summon you to Islam, the teachings of Islam, the laws of Islam and the guidance of Islam, and if this smacks of “politics” in your eyes, then it is our policy. And if the one summoning you to these principles is a “politician,” then we are the most respectable of men, God be praised, in politics . . . Islam does have a policy embracing the happiness of this world. . . . We believe that Islam is an all-embracing concept which regulates every aspect of life, adjudicating on every one of its concerns and prescribing for it a solid and rigorous order.[3]

Al-Banna wrote in 1934 that “it is a duty incumbent on every Muslim to struggle towards the aim of making every people Muslim and the whole world Islamic, so that the banner of Islam can flutter over the earth and the call of the Muezzin can resound in all the corners of the world: God is greatest [Allahu akbar]! This is not parochialism, nor is it racial arrogance or usurpation of land.”[4]

In the same article al-Banna insisted that “every piece of land where the banner of Islam has been hoisted is the fatherland of the Muslims” — hence the impossibility of accommodation with Israel, against which the Brotherhood and its offshoots still struggle. But the problem was not just Israel, which after all did not yet exist when the Brotherhood was founded. According to Brynjar Lia, the historian of the Muslim Brotherhood movement: “Quoting the Qur’anic verse ‘And fight them till sedition is no more, and the faith is God’s’ [Sura 2:193], the Muslim Brothers urged their fellow Muslims to restore the bygone greatness of Islam and to re-establish an Islamic empire. Sometimes they even called for the restoration of ‘former Islamic colonies’ in Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands.”[5]

Such a call might seem laughable except that the Brotherhood also had weapons and a military wing. Scholar Martin Kramer notes that the Brotherhood had “a double identity. On one level, they operated openly, as a membership organization of social and political awakening. Banna preached moral revival, and the Muslim Brethren engaged in good works. On another level, however, the Muslim Brethren created a ‘secret apparatus’ that acquired weapons and trained adepts in their use. Some of its guns were deployed against the Zionists in Palestine in 1948, but the Muslim Brethren also resorted to violence in Egypt. They began to enforce their own moral teachings by intimidation, and they initiated attacks against Egypt’s Jews. They assassinated judges and struck down a prime minister in 1949. Banna himself was assassinated two months later, probably in revenge.”[6]

The Brotherhood was no gathering of marginalized kooks. It grew in Egypt from 150 branches in 1936 to as many as 1,500 by 1944. In 1939 al-Banna referred to “100,000 pious youths from the Muslim Brothers from all parts of Egypt,” and although Lia believes he was exaggerating at that point, by 1944 membership was estimated as between 100,000 and 500,000.[7] By 1937 it had expanded beyond Egypt, setting up “several branches in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Morocco, and one in each of Bahrain, Hadramawt, Hyderabad, Djibouti and,” Lia adds matter-of-factly, “Paris.”[8] These many thousands, dispersed around the world, heard al-Banna’s call to “prepare for jihad and be lovers of death.”[9]

The Brotherhood’s ability to attract Muslims in all these disparate societies indicates the power of its religious appeal. It wasn’t offering Muslims a new version of Islam, but a deeply traditional one. The call to restore the purity and vitality of Islam has always struck a chord among Muslims; and the Islam the Brotherhood preached was the traditional one of a total Islamic society, one that could not abide accommodation—let colonial subjugation—to the West. Al-Banna told his followers: “Islam is faith and worship, a country and a citizenship, a religion and a state. It is spirituality and hard work. It is a Qur’an and a sword.”[10]

Al-Banna is a revered figure in the Muslim world today, and by no means only among radicals. His grandson Tariq Ramadan, the well-known European Muslim moderate, praises his grandfather for his “light-giving faith, a deep spirituality, [and] personal discipline.”[11] And many of al-Banna’s writings are still in print and circulate widely.

The Brotherhood has never rejected or renounced al-Banna’s vision or program. And now it is closer to implementing it in its homeland than it ever has been before – no little thanks to Barack Obama.

Notes:


[1] Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Ithaca Press, 1998. P. 28.

[2] Lia, p. 33.

[3] Lia, pp. 68-9, 75-6.

[4] Lia, p. 79.

[5] Lia, p. 80.

[6] Martin Kramer, “Fundamentalist Islam at Large: The Drive for Power,” Middle East Quarterly, June 1996.

[7] Lia, pp. 153-4.

[8] Lia, p. 155.

[9] Jonathan Raban, “Truly, madly,deeply devout,” The Guardian, March 2, 2002.

[10] Shaker El-sayed, “Hassan al-Banna: The leader and the Movement,” Muslim American Society, http://www.maschicago.org/library/misc_articles/hassan_banna.htm.

[11] Tariq Ramadan, “Foreword,” in Hassan al-Banna, Al-Ma’thurat, Awakening Publications, 2001. Reprinted at http://www.tariq-ramadan.org/document.asp?fichier=foreword&d=38.


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