I’ve brought up the Muslim Brotherhood quite a few times on Ricochet. As I’ve written before, I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans. I’ve been blaming the media, but I am the media, so perhaps it would behoove me just to do something about it.
This week I’ll write a multi-part series about the Brotherhood, after which I expect all of America to understand the history and evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, to be able to write a short essay about the key aspects of its ideology, to recognize the names of prominent figures in the Brotherhood and the names of Brotherhood-linked or inspired movements and groups (particularly those in America, and particularly those whose spokesmen keep showing up on the nightly news), to appreciate the reach of the Brotherhood today, to understand contemporary policy debates about the Brotherhood, and to be able to state succinctly why all of this matters to you. There will be a test at the end. All of America is expected to take it.
The Society of the Muslim Brotherhood–the Jamaat al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, or the Ikhwan, for short–was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna. A decade later, it had a million active followers and sympathizers in Egypt alone.
The first thing you must grasp about Brotherhood is its ideology: Its goal is the establishment everywhere of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In al Banna’s own words, it seeks “to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” Its motto: “God is our purpose, the Prophet our leader, the Qur’an our constitution, Jihad our way and dying for God’s cause our supreme objective.” Clear enough?
The Brotherhood’s essence is immoderate: It is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western. It has fractured; there are divisions within it; like all movements it is comprised of individuals, some of whom are pleasant–but basically it has not changed. It was not moderate then and it is not moderate now. To the extent that al Banna rejected violence as a strategy, he did so only because he viewed it as an ineffective strategy so long as the movement was outranked by superior force–a strategy apt to result in the movement being crushed, which would be counter-productive.
Here is al-Banna in his own words on the concept of jihad. He rejects every verse or interpretation of the Koran that could be interpreted as “moderate” in favor of the most extreme verses and interpretations:
Many Muslims today mistakenly believe that fighting the enemy is jihad asghar (a lesser jihad) and that fighting one’s ego is jihad akbar (a greater jihad). The following narration [athar] is quoted as proof: “We have returned from the lesser jihad to embark on the greater jihad.” They said: “What is the greater jihad?” He said: “The jihad of the heart, or the jihad against one’s ego.”
This narration is used by some to lessen the importance of fighting, to discourage any preparation for combat, and to deter any offering of jihad in Allah’s way. This narration is not a saheeh (sound) tradition: The prominent muhaddith Al Hafiz ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said in the Tasdid al-Qaws:
‘It is well known and often repeated, and was a saying of Ibrahim ibn ‘Abla.’
Al Hafiz Al Iraqi said in the Takhrij Ahadith al-Ahya’:
‘Al Bayhaqi transmitted it with a weak chain of narrators on the authority of Jabir, and Al Khatib transmitted it in his history on the authority of Jabir.’
Nevertheless, even if it were a sound tradition, it would never warrant abandoning jihad or preparing for it in order to rescue the territories of the Muslims and repel the attacks of the disbelievers. Let it be known that this narration simply emphasises the importance of struggling against one’s ego so that Allah will be the sole purpose of everyone of our actions.
Other associated matters concerning jihad include commanding the good and forbidding the evil. It is said in the Hadeeth: “One of the greatest forms of jihad is to utter a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.” But nothing compares to the honour of shahadah kubra (the supreme martyrdom) or the reward that is waiting for the Mujahideen.
It’s all like this, with al Banna. (No, it is not like this with all Muslims, unless you agree with him that those Muslims who believe fighting one’s ego to be the greater jihad are “mistaken.” Note that he himself believes that “many Muslims today” believe this.) But al Banna is the echt item–a radical who seeks to impose upon the world a religious tyranny by any means necessary:
we will not stop at this point [i.e., freeing Egypt from secularism and modernity], but will pursue this evil force to its own lands, invade its Western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts by the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world. Only then will Muslims achieve their fundamental goal and all religion will be exclusively for Allah.
The second thing you must grasp is the approach al Banna advocated: to work slowly and patiently to politicize religion from the bottom up. The Brotherhood is sometimes described as “non-violent,” which is nonsense, it’s plenty violent, but this idea comes from al Banna’s observation that violence was only one tool in the toolkit, and shouldn’t be used when other tools would work more effectively.
The Brotherhood is vastly more sophisticated, in this sense, than al Qaeda. In Egypt, the Brotherhood created what has effectively been a shadow government, a state within a state, to redress local social grievances and channel economic and political discontent into Islamism. The Brotherhood built (and builds) schools, sports clubs, factories, medical clinics, an entire welfare service network. It had (and still has) specific branches charged with targeting specific segments of society–a bureau for peasants, a bureau for workers. It had (and has) dedicated units for domestic propaganda, for liaison with the wider Islamic world, for press relations. Al Banna created what was and remains an extremely sophisticated political organization, analogous in many ways to the Comintern.
He also created a paramilitary organization–one that stole weapons, trained fighters, formed assassination squads, created sleeper cells in the army and police, and waited for the order to begin an outright campaign of terror, assassination, and suicide missions. Then, as now, idiot Westerners looked at the Brotherhood, nodded sagely, and said, “Well, the people love them because they build soup kitchens. Surely that’s very admirable.”
The third essential thing you must grasp is that the Brotherhood formed an active alliance with the Nazis. There was a natural ideological affinity, obviously–Jew hatred, authoritarianism, an enthrallment with violence and a common hatred of the British. But the transformation of affinity to alliance had very distinct historic consequences; it is precisely why we keep seeing a form of anti-Semitism that reminds us of the Third Reich in the Islamic world today: It comes directly from the Third Reich. The Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood worked together to create Arab translations of Mein Kampf (translated as My Jihad), to translate anti-Semitic cartoons from Der Sturmer, and to adapt images of the Jew from “Enemy of the Volk” to “Enemy of Allah.”
No, this kind of anti-Semitism is not simply the ancient nature of Islam, no more than it it is the ancient nature of Christian Europe–Nazism is a historically unique ideology and unique evil. This stuff we now see in the Islamic world looks like Nazism because it comes from the Nazis.
Let’s begin with that. Tomorrow we’ll explore the development of the Brotherhood in the postwar era. As a homework exercise, I leave it to America to identify lobby groups and think tanks in the United States that are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and to note ways that these groups have recently shaped public discourse on matters of national security.
If you fail the test, don’t blame the media–I’m doing my best, here.