Nick Fielding’s Speech At The NYU Forum On The MB

Nick Fielding, author of “Masterminds of Terror: the truth behind the most devastating attack the world has ever seen” and formerly senior reporter at the Sunday Times (London). He gave this speech at New York University School of Law, Center on Law and Security, during a forum on the Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday 19 October 2006, which was covered by Ikhwanweb.

“For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East – and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”

Those were the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the American University in Cairo on 20 June last year. And in the Egyptian elections of November/December last year that policy appeared to be bearing fruit. Although still a banned organisation, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidates standing as Independents won 88 seats – 20 per cent of the total. This was despite the fact that MB candidates stood in only 150 of 454 constituencies. ‘Approved’ opposition parties won only 14 seats. What then happened?

 In the second and third round of voting more than 1,000 members of the MB were arrested. Many other MBs were prevented from going to the polls. Votes were fixed in at least seven districts. More than 100 Egyptian judges signed a statement condemning “aggression and acts of thuggery by supporters of the ruling party against the judges while…police forces stood idly by.”

 Despite this, the MB deputies, according to some commentators, have pursued an exemplary role in Parliament.

 A month later in the Palestinian territories, Hamas, which shares a similar background and history to the MB, also won a major electoral victory in fair elections, winning 74 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

 Their reward? Almost total silence from the State Department over Egypt and clear denial of recognition to Hamas in Palestine – an act which has cast the Palestinians into a maelstrom of inter-necine rivalry. And a possible reassessment by many of its supporters of the value of participating in democratic elections.

 Elsewhere, the MB has proved that it can participate in the political process – notably in Jordan, where it is the official opposition. In fact, many people believe that if the MB was allowed to participate in free elections tomorrow, it would probably win majorities in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Kuwait and a strong presence in Bahrain, the Sudan, Morocco. In Algeria the Islamic Salvation Front, which also has a similar political outlook to the MB, would also likely win any election.

 In the Western countries, the MB is also playing an increasingly important civic role. For example in the UK, it is supporters of the MB-founded Muslim Association of Britain that has taken over the notorious Finsbury Park mosque that was once the haunt of Abu Hamza. Under Abu Hamza, only a ragged mob of hardened Islamists ever attended the mosque. Now up to 1,000 people turn out regularly for prayers, mostly local people. The mosque has been returned to its community.

 What is the problem with the MB? There is a school of thought that argues that the MB is the source of Islamic terrorism. These people point to the fact that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and others were members of the MB proves this point. More particularly they point to Sayyid Qutb’s writings, with their emphasis on the concept of takfir – the idea that a muslim can be excommunicated by another muslim – and is therefore a legitimate target.

 Qutb, in contrast to the writings of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the MB, is the real founder of modern Islamist terrorism. His writings form the underpinning of the theoreticians of al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, the GIA in Algeria and almost all the other groups that have specifically declared war on the West – and on their fellow muslims.

 The concept of takfir grew out of the experiences of Qutb and his followers in Egyptian jails. Their simple argument was that anyone who could inflict the terrible torture an suffering on the prisoners could not be a muslim and was therefore a legitimate target. From this argument has flowed the justification for the terrible massacres and communal killings that we are now seeing on a daily basis in Iraq and elsewhere.

 But is it legitimate to lay the growth of Qutbism at the door of the MB? The MB itself has consistently opposed this analysis and, by and large, has for the last 30 plus years followed a non-violent strategy- if we exclude the issue of Palestine, where the MB supports and considers legitimate the armed struggle against what it regards as Israeli occupation, as do the vast majority of muslims in the world.

 In contrast, and as Ms Rice put it so eloquently in her speech in Cairo, we in the West have consistently backed repressive regimes in the Middle East against their citizens who have sought to bring into being some kind of Islamic state governed by sharia law. We have either backed outright dictators and despots or sought to encourage the adoption of secular, Western-style democracy. We have chosen to emphasise human rights only when it has suited pragmatic foreign policy considerations.

 Personally, I am not convinced that Western democracy will ever prevail in the Islamic world. Most muslims want Islam to be central to their political and social life. Every move we make to deny that will drive the increasingly frustrated muslims into the hands of the Qutbists – the al-Qaedas of today and tomorrow.

 It is our failure to understand the political landscape of Islam, the great social movements that have thrown up the MB, the Jemaya Islamiya in the Indian subcontinent and the Khomeini-ists in Iran. To many muslims, this movement is known as Essawah Islamiya – the Islamic Awakening. It refers to the awakening amongst Islamic intellectuals that followed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s. And yet it is a term that is hardly known outside the Islamic world.

The Age of Dictators in the Islamic world is coming to an end. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, is 78. If we don’t adopt a more positive policy of engagement that recognises that democracy has many different forms and that what really counts is the genuine aspirations of the majority of the populations is Islamic countries, the only benefactors will be the hardliners – for whose creation we have to accept much of the blame.

The MB is not an easy choice for us in the West.
– It remains ambiguous over its attitude to minorities like the Copts and others;
– It has departed in many ways from the more stringent aspects of the outlook first set out by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, but some say its commitment to these more democratic views is insincere;
– It continues to act as a missionary organisation, despite its pretensions to political power;
– The very preponderance of support for the MB, due to the years of repression it has undergone and the community work it performs, may only succeed in creating a one-party state. Would it relinquish power if it lost a future election?

These are some of the questions posed for the West by the Brotherhood. But in reply to the question posed by this meeting, should the US be talking to the MB, the answer is a resounding yes.

Other Topics

Which Will It Be, Stability or Democracy? – Redwood City,CA,USA
Rebuttal and response(1)
American Thinker – Berkeley,AZ,USA
Response and rebuttal (2)
American Thinker – Berkeley,AZ,USA
Ikhwanweb Covers The NYU Forum On The Muslim Brotherhood
Ikhwanweb, London-UK
Waiting for Futouh – New York,NY,USA
Open Forum At NYU On The Muslim Brotherhood 
Denied Entery
Muslim Brotherhood Member Blocked From Participating in NYU Panel 
NY Sun
British Muslim leader barred from US entry
The News – International – Pakistan
Muslim Brotherhood Member Blocked From Participating in NYU Panel
New York Sun – New York,NY,USA
Open Forum on The Muslim Brotherhood
Ikhwanweb, London-UK
United States stops entry of British Muslim leader
Reuters – USA
Muslim Brotherhood Opens Office in Washington
AINA – Modesto,CA,USA
WH On Wrong Side Of Muslim Brotherhood
CBS News – New York,New York,USA
Engaging Moderate Muslims—Really?
Steven Brooke, National Interest Online – Washington, U.S
Waiting For Futouh
Shadi Hamid, Democracy Arsenal , USA

External Links

Mark A. Levine, “Joining the Blogiverse, Entering the Fray,” History News Network Blogs, March 30, 2004. An anti-Lappen commentary.

Paul de Rooij, “Undermining Civil Society: David Horowitz’s CorrosiveProjects“, CounterPunch, April 11, 2005. An editorial opposing Lappen’s work