By Khaled Abou El Fadl
19 Jan 2017
A bill requiring the U.S. State Department to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a "foreign terrorist organization" is very likely to become law in the coming days.
Senator Ted Cruz, one of the sponsors of the law, stated in a press release that the Brotherhood "espouses a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West."
In the same press release, Cruz cited to what is known as the "civilization jihad" memorandum - a document in which he accuses American Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) of being affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Frank Gaffney, a notorious Islamophobe who is now one of Donald Trump's key advisers, and the main author of the "civilization jihad" memorandum, had previously pioneered most of the anti-Shari'ah laws passed by many states in the United States.
Gaffney is not shy about proclaiming the United States to be a Christian nation and the Western civilization as rooted in Judaeo-Christian values that are currently under siege by global jihad and Shari'ah. A day after the U.S. election, Gaffney pronounced in a radio interview that Trump's victory was "a blessing from God" and that declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization would become a key part of Trump's strategy of "victory over jihad."
Leo Hohmann, a member of Frank Gaffney's Centre for Security Policy and a contributor to the extremist Frontline Magazine, recently published a curious book entitled Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad. Hohmann outlines a strategy for responding to what he considers to be a purposeful and deliberate conspiracy orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood to defeat the West and America through stealth jihad. In his book, Hohmann states: "The Brotherhood is an extreme Islamist organization whose overarching goal is to create a global caliphate governed by Sharia." He then calls for passing a law declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization and explains that this issue must be "fought not only on the political level but also spiritually."
In the Muslim world, the bogeyman of the Muslim Brotherhood has been exploited by authoritarian governments to repress their citizens for more than half a century. It is but a pathetic and pitiful irony that now the very same bogeyman will be used to persecute a broad array of Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States.
Current anti-terrorism laws in the United States give virtually limitless powers to the state to monitor, arrest, detain and convict any group or individual who joins, aids, assists, or even supports a foreign terrorist organization. Thus, by designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, the Trump administration will have unfettered powers to go after any group or person that it suspects or accuses of having so much as pro-Brotherhood sympathies.
Am I overstating the case? Not a bit. The government would have to prove technical legal concepts such as "knowing" assistance as opposed to "unknowing" support of the Brotherhood, and "material support" as opposed to non-material support in order to obtain a felony conviction in a court of law. But if the conduct of the Bush administration is to be taken as any indication, the government does not have to prove a thing to anyone before it can spy on, search, temporarily seize or freeze the assets of, detain for very protracted periods of time and interrogate any one it suspects of anything.
Put simply, as long as a link or nexus is duly alleged, a foreign terrorist designation empowers the government to destroy the life of any family or organization suspected of a limitless set of behaviour and conduct before we even get to what lawyers call "a hearing on the merits."
Do most Americans know that this is what is about to happen? Most resolutely, no. In the years that I have taught American national security law, I am always intrigued and touched by the naive surprise of my law students when they realize that in the United States, the executive branch can and does hold this level of coercive power. Do most Americans care? I guess the response to this is another question: How can one care about what one does not know or understand?
And most Americans do not know or understand a thing about Islam except what has been steadily fed to them by the obscenely well-financed Islamophobic industry that is behind the very same law at issue. One thing of which I am absolutely certain is that every American who is currently oblivious towards the entire issue of the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood will soon have a very compelling reason to care - and care a great deal - because what is at issue is not the Muslim Brotherhood, Muslims, or even Islam, but the very moral identity and character of the United States and the world in which we live.
I will return to this point.
Who's Afraid Of The Muslim Brotherhood?
As a symbolic construct or archetypal motif, the Muslim Brotherhood looms larger than the organization actually is, structurally and organizationally. Perhaps it is an all too obvious point that the Muslim Brotherhood already proved itself too inept to control Egypt for a single year, or to protect itself against the unrelenting repression of Egypt's corrupt and ineffective military.
After purportedly winning the elections in Tunisia, they were quickly marginalized by the Tunisian old guard that was bankrolled by the UAE. However, al-Nahda, the Islamic party that initially won the elections in Tunisia was never formally a part of the Muslim Brotherhood but was inspired by the broad lines of some of the Brotherhood's ideological underpinnings.
Even worse, in Libya, the Hizb al-'Adalah wa'l-Bina party - purportedly inspired by the Brotherhood - never managed to win more than 10% of the vote. Nevertheless, the nascent Libyan democracy was quickly destabilized by a U.S., Saudi and Egyptian supported return of the old guard led by General Haftar, who is a known CIA asset. In Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco, the Brotherhood have always played the role of the loyal opposition where their fate and popularity fluctuates from one election to the next.
But, if as an organization the Muslim Brotherhood is so limited, why is it that the regime of Abdel-Fatteh al-Sisi in Egypt and so many other dictatorial Arab regimes are celebrating the U.S. designation of the organization? The answer is that they are doing so for the same reasons that Trump sought the designation in the first place. All of these regimes know that there is no relationship between the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS, on the one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other. The writings and literature of these organizations leave little doubt that they consider the Brotherhood to be liberal and heretical.
However, the Brotherhood is such a nebulous and malleable designation that it is one size fits all. All the authoritarian regimes of the Muslim world use that amorphous designation to go after and repress any organization, individual or thought that has the power to mobilize Muslims against their repressive governments. This is why the jails of these countries are full with students, journalists, lawyers and every other type of person who never joined, supported, or even cared for the thought of the Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia is the one curious case, however. In addition to repressing any active religious opposition as a corruption brought about by the Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia has welcomed and encouraged the deflection of blame for Islamically-inspired violence from Wahhabism to Ikhwanism (that is, Brotherhood inspired). Moreover, Saudi Arabia finds it convenient to blame the entire democratic impulse of the Arab Spring on the heretical ideas of the Brotherhood.
The equally nebulous threat of political Islam, represented through the convenient label of the Brotherhood, was used effectively by the most repressive and reactionary Arab regimes to win the complacency and tacit support of the West in aborting the revolutionary zeal of the Arab Spring, and so the dream of democracy in the region was for the time being put to rest.
It is often remarked that politics makes strange bedfellows. But I dare ask, do these fellows have to lie in such squalid and lewd beds? The reactionary dictators of the Middle East became willing bedfellows of one of the most nefarious and xenophobic movements the West has ever seen. The authoritarian governments of Muslim countries became not just friends but bedfellows of the Islam-haters of the West, and the world is much worse for it.
The motivating impulse behind the Centre for Security Policy and the other more than fifty organizations, foundations, think tanks and so on that are behind, not only the recent legislation for the designation of the Brotherhood, but the very rise of Trump himself is that they all share an historic, religious and civilisational outlook united in its venomous hatred of Islam.
All one needs to do to see this in full view is to visit any of their websites, and look into their recommended list of readings on Islam and Muslims. Without exception they all make the same arguments and reference the same cabal of writers - the likes of Steven Emerson, Mark Steyn, Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, Walid Phares, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Nonie Darwish, Andrew Bostom, Andrew McCarthy, David Horowitz, Bruce Bawer, Pamela Geller, Frank Gaffney, David Yerushalmi and Bill Warner.
The 2011 Report by the Centre for American Progress entitled Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America already studied the extensive funding and organizational and ideological structure of this hate-dedicated movement. But I do not believe that in the sad annals of modern history, since the founding of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has there ever been a campaign equal in its sheer volume and bulk of production and seemingly limitless resources, or even comparable to the magnitude of malignant virulence to the one currently being waged against the religion of Islam and Islamists.
What I think is most curious is that not only has Trump surrounded himself with advisors and consultants that belong to this hate-dedicated movement, but much worse, all of Trump's appointments - from Mike Pence, Michael Flynn, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Jeff Sessions and James Mattis to Mike Pompeo, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Frank Gaffney and Walid Phares - are united by this solitary and singular ideology that sees the world and Islam in an idiosyncratically unitary fashion.
What unites this gang of angry Christians is not their humble piety or Jesus-inspired love of their enemy or forbearing humility. What unites and characterizes them is their anger - their (self-) righteous indignation at an ungrateful world that has forced them to make too many concessions and to suffer the indignity of accommodating peoples, cultures and ways of thought that quintessentially and fundamentally are not their equal.
This is why they can tout the Bible as their living philosophy of life, while in reality idolizing Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as the epitome of intellectual achievement and the ideological sign-post for all who want to understand the nature of the moral order they espouse. Why Atlas Shrugged? Because per their reading of this paradoxically disquieted and triumphant novel, there is no reason to feel guilty or apologetic for their wealth and privilege, and they have every right to proclaim their moral, cultural and material superiority without refrain, and even more, to safeguard and preserve their privilege.
In my view, the dysfunctional marrying of Christianity to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is as much of an oxymoron as the equally dysfunctional fusing of Islam to the rage-filled theology of vengeance adopted by some Islamists. While neocons were able to respect Islam in principle and so spoke of an Islam as a peaceful and compassionate religion, this new Christian right - or what some have called Christian-Zionists - sees no redeemable quality in Islam and is reinventing Protestant Christianity in dangerous and I fear perhaps irreversible ways. Perhaps the closest historical parallel to this group is the Ku Klux Klan movement, which saw white racial superiority entitlement as an inseparable and quintessential component of its Christian identity.
This repackaging of white entitlement blended with pop Protestant theology seeks to return the world to the bygone age of religious wars and religious divisions without bridges. This incensed and incessantly self-righteous class of Christians is steeped in wealth, power and privilege, and this always creates a class of panderers who will go out of their way to perform both Whiteness and, to coin a term, Christianness. These are disaffected Muslims and ambitious non-whites who serve an important token function in providing the White Christian elite with a modicum of reasonability, respectability and discerning openness. They serve a function, but they will never be looked at or treated as equals no matter how much they are rewarded for their services.
Islam became the natural enemy of the new movement of rage-filled Christians for reasons that are surprising but at the same time tediously mundane. Islamists helped the triumphalist West bring down the Soviet Union and while Islamists expected to share the spoils of war, their partners in the West were scandalized at the very notion. In particular, the rage-filled new Christians could not believe what they saw as the ingratitude and the sheer audacity of Islamists in expecting to be credited for bringing down the Soviet empire.
In their view, this victory belonged to the capitalist West and to no one else, and how dare the Islamists think that they are entitled to demand that after the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the West vacate and stay away from their lands and affairs, or that the West mitigate its support of Israel as well.
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law. He is the author of Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari'ah in the Modern Age.