by David Solway
The turmoil we see on our screens daily enacted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square has its ideological counterpart in the skirmish of opinions among Western observers concerning its political significance for the future. Some commentators are apprehensive that the ultimate result of the popular uprising will be the gradual usurpation of power by the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist organization that has assassinated two Egyptian presidents, spawned terrorist movements such as Hamas and al-Qaeda, and, according to its 1991 Memorandum, harbors the intent of “destroying Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house.” As Jamie Glazov reminds us, the Brotherhood “is, after all, an influential Islamist organization [whose] top objectives are to implement Sharia law and to annihilate Israel.”
Others respond to the thrill of revolutionary upheavals in the name of democracy, as does the Daily Beast’s Bruce Riedel who instructs us not to “fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” and comforts us that there is no danger of a fundamentalist takeover similar to what occurred in Iran in 1979. For such illusionists, whose numbers continue to grow, the Brotherhood is regarded as a largely benign institution which has shed its violent past and wishes only to share power in coalition governments.
A recent column by Doug Saunders in the Toronto Globe and Mail perfectly encapsulates this pleasant, soft-minded, complacent and entirely supercilious attitude toward Islamic fundamentalism as embodied in the Brotherhood. According to this expert, the Brotherhood is “sluggish and inarticulate” and “not exactly a formidable bunch.” What’s more, “there is zero chance of Egypt’s turning into the 1979 Iranian revolution or the terrorist violence of Hamas.” Where Saunders derives the evidence for his conclusions remains an impenetrable mystery. We are, presumably, to trust his prophetic afflatus. To be fair, Saunders does render brief homage to George Washington University political scientist, Nathan Brown, who affirms with counterfactual didacticism that the Brotherhood “is against a theocratic state.” Saunders does not mention that Brown is known for defending Palestinian textbooks demonizing Jews and Israel. Or perhaps he skimped on his research.
Saunders then proceeds to assure his readers that the Muslim Brotherhood would “participate in a government that recognizes Israel,” although spokesmen for the group have made it amply clear that the direct opposite would be the case. Brotherhood officials such as Mohammed Morsy, Kamel Helbawi and Rashad al-Bayoumi have indicated that the peace treaty with Israel would likely be “reviewed” or, in plain language, “abolished.”
Next, Saunders goes on to compare an Islamist Egypt to modern Turkey whose ruling party under Recep Tayyip Erdogan achieved electoral credibility by purging its Sharia faction, becoming “aggressively pro-European,” and cooperating with Israel. One may be forgiven for wondering under what conditions of sensory deprivation the poor man has been living, as Turkey turns its back on its Western allies, drifts into the Iranian/Syrian orbit, publicly humiliates Israel’s president, and sends a flotilla comprising a band of Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) thugs to break the Israeli blockade of the Hamas terrorist regime. Saunders also believes that outlawing the Brotherhood in the past led directly to “the attacks of 9/11,” revealing himself as no less insani than the Turkish incendiaries.
It is only in virtue of such twisted logic, blindness to the facts on the ground and a state of mental vacuity that such absurdities can be entertained. What we can also detect operating beneath these aerial conjectures is a kind of culturally inflected exhaustion, a desire to surrender to the forces of unreason rather than to engage in the continuous struggle to defend the traditions, usages and principles that guarantee our liberty. Thus we race to take onboard the velleities and misunderstandings that absolve us of having to think and to act.An Al-Jazeera interview with media glitterati Tariq Ramadan and Slavoj Zizek on the prospects for the Egyptian revolution shows how cleverly such misunderstandings can be sown and nurtured. Zizek, of course, is a flaming lunatic, a howling partisan of revolutionary violence who, as he wrote in Robespierre: entre vertu et terreur, believes that “notre tâche aujourd’hui est de réinventer une terreur émancipatrice” (“our task today is to reinvent a liberating terror”). As the interview demonstrates, Zizek has no understanding of the Palestinian situation, is ignorant of international law, draws a contrast between contemporary Egypt and 1979 Iran when the similarities are ominous, and, like Saunders, glides serenely over the truth about Turkey’s Islamic turn.
Ramadan is, as usual, suavely oleaginous and superficially credible, but his real purpose, as his writings, conferences and cassettes make clear, is to whitewash the Muslim Brotherhood (founded by his grandfather), downplay the threat of Islamic extremism, and game his audience with subtle disinformation. Ramadan would agree with the Al-Jazeera moderator that the conflict between Western democracy and radical theocratic governments is merely an “age-old stereotype” and that the Brotherhood is not to be feared or suspected.
We need to go elsewhere for informed and perceptive discussion. For example, Charles Krauthammer aptly remarks in The Washington Post that “We are told by sage Western analysts not to worry about the Brotherhood because it probably commands only about 30 percent of the vote. This is reassurance?” In a nation like Egypt, with its weak democratic opposition, “any Islamist party commanding a third of the vote rules the country.” And as highly respected Jerusalem Post editor, David Horovitz, correctly points out, ‘the Brotherhood is committed to death-cult jihad in the cause of widened Islamist rule,” exercising what we might call historic patience in “building and gaining power and influence over years, over decades.”
It is also worth consulting the erudite scholar of Islam, Andrew Bostom, who expands the context of the debate. “Despite ebullient appraisals of events in Egypt,” he writes, “which optimistic observers insist epitomize American hopes and values at their quintessential best—there is a profound, deeply troubling flaw in such hagiographic analyses which simply ignore the vast gulf between Western and Islamic conceptions of freedom itself. The current polling data indicating that three-fourths of the Egyptian population are still enamored of the totalitarian Sharia confirms that this yawning gap still exists—strikingly so—in our era.”
Touché Riedel, Saunders, Brown, Zizek, Ramadan, and anyone foolish enough to swallow the Ecstasy of revolutionary exaltations. Admittedly, commentators like Ramadan and Zizek know what they are doing. They have an agenda and will labor to advance it by any means at their disposal, whether by the verbal bludgeoning of a Zizek or the velvet sinuosities of a Ramadan. Brown is a typical propitiating academic. Others like Riedel and Saunders are merely hopeless ignoramuses, useful jihadiots (in National Post columnist Barbara Kay’s wonderful coinage), who have neglected to do their homework. Too lazy to read deeply, familiarize themselves with the complex itinerary of their subject and establish a solid and evidentiary historical foundation upon which to base a compelling judgment, they do enormous damage owing to their popular circulation in the media.
The events now unfolding in Egypt are important not only for the Egyptians, obviously, and not only for Western geopolitical calculations, but also for those of us who wish to genuinely understand the nature of the clash between Western democratic principles and radical theocratic structures of governance. This is no “age-old stereotype” but the very heart of the battle for the 21rst century.
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