Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

The art of politically-correct Holocaust commemoration in Germany

This past Friday, people in Cologne had the chance to participate in a unique “performance” sponsored by the “Impulse Theater Biennale 2013:” mimicking Israeli practice on Yom HaShoah, people in Cologne were invited to observe “Two Minutes of Standstill” in order to “pause and think about the history and our future. About what it means to be German today, what it means to live in Germany as an immigrant, what the consequences of the Holocaust and its instrumentalisation are today.”

This “performance” was the idea of award-winning Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana, whose work “challenges the national consciousness … propagated by her native country Israel.”

But not everyone is impressed with Bartana’s record as an artist and her awards: writing in “Die Welt,” Alan Posener observed sarcastically that any Israeli artist in search of a business plan that can work irrespective of talent should consider Israel-bashing as a safe choice. What irked Posener in particular was Bartana’s entirely predictable attempt to employ all sorts of worn-out slogans and clichés to endow her project with a supposedly deeper meaning.

Thus, Bartana explains in the official announcement of her project for the Cologne event:

“the Third Reich and the Holocaust are not just historical events – they also have long-term global chain effects that reach into the present day. Not only is the founding of the State of Israel based on a UN-decision such a consequence, but so is the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948. As are escape and expulsion in Europe and the Middle East […] This history is written, but the future depends on our acting.

 And so, “Two Minutes of Standstill” is not only commemoration and performance but also a challenge to change the present. It is a proposal for a wide-reaching debate in Cologne and beyond, about what active remembering should look like today. A day of protest against violence and injustice today and tomorrow.”

Bartana also repeatedly highlighted the murders and other crimes committed by a small terror group that called itself “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). The group may have had a handful of supporters, but it consisted of only three known members and seems to have been active between 2000 and 2011, when two of the terrorists killed themselves as they were cornered by police after a bank robbery. The group’s only surviving member turned herself in and is awaiting trial.

Bartana apparently considers the NSU a part of “the chain of effects caused by the Second World War.” When asked in an interview if there wasn’t “a danger of relativizing the crimes and horrors committed by Germany during the NS-regime when you connect them this way with other events such as the murders of the NSU,” Bartana replied:

“It seems that for some people in Germany drawing a line between the NS [Nazis] to the NSU is politically incorrect. Just as it seems to be impossible to commemorate Jews, Roma, homosexuals together as victims of National Socialism. Maybe it’s true, and each group needs its own memorial. And of course this will continue to be an important discussion: How to commemorate without relativizing. But also without exclusion. After all, it is not about numbers. The NSU is an active fascist movement in today’s Germany. So we are talking about an ideology that still is alive.”

Of course you have to argue that “it is not about numbers” if you want to claim that a terror group consisting of three people and perhaps a few dozen supporters constitutes “an active fascist movement in today’s Germany” and represents “an ideology that still is alive” – even if two of the terrorists are dead and the third one is in custody awaiting trial. To be sure, the fact that the terror trio could carry on for years and commit a series of murders targeting mostly immigrants reflects a spectacular failure of German law enforcement and security agencies. But the existence of such a small group in a country of some 80 million people does not indicate that Nazism and fascism are “alive” in Germany.

However, there are other reasons for concerns about the legacy of Nazism in Germany – which can of course be conveniently ignored by somebody like Bartana who isn’t interested in numbers. Consider for example the findings of studies showing that at least 20 percent of Germans harbor antisemitic attitudes, and that more than 40 percent of Germans endorse antisemitic “criticism” of Israel such as comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews.

But anyone really concerned about Nazi-inspired hatred that “still is alive” today would have to bring up the pervasive Jew-hatred in the Middle East. As the renowned expert Robert Wistrich has argued:

“Islamic antisemitism is by far the most dynamic and threatening form of antisemitism existing at present in the contemporary world. It combines the scourge of Islamist terrorism, the spread of jihad, hatred of the West, Holocaust denial, and the genocidal “anti-Zionism” which is state-sanctioned in Iran. The dramatic triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the alarming growth of militant Salafist movements across the Arab Middle East have greatly increased the level of threat worldwide.”

Commenting on the historic connection between European fascism and Islamism, Wistrich has pointed out:

“The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, had a radical totalitarian vision of societal transformation, a leadership cult, and visceral hatred of Jews not so different from that of fascism and National Socialism. Moreover, the charismatic founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was a fanatical genocidal anti-Semite who actively collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II. This “annihilationist” tradition of Jew-hatred has continued in the Palestinian Hamas movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to this very day. Its Sacred Covenant is one of the most nakedly anti-Jewish texts of the entire post-Holocaust era.”

While much has already been written about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, a new book on “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz will be available early next year, offering “new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.”

Nazis and Islamists

Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a good career move for Yael Bartana to incorporate this important subject into any of her future projects in Germany. It’s so much easier to offer a glib “Holocaust for all” which – as a critical article in the taz puts it – transforms the Nazi genocide into a “European feel-good project.”

However, Bartana’s “performance” in Cologne was also attended by a few people who didn’t feel so good about it. As initiated by blogger “Tapfer im Nirgendwo” (Brave in the nowhere), they sang Hatikva and some carried Israeli flags – which led some high-school students who had been sent by their teachers to attend the “performance” to respond with shouts of “Viva Palestine!”

If I could have joined “Tapfer im Nirgendwo”, I would have played the famous recording of survivors of Bergen Belsen concentration camp singing HaTikva shortly after the camp’s liberation in April 1945.

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First published on my JPost blog on June 29, 2013.

 

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

In a recent article on the now widely debated antisemitic rants by Mohammed Morsi – recorded in 2010, well before he became Egypt’s president – Barry Rubin rightly criticizes that there is a tendency to pretend that we are just dealing with some “isolated acts” and that by now, Morsi’s views might have changed.

While this kind of wishful politically-correct thinking is unlikely to change no matter how much evidence is available to counter it, MEMRI recently provided translated excerpts from a very interesting article on precisely this subject by Lebanese liberal Joseph Bishara, who pointed out that Jew-hatred is a basic principle of the Muslim Brotherhood’s “philosophy.”  This is of course exactly the same assessment as the one offered by the widely respected Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi  in an interview that I quoted a year ago.

Here are some passages from Bishara’s article, as translated by MEMRI:

“Needless to say, tolerance toward the other has no place in the MB’s agenda. Therefore, how can certain people assume that the MB is tolerant of Jews? The MB is racist and hates the Jews and anyone who believes in Judaism. This is an uncontestable part of its creed and is reflected in extremist directives that appear in the writings of its greatest thinkers.

“This hatred did not emerge in the 20th century or [after] Israel’s establishment or the occupation of Arab and Palestinian lands by Israel. This hatred is historic, with roots going back to the inception of Islam. The MB bases its hatred of Jews on the Koranic verse: ‘You will surely find that the most intense of people in animosity towards the believers are the Jews and the polytheists… ‘ [Koran 5:82].

“The MB’s position on the Jews is evident in the interpretation of this verse by Sayyid Qutb, who said that the Koran placed the Jews before the polytheists because they had been more hostile to the Muslims throughout history. Qutb also stated that contrary to what moderate Muslims claim, the Koranic description of the Jews is unchangeable and is not dependent upon [circumstances] of time and place.

“As far as the MB is concerned, the text is absolute and fits any time and place; hence, the animosity between Jews and Muslims is eternal, and will never end, whatever the circumstances.”

The notion of a divinely ordained “eternal” hostility between Muslims and Jews is indeed exactly what the influential cleric Yusuf Qaradawi is preaching.

Bishara also offers some chilling observations about the thinking of MB founder Hassan Al-Banna:

“The MB’s position on the Egyptian Jews is no different than its position on Jews in general; it is the same animosity and hatred. A document titled ‘The MB and the Jews,’ penned by ‘Abdo Mustafa Dsoky for the MB’s Wiki [ikhwanwiki.com], claims that MB founder Hassan Al-Banna gained fame due to his essays on the character and hidden traits of the Jews.

“[Al-Banna] wrote: ‘The Jews of today are the descendants of their warmongering, troublemaking, rabble-rousing, and scheming ancestors. There is no civil war or popular rebellion that does not have the fingerprints of Jews behind it. [The Jews] stoke [wars and rebellions] and work to magnify their effect. It is as though this people wants vengeance upon the entire world for the power it lost due to its stubbornness and the honor it lost due to its materialism. No wrongs have been done them – it is they who do wrong.’

“Al-Banna went so far as to claim that it was [the Jews'] fault that the Nazis burned them in the crematoria during the first half of the 20th century. He said: ‘When we examine modern history, we see that Russia, Poland, Germany, the U.S. and other countries were outraged by the plots of the Jews and their games of deception in the politics of these countries – so much so that the Germans took a bizarre stand vis-à-vis the Jewish race.’

“Continuing his hostility to all Jews, without exception, Hassan Al-Banna said: ‘Evil gradually grew in the Jewish character. [The Jew] does not value virtue. His only concern is to accumulate wealth in any way possible, even at the expense of virtue, honor, and the principles of exalted morality. That is why [the Jews] grew rich, leading others to impoverishment. They accumulate gold, enabling them to realize their goals and cravings, [to play] deceptive games on rulers, and to thwart the efforts of those who wish to amend things.’

“Al-Banna advised the Jews: ‘You wronged the entire world and harmed all peoples. I call upon you to repent so that we do not treat you in ways that run counter to the Torah. Repent before your Maker, kill yourselves, and free the world of the catastrophes that you cause.’”

 

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

If it was a western president or prime minister – let alone an Israeli one – who had made utterly bigoted and hate-filled remarks about Muslims not long before he took office, it sure would be a top news item all over the world. But when it turns out that some two years ago, the man who is now Egypt’s president called “the Zionists” “blood-suckers,” “warmongers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” most of the mainstream media (MSM) seem to think it should be politely ignored.

In a way one could actually argue that this really isn’t newsworthy, because if the MSM accurately reported on Islamist ideology, everyone would already know that implacable Jew-hatred is an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s views and agenda. After all, Morsi’s statements from 2010, which were recently translated by MEMRI, faithfully echo themes that are all too familiar from the Hamas Charter, and similar views are regularly propagated by well-respected Muslim scholars.

The question why this torrent of loathsome statements by influential and widely respected figures who clearly shape and represent mainstream views is studiously ignored in the MSM was recently addressed by Pat Condell, who focused on the Palestinians and argued that this kind of “political correctness” reflected a patronizing and ultimately racist attitude.

While I largely agree with Pat Condell’s broader argument, I think there are also other important factors at work – first and foremost perhaps the western mantra that other societies should be approached as “people like us.” The problem with this approach is that, while it is always true on an individual level – we can meet people we personally like and get along with anywhere –, it is not true for societies.  A society where the reactionary and bigoted views of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are mainstream is simply not like a society where it is mainstream to reject and even loathe comparably reactionary and bigoted views.

Judith Butler and the politics of hypocrisy

German prize award committees seem to have a weak spot for outspoken Jewish critics of Israel: writer and activist Uri Avnery has accumulated multiple German awards over the years, and the staunchly pro-Palestinian attorney and activist Felicia Langer was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First class, in 2009. Now it is the turn of Judith Butler, an American philosopher and professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize on September 11 in Frankfurt.

To be sure, the Adorno Prize is awarded to “acknowledge outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film” – which is to say that it is Butler’s academic work, and not her political activism that are being honored with the prize. However, it is obviously Butler’s academic fame and her status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies that make her activism very valuable to her political allies in the BDS-movement that targets Israel. Critics who argue that it is therefore disingenuous to pretend that Butler’s contribution to philosophy can be honored irrespective of her political activism obviously have a point.

There are indeed several problematic political implications of honoring Butler with the Adorno Prize.  First and foremost, it has to be noted that, while we cannot know how Adorno would feel about Israel now, we do know that he was very concerned about the antisemitic and anti-Zionist tendencies that became acceptable and even fashionable on the left in the 1960s.  At the beginning of the Six-Day-War in 1967, Adorno expressed great alarm about the danger Israel faced and explicitly stated that he hoped that Israel would prove militarily superior to the Arabs. Shortly before his death in 1969, he worried that the open hostility to Israel displayed by the student movement might indicate fascist tendencies.  [See: Stephan Grigat, Befreite Gesellschaft und Israel: Zum Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Israel; a shorter version is: Kritische Theorie und Israel: Adorno, Horkheimer und Marcuse über den Zionismus]

It is therefore hard to imagine that Adorno would have been anything but horrified by Judith Butler’s view that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” While Butler also emphasized that there were “certain dimensions of both movements” that were problematic and that she herself was firmly committed to “non-violent politics,” she also eventually clarified that in her view, Hamas and Hezbollah qualified as “left” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism.”

How completely inane this view is will be readily apparent to anyone who has ever glanced at the Hezbollah or Hamas Charters, and there is arguably a strong case to be made that somebody who is able to see anything “progressive” in groups that define themselves in the most reactionary religious terms and advocate an unbridled Jew-hatred should automatically be disqualified from winning a prize named after Adorno.

Unsurprisingly, Butler has reacted to criticism of her views regarding Hamas and Hezbollah by complaining that her remarks “have been taken out of context.” She mainly emphasizes now that she has “always been in favor of non-violent political action” and explicitly declares: “I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have.”

But it is arguably revealing that Butler chose the Mondoweiss website to publish her most recent rebuttal. Surely an academic of her standing had many other choices and did not have to turn to a site that has often been criticized for hosting antisemitic posts and comments as well as antisemitic cartoons? On such a site, it is somewhat strange to read Butler’s lament:

“For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating.”

And how come that somebody who evokes such a family history has nothing to say about the Jew-hatred espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their acknowledged ideological sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime?

How come that somebody who evokes such a family history would eloquently speak out in favor of boycotting Israeli universities, but would have no problem to lecture at Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism? One former student of Birzeit University is Ahlam al-Tamimi, the exceedingly proud collaborator in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing whose release in exchange for Gilad Shalit was publicly celebrated by the Islamic bloc at the University of Birzeit.

Adorno prize winner Judith Butler can only imagine to speak at Tel Aviv university once it is a “fabulous bi-national university,” but she has no problem lecturing at Birzeit University, where Ahlam al-Tamimi is a much admired celebrity.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a respectful look at the history of sharia

During the past week’s Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, I noticed several enthusiastic tweets about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s presentation. One of her statements – arguably a characteristically politically incorrect one – seemed particularly popular with her audience:

I was curious to learn more about her speech and the context of this statement, and while I couldn’t find an official recording or transcript, some of the bloggers who were in the audience provided their own partial transcripts or summaries.

Deena Levenstein, who criticized the conference for offering a too homogenous left-wing selection of (mainly male) speakers, highlighted Hirsi Ali as one of the few conference participants who didn’t necessarily “fit the mold.”

According to Levenstein, Hirsi Ali’s remark about Jerusalem came as response to suggestions for peace-promoting measures by veteran US Middle East expert Dennis Ross. In her presentation, Hirsi Ali had focused on three characteristics that she described as deeply embedded in Muslim societies: the absolute and unquestionable authority of the usually male power figures (e.g. father, husband, teacher, policeman, president); the dominance of a pride vs. shame paradigm and the related notion that the willingness to compromise is a sign of weakness; and the conviction that religious texts like the Koran and the Hadith offer solutions to every conceivable problem.

However, not everyone in the audience was positively impressed by Hirsi Ali. Writing in the Times of Israel, Shayna Zamkanei noted caustically:

“Cleverly, and unlike her co-speakers Ashkenazi, Ross and Wieseltier, Ali didn’t mention the Palestinians once. Yet, her entire talk centered on the Palestinian issue. Only winners and losers? Principle of non-compromise? Islamists? Listening to her talk, it would be easy to believe that secularists readily compromise, and that talking to Islamists is useless, even though both of these ideas have proven false. If we replaced in Ali’s speech […] “Muslim” and “Islamist” with “Jewish,” she would have been called anti-Semitic.

Ironically, at a conference dubbed “Tomorrow” and focused on Israel’s future and the need for communication within the region, we had a speaker hinting and miming that Muslims can’t be trusted unless they abandon their faith. While Ali’s talk focused on her challenges and inspiring triumphs, her broader message was nevertheless depressing, since it made sweeping and inaccurate generalizations not only about nearly half of the inhabitants of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, but about a sixth of the world’s population. Paradoxically, the liberating lessons Ali drew from her own struggle would, if applied to Israel’s case, reinforce a siege mentality and a paranoia that Israel cannot afford.”

Given Hirsi Ali’s uncompromising views on Islam, her detractors can always resort to the charge of “Islamophobia.” But while reading Zamkanei’s negative take on Hirsi Ali, I remembered that just a few days earlier, I had come across a Ha’aretz interview with Sadakat Kadri, a British Muslim jurist and author of the book “Heaven on Earth”, which is described as “a critical insider’s respectful look at the history of sharia.”

Reading the interview, my impression was that Kadri is much more respectful than critical; yet, it seems that his take on the likelihood that the Muslim world will accept Israel doesn’t differ much from Hirsi Ali’s views:

[Kadri] “The idea that jihad can be a military struggle has always been around. There are at least four types of jihad: jihad of the tongue, hand, heart and sword. But jihad of the sword gets a new spin in the 14th century through Ibn Taymiyya, when the idea that you could defend yourself against the invader becomes important for the first time. After the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258, this new idea of jihad as self-defense emerges, primarily through Ibn Tamiyya. It is then revived in response to foreign rule − during the 18th-century Saudi rebellion against Ottoman rule, for example, in the context of Muslim opposition to the British in India, and then in the context of resistance by Hassan al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] in the ’20s − which gets us toward the Zionist issue.
Because as far as the Muslim world is concerned, Zionism is just another form of colonialism.

Now I know that this is very contentious in Israel. But this is how it’s perceived in the Muslim world. And after 1948, all these interpretations of jihad evolve again, as a new idea takes hold. Jurists have historically characterized jihad as a collective obligation that must be directed by a Muslim ruler, to safeguard against freelance jihadis. But post-’48, that limitation falls by the wayside. When the Arab countries fail to stop Israel, they lose legitimacy. And what you get subsequently is a whole bunch of individuals and groups who take it on themselves to fight the jihad − who say it’s a personal obligation, binding on everyone, regardless of caliphs or rulers.

[Question] From a religious point of view, do you think it would be possible for a majority of Muslims, as Muslims, to accept Israel?

[Kadri] Well, the jurisprudence of jihad does contain the idea that a land that was once Muslim can’t be given up. That’s what the hard-liners draw on. But that’s been palpably ignored at times. Andalusia was once Islamic, but those extremists who might argue for its recapture today represent a minuscule minority. And though there are huge disagreements over the precise political compromises that Muslims can properly reach with Israel, Islamic jurisprudence does recognize the concept of the hudna, a truce. It allows for peace of limited duration, which can be renewed indefinitely. That’s how the Camp David Accords were given a religious imprimatur by clerics of Al Azhar in the late 1970s, for example. Insofar as there are people in Hamas who support truces, they also justify them on those grounds.

It’s true that jurists have ruled a hudna can’t last longer than 10 years at a time. But it can be indefinitely renewed. That would need corresponding gestures from Israel, of course, but it would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides.”

So here you have it: a “respectful” view of Islam’s stance toward the Jewish state boils down to the stance of Hamas – a truce or “hudna” can perhaps be negotiated for 10 years, and maybe it will be extended, but that would require “corresponding gestures from Israel.” In other words, Israel makes concessions when the “hudna” is first negotiated, and then every 10 years when it needs to be extended.

Kadri points to the optimistic scenario that this “would potentially allow the benefits of peaceful coexistence to become more apparent on both sides” – but potentially, there is of course also the pessimistic scenario that Hamas leaders mean exactly what they say when they declare over and over again that they will never recognize Israel. And who knows, maybe Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are resolved to demand the realization of the promised “United States of the Arabs” whose “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.” And maybe the many millions of followers of Sheikh Qaradawi share not only his conviction that Muslims and Jews are destined to fight each other, but also his hope that “the believers” will finish what Hitler didn’t accomplish.

As long as leading Muslim figures can propagate ideas like these without encountering widespread criticism and opposition in the Muslim world, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a solid case for her sweeping criticism of Islam and she is right to warn Israel against naive hopes for peace as long as Islamists enjoy enormous popularity and support.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A stunning clip made available by MEMRI documents an Egyptian rally to launch the presidential election campaign for Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi. Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi, who addresses the crowd, promises that Mursi and the Muslim Brothers will realize “the dream of the Islamic Caliphate” by “restoring” the “United States of the Arabs” with its capital Jerusalem.

Higazi wants “the whole world” to hear his message:

“We say it loud and clear: Yes, Jerusalem is our goal. We shall pray in Jerusalem, or else we shall die as martyrs on its threshold. Millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the rally took place in a Cairo soccer stadium with presidential candidate Mursi and other Brotherhood officials present; they are shown in the clip nodding in agreement with Higazi’s speech.

Let’s hope that all the assorted “experts” and pundits who never grow tired of telling their audiences how “moderate” and/or “pragmatic” the Muslim Brotherhood really truly is will indeed take the time to listen carefully to this message.

However, the really politically correct media outlets that never fail to describe Jerusalem as Islam’s “third-holiest” city may now face a dilemma given Higazi’s explicit statement that the Islamic Caliphate’s “capital shall not be Cairo, Mecca, or Medina. It shall be Jerusalem, Allah willing.”

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

A recently published report by MEMRI documents a call for the implementation of gruesome “Islamic” punishments by the Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub. According to MEMRI, the cleric asserted in a televised interview that theft, robbery and similar crimes should be regarded as “war against Allah and His Messenger” and he recommended that those guilty of such crimes should “be executed, or…crucified, or…have their hand and foot chopped off on opposite sides, or…be banished from the land.”

If it is some obscure village preacher who comes out with such horrendous proposals, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that this incident was not really relevant enough to report on. But I think it is fair to say that even when notable Islamic clerics issue such statements, they rarely receive prominent news coverage in the West, despite (or because of?) the fact that this is arguably a very newsworthy item because it highlights the radical difference between discourse in the Islamic world and the West.

So who is Muhammad Hussein Yaaqub?

A paper entitled “Salafists Challenge al-Azhar for Ideological Supremacy in Egypt,” originally published in September 2010 in Terrorism Monitor (Volume: 8 Issue: 35), describes Yaaqub (Yaqub) as a “very famous” Salafist preacher “with experience in teaching and preaching in some Gulf countries.” The paper also provides a link to his website (in Arabic: www.yaqob.com); and apparently, Yaaqub even has a Facebook page –which goes to show that a preference for barbaric medieval “justice” does not preclude the savvy use of modern means to propagate the incongruous  message.

Indeed, as noted in the paper, the “Salafist presence in Egypt has been further cemented lately through Salafist religious satellite channels such as al-Rahma (Mercy), al-Annas (People), al-Majd (Glory), al-Hikmah (Wisdom) and al-Fajr (Dawn).” The Salafist appreciation for modern media and marketing strategies seems to include a strong preference for Orwellian brand names, and  accordingly, the newly established Salafist party is named Al-Nour (Light); it has emerged as the strongest member of Egypt’s Islamist bloc that garnered almost 28% in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

Given this context, Yaaqub is certainly an influential figure – and here he is venting his rage against Jews during Israel’s campaign against Hamas in January 2009:

 

One can hardly expect anything else from a fanatic who advocates atrocious punishments for his own society.

The rise of Islamists also means a brutal setback for the already severely disadvantaged women in the Middle East – though there are plenty of Muslim women who willingly endorse the abuse condoned by powerful Islamists. According to a recent report, Azza El Garf, a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, “disagrees” with Egypt’s 2008 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM):

“‘It is a personal decision and each woman can decide based on her needs. If she needs it, she can go to a doctor,’ El Garf said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood refers to the practice as beautification plastic surgery. She was adamant that it was a woman’s choice, and hers alone, to have the outlawed procedure […]”

Likewise, a recent BBC report on FGM in Egypt ends with a Salafist leader evading the question whether he supports the ban on FGM by declaring that when it comes to women’s rights, this issue was “not a priority.”

 

That’s Israel’s Islamist neighborhood – and anyone who ignores the widespread social acceptance of such brutal practices in the Middle East will have a hard time to understand the region.

Why Islamists are not like Christian Democrats

A week ago, Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Muslim Brotherhood, featured the translation of an article by Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. It’s easy to see why the Muslim Brothers would like what Westerwelle wrote, because he urged his readers to carefully distinguish between moderate and fundamentalist Islamist forces, arguing:

The decisive issue for us has to be the attitude of Islamic political parties towards democracy. Are these Islamic democratic parties, in the sense in which the European political spectrum naturally includes Christian democratic parties? I am confident that an Islamic orientation can be linked with democratic convictions, that Islam can be compatible with democracy.

Unfortunately, there is little justification for viewing the Brotherhood as the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

For starters, it should not be forgotten that – as Ayaan Hirsi Ali emphasized in a Wall Street op-ed a year ago – the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood remains what it has always been:

Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

For all I can tell, most of Europe’s Christian Democrats would shudder at the thought of a similar motto for their own parties. Let’s try it:

God is our objective; Jesus is our leader; the Bible is our law; crusading is our way; dying in the way of God is our highest hope.

One thing is for sure: if Germany’s Christian Democrats had such a motto, there would be no article with the headline: “Germany Has a Gay Minister — Yäwn! Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s new vice-chancellor and foreign minister, is very popular and openly gay. And nobody in Germany cares.”

Furthermore, the attempt to understand the Brotherhood as the Muslim version of Christian Democrats also ignores the fact that the Bible and the Koran are viewed very differently by believers. A recent issue of The Economist featured a relevant article that included the somewhat misleading lede: “Muslims revere the Koran. But its study is not taboo—and is in some quarters increasingly daring.” However, as the article acknowledges:

But when it comes to parsing holy writ, there is one big difference between Islam and most other text-based faiths. Barring a brief interlude in the ninth and tenth centuries, and a few modern liberals, Muslims have mostly believed that the Koran is distinct from every other communication. As God’s final revelation to man, it belongs not to earthly, created things but to an eternal realm. That is a bigger claim than other faiths usually make for their holy writings.

The Koran may be interpreted but from a believer’s viewpoint, nothing in it can be set aside. Yet, at least in the calm, superficially courteous world of Western academia, debating the precise text of the Koran is increasingly common.

Indeed, in the West, there are scholars – mostly non-Muslims – “who study the text as they would any other written material—as prose whose evolution can be traced by comparing versions.” Yet, as The Economist acknowledges: “What can be debated in most Muslim countries differs hugely from what is discussed in the West.”

This subject was also tackled in a recent post by Peter Berger, who blogs at The American Interest. Under the title “Islamic Philosophy and the Future of the Arab Spring,” Berger surveyed last year’s developments and concluded that there was little prospect for the emergence of “secular regimes with some liberal credentials.” Therefore, he argued, “if one is to have hopes for liberal democracy in the Muslim world, one will have to pin these hopes on individuals and movements who define themselves within a decidedly Islamic discourse.”

But Berger then turned to the argument that “Muslims and others like to point out that the Bible contains enough bloodthirsty teachings to compete with any Salafist ideology.” In no uncertain terms, he responded to this point arguing [emphasis original]:

It is misleading to compare the Quran with the Bible. For most Muslims, the Quran is “inerrant” to a degree far beyond the understanding of this term by even very conservative Christians or Jews. It has been suggested that Christians, rather than comparing the Quran with the Bible, should compare the Quran with Christ […]The debates as to whether the Quran was eternal or created began at some time in the first century after Muhammad’s death. I think that the majority view ever since has favored the eternity of the Quran—it was with God from the beginning […] If the Quran is co-eternal with God, it has a higher degree of literal infallibility (“inerrancy”) than if it is a creation of God.

While Berger ultimately concludes that it “is important to understand that those who wish to combine their Muslim faith with aspirations toward liberal democracy have decidedly Islamic ideas to support their agenda,” his discussion also makes it very clear that it is only a tiny minority of Muslims that would regard these ideas as “decidedly Islamic.” In other words, it is a fringe phenomenon that is extremely unlikely to go mainstream any time soon – and that is another major reason why Islamists like the Muslim Brothers should not be mistaken for Christian Democrats.

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

Recently, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse featured an interview with the Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi who is a widely respected expert on Islamism. The title of the interview quotes one of Tibi’s assessments: “The Muslim Brothers are a totalitarian movement” (a reliable English translation of the interview can be found here.)

Among the issues addressed in the interview are the implications of the Islamists’ ascendancy for Israel. Tibi’s answer is blunt: “Israel will be paying a high price, because – in addition to a sharia state – the basic tenets of Islamism include antisemitism.”

Anyone inclined to find this statement too harsh should read the new report in MEMRI’s Antisemitism Documentation Project, which is devoted to antisemitic and anti-Israel articles on the website of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Here are just a few quotes from the fairly long report; emphasis is mine to highlight the rank of the writer:

In a June 2011 sermon posted on the website, MB in Egypt General Guide Muhammad Badi’ discussed the Jews, their traits, and their actions: “Allah warned us against the deceit of the Jews and their dangerous role in sparking wars: ‘Whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out, and they strive to make mischief in the land; and Allah does not love the mischief-makers [Koran 5:64].’ Their hands light the hidden fuse… [and] little time passes before the fire spreads to the field of war, including Islamic lands… The war in Sudan and its division are their handiwork; the internal struggle and war among the Palestinians is [likewise part] of their plan. [For this reason,] the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah angered them.” […]

Against the backdrop of the discussion over Egypt’s reconsideration of its peace agreement with Israel, and in the wake of the 2011 cross-border attacks near Eilat, Israel, in which seven Israelis and five Egyptian soldiers were killed, Dr. Muhammad ‘Ali Dabour, member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) and lecturer at Cairo University, wrote about the Jewish nature: “Throughout all of history, the Jews have failed to keep their word. They always employ a double standard and act in their own interests, even if it means destroying the entire world… The Koran informs us: ‘Certainly you will find the most violent of people in enmity for those who believe (to be) the Jews and those who are polytheists [Koran 5:82].’ Allah, may He be exalted, [also] said: ‘But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places…’ [Koran 5:13]. Breaking agreements and treaties is easier for [Jews] than drinking water or breathing air. Such are the Jews. Such is Jewish nature. Though they flatter, act hypocritically, and embitter the entire world, we Muslims must not be deceived by them.” […]

As early as October 2010, Dr. Isma’il ‘Ali Muhammad, lecturer at Al-Azhar University, published a series of articles on “the nature of the Jews according to the Old Testament and the Talmud.” In one article, he wrote: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the [Jewish] character is still a source of evil and harm among all human societies […] When one reads the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the ideas born of them such as [those found in] The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the rulings of the rabbis, and the streams of Jewish ideology, one finds in them an open hostility toward all people. The Jews’ deviant behavior is directed at all humanity… The holy ideological sources – according to their belief – permit them to act hypocritically and treacherously, and to unjustly throw to the dogs the lives, property, and belongings of non-Jews.”[7]

In another article, he claimed that Jewish tradition taught the Jews to be “so criminal that they are unparalleled in all [other] human societies. It incites them to annihilate the non-Jews and to spread ruin and destruction throughout the non-Jewish world.” […]

In an article published following the release of prisoners as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, Dr. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bar, a member of the MB General Guide’s Office and of the IUMS, stressed that jihad and martyrdom were the path to liberating all of Palestine – from “the sea to the river” – rather than negotiations, which had consistently failed to produce positive results. He emphasized that the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo was one of the milestones of the revolution in Egypt:

“‘Oh brothers, Allah has granted the ummah, which excels at producing death and knows how to die honorably, dear life in this world and eternal bliss in the next. The weakness that leads to our humiliation is love for this world and hatred of death. Prepare your souls for a great deed. Work toward death; it is then that you will be granted life. Act toward honorable death, and you will earn complete happiness.’

“With these words, [MB founder] the shahid, the imam Hassan Al-Bana concluded his ‘Letter on Jihad.’ [These words] came to my mind when, in tears of joy, I watched the scenes of the prisoners being released from the prisons of the Zionist occupation, a nobility visible on their faces and in their eyes, and the words issuing from their mouths like rockets expressing [their] steadfastness… They proved that jihad alone is the means of liberating both man and homeland…

In another article, Dr. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Bar called to support “the jihad of the resistance materially, in the media, and morally,” and expressed his hope that Israel would soon be destroyed: “The [Palestinian] cause will remain a prime concern for the [Muslim] ummah, until Allah heralds the end of the racist state of occupation [i.e. Israel], and until the last of the people of our ummah fights the swindling Jews and their armies and delivers the land from their wickedness… [It was related by the Prophet's Companion] Abu Huraira that the Prophet said, ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. The Jews will hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and trees will call: O Muslim, o servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him – except for the gharqad tree, which is the tree of the Jews.’” […]

Who’s defaming Islam?

Efforts to combat “Islamophobia” have long been on the agenda of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but there are legitimate concerns about the implications of various initiatives that have sought to criminalize any “defamation” of Islam. Whenever I read about these issues – raised e.g. in this recent piece – I’m left with a lot of questions, because it seems to me that it is often Muslims, and indeed Muslim authorities, that are the worst offenders.

Consider the examples from the Saudi textbook on “Studies from the Muslim World” quoted in my previous post. To say that the Koran encourages Jew-hatred surely sounds “Islamophobic,” but unfortunately, that seems to be very much the message that Saudi authorities want to convey to the millions of Muslim youngsters who study this textbook.

Similarly, it would seem definitely defamatory to say that one of the most influential Muslim preachers believes that Hitler should be seen as “divine punishment” for the Jews – but unfortunately, this is just one of many shocking statements made by Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, who is revered as a great scholar by many millions of Muslims.

Western non-Muslims are often admonished to avoid formulations that associate Islam with terrorism or racism. One frequently cited argument is that “just as the Ku Klux Klan does not speak for Christianity,” terrorists who claim to be motivated by Islamic teaching don’t speak for Islam and do not deserve to have their claim taken seriously.

But in this context it’s instructive to recall that the UN has not adopted a definition of terrorism because the OIC wants to make sure that the definition would not include violent acts that its Muslim member countries deem part of “the legitimate struggle of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination.” As everyone knows, this means that Kurdish terrorists will remain terrorist, whereas “jihad” as defined in the Saudi “Studies from the Muslim World,” won’t be terrorism:

“Jihad for the sake of Allah is the only path to liberating Palestine. Only through jihad did the Muslims conquer Jerusalem, and only through jihad did the Crusaders leave Palestine. Likewise, only through jihad will the Jews leave Palestine.”

There are plenty of examples indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood – which, given its impressive popular support can now definitely claim to be a “mainstream” group, and which is often described as “moderate” in the Western media – has a similar view. And no matter what Western liberals may want to believe, the term “jihad” most definitely does not refer to some struggle for self-improvement here.

The obvious problem is that the OIC’s efforts to shield Islam from defamation by non-Muslims will inevitably look like an attempt to proscribe free speech as long as authorities that claim a leading role in the Muslim world as well as mainstream Muslim groups and widely revered Muslim scholars come out with statements that sound quite “Islamophobic” when quoted as representative of mainstream Muslim views.