I notice that you published a report of the meeting last week at NYU on the Moslem Brotherhood. Your report is, unfortunately, full of inaccuracies. I was one of the platform speakers and you will find below my speech as it was delivered. Please compare it against the spiteful and ill—written account from your correspondent. I would be very happy for you to publish it in its present form or to reply to the ludicrous comments in your article. Free speech anyone?
Speech given at New York University School of Law, Center on Law and Security, Thursday 19 October 2006
'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 Condoleeza 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."
Ms. Lappen's response:
It is interesting, and ironic, that both Mr. Debat and Mr. Fielding accuse me of leveraging their respective comments on the Muslim Brotherhood for political gain, when their presentations were both so blatantly political.
Indeed, an altered, and shorter, version of Mr. Fielding's ostensibly neutral Oct. 19 analysis has been posted at the 'official' Ikhwan
website. Presumably, he sent them this text. In any case, the 'official' Brotherhood apparently views Mr. Fielding's remarks as a political endorsement—similar to Democracy Now's
far—left political 'analysis' of the MB's purportedly softening line.
Everything on which I quoted Mr. Fielding, he said.
Unfortunately, Mr. Fielding's supposed 'speech as it was delivered' is neither complete nor a precise duplicate of his remarks. Possibly, the text he provided to American Thinker and the 'official' Ikhwan website served as his outline. In any case, in his delivered remarks, Mr. Fielding strayed from the above—cited text, and added many other points besides. Certain of Mr. Fielding's quoted statements hailed from the question and answer period, which the above text also excludes.
And some of those remarks—unaccountably not contained in the text of Mr. Fielding's 'speech as it was delivered'— were also cited elsewhere. Mr. Fielding not only described senior Muslim Brotherhood leader and Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) founder Kamal Helbawy as a 'wonderful human being,' (as I reported), but also as a 'voice of reason,' as he was quoted in the New York Post
. The New York Sun
likewise reported on the panel's praise for the MB and its absent speakers.
But Mr. Fielding and Mr. Debat should not pretend to be vindicated by any audio tape of the event, to be posted on the Center's website( as promised on Oct. 25) 'before the end of the year at the latest'——unless it is complete and unedited. But that may not be in the cards. Asked if the Center would post the entire session, including the question and answer period, a spokesman stated, 'We are considering editing the content,' a process that could easily also exclude many controversial remarks that I quoted from the respective experts. The excuse is time limitation, although streaming digital MP3 downloads are not limited by time. Who is dishonest now?
In another comment not documented above, Mr. Fielding stated, 'Saudi Arabia has never adopted the program of the Muslim Brotherhood.' On this point, moderator Peter Bergen challenged him, noting that Saudi Arabia opened its arms to the MB. Indeed, as I have previously reported with Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the kingdom granted the MB business monopolies, while King Saud funded
their establishment of the Islamic University in Medina.
Any Muslim Brotherhood support for terrorism, Mr. Fielding later contended, springs from 'wayward connections.' Reports of MB terror financing result from 'over imaginative conclusions about how money moves,' he argued. Mr. Fielding admitted that there are 'a number of cases where links [can be] seen,' yet he also avowed that the guilty parties in such instances most likely were only 'individuals involved.' He concluded, 'the Muslim Brotherhood is not a jihadist organization or bent on the destruction of the West.'
The question of whether Islam could politically dominate Europe within a few decades, Mr. Fielding dismissed as 'garbage'—'It's just not true,' he said. Citing Britain as a case in point, he estimated its current Muslim population at 'less than two million.' While first generation migrants have a high birth rate, Mr. Fielding said that, barring 'mass conversion,' Britain will never be politically ruled by Islam—a point that the audience greeted with laughter.
Mr. Fielding stated that 'sometimes the Muslim Brotherhood feels like the Masons,' suggesting a parallel between the Islamist MB and the Freemasons
, whose spiritual Masonic Order has been targeted
by unfounded conspiracy theories and persecuted by totalitarian regimes. The MB undeniably backs jihad, terror
and plans for global domination; the Masons, by contrast, merely open their doors to those interested in joining.
Finally, Mr. Fielding indeed blamed the West's refusal to recognize Shari'a law in Islamic countries as a 'reason for militancy.' He added, in citing another scholar, that countering the spread of jihad organizations requires the West 'to address the grievances'—many of them legitimate—of the jihadist movement. Furthermore, Mr Fielding stated—another political comment—that the Muslim Brotherhood should be 'supported as strongly as possible' by the West.
If these quotations sound 'ludicrous' to Mr. Fielding, I would not disagree. Therefore, he should be more careful when making statements in public forums.
Alyssa A. Lappen