Egypt: The Muslim Brothers / Prof.B.Rubin

10 Feb 2011
A.How the West's Favorite Islamist Spins His Web to Ensnare Them

"The Islamic Ummah['s]...rightful position which was intended by Allah, [is] the most exalted nation among men, as the leaders of humanity....Jihad [is] not only for the purpose of fending-off assaults and attacks of Allah's enemies from Muslims, but are also for the purpose of realizing the great task of establishing an Islamic state and strengthening the religion and spreading it around the world..."
Mustafa Mashhur, Jihad Is The Way, (Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader, 1996-2002)

The op-ed in the New York Times international edition by Tariq Ramadan is full of lies. Yet virtually no Western reader, no matter how suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood, will notice any of the specific ways he distorts history.

Ramadan is supposedly the most sophisticated Islamic intellectual in the world as well as being a professor at major universities. The article carries an Oxford dateline. Yet it is typical of the polemical misinformation regularly put out by Islamists and swallowed whole by the Western media.

Let's go through the article:

"The Islamist presence has for decades justified the West’s acceptance of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world. And it was these very regimes that demonized their Islamist opponents...."

Well, let's see. Which were the worst dictatorships in the Arab world that demonized their Islamist opponents? Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt; Algeria's military junta; Syria and Iraqi Ba'thist regimes? None of them were Western-backed.

What countries were Western-backed? Saudi Arabia, which gave refuge to Islamists including many members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood; Jordan, whose government often worked with Islamists; Lebanon, where Islamists could operate freely. The United States supported Anwar al-Sadat's Egypt and Sadat had ended the Nasser-era oppression. The Gulf sheikdoms? Never repressed non-terrorist Islamists.

Every Western reader of his op-ed probably thought he was being accurate but, other than Tunisia, it is hard to make any case for what he wrote as being true, except for Mubarak's Egypt. As for that latter country, (the American-sponsored) Mubarak repressed Islamists much less after some of them murdered his predecessor, Sadat, than (the anti-American) Nasser after their attempted assassination of him.

What Ramadan also doesn’t say is that the Islamists want to establish new dictatorships that will certainly not be backed by America because they will be sinking their claws into America’s back, so to speak. Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hizballah in Lebanon are the first two. There may well be more.

While Ramadan says the “worst dictatorships” demonized Islamism, they also—and to a greater extent—demonized the United States, the West, and Israel. Ramadan wants to create new “worst dictatorships” that also demonize the United States, the West, and Israel.

Those "dumb" Americans actually thought that an Islamist regime in Iran would be bad for them? Ha-ha! How silly!

So was the Islamist “threat” such a fantasy? In Iran, the Islamist regime has compiled a record of repression and mismanagement. In Afghanistan, it was even worse. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has repressed its nationalist rivals, expelled Christians, and is steadily tightening the noose. In Sudan, Islamist governments were also extremely repressive.

So has the fear of radical Islamism proven to be such an illusion?

Ramadan continues that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood:

“Historically represents that country’s first well-organized mass movement with the political influence to match. For more than 60 years, the Brotherhood has been illegal but tolerated. It has demonstrated a powerful capacity to mobilize the people in each relatively democratic election — for trade unions, professional associations, municipalities, parliament and so on — where it has been a participant….”

There is an interesting little misstatement here—designed to leave out Sadat’s tolerance of the Brotherhood’s return to operation—by claiming that nothing has changed in 60 years. To admit the man who made peace with Israel also made peace with the Brotherhood is unacceptable for the Brotherhood’s own distorted history.

He also assumes, correctly no doubt, that his readers have no idea what the Brotherhood members actually do in parliament when they get there. They propose precisely the kind of legislation you'd expect, expressing the goals that Ramadan pretends don't exist.

Yet there is also an element of truth in this passage. At a time when the theme is to downplay the Brotherhood’s strength, Ramadan can’t help but brag by how powerful it is. He continues,

“Islamism [is] a mosaic of widely differing trends and factions, but its many different facets have emerged over time and in response to historical shifts.”

In other words, Islamism is too complex to understand. Now of course, there are many Islamist groups and these use different strategies and tactics. But all of them, as Ramadan knows perfectly well, have the same goal: the seizure of state power and the revolutionary transformation of their societies into countries ruled only by Islamists and exclusively by their interpretation of Sharia law.

Despite their many differences, the Brotherhood has this in common with al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Iranian regime, and many other such groups.

“The Muslim Brothers began in the 1930s as a legalist, anti-colonialist and nonviolent movement that claimed legitimacy for armed resistance in Palestine against Zionist expansionism during the period before World War II. The writings from between 1930 and 1945 of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Brotherhood, show that he opposed colonialism and strongly criticized the fascist governments in Germany and Italy. He rejected use of violence in Egypt, even though he considered it legitimate in Palestine, in resistance to the Zionist Stern and Irgun terror gangs. He believed that the British parliamentary model represented the kind closest to Islamic principles.”

This is a lie so shameless that Ramadan knew he was fabricating just to fool the Western audience. The Brotherhood was founded by his grandfather in 1928. It was not only anti-colonialist but, as noted above, intent on gaining power for itself and suppressing the other anti-colonialist movements, be they liberal, leftist, or nationalist. The idea that his grandfather was a believer in the British parliamentary system is such a huge fabrication that it sounds like a joke.

But “nonviolent”! What about the famous Muslim Brotherhood terrorist unit which assassinated political rivals? His own grandfather was killed in revenge after his men murdered the Egyptian prime minister! To say, “He was assassinated in 1949 by the Egyptian government on the orders of the British occupier,” is of course a typical fabrication, to play on the theme that only imperialists and their stooges opposed the Brotherhood.

What he writes about Zionism is also a lie. The Brotherhood’s attitude toward Jews is full of basic anti-Semitism expressed in virtually every document of the organization. And, of course, the Brotherhood was fighting against any Jewish state long before either the Sternists or Irgun did anything. When his father went off to fight the Jews, he was almost certainly carrying a German rifle supplied to the Muslim Brotherhood by Hitler in 1942.

Among the most profound lies is to claim that the Brotherhood was anti-fascist. In a forthcoming book, Germany, the Nazis, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, Wolfgang Schwanitz and I will show how the Brotherhood was in fact subsidized by the Nazi government in the 1930s through Amin al-Husaini, the mufti, and became a wartime ally of Germany. In 1942, the Brotherhood received German weapons to stage an uprising once the German army entered into Egypt. It also was incorporated in plans to massacre all of the Jews of the Middle East. Ramadan’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator.

“Following Gamal Abdel Nasser’s revolution in 1952, the movement was subjected to violent repression.”

Might the newspaper’s readers wonder why Nasser violently repressed the Brotherhood? No mass market newspaper has mentioned the little fact that this “nonviolent” organization tried to assassinate Nasser but missed. Naturally, this made him a bit petulant.

Ramadan then invents a fantasy history in which most of the Brotherhood “remained committed to the group’s original position of gradual reform.” What actually happened is that the Brotherhood devised a two-stage revolutionary strategy. Given its weakness and the likelihood of repression, it would stay away from violence and focus on “da’wa,” long-term recruitment and base-building. One day, leaders promised, it would return to its revolutionary ways.

That day, from my reading, came last October when the Brotherhood’s leader, Muhammad Badi, declared that the time had come for jihad.

True, the current revolution is the product of high food prices, the rise of a middle-class youth group wanting democratic freedom, and the Tunisian upheavals. But a fourth factor is the Brotherhood’s strategic shift, believing that the Mubarak regime was on its last legs and that there was strong popular opposition to the transfer of power to the weak, out-of-touch son, Gamal Mubarak. To what extent the Brotherhood prepared and planned for an uprising we will only know in the future. It didn’t have to be the whole or main reason for the revolution but it might be far more significant than we have known.

Ramadan continues that many members were forced into exile, but then he tells another lie to set up his own role: “Still others settled in the West, where they came into direct contact with the European tradition of democratic freedom.”

That, of course, was him. But is this the story of his background? Not at all. His father’s whole early career was based on being an assistant to the Mufti, who had backed the Nazis, excoriated the Jews, and advocated genocide. After Hitler's defeat, the Mufti had returned to his leadership of the Palestinian Arabs. In 1947 rejected the partition plan and thus the creation of a Palestinian Arab state. He then began the war that would lead to hundreds of thousands of Arabs becoming refugees and setting off the Arab-Israeli conflict.

So if any one man was responsible for the failure to create a Palestinian Arab state and the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, it was his father's boss.

His father later arrived in Switzerland because he fled an anti-American (not U.S.-backed) dictatorship in Egypt that had extended its rule into Syria. His job was to set up a base for a European-based Islamism; to create an anti-democratic society, not to imbibe the benefits of Western democracy. Vladimir Lenin lived in exile in Switzerland, too, but that did not make him into a democrat.

Ramadan then returns to his original themes: the Brotherhood is diverse and largely moderate; the United States and Israel want to stop Egyptian democracy. He is setting up the long-standing, temporarily underground, but soon to return virulent hatreds that the Brotherhood speeches.

“By deciding to line up behind Mohamed ElBaradei, who has emerged as the chief figure among the anti-Mubarak protesters, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has signaled that now is not the time to expose itself by making political demands that might frighten the West, not to mention the Egyptian people. Caution is the watchword. “

This is also a lie. The fable here is that the Brotherhood saw that ElBaradei was the “chief figure” and so in good democratic fashion supported him. In fact, ElBaradei has been largely a creature of the Brotherhood, which supplies most of his base, activists, support, and maybe funding. The young pro-democracy anti-Mubarak protesters are not at all supporting ElBaradei who has been out of Egypt for 30 years. The Brotherhood is definitely “behind” ElBaradei but in quite a different way than Ramadan implied.

The more the Brotherhood lies, the more suspicious I become. If it came clean about its past, that might mean it was indeed willing to change. If it openly expressed its goals of a Sharia state, it might show itself willing to take a place as one party trying to exert influence on the direction of society (something like this has happened in Iraq). Yet to pretend that the Brotherhood is about peace, love, and democracy is like watching a wolf dressed up as a sheep: you know it’s up to no good.

But then, for the grandson of an antisemitic Nazi collaborator, and son of top aide to another Nazi collaborator, and who himself advocates a totalitarian state, Ramadan has done very well to be hailed as a man of peace by applauding Western intellectuals.

Ramadan is indeed accurate when he says that the Brotherhood’s leadership “has signaled” that now is the time to act in a moderate fashion so as not to “frighten” the West or the Egyptian people. That's precisely what he's doing. Later, when the Brotherhood has a big share of power, it can reveal its true nature and aims. By then it will be too late.

B.With Ludicrous Lies The Muslim Brotherhood Shows Its Contempt for West

I'm fascinated by the op-ed in the New York Times international edition by Tariq Ramadan. It is so amazingly false and puts forward such ludicrous claims that the whole thing seems to shout out:

You people in the West are so stupid and such huge suckers that you'll swallow anything!

I admire good craftsmanship. If Ramadan--who, let's remember, is no Muslim Brotherhood street tough but supposedly the most sophisticated Islamic intellectual in the world as well as being a professor at major universities--had produced a very clever item of disinformation, I would have been impressed. Yet the absurdity he wrote shows his contempt for the audience. I've never seen anything more thoroughly reveal his phoniness.

While I don't want to do a word-for-word analysis I can start by pointing out that he does not properly state the date of the Muslim Brotherhood's founding by his grandfather, 1928, but puts it vaguely in the 1930s.

Of course he skips over his grandfather's collaboration with the Nazis, but also--as our forthcoming book Germany, The Nazis, and The Making of the Modern Middle East, his father's close work with the recently escaped war criminal Amin al-Husaini, help in fomenting terrorist violence, and building of a revolutionary Islamist movement in Europe.

Ramadan cannot even admit that the Brotherhead hated Zionism but pretends that it was only objecting to the actions of the two radical Zionist militias, the Irgun and the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, in the late 1940s. Of course he won't admit that it is a virulently antisemitic group, but what Arab of the last sixty years tried to pretend they weren't anti-Zionists from the start?

It isn't enough for Ramadan to say that the Brotherhood hasn't used violence for 60 years but he insists it never used violence ever, even though its terrorist unit's activities are well known and it assassinated an Egyptian prime minister. Of course, the Brotherhood has never been pacifist (it supports terrorism abroad; incites violence at times and has helped some assassinations at home; and has been so quiet within Egypt because otherwise it knew the regime would hit it upside the head). But as I noted in each case Ramadan goes beyond the clever, moderate lie to the all-out incredibly extreme falsehood.

And so on through the article. Let me be clear here: Anyone who has studied modern Middle East history, certainly every professor of Middle East studies in North America, knows that Ramadan has told a series of whoppers. Will a single one say so?

Consequently, by the time he gets to his apologia about how moderate the Brotherhood is today, his credibility should be totally destroyed. When I finished this article I was even more skeptical about the Brotherhood's claims than I was before. And if you read this blog you'll agree I'm about the most skeptical person in the world on this subject.

I'm waiting to see if others do detailed critiques of this article. How could the New York Times publish such nonsense? Couldn't the editors have told him privately: We don't mind if you prevaricate, but couldn't it be more credible so our readers won't laugh at us. This is on the level of how an 18-year-old Muslim Brotherhood street tough might explain these issues.

And then I realized what was happening. I call it "the test," a frequent experience in the Middle East. When you meet someone they try a silly lie on you. If you catch it, they are more frank and respect you more. If you don't, they treat you like an idiot and tell you the utmost garbage.

An example. When I was meeting a PLO leader in Tunis in 1990, the first thing he said to me when I came into the room was, "Do you know that on the wall of Israel's parliament there is a map showing Israel claims most of the Middle East."

If I said, "Oh, really?" or agreed with him, he knew that I was a useful idiot. Instead, I said: "Look, it's 1990, the modern world [how little did I know then what things would be like two decades later!] You know it's not true; I know it's not true. So let's talk seriously or I might as well leave now." (Yes, that's really what I said.)

After that, he treated me respectfully and we had an interesting discussion. For years afterward he sent me greeting cards on major Jewish holidays. (No kidding.)

So Ramadan and the Brotherhood put the New York Times and the American elite to the test. And they failed miserably. Lenin once said that the bourgeoisie was so dumb or venal that it would sell the revolutionaries the rope to hang them.

The Islamists are learning that Western intellectuals and policymakers will do far more: become the press agents of those who want to hang them.

A reader wrote me: "The Tariq Ramadan's aren't interested in facts. What they're interested in is in "getting out" their propaganda message."

My response? "That the Tariq Ramadan's aren't interested in facts doesn't surprise me. That the New York Times isn't interested in facts does.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.