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Muslim Brotherhood member Essam El-Erian vs. Neo-conservative thinker Joshua Muravchik
  Muslim Brotherhood member Essam El-Erian vs. Neo-conservative thinker Joshua Muravchik
Wednesday, May 3,2006 00:00
by Islamonline


Muslim Brotherhood member Essam El-Erian vs. Neo-conservative thinker Joshua Muravchik


Debate: The Rise of Islamists - A Challenge to America?



Dion    - United States
Assalam Alaikum.

I am a revert to islam and have been studying the history and current trends of muslims worldwide in relation to the trends of ’western’ society. Isn’t one of the issues we could claim between the two groups be the ’west’ ability to easily seperate religion from state whereas muslims on a whole have a harder time doing this as there is little to no room for such seperation in islam? Religion is an intergral part of our lives. Also could all of these issues and biases currently going on have to deal with in part with the centuries of history Muslims have had with ’Western’ society since its advent with the Crusades. Bitter blood maybe? Looking forward to your answer.
Dr. Joshua Muravhik: I don’t dare venture into Muslim theology. But it is true that Christianity is not a religion that governs every aspect of daily life in the way that Islam and Judaism both do. Therefore it is easier for Christianity to separate church from state as Jesus himself instructed. But still, members of these faiths must find ways to do it, I think. Religion answers the most profound and important questions of life. But it does not answer political questions: how large should the national budget be? what should be the tax rate, etc.

One may find first principles in religion but then one must apply these to daily life in the modern world.

Dr. Essam El-Erian: I think that the issue of the seperation of religion and state can be seen in light of a historical context.

The historical context of this issue in the West made it difficult not to seperate religion and state. The historical context in the Muslim world is different. Muslims do not have holy people and they don’t see systems or ideas as sacred.They have the mechanismS of ijtihad (reasoning) and tajdeed (innovation).

The relationsip betwen the West and the Islamic world is tense since the Crusades, the Westersn military campaigns which aim to subordinate the Muslim world. We won’t have a peaceful world till there is mutual respect.

C Dawood    - 
Question Why America is not ready the people’s verdict of Palestine?

Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

This is an evidence that the American administraion is using a policy of double standards. The American adiminstration has to stop pressuring the Palestinian people, forcing the palestinian government from office is a scary option. The american version of democracy has been revealed: They want a democracy that benefits the United States and Israel only.

The palestinian people found out a more powerful weapon, which is voting for the people they want. Voting might be a more powerful weapon than jets and arms.

This is Aamerican hypocrisy.

Dr. Joshua Muravhik:

My answer follows from my answer to the previous question when I said that I believe people everywhere should select their own governments, even if I disagree. I am totally against Hamas, which I see as a terrorist organization that wants no peace. Still, I believe in the right of the Palestinians to vote and elect their own government.

I would like the Palestinian people to come to the conclusion that what will be best is a solution based on two sovereign states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. Hamas is completely against this. It wants endless war. I still support the right of Hamas to run and the right of the Palestinians to vote for it. But I hope that next time it loses.

Dr. Essam’s comment:
The answer contains contradictions. There is an important point that should be taken into consideration. Hamas has a political agenda with regard to the Israeli-palestinian conflict: Agreeing on a long truce and accepting the solution of the two states. They are ready to delay negotiating the main issues till after the truce on the condition of stabilizing the situation with regard to Jeruslaem. I advise Mr. Jushwa to take a look at Hamas’s proposals and not to accept only what the Israeli media presents. There is also an old proposal that was made by the PLO: one democratic state for two nations. In other words, the Israelis should give up their Jewish dream. Can we face Jewish fundamentalism the same way we face other forms of fundamentalism?
Muhammad Muinul Islam    - 
Profession Lecturer, Government and Politics Department, Asian University of Bangladesh
Question Dear Scholars,
Assalamu Alaikum.

It is always found that there is a far cry between theory and practice in regard to democarcy as a political ideology. American democracy, if considered from ’foreign policy perspective’ is a angerous one, seems rather despotic with distrubed brain. So theoretical democracy is virtually absent perhaps everywhere in the world. In this context I want to know what should be the political philosophy of the Muslim world to lead their nations and fight global injustice as opposed to democracy recommended by the UN-blessed organizations and super powers.

Muhammad Muinul Islam
Lecturer, Government and Politics Department,
Asian University of Bangladesh
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

Thank you for the question.

The Muslim world is in a great need for benefiting from the experiences of the other nations. In Islamic history, Muslims benefited from the cultures of other nations. One of the basic ideas in Islam is that there are basic rules and principles that Muslims can practice reasoning according to. In this context, as modern Muslims, we don’t have to abide by systems that were suitable for other times. It’s impossible to apply an Islamic system everywhere. There can be various ijtidhadat and applications. If we look to democracy from the fiqhi (jurispudence) perspective, we find answers to many problems.

For example, the ruler must be chosen freely and his term in office can be limited. There should be peaceful resistance to his rule. He can be impeached if he becomes unjust. Despotism is forbidden. Transition of power is acceptable. Pluralism, in the form of political parties, is acceptable. The respect of the rights of minorities is a shari’e obligation. This is the basis on which democracy is built as a culture. From this fiqhi perspective, it is compatible with Islam.

With regard to the mechanism, Western nations invented mechanisms to apply those ideas, such as forming parties, elections, written constitutions, encoding laws. These are respectable mechanisms form an Islamic perspective.

In what way is Islamic democracy different? First, the frame of reference, which is the basic ideas in Shari’ah. The parliament cannot agree on laws that contradict Islamic regulations. The constitutional court should revise any law that contradict Shari’ah.

Second, Islamic democracy seeks to develop the human being from different aspects. It doesn’t only deal with the material needs. It deals with his happiness. Islamic democracy prohibits aggression on other people. It’s not acceptable to attack other nations using democratic mechanisms (the parliament agrees on waging a war on other nations). These are the basic differences.

Dr. Joshua Muravchik:

Prof. Islam, I am a deep believer in democracy, and I believe it is just and right for people everywhere in every culture. But of course democracy does not necessarily lead to wise or just policies. All that democracy means is that all of the people of a society have a voice in governing it. You, or even I, might disagree with the policies of the US or other democratically governed countries, and we would probably disagree with each other. Still, I believe that the citizens of the Islamic countries should all have a voice in governing themselves--whether or not I agree with the policies that they come up with.
Ina Abdiraxman    - United States
Question One of the positive things that came out of these current regime in Washington is its goal to spread democracy in the greater middle east, I think if sincere this could turn out to be a noble cause that can not only improve the lives of millions by giving these nations more accountable governments and the rule of law but this can also dramatically improve the image America in the Muslim world. Two question regarding this?

1) If America is sincere in its push for democracy why does it tolerate friendly kings and dictators, while calling for regime change on government that don’t seem to toe the American line?

2) Bush the son portrayed him self as a religious man, so if religious oriented parties win elections through out the Greater middle east will the US keep supporting democracy?
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

I asked Senator Drian the same question and he avoided answering the it. I asked him whether America was ready to for a real democratic process that brings people who oppose America to power. He said that, personally, he accepted such results but the American administration wouldn’t. The US administration will accept only the democracy that serves its interests.

I can’t understand how a religios president can accept starving a whole nation only because it made a free choice while he abstains from condemning killing people, demolishing their homes, and the other acts of aggression that the Israelis commit.

I think that democracy is an issue that interests every Muslim and Arab despite the desire of the United States. Those people found out that they can get rid of despotic rulers without US help. If they accept US help, they have to accept US conditions. The Americian citizen has to participate himself in correcting the American foreign policy.

Dr. Joshua Muravhik:

Ms. Abdiraxman, thank you for these questions. I do believe that this administration is sincere about democratization, but I also understand that many people in the Middle East distrust its sincerity. The problem is that promoting democacy will never by the only issue on the US agenda. There are also issues of peace in the region, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, etc.

And so the US tries to balance these, and inevitably it appears hypocritical. This had been true globally since the mid-1970s when President Carter made human rights a much bigger issue in US policy. It always was being balanced against other things.

But it is not true that the US gives a free pass to those that "toe the line." For example, we do go easier on governments like Musharraf’s that are seen as helping us against terrorism, because that is crucial. But we also have been going easier on Kaddafy because he gave up his nucleat programs. And whatever Kaddafy is, he has never "toed the line" for the US, but proliferation is a big issue for us. There are big debates about these tradeoffs, and people like myself arer always arguing to give democracy and human rights a higher priority.

As for your second question, it is true that Islamist movements make us nervous. But I believe that most Americans and also the US government understand that to push democracy means to accept that people will sometimes get elected whom we don’t like or who don’t like us.
Lorna Doone    - 
Profession Baker
Question Dear Doctor Essam, are you an optimist or a pessimist about Islam living peacefully with more advanced Christian societies like in the Darfur region of the Sudan?
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

Islam has proved throughout history its ability to coexist with Christianity. Churches are still found all over the Muslim world, which proves that the real problem is that the West pursues an agressive policy towards the Muslim world. It can’t be Chrisitan. It is carried out under the name of Christianity in various instances, like in the Crusades; but its real aims have nothing to do with religion.

The question is: Do Christian countries, which evovled from the Judeo-Christian culture, accept the Islamic culture? Does the West accept Islamic influence the same way it wants to influence the Muslim world? There is a mutual need for influencing each other. There is a growing call in the West that refuses Islamic ideas and considers it a threat to the Western world despite the fact that they are similar to the Western ideas with regard to morals. However, Muslims have preserved such ideas while Christians abondoned them.

To sum up, Muslims are ready to coexist with all religions and ideas like they have lived with them throughout history.

The Islamic ideas are strong enough to influence and be influenced by the various ideas and culture.

S    - 
Joshua Muravchik,
Have you ever thought of why Muslims are so angry with the US? Contrary to perception, democracy is not the solution and is not welcome in a region that has no history of it. Its so simple. Look at the the ROOT CAUSES of terrorism rather than just blame it on blind hatred. Stop the support of the zionist illegal state and stop supporting the corrupt rulers in the Muslim world. Heres a random thought...if you want people to like you, you have to stop killing them and not try to act as the worlds policeman.
Answer Dr. Joshua Muravhik:
Hi, S. When you say "democracy . . . is not welcome," I ask not welcome by whom? If you tell me, not welcome by the people of the region, then I need to ask you two questions: first: why do you tell me what the poeple want unless you presuppose that the people should have what they want. But if believe that then you are advocating democracy. It is the only system that rests on the idea that the people should have what they want. And my second question is: who appointed you to speak for the people of the region?

As for your "root causes," I would make two points. First, the world is full of people with causes that they believe in passionately and grievances that they feel to the depths of their being. But NONE of these causes or grievances justifies terrorism. Second, we do believe in the right of Israel to exist. You say you don’t. It’s hard to go forward from there. As for supporting corrupt rulers, you may have a point, but you should not put the first blame on us. After all, there are many rulers in the region whom we do not support, and they are no less corrupt.

Dr. Essam El-Erian:
I agree that the main reason for hating the United States is the aggressive US policy, especially the continuous support for Israel and despotic rulers. If the US stops supporting those two groups, there can be acceptance for its policies. Except for the UK, all the Western countries applied democracy only two centureis ago. A country like Egypt knew parliament and elections for more than 130 years. However, military coups and despotism prevented development on the political level.

Turkey started around 150 years ago in makeing reforms. It established a parliament and wrote a consitituion. However, the collapse of the Ottoman empire halted the process and resultd in the establishemn of a military dictatorship

This region can develop a democratic political system based on Islamic teachings.
Andalusian    - 
Does the neo-conservative establishment consider Islamists as the biggest challange after the cold-war ?

And are Islamists willing to work with Western democracies, if their people elected them ?
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian: The normal reaction to any exteremism is extermism. I don’t know whether neo-cons really believe that Islamists are a threat.

There are various american reports that say that the threat to the United States is the continuation in the policies decided by the neo-conservaives -- preemptive wars, supporting Isreal, not supporting democracy in fear of hostile parties coming to power. These are views coming from the US, and neo-cons should start revising their policies.

I think that moderate Islamists who seek to develop the political life in the Muulim world will continue to achieve successes during the coming years. And the different players should be ready for accepting such a change, without aiming at containing it, but rather dealing with Islamists as a partners in order to achieve a stable world.

Dr. Joshua Muravchik:

Andalusian, I am one of the original neo-cons from the 1970s, but I don’t think there is a neo-con "establishment." At least no one has ever told me about it. It is a loose group. So I can realy only speak for myself and give you my impressions of what some of the others also think. I think until 9/11, there was no single idea of a "bigger challenge." After that date, terrorism leapt to the top of the list. I don’t think Islamism, per se, is a threat. But it is if it is violent. Some terrorists have been Islamists. But others have come from other points of view including radical, secularist Marxist-Leninist "liberation" movements. I think the challenge is terrorism, not Islamism. But there are some other neo-cons who disagree with me.
Joshua    - Alaska
Profession Student
I am studying Middle Eastern history this semester and would like to know why the Arabs seem to be obsessed with so-called grievances that happened 1000 years ago instead of focusing on how to get along with the West and better themselves in the present?
Dr. Essam El-Erian:

I suggest that you read more about Islamic and Arab history. The grievances you are talkig about didn’t arise only 1000 years ago. The main reason for them is the degradation in the Muslim countries.

You might be right if you read in Shite history only, because they live in continuous pain; however, this does not constitute our history.

We should learn from the experiences of other nations to achieve a better life for Arabs and Muslims.
H. Toadstool    - New Zealand (Aotearoa)
Profession Lecturer in Female Anatomy
Question Good evening. If America was not attacked on 11 September 2001 by Islamic terrorists, do you believe that she would not have invaded Iraq? My American friends continually remark that the Muslims started it and that America will finish it. Do you agree?
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

Political reports make it clear that the plans for invading Iraq were there since a very long time and that the military training took place in the American desert even before 9/11.

Therefore, 9/11 was only an excuse for carrying out the war. Nevertheless, there are other consequences for 9/11 that made it clear that the American foreign policy is aggressive: the war against Iran.

Dr. Joshua Muravhik:

Hi, Toadstool. I strenuously DISagree with "the Muslims started it and America will finish it." "The Muslims" did not start it; terrorists started it. I do believe we will continue to battle them and their supporters, and that in the end they will lose.

As for your first question, it is inconceivable that we would have invaded Iraq were it not for 9/11. George Bush campaigned for president calling for a more limited and "humbbe" foreign policy than Clinton had pursued. I don’t think he was interested in foreign policy much at all. His thing was to cut taxes. On Iraq, the only initiative of the Bush administration before 9/11 was to call for "smart sanctions," which was another way of saying, ease the sanctions. Far from making war, Bush wanted to be softer on Saddam’s Iraq than Clinton had been. 9/11 changed everything.

Hamza    - 
Profession student
Question Hello,

Could you compare and contrast the U.S’s strategy against Islam or Islamists and that against Communism.


Dr. Essam El-Erian:

In brief, the threat in the past was communism; today it’s islam. The same methods: containment, going into battles.

The big difference is that communism is the product of the Judeo-Chrisitan culture and that it’s a man-made philosophy. Islam is totally different; it’s a heavenly religion and it’s a different culture. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate it; and history has proved this. Its ability to influnce othres is great.

Egfoo Yong    - Hong Kong
I direct this to the Egyptian -- do you not believe it to be sexist for your organisation to exclude women? Why not call yourselves the "Muslim Sisterhood?" If your goal is to gain freedom and equality in a backward culture, why not exhibit it at home? Thank you.
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

You have wrong information with regard to MB. I advise you to visit our website (www.ikhwanweb.com) to get a better idea about the ideas of the MB. We believe that men and women are equal with regard to rights and obligations in front of Allah and the law. We introduced female candidates in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Palestine.

Pleae revise the document the MB released in 1994. You can find it on our website in english.

Karen    - 
Question I have been following the dialogue and I would like to thank you very much for the information you provide. It is clear to many that Hamas is an extention of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the violence is considered a legal right to resistance. Still, the US does not seem to be able to differentiate between the violence used for resistance and it being a part of the ideology of the movement.

I would like to ask this basic question:

Simply, why is the US so suspicious of moderate movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood when it is so clear that their agenda is quite constructive to their societies? It’s definition of "moderate" is the vicious Arab leaders and THEIR version of Islam.

Also, to Dr. Essam, if the Muslim Brotherhood took over, what do you think they would want to say right now to eliminate any US fears?
Answer Dr. Joshua Muravhik:

To the first question: the "violence" of Hamas is not "resistance," except "resistance" to the very existence of Israel. It is, in other words, violence aimed at destroying the state of Israel. And the proper name for this is not "resistance" but "aggression." Even if it were "resistance," that would not justify in the least terrorism. What Hamas does is to send suicide bombers into buses and restaurants to murder women and children and elderly people. This is barbaric and despicable no matter what labels are used to justify it.

As for the second question:

The Muslim Brotherhood was violent in its past; it is not democratic in its internal structure; it is not clear what it thinks about the rights of non-Muslims, like Copts; it supports violence and terrorism outside of Egypt and its Supreme Guide just recently said some very extreme things.

Still, I believe we should talk to it and ask it questions and listen to what it has to say. Many political movements have changed and evolved and the MB could too. Indeed, it already has in some ways. So I believe in leaving the door wide open for dialogue.

Dr. Essam El-Erian:

Thank you for your question. I ask The United States to remove Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations, especially after its victory. This would solve many problems because there will start real dialogue with regard to serious issues. The US should accept the democratic rules, which include accepting pluralism. If Bush refuses the idea of anyone changing the American lifestyle, he should not also insist on imposing it on other nations. The Americans are trying to impose their culture on others through different means. The US should respect other nations. It’s not acceptable that the United States gets cheap oil and pollutes. In brief, the US should abandon the dream of the empire.

Bernard Rubble    - 
Profession Gravel Pit Operator
Question Is there a common ground where the two of you can agree? What about favourite foods? Sports? Hobbies? Women? It is so despairing to read your replies (especially from the Arab guy).
Answer Dr. Essam El-Erian:

I’m happy to hear your opinion. My main request is accepting such diversity. If we seek a real democracy we should respect differences.

There is no doubt that there is a common ground between us, but it didn’t appear in the dialogue because of the nature of the questions. Our political stances are different because I believe that Dr. Joshua is one of the masterminds behind the US policies in the Muslim world, which are hypocritical.

Perhaps Dr. Joshua liked Egyptian food during his visit, and I eat American food when I visit the United States. There is no doubt that our view with regard to women is totally different. I don’t see women as a good or a pleasure. I see them as life partners. My wife has endured six years and a half while I was in prison. I doubt that Dr. Joshua’s wife went through a similar experience.

Dr. Joshua Muravhik:

Don’t despair. In the end, perhaps there will be no common ground. But for people like Dr. El-Erian and me to exchange views is really quite new. We come not only from different places geographically, but from different mental universes. We need the opportunity for many more such exchanges before we can despair, and perhaps we will gradually discover some common ground or will influence each other and narrow the differences. And then there will be no cause to despair. I thank IslamOnline for providing this opportunity.

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