Response to Patrick Poole’s “Mainstreaming the MB”
In his March 26th column in Frontpage, Patrick Poole accuses us of “rely[ing] on the reader’s ignorance of the Brotherhood” to present our case in Foreign Affairs. He then cites a series of instances which he regards as convincing proof of the Brotherhood’s anti-democratic and jihadist vocation. But it is Poole who relies on the reader’s ignorance by cynically taking Brotherhood statements and actions out of context and expecting the reader to search no further nor to have read our article. We stipulate that bombastic hawks and crude populists crowd under the Brotherhood’s umbrella, jostling for position alongside quiet conciliators and deep thinkers. That makes it easy for Poole to yank specimens out of the Brotherhood garden and exclaim: “what an ugly weed!” But this way the reader will never learn what is growing in the garden or see the snakes next door.
Anyone who reads our article could see that we are not “U.S. supporters” of the Brotherhood and have no “blind faith” in them. We specifically warn against the possibility that their democratic conduct and rhetoric may fall away should they gain power. Nor do we expect the Brotherhood “to usher in a Golden age of democracy.” Let’s examine more closely Poole’s charges to determine who exactly is relying on the reader’s ignorance and who is guilty of “misrepresentation and outright fabrication.” We will answer all of Poole’s arguments, notwithstanding that he evaded all of ours.
Poole states that we claim the Brotherhood “rejects jihad.” But this phrase appears nowhere in our article. Instead, we asserted that that all factions of the Muslim Brotherhood “reject global jihad.” We used the term for a reason.
Global jihad is Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri’s unconditional violence against a broad range of targets: “Jews and Crusaders,” America and its allies, Great Britain, Israel , Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, Tunisia, Morocco and even Saudi Arabia. This cannot be demagogically equated with the Brotherhood notion of defensive jihad. In fact, the Brotherhood began to reject the theological underpinnings of global jihad in the 1960s, with the publication of the volume Preachers, not Judges. This work aimed to combat the theories of Sayyid Qutb, the group’s most prominent intellectual. In Foreign Affairs we did not ignore the violent residue in the Brotherhood. We wrote “the Brotherhood does authorize jihad in countries and territories occupied by a foreign power. As in Afghanistan under the Soviets, the Ikhwan views the struggles in Iraq and against Israel as ‘defensive jihad’ against invaders, the Muslim functional equivalent of the Christian doctrine of ‘just war.’” This notion allowed the Brotherhood to join the West in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. But if we grasp the reason for violence, we do not support it. We abhor the Brotherhood’s stance on Israel and quarrel with them over other specific policies. But they oppose Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and global jihad. We hold that this difference is significant enough to make the Muslim Brotherhood collocutors and specifically indicated the U.S. should begin a dialogue “with representatives of the Brotherhood’s reformist wing, especially those already living in the West.”
Poole charges that the Brotherhood’s December 10th 2006 demonstration at al Azhar University signified “a return by the group to the era of “secret cells”…capable of military action,” and was furthermore a kind of coded message to awaken “sleeper cells.” It is true that some Brotherhood members dressed themselves in ninja-style outfits and performed martial arts demonstrations and military- style exercises. But this was to protest the Egyptian dictatorship’s expulsion of Brotherhood students from their dorms and its intervention in student council elections. It was a stupid, disturbing display, but without violence, despite the hyperventilating of the state- controlled press and the government’s desire to provoke a confrontation. The Brotherhood leadership condemned the demonstrations, apologized (as Poole notes) and rebuked the students, who also apologized for their actions. The Brotherhood’s peaceful response to an increasingly brutal crackdown actually offers evidence of its non-violent character and not of “sleeper cells” or “military action.”
Poole wants us to think that the government was suppressing only Muslim extremists. This would come as a surprise to the activists, journalists, bloggers, and everyday citizens who have been arrested, beaten, tortured, and generally intimidated for supporting the very same political reforms endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. administration has not been similarly fooled which is why it issued a strong condemnation of the government’s recent attempt to shove through unpopular and anti- democratic changes to Egypt’s constitution.
Poole offers unsubstantiated arguments that the “military apparatus” of the Muslim Brotherhood has been attacking the Christian Coptic community. Sectarian violence does occur in Egypt, but the Muslim Brotherhood has not been implicated. On the contrary, the BBC reported that the Muslim Brotherhood supported Coptic Christians demonstrating for greater police protection. The Brotherhood also called one particularly high- profile attack “an attack against all the Egyptian people, Muslim and Copt.” There has been reported cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic candidates in Egypt, and earlier this year a Christian joined the leadership council of the political party affiliated with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (although he soon resigned for reasons unclear).
Poole points to statements of Muhammed Mahdi Akef, the current General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, promising to send 10,000 volunteers to the Lebanon conflict. These statements should be seen for what they are; demagogic posturing and populist rhetoric in the effort to capitalize on the very strong support for Hezbollah in the Arab street. Indeed, the 10,000 never materialized, and many Brothers we spoke with expressed deep embarrassment at Akef’s irresponsible statements. Akef is a very controversial figure. For instance, upon learning that we were going to interview him many, including some Muslim Brothers, chortled, rolled their eyes, and told us to take his statements “with many grains of salt.” Some go so far as to characterize Akef as doddering, slightly embarrassing old uncle.
Poole thinks that we only dare to treat Hamas “obliquely.” Hamas has murdered Israeli civilians and refuses to recognize the Jewish state, leading many observers to conclude that it wishes to exterminate it. But it is simply not “one of the most active fronts” of global jihad as claimed by Poole. The acrimony between Hamas and al Qaeda, the sustained fury with which the jihadists criticize Hamas for its policy of waging jihad for territory (in Israel) rather than religion (against all Jews) is documented in our article.