Muslim Brotherhood, seen from two ends of the ideological prism
By Dr R Balashankar
The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition by Alison Pargeter, Saqi Books, 26, Westbourne Grove, London W2 5RH, UK, Pp 248(HB), £20/-
The New Muslim Brotherhood In the West, Lorenzo Vidino, published by Columbia University Press, New York, Pp 326 (HB), £19.50.
TWO books have appeared near simultaneous on Muslim Brotherhood, an international organisation, whose declared objective is to establish the rule of Islam throughout the world. While one book The Muslim Brotherhood: The Burden of Tradition by Alison Pargeter has been written in obvious sympathy to the outfit, calling them moderates with whom governments should do business, the other, The New Muslim Brotherhood In the West by Lorenzo Vidino has apprehensions about the Brotherhood and its seemingly moderate views, nearly calling it wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) was started in Egypt in 1928. Its founder and the most prominent figure in the Brotherhood is Hassan al-Banna, who by some is revered even today as more than mortal. He articulated the anxieties of a generation who were struggling to deal with the encroaching modernization that had accompanied the colonial presence. He also created Nizam al-khass, the military wing of the Brotherhood. Pargeter’s book looks at this militarization of the Brotherhood as a natural corollary and response to things happening in the world. "This was in part a response to the enormous political and economic upheavals that were taking place within the country (Syria) at that time, overturning existing social structures and threatening traditional values." What justifiable reasons!
As in most other militant and extreme Islamic organisation, the biggest funder is Saudi Arabia. The Saudis offered jobs to the members of the brotherhood and appointed them to positions in its charitable institutions in Europe and elsewhere. It is to be noted that these charitable institutions were doing the work of propagating Islam and proselytizing. Over the years, the Brotherhood came to be identified and associated with terror attacks. The outfit is steeped in secrecy, with most concealing their affiliation. This according to the author is because of the attitude of the governments towards the Brotherhood. Pargeter also brushes aside suggestions that the Brotherhood seeks to establish the Sharia throughout the world and calls such utterances as "scaremongering." Anti-Westernism, however, remains the core of the ideology of the Brotherhood, though they live in the West.
Lorenzo Vidino on the other hand does not take an outright sympathetic view of the Brotherhood. The book begins with an account of a person called Abdurrahman Alamoudi, who had immense access to the US political establishment in the mid-1990s. In fact his proximity is described as "No American Muslim leader ever had better access." He co-founded the American Muslim Council (AMC) and its functions were attended by Jewish, Catholic leaders, senators, bishops and media personalities. Even the FBI praised AMC as "the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States" and the State Department appointed him as the goodwill ambassador to represent the American Muslims. Till one day, when he was caught in the Heathrow airport, during routine screening with $340,000, which turned out to be part of the illegal money he was getting from Libya, since 1995, which was intended partly to fund the plot, linked with al Qaeda, to assassinate the Saudi prince. He pleaded guilty to all crimes and was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Today, Islam is the second predominant religion in Europe. According to Vidino, the "universe of Islamist organisations and movements is extremely diverse, both in the Muslim world and in the West, and a first distinction must be made between rejectionist and participationist movements." Assessing the participationist movements is very complicated, as shown by the Alamoudi case, he says. These Islamists publicly declare "their acceptance of democratic processes and actively seek to participate in them. Policy makers and analysts are split over the genuineness of this stance."
Drawing the differing attitudes of Muslims in their approach to the West, Vidino says that unlike the Salafis, the ultra conservationists, the Brothers strongly encourage participation in the mainstream. "Muslims, they argue, should be part of Western society, fully involving themselves in the political debate and participating in elections. Yet the emphasis is always on those forms of participation that are deemed beneficial to the spread of Islam and the success of the Islamic revivalist movement."
Post 9/11 the Brotherhood and other organizations have employed with increasing frequency the term "community under siege", which closes ranks, tends to reinforce community identity and makes the Muslims rely on aggressive and capable leaders who can defend the religion. This book also points out that the New Western Brothers have helped the Palestine cause, especially the Hamas in various ways. They have established an "extremely sophisticated transnational networks to collect money for the Palestine cause." The Al Banna while founding the Brotherhood had stated the objective. He said "We will not stop at this point, but will pursue this evil force to its own land, invade its Western heartland, and struggle to overcome it until all the world shouts by the name of the Prophet and the teachings of Islam spread throughout the world."
The point is: who should the West trust? Should it accept the Muslim Brotherhood as a representative voice of the Muslims? If Pargeter is to be believed the words of Al Banna and brothers are only posturing and it is not as though they would actually invade and carry their ideology through. But Vidino is cautious, though he has quoted the multicultural models like India where the Muslims and the majority Hindus live largely in peace. He also quotes the early Bengali Muslim migrants to Britain, for whom though Islam was an important aspect of their identity, chose to deal with their social problems as a non-white minority and "used secular, often socialist ideology to combat issues of poverty, racism and discrimination."
The covers of the book probably tell the attitude of the authors to their respective books. While Pargeter’s book has a page of Quran and a veiled face, Vidino’s cover has two swords crossed, on a Western skyscape. Both the authors are authorities on their subject. Pargeter has conducted several researches on issues related to political Islam and radicalisation in Europe, North Africa and Middle East and authored books on jihad and Islam. Vidino, from the Harvard University, has authored books on Islam-related issues. This book, he says is the fruit of nine years of research, with multiple trips to 16 countries in four continents.
Both the books give a new insight into the problems the West is having in dealing with the aggressive Islam. The demographic change slowly happening in the West, threatening to reduce the white race to a minority in a foreseeable future has added urgency to resolving the issue of co-existence. World over the Muslims have tended to be discontented, complaining and aggressive while in a minority and as a majority, they have evolved as intolerant and totalitarian. These books in fact represent the differing approaches the leadership and probably the people in the West have towards dealing with Muslims and Islam. Well-researched and informed, the books provide discussion points in policy making.