What if terrorist Islam and political Islam are the same thing?
We spend a great deal of time talking about the Muslim Brotherhood’s networks, its agents of influence and the structural elements of its infrastructure. But it may be worth exploring a more basic question.
What is its appeal?
This isn’t an inquiry about the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood and its varied front groups to the educated and wealthy Muslims who make up its key demographic.
The Brotherhood promises the Sunni Arab elites that they can stay on top while beating the West by making Islam into as compelling a method of national and international governance as the freedom and free trade that upended their feudal societies. So it’s no great mystery why a Cal-Tech student from Egypt will join the MSA. It offers him a heady combination of community, power, revenge and destiny.
What is more interesting is the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood, a reactionary Islamist terrorist organization with a history of Nazi collaboration that stands for theocracy, to the Western politicians who have come flocking to it as the last best hope for stability in the Middle East.
A glimmer of that false hope can be seen in the Washington Post editorial that Senator McCain and Senator Graham penned after a disastrous visit in which they failed to pressure the Egyptian authorities to free Muslim Brotherhood detainees.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, McCain and Graham warned ominously, “is a former member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who was radicalized during the violent crackdowns and detentions of Brotherhood leaders by previous Egyptian regimes. “ And if the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t given a chance to take power, the two politicians implicitly conclude, a new generation of Al Qaeda will be born.
Every single Al Qaeda leader, including Bin Laden, had actually been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Somehow Bin Laden turned to terror without the benefit of any Egyptian crackdown.
McCain and Graham’s thinking shows the logical flaw that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to seduce the West. They focus on the “radicalization” of Ayman al-Zawahiri as a matter of means, not of ends.
The difference between Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, a difference that so many politicians have made their talking point in support for the Brotherhood, does not hinge on the nature of the society that both want to bring about, but on the tactics they use to bring that society about.
It’s not that there are no differences between them, but they are comparable to the ones between the Bolsheviks and the Trotskyites, rather than between the Labour Party and the Bolsheviks. The distinction is occasionally crucial to dogmatic insiders, but irrelevant to us in terms of the violence and warfare that we would inevitably face from such a regime in the long term.
As every leftist activist knows, moderation is a strategy. Terrorism is also a strategy. Strategies can be revealing, but objectives are much more revealing.
The terrorism-or-democracy fallacy treats Islamists as “bad” if they blow up buildings in order to build a theocracy, but “good” if they compete in elections to build a theocracy. It prioritizes process over outcome and its logic suggests that we should have no objections to Hitler and Stalin if they had come to power as part of a pure democratic process. Or worse still, bet that democracy would moderate them.
Democracy and terrorism are treated as opposite poles. One leads to a stable, prosperous and free society and the other to ruin and perpetual war. But despite all the assertions that democracy is the only thing that can stabilize Egypt, democracy has already badly destabilized Egypt. Most Egyptians were safer and better off under Mubarak. That may be one reason so much of the country appears to have breathed a sigh of relief at the current state of affairs. The majority of Egyptians polled appear to show that democratically they are happy to be rid of democracy.
The lazy assumption that when the Muslim Brotherhood switched from the bomb to the ballot box, it did more than switch means, it also switched ends, doesn’t hold up. Not when examining the tactics of Islamists in power from Turkey to Tunisia to Egypt. Islamists are as violent in power as they are out of power. It isn’t disenfranchisement that radicalizes them. It’s their belief in Islamic rule that does.
Rather than trying to avoid the outcome that leads to an Islamist tyranny, men like McCain and Graham try to avoid leading the Islamists to violent tactics. Their goal is not to stop terrorists from forming regimes, but to dissuade them from using terrorist tactics to form those regimes.
But do McCain and Graham really think that Ayman al-Zawahiri would have been a great improvement as a Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt rather than as a leader of Al Qaeda? If so, they ought to honestly defend that point of view. Instead they warn us that if the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t allowed to take over Egypt by the ballot box, they’ll go on trying to take it over by the bomb.
Is a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood really better than a violent Muslim Brotherhood opposition? Even if the goal is to shut down terrorism, a regime in one of the largest countries in the region that supports terrorism is far more of a threat than that same regime as a terrorist opposition.
Stability through appeasement led to pressure on Israel to create a Palestinian state because a state created through moderate means was bound to be moderate. After two decades of terrorism, there is no evidence that this has been the case. Nor is there any evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood had become moderate to the point of eschewing violence.
In Egypt, Morsi’s successful election through a flawed democratic process did not prevent him from attempting to seize absolute power anyway. It did not prevent him from using armies of thugs to rape, torture and terrorize his political opponents.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s emphasis on political Islam did not preclude terrorist Islam because like the political and military wings of a terrorist organization, political Islam and terrorism Islam are the same Islam.
Western leaders have seized on political Islam as the salvation of a civilized world reeling from attacks by terrorist Islam; but this sees terrorism only as an end, rather than as a means.
McCain and Graham, like most Western leaders, are unable to take the Islamist dreams of a revived Caliphate seriously. That is their undoing and ours. To them, the Brotherhood will become another political party and its Islamist agenda will mean little except a ban on liquor or a lower marriage age for little girls. They refuse to understand their enemies by contemplating the world of the present through the dirty glass of the Islamic lens.
What they fail to understand is that the Islamists don’t just seek to change a few laws; they want to overthrow the entire system, to sweep away the assumptions of one civilization and replace it with those of another.
Western politicians are too much creatures of the current system to contemplate the return of the world as it was a thousand years ago. They have imbibed the machinery of the clock and believe that history only marches forward, never backward. And the Muslim Brotherhood is proving them wrong.
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