Op-Ed: Whither the Muslim Brotherhood

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and of ousted president Mohamed Morsi wears a badge showing the four fingers, the symbol known as “Rabaa”, which means four in Arabic, remembering those killed in the crackdown on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in Cairo earlier in the year, during a rally outside the Police Academy where his trial is taking place on November 4, 2013, in Cairo. Egypt’s deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi went on trial in a Cairo courthouse over protester deaths, raising fears of new bloodshed four months after the army ousted him. (AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI via Getty Images)

By: Danny Eisen and Tom Quiggin

TORONTO – British Prime Minister David Cameron recently ordered an investigation into the al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, better known in the West as the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Downing Street spokesman told The Times, that given “the concerns about the group and its alleged links to violent extremism, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we get a better handle of what the Brotherhood stands for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for Britain.” Cameron’s move to explore the group comes amidst allegations that Brotherhood leaders have been planning violent activities from Britain.

The inquiry has generated a wide array of response. The Brotherhood as well as many others outside the movement insist that the organization is committed to non-violence and the democratic promotion of Islam, while some like Sir Richard Dearlove think otherwise. Dearlove, the former head of MI6, was recently quoted in the British press as stating that the Muslim Brotherhood is “at heart a terrorist organization.” Many in the intelligence and academic communities share his position, although perspectives on this are by no means monolithic in those sectors.

The inquiry, expected to finish in the summer, has drawn fire not only from Brotherhood supporters but also from some British officials, who claim that the investigation will radicalize “a moderate, non-violent organization that campaigns for democracy.” According to news reports, Ibrahim Mounir, one of the U.K.’s most senior members of the Brotherhood, less gently expressed the same concern. He reportedly warned that a terrorist ban of the Ikhwan “would make a lot of people in Muslim communities think that [peaceful] Muslim Brotherhood values … didn’t work and now they are designated a terrorist group, which would make the doors open for all options. He went on to say that “anything” was a possibility because “you can’t predict [what would happen] …especially [with] the big Muslim organizations close to the Muslim Brotherhood and sharing its ideology.”

It is perhaps this penchant for violent “unpredictability” referenced in Mounir’s response that has prompted experts like Dr. H.A. Hellyer of the Royal United Services Institute of London to conclude that irrespective of any terror designation “there is evidence to suggest the Muslim Brotherhood is …sectarian, permissive of incitement, and other such unsavoury characteristics, including a willingness to engage in violence for political ends.”

Given the inquiry’s domestic implications in Britain, Cameron’s announcement may have come as a surprise, but controversy surrounding the Brotherhood itself is hardly new. The recent stir in Britain is only the latest iteration of a global policy debate that has raged for decades. The Brotherhood conundrum can perhaps be summed up with the words of Juan Zarate, former chief of the U.S. Treasury Terror Finance Unit who concluded that: [the Brotherhood is] an apolitical movement, an economic cadre, and in some cases terror supporters… They have one foot in our world and one foot in a world hostile to us. How to decipher what is good bad or suspect is a severe complication.”

How, indeed. As noted by Cambridge scholar Dr. Alison Pargeter, the prevailing suspicions that the Ikwan’s “progressive views” are nothing more “than a chimera aimed at increasing its power base” are not without cause. Jihad “in both its violent and non-violent sense” has been always been a central component of the Brotherhood’s ideology. The Ikhwan has an indisputable history of direct involvement in expedient violence and has consistently demonstrated a “tacit acceptance of those with violent outlooks and an unwillingness to expel or condemn them.” It has also promoted a “curriculum” that essentially endorses violence by including the works of radical Islamists like Sayyid Qutb. Qutb is a Brotherhood icon and martyr, whose hate-filled monographs against unbelievers were instrumental in laying the ideological foundations for the violence of so many Islamist terrorist organizations including al-Qaida.

It would therefore be difficult to simply dismiss the Ikhwan’s terrorist alumni as an irrelevant anomaly. The Brotherhood has spawned some of the century’s most notorious terrorists including: al-Qaida leader Ayman Zawahiri; blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York landmarks; and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, father of Afghan Mujahideen and mentor to Osama bin Laden, to name but a few. Perhaps the terrorist alumnus most familiar to readers would be Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 slaughter, who told U.S. interrogators that he was drawn to violent jihad after joining the Brotherhood in Kuwait at age 16 and attending its desert youth camps.

Those opposing further investigation into the Brotherhood point to the Ikhwan’s current eschewal of violence and its support for democracy as emblematic of changes within the Ikhwan, notwithstanding the historic and ideological indicators cited above. But in doing so, they have often overlooked the fine print of the Ikhwani paradigm and the blazing headlines regarding the Brotherhood’s forays into terror sponsorship. They have ignored Brotherhood definitions of democracy as legitimate only when defined by its version of Sharia, and as a principle that can be accepted or rejected once Islamic rule is attained. They have allowed the Brotherhood’s democratic slogans to drown out its annihilationist proclamations against “international Judaism” and incitement and assaults against Egyptian Copts. They have sidestepped the Brotherhood’s endorsement of suicide bombings, not only against Israel, but in “Iraq, Afghanistan, and all [other] parts of our Muslim world.” And perhaps most seriously they have sanitized the Ikhwan’s moral and material support of Hamas. This terrorist organization, renowned for its rabid anti-Semitism and brutality towards Palestinians who do not endorse their path, is defined in its charter as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Given the Brotherhood’s history and discourse, Cameron and indeed other western countries including Canada, have the right and the obligation to take a closer look at the Ikhwan. This is hardly without precedent. In 2007, the Interior Ministry of Bavaria branded the IGD (the Islamic Community of Germany, IGD) as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and an extremist organization, freezing assets of its leaders and investigating its involvement in terror financing. Western governments also shut down a huge banking network in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas that was set up by a leading Brotherhood figure, citing its numerous financial ties to al-Qaida and other terrorists, while the U.S. has jailed several Brotherhood associates for terrorism-related crimes. Most notably the Holy Land Foundation case-the largest terror funding trial in U.S. history-exposed the extensive involvements of Brotherhood affiliates in the support of terrorism.

Whatever the results of the British inquiry, Canada’s next steps regarding the Brotherhood are not bound by what its allies are or are not doing or the pressures emanating from Cairo or Riyadh to ban the Brotherhood. But if the Ikhwan is in fact a “stepping stone” for those “interested in dedicating their lives to a radical Islamist cause,” as some experts[25]have stated, then it is deserving of greater Canadian scrutiny. Canada is a country deeply concerned about the radicalization of its youth and would be justified in taking a closer look at groups that support terrorist organizations that have murdered Canadians, or exhort others to disregard their lives or the lives of their fellow citizens for an ideology fundamentally at odds with Canadian values and interests.

The Brotherhood’s rhetoric of moderation, so often construed only for western consumption, should not be allowed to deter Canada from re-evaluating the Ikhwan in terms of Canada’s foreign and domestic policy interests. At a minimum, a Canadian inquiry along the lines of the British investigation is certainly in order.

Danny Eisen is a cofounder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT) and Tom Quiggin is a court expert on terrorism with more than 25 years of experience in intelligence matters.

First appeared in the in the Hill Times

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