If there was a Christian Brotherhood…

Have you heard the one about the Muslim Brotherhood being just like European Christian Democratic parties? Well, in any case, we all had by now many many opportunities to read or hear how moderate the Brotherhood really truly is.

A few hardy souls remain unconvinced, though. Commenting on news reports that Egypt’s Islamists are doing extremely well in the country’s elections, Michael Totten emphasized that it is ridiculous to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate.” Totten argued that they are instead “authoritarian theocrats” and pointed out: “If a Christian counterpart existed in the United States, they’d be called fascists.”

Obviously, you can’t get more politically incorrect than this: in polite circles, it is strictly verboten to even think of anything to do with Islam or Muslims as fascist. Critics of the term “Islamofascism” claim it is just “an empty propaganda term” used by proponents of the “war on terror.”

But Totten cannot be easily dismissed as a “propagandist.” He has established a solid reputation as a knowledgeable and insightful Middle East commentator and his just published article on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood at The American Interest provides an excellent example of his thoroughly researched work.

There is little doubt that the very same people (and media outlets!) who would object loudest to describing the Muslim Brotherhood as fascist would prove Totten right by eagerly adopting this description for any “Christian Brotherhood” in the West. As Walter Russell Mead once put it so wonderfully:

For decades now, shocked lefty journalists have gingerly ventured into the dark American interior, emerging with terrifying tales of “Christianist” plots to hijack American democracy and install theocratic rule. There’s an endless appetite for these stories on the secular left, and the fact that none of these Christianists dictatorships ever appear doesn’t seem to diminish the credulity with which each new “revelation” is greeted by the easily spooked.

On the other hand, it turns out that – after all the endless enthusiasm about the “Arab Spring” – serious Middle East experts knew all along what to expect.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, explained in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:

“I don’t think liberals have a natural constituency in Egypt. ‘Liberalism’ has a negative connotation here. I’m not even sure what liberalism means in an Egyptian context – try even asking liberals and they’ll have trouble answering,” he said. “All ‘liberal’ means in Egypt is someone who’s not an Islamist. That might get you 10% – people who are afraid of the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] – but that’s not a positive, affirmative message that will win a lot of votes.”

Hamid said liberals need to learn to speak the language of the religion if they hope to cut into the Brotherhood’s support base: “All the polling that’s ever been done in Egypt suggests Egyptians are very religiously conservative, and they want Islam to play a larger role in public life. I don’t know how one gets around that.”

So maybe Egypt’s marginalized liberals will eventually become just like European Christian Democratic parties?

For the time being, however, it seems that Egyptian liberals are engaging in some wishful thinking by trying to convince themselves that it’s not yet time to panic. But as Issandr El Amrani acknowledges in his post at The Arabist:

“That the Muslim Brothers would perform well was expected […] They may very well pass the 50% mark, having decided to contest a lot more seats than initially expected. […] The success of the Salafists is more of a surprise, and must reflect their grassroots presence in Egyptian society. But it is deeply worrisome, because the Salafists have made clear in their statements that they are an illiberal party with extreme views on many topics […] they should have never been legalized, on the same grounds that far-right parties are often forbidden in European countries.”

But since Egypt isn’t Europe, I guess the politically correct translation would transform the Salafists into hard-line moderates.

6 responses to “If there was a Christian Brotherhood…

  1. Petra,
    I am glad to see that you see the Islamists for what they are. And, reading your posts on the JPost, I see you see your country’s enemies as they are. I am impressed. Having read what you wrote to me, some years back on the Engage website, I am glad to see you have moved away from the views of those who see racism in any and all criticism or comment.

    • You’re right to note a change — though it’s perhaps less in my views than in how I express them, or what I emphasize. Even though I continue to have great respect for the people who run Engage, I’ve always felt that things look different from here than from London. Most importantly, perhaps, given the developments in our neighborhood this year, I’m starting to get really fed up with all too many people politely averting their eyes and covering their ears when antisemites are cheered by crowds and oh so democratically elected to hold power.

      • Hi Petra,

        I think that the “Engage” crowd is dominated by the anti-racist movement, a movement that I think can not punch its way out of a paper bag. The great “accomplishment” of the anti-racist movement has been to make it all so difficult – nearly impossible – to describe and analyze the supremacist ideology that is rife among all too many Muslims today. So, while I think the “Engage” crowd means well, they are obscuring reality and, without regard to their intention, presumably, to the contrary, promoting Antisemitism and Anti-Westernism while abetting Islamism.

        I do not think that the issue with the Islamists is all that complicated. They mean to dominate and kill off their “objective” enemies. What keeps them at bay is the technological and military prowess of the West.

        The same goes for your country. When last I was in Israel, I happened to travel to Nazareth. I saw the Basilica of the Annunciation – a beautiful structure and worth seeing (and I am not Christian). Outside the grounds of the church is a billboard sign posted, courtesy of Hamas (or, at least their flag flies on the top of the billboard). This sign is not directed at Israeli Jews as much as it is directed at Christians, both Arab Israeli and visitors from English speaking lands. Which is to say, the sign is in Arabic, with an English translation beneath. You may have heard of it but, if not, here is the English: “whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” The words “accepted” and “losers” are somewhat obscured on the sign but anyone who looks at the sign would be outraged.

        I tell this story because, to me, the sign tells you everything you need to know about the Islamist movement. And, pointing out that the movement is supremacist, Antisemitic and, I hate to say it, an important movement among Muslims – whether or not it is a heresy being irrelevant, just like it did not matter, particularly to the dead and persecuted Conversos in Spain whether or not the Christian ideology that came to support Limpieza de sangre was a Christian heresy. So, one has to be willing to point out nasty things going on in the Muslim community and fight the intellectual fight that is necessary with respect to people who see racism in making a truthful description.

        Some time back, I posted a comment on a blog which noted that there are many tribes in the Arab world. It was not intended as an insult. It was an historical statement. I was told that such a statement is borderline racist!!! I pointed out that T.E. Lawrence worked with various tribes. I was then told that he was not an anthropologist or otherwise qualified to have a view. Well, this ultimately led to my being banned. The blog master was an adherent to the anti-racist ideology.

        My view: if you want to gain any clear picture of the world, you can not learn it from anti-racists. They refuse to look.

  2. We certainly agree on Nazareth, as you can see here:
    http://blogs.jpost.com/content/muslim-message-christians-nazareth
    — a post I wrote a few months ago after a visit there.

    However, I’m not comfortable with your harsh verdict on Engage, particularly when you suggest that their efforts may be somehow counter-productive. Admittely, anti-racism is primarily a western credo and of course, the way it is used at the UN or by some of the human rights orgs is utterly cynical — so in this sense, I understand your frustration.

    Last but not least: Reading about your “tribal” tribulations, I was reminded of this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/opinion/23friedman.html
    — entitled: Tribes with Flags….
    Maybe the anti-racists you encountered should focus on fighting the really important racists at the NYT???

    Cheers!

  3. Hi Petra,

    We certainly have a different view of Engage. Perfect agreement is not possible in this world.

    I do think the problem with the anti-racists goes beyond its manipulation by the UN and the like. I think that its logic is all wrong. I might recommend – although I do not agree with a good deal of what he writes – the well known playwright David Mamet’s non-fiction book, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. The book is intended to be his public break with the liberal movement in the US. A good amount of what he writes is way over the top – so I am not recommending the book fully. And, I am not a conservative, so while I am pretty ticked off about the direction of the liberal movement in the US, I am not signing up – at least just now – for the GOP. However, the book does include some valuable discussion, which is why I note it here.

    In Mamet’s book, he discusses a class he taught at a major university. He was teaching a course on how to write a dramatic work of fiction. He added a terrorist character to the mix. He suggested making the terrorist be an Arab. That led to a revolt by the class, with Mamet accused of being a racist. Trying to be on Mamet’s side, one kid suggested that, perhaps the terrorist might instead be Pakistani – something which also resulted in accusations of racism against the kid. The anti-racist faction that it is racist to choose an Arab or any other Muslim as a terrorist. So I think you really underestimate the harm that the anti-racist movement is causing. Mamet goes on to note that he ultimately was invited not to teach the course anymore.

    So much for my preaching.

  4. It seems we agree on Mamet’s over-the-top-style, but the example you quote from him is definitely not an isolated case — Barry Rubin wrote a few posts from the very similar US school expierences of his son a year or so back.
    And it seems we’re both politically homeless… I grew up in a staunchly social democratic family, so it’s a strange feeling for me to find myself alienated from the left.

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