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October 25, 2006
Rebuttal and response
We received a rebuttal from Alexis Y. Debat to Alyssa Lappen's article "Islam's Useful Idiots", published here two days ago. The rebuttal is presented below, along with Ms. Lappen's response.
To whom it may concern:
I am disturbed by Ms Lappen's remarks with regards to my presentation at the Muslim Brohterhood event at NYU last week. Her "Islam's Useful Idiots" piece are full of misquotes and distortions of my remarks at the conference.
1. I never denied that the MB was religious. How could I? It is a religion—based political movement which essence is more and more political and less and less religious. Never would I, or could I deny that the MB is religious. It is both political and religious. Islam is a broad enough religion to be able to "cherry pick" statements or ideologies for political purposes, which is what the MB does.
2. Never did I "admire" the group's pragmatic approach. I am an analyst, and I never mix analysis and emotion. For the record, I neither "admire" nor "dislike" the MB. It is there, and therefore I analyze what it is and what it does. Ms. Lappen is twisting my statements for political gain, and it is highly dishonest.
3. I neither condemned nor condoned Dr. Qaradawi's statements. I was not there to pass moral judgments but to give the audience my analysis on what the MB's economic program (and generally their political stance) is. Again, she is trying to turn me into an apologist of violence, which I never was and never will be.
4. I never said that the MB is a progressive movement. In fact, I said very clearly that it is a broad movement which includes a lot of factions, including progressive factions. I did say, however, that I believed that the "pragmatic" wing of the MB is in the rise within the movement.
5. In response to Ms Lappen's question, I did say that the idea of the Caliphate is absent from the MB's discourse today, but recognized that it had been at times in the past. I stand by this statement. The web page that she directed me to, which she said originated from the MB's website, was not, in fact, from that website, but from a site which has nothing to do with the ikhwan. I would have no problem telling people that the MB advocates a return to the Caliphate, as (unlike Ms Lappen) I have no political agenda
I trust you to publish this rebuttal because my statements were twisted and distorted. FYI, the Center for Law and Security at NYU will publish the video of my remarks on their website. I guess everybody will be able to find out what exactly I said there and then.
Ms. Lappen is right when she points out that some senior officials of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have, at times, called for violence against Israelis (soldiers and civilians). This remains a very significant problem in our efforts to engage them. But she is wrong in painting the movement with one broad brush, and generally assumes that Islam is an "evil force" which goal is to conquer the world. Like Judaism and Catholicism, Islam is an "ideological supermarket" where extremists cherry pick and distort references to the faith for their own political benefits. In casting such a violently negative light in Islam, she turns herself into what exactly Osama Bin Laden wants to turn us into: Muslim haters. Indeed, this is really not what we need.
All the best,
Alexis Y. Debat, PhD
Senior Fellow, National Security & Terrorism The Nixon Center
Ms. Lappen's response follows:
1) I did not misquote Alexis Debat in any way. I took careful notes of his comments.
Mr. Debat stated that the Muslim Brotherhood is a 'liberation' movement, a 'political' movement, and a movement seeking 'social justice.' This in no way represents Muslim Brotherhood dogma, which precisely follows the precepts of Islamic law. His remarks in this respect were completely misleading. Moreover, he said nothing in his definition of the MB to indicate its continuing and current religious basis. In that way that he most certainly did deny the MB's religious nature. In that way he most certainly did deny the MB's religious nature. Political Islam 'is just that,' he said. 'Always political.'
2) I twisted none of Mr. Debat's presentation, nor do I have any political reason to do so. On the contrary, Mr. Debat made it very clear from the outset that his 'analysis' is completely political. For openers, when his co—panelist Nick Fielding 'put aside' the issue of MB support for 'resistance' in 'Palestine'—a point I did not mention originally, but which bears noting—Mr. Debat did not object, then or afterwards. For openers, when his co—panelist Nick Fielding 'put aside' the issue of MB support for 'resistance' in 'Palestine'—a point I did not mention originally, but which bears noting—Mr. Debat did not object, then or afterwards. In effect, by their silence on this point, the entire panel made a clear political statement. Furthermore, in regards to those attacks, no one mentioned Israel by name—even once.
In a reply to a follow—up email, Mr. Debat also equated the Ikhwan's 'conservative' factions with the 'Shas party in Israel'—another political statement. Shas is a Sephardic religious party, but unlike the Ikhwan, has never advocated violence, and has no program (past or present) to conquer the world.
In a second reply, Mr. Debat stated, 'I could find you a thousand statements made by senior Jewish religious leaders which essentially make the same points as [Ibn] Tamiyya or post—torture [Sayyed] Qutb about non—Jews.' The Hanbali jurist Ibn Tamiyya (d. 1328) ordered Muslims to prosecute 'lawful warfare'—'essentially jihad'—in order to establish 'that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.' He also favored captures of non—Muslim men, 'during warfare or otherwise, eg., as a result of a shipwreck, or because he has lost his way, or as a result of a ruse,' and ruled that a cleric could 'do whatever he deems appropriate: killing him, enslaving him,' or freeing him 'for a ransom....'
I doubt that any Jewish leader or Jewish religious law ever ordered the prosecution of war to force Judaism upon all non—Jews—or endorsed the capture of civilian men, for no reason or by deception, or their murder, enslavement or sale for ransom. I also doubt that any Jewish leader or religious law has duplicated the contemporary comments replete in the 'post—torture' writings of Muslim Brotherhood sage Sayyed Qutb.
Perhaps Mr. Debat did not use the specific word 'admire' to express support for the MB—nor did I so quote him.
However, he left no doubt that he very much appreciated the MB's 'pragmatic,' approach, and supported its efforts to politically control and lead Egypt in the future. He did not and does not recognize the Muslim Brotherhood as a source of terrorism or terrorist group. Rather, he referred repeatedly to the group's social, economic and political projects, as if these conferred legitimacy on the MB—when these activities actually help to promote the MB agenda.
Finally, Mr. Debat presented Islam as a source of enlightenment and social justice. These are emotional reactions, not fact—based 'analysis;' He stated no facts on which he based these opinions.
3) Mr. Debat did not condemn or condone Qaradawi's statements, true enough. But he described Qaradawi as a religious 'conservative.' This likewise conferred a sense of legitimacy on the cleric. It was misleading, at best, particularly since Mr. Debat also noted Qaradawi's overarching religious influence—without mentioning any of his fatwas, which frequently encourage Muslim violence and hatred against infidels. Moreover, the panel denied that Qaradawi is a Muslim Brotherhood member, a clear distortion of the facts. Not only is Qaradawi an MB member, he is the MB's recognized spiritual leader.
4) Mr. Debat did describe the MB as a progressive movement. It is true that he noted that there are 'progressive' and 'conservative' factions. But, he also presented the group as a 'progressive' one, which could positively influence Egyptian and global politics—and one which Western leaders should support and with whom they should engage in dialogue.
Furthermore, in a subsequent email, he wrote, 'our success in helping Muslim societies transition out of tyranny and under—development will be with the help of grassroots movements such as the ikhwan (there are simply no other forces)....' But there are other, truly moderate voices, within Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle Eastern. Why not analyze and promote them, rather than the MB's desired monopoly?
5) A good illustration of Mr. Debat's distortion is his insistence that there is no connection between the website to which I directed him, and the MB. The MB may have an 'official' website to which he was referring. But the Muslim Brotherhood also lists on Google a 'Muslim Brotherhood Movement Page (Hizb al—Ikhwan Al—Muslimoon).' Moreover, as most analysts can attest, and Mr. Debat evidently denies, the MB works through many forums, and groups, and under many names—not only its own—through branches in more than 70 countries. This is a fact—not a political position.
Not only did Mr. Debat dismiss the notion that the MB continues, to this day, to support the establishment of a global caliphate. He also stated during the question and answer period that if such a state were to expand to Europe, it would most likely begin first in Italy—something he implied he'd rather applaud. Not coincidentally, MB founder Hassan al Banna wrote, 'Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, Southern Italy and the Greek islands are all Islamic colonies which have to return to Islam's embrace.' The MB and their Palestinian chapter Hamas, also advocate Islamic rule in Italy.
6) The Muslim Brotherhood and its leaders have frequently painted the group as one worldwide movement. I have often cited such statements and documents, but most prominently in a lengthy four—part analysis of the MB, co—authored with Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld. Mr. Debat effectively argues that these leaders have misrepresented their own movement. However, Mr. Debat provided no facts to support his contention.
Mr. Debat also falsely accuses me of stating or implying that Islam is generally an 'evil force' whose goal is to conquer the world. I have never described Islam as an 'evil force.'
One basic Islamic belief, however, undeniably holds that religious (and therefore political) Islam will one day control the earth. Islamic opinions vary as to how that goal will be achieved. But to the extent that radical Islam wishes to force its faith on the rest of the non—Muslim world, that goal is certainly evil. It counters international law, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that any faith or group would force anyone else—much less the world's entire non—Muslim population—to accept their belief system, whether by violence or political persuasion.
This radical Islamic goal, moreover, in no way resembles Christian or Jewish beliefs. Neither of them has any system of religious laws like that of Islamic Shari'a, which prescribes the ultimate conquest, conversion and/or subjugation of all other peoples of different faiths—and dictates every aspect of personal, political, religious and civic life. In other words, total control of individuals and society.
Mr. Debat, finally, falsely implies that I am a 'Muslim hater.' I am no such thing. I do hate certain ideas, by which Muslim radicals express their desire to kill Jews, Christians and all other infidels,and to subvert Western Democracies to enforce Islamic law internationally. I hate, for example, Osama bin Laden and his like. But as with so much else, Mr. Debat misstates bin Laden's goal—which is clearly to conquer and forcibly convert the world to Islam.
Alyssa A. Lappen