Commentary Magazine


Topic: Islamist

Blame the Victims

If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.
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If you find Karen Armstrong’s argument that the creators and publishers of the Muhammad cartoons were guilty of “failing to live up to their own liberal values” to be outrageous, you should see the non sequitur that follows: “When 255,000 members of the so-called ‘Christian community’ signed a petition to prevent the building of a large mosque in Abbey Mills, east London, they sent a grim message to the Muslim world: western freedom of worship did not, apparently, apply to Islam. There were similar protests by some in the Jewish community, who . . . should be the first to protest against discrimination.”

What Ms. Armstrong does not say, though she must surely be aware of it, is that the controversy about the building of Europe’s largest mosque in London’s East End has nothing whatever to do with freedom of worship. London already has more mosques than any other city in Europe, and there are no restrictions on the practice of Islam in Britain, any more than there are restrictions in the United States or other western countries. The London Markaz, as the proposed “megamosque” would be known, is not a response to local Muslim communities, but the project of a global Islamist missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat. The complex would include a mosque and other facilities for 70,000 worshipers—that is 67,000 more than the largest British cathedral—to be built next to the site of the 2012 Olympics. The religious compound is designed to attract Muslim pilgrims from all over the world, and to serve as the “Islamic quarter” for the games. The cost, an estimated £100 million ($200 million) would be paid by Saudi Arabia.

The London Markaz project is a statement of Islamist triumphalism, intended to send out a signal to the billions watching the Olympic Games. While Mayor Livingstone has expressed support, there has been local opposition to the Markaz from the start. After it emerged that some of the terrorists involved in recent incidents in Britain and elsewhere were linked to Tablighi Jamaat (which is often described as the “antechamber” to terrorism), many Abbey Mills residents of all faiths became seriously concerned about the prospect of a vast Islamist fortress in their neighborhood. The concern about the Markaz is shared by many British Muslims, as well, most of whom are from South Asia, and have no sympathy for the Wahhabi fundamentalism that the new mosque undoubtedly will propagate. Ms. Armstrong seems to turn a blind eye to the neighborhood’s concerns about the mosque. She concludes her Guardian article: “Our inability to tolerate Islam not only contradicts our western values; it could also become a security risk.”

Armstrong’s visit to Malaysia should have shown her what intolerance really means. The country’s former prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad, notoriously told a Muslim conference in 2003: “The Nazis killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” In any western country, a politician who talked like this would be finished. But Dr. Mahathir is still treated with reverence in Malaysia.

It is shocking that an influential writer such as Karen Armstrong, who is regarded by millions as an expert on Islam, and whose best-sellers include Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time and The Battle for God, cannot bring herself to tell the truth about Islamic intolerance. Even when her own books become victims of an intolerant government, Karen Armstrong finds it easier to blame the victims.

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The Brotherhood’s Creed

“In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a notable opportunity.” So write Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke in “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs. (Leiken, a friend of mine, is an expert on Central America who made important contributions to debates about that region in the 1980′s.)

He and Brooke claim that “jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood . . . for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy.” Although “critics speculate that the Brotherhood helps radicalize Muslims . . . in fact, it appears that the Ikhwan [i.e., Brotherhood] works to dissuade Muslims from violence, instead channeling them into politics and charitable activities.” Indeed, in its birthplace, Egypt, “the Ikhwan followed the path of toleration” rather than “pursuing a divisive religious or cultural agenda.”

In short, the Muslim moderates for whom we have been searching since 9/11 have been under our noses all along in the guise of the granddaddy of all Islamist organizations. How could we have missed this? “U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington’s tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood—and the Islamist movement as a whole—as a monolith,” lament the authors. “When it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, the beginning of wisdom lies in differentiating it from radical Islam and recognizing the significant differences between national Brotherhood organizations.”

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“In the anxious and often fruitless search for Muslim moderates, policymakers should recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood presents a notable opportunity.” So write Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke in “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs. (Leiken, a friend of mine, is an expert on Central America who made important contributions to debates about that region in the 1980′s.)

He and Brooke claim that “jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood . . . for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy.” Although “critics speculate that the Brotherhood helps radicalize Muslims . . . in fact, it appears that the Ikhwan [i.e., Brotherhood] works to dissuade Muslims from violence, instead channeling them into politics and charitable activities.” Indeed, in its birthplace, Egypt, “the Ikhwan followed the path of toleration” rather than “pursuing a divisive religious or cultural agenda.”

In short, the Muslim moderates for whom we have been searching since 9/11 have been under our noses all along in the guise of the granddaddy of all Islamist organizations. How could we have missed this? “U.S. policymaking has been handicapped by Washington’s tendency to see the Muslim Brotherhood—and the Islamist movement as a whole—as a monolith,” lament the authors. “When it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, the beginning of wisdom lies in differentiating it from radical Islam and recognizing the significant differences between national Brotherhood organizations.”

Count me among the unenlightened. Why, if the Brotherhood has embraced democracy, does it not practice it in its own ranks? Its internal procedures are secretive and hierarchical. It is headed by a “general guide,” selected in secret by a small committee for an indeterminate term, usually for life. The current “guide” is Mahdi Akef. “Our understanding of democracy depends on the criteria approved by Islam—namely, values of justice, equality, and consultation—unlike what Americans are trying to convince us [of],” he says. And why should they emulate Western democracy, considering the group’s just grievances against the West? “Western democracies,” Akef writes, “have slammed all those who don’t see eye to eye with the Zionists regarding the myth of the Holocaust.”

If I am unconvinced of the Brotherhood’s democratic convictions, what of Leiken and Brooke’s claim that it represents the antithesis of jihadism? They concede some nuance: “The Brotherhood does authorize jihad in countries and territories occupied by a foreign power. Like in Afghanistan under the Soviets, the Ikhwan views the struggles in Iraq and against Israel as ‘defensive jihad’ against invaders, the Muslim functional equivalent of the Christian doctrine of ‘just war.’”

This is rather like saying that the acts of Jack the Ripper were the “functional equivalent” of courtly love. Just-war doctrine insists above all that war be conducted with discrimination between civilians and combatants. The Brotherhood, by contrast, cheers on suicide bombings, and some of its branches perpetrate them. (Hamas, for example, is the group’s Palestinian wing.)

Just-war doctrine also insists on a compelling cause, the justice of which can be discerned by human reason. But the Ikhwan’s “defensive jihad” is purely selfish. As Akef puts its: “Jihad is an individual duty incumbent upon every Muslim, male and female, if any inch of the land of Islam and the Muslims is occupied.” And what is “the land of Islam and the Muslims”? Here is the answer to be found in the charter of Hamas: “any land the Muslims have conquered by force” constitutes “an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Muslim generations until Judgment Day . . . in the Islamic sharia (law) . . . because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Muslims consecrated these lands to Muslim generations till the Day of Judgment.” I know of no document of the Egyptian Ikhwan that is equivalent to the Hamas charter, but there is little doubt that the Brotherhood’s definition of what constitutes “Islamic Waqf” is identical.

Leiken and Brooke offer the soothing distinction that the Brotherhood supports not holy war but war for land. They quote the Brotherhood’s chief spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, saying: “the enmity between us and the Jews is for the sake of land only.” But here is Qaradawi’s explication of the significance of the land: “[We] must not allow anyone to take a single piece of land away from Islam. That is what we are fighting the Jews for. We are fighting them . . . in the name of religion, in the name of Islam, which makes this jihad an individual duty, in which the entire nation takes part, and whoever is killed in this . . . is a martyr. This is why I ruled that martyrdom operations are permitted, because he commits martyrdom for the sake of Allah, and sacrifices his soul for the sake of Allah.” [Thanks to MEMRI.]

Throughout the Arab world there exist genuine liberals and democrats, albeit too few. For the most part they distrust the Brotherhood’s intentions and fear its rise. (Here, for example, is Egyptian liberal Tarek Heggy’s take on the group.) Should we talk to the Brotherhood? Sure. But to anoint it as the “moderate” force we have been seeking would mean to betray the true Arab liberals as well as our own critical faculties.

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Ramadan’s Exclusion

Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.

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Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim celebrity academic and British government adviser who teaches at Oxford, is complaining again of his exclusion from the United States, where he was unable to take up a chair at Notre Dame. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he claims that he has been denied a visa “because of my criticism of [the Bush administration’s] Middle East policy and America’s unconditional support for Israel.” He lists an impressive-sounding array of U.S. organizations that “have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech” and support his legal challenge.

In fact, Ramadan was denied a visa because of his donations to a Palestinian “charity” that supports Hamas. His claim that he was then unaware of this link is implausible, given his record as a hardline Islamist who has repeatedly refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism. In fact, Ramadan has a record of contacts with Islamist terrorists. The Algerian terrorist Djamal Beghal, who plotted to blow up the U.S. embassy in Paris, claimed that he “took charge of preparing the lectures of Tariq Ramadan” while studying with him in Geneva. Ramadan was excluded from France for his contacts with Algerian terrorists, though this ban was later lifted.


Even leaving aside this and other contacts with leading terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s deputy, and the “blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center—all of which Ramadan denies—his claim to be a leading moderate who seeks to “westernize Islam” and believes in freedom of speech does not square with his public pronouncements. (For fuller documentation of these charges against Ramadan, please see this from the indispensible Daniel Pipes.) It is rank hypocrisy for Ramadan, who rarely condemns censorship in the Muslim world, to accuse the United States of “muffling critical opinion” and “requiring all its citizens to think the same way.”

Ramadan justified the protests against Danish cartoons of Mohammed, claiming that the Koran prohibits representations of Islamic prophets. (In fact, it does not.) He supported the Islamist campaign to ban Voltaire’s play about Mohammed, Fanaticism, at the French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly. He refers to Islamist atrocities such as 9/11 and the bombings in Madrid and Bali as “interventions” and denies that bin Laden was behind 9/11. He has praised the genocidal Sudanese Islamist regime. He attacked the French intellectuals Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy for “betraying the French Republic” by their support for “sectarianism”, a euphemism for Zionism, and scandalized many by identifying them as Jews. According to Mike Whine, head of the British Community Security Trust, an organization which monitors anti-Semitism, Ramadan has made many anti-Jewish statements and “is at the soft end of the extreme Islamist spectrum.”

We do not know precisely why the U.S. Department for Homeland Security has repeatedly turned down his application for a visa, despite elements in the State Department who would like to revoke the ban. The evidence against him may well include classified information. What we do know is that Ramadan has never abandoned his project of Islamification, and that he wants to pursue it in the heart of the United States. As the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ramadan sees his own destiny in exalted terms. In his Chronicle piece, he speaks of the “period of transition” on which the West has embarked since the emergence of large Muslim minorities, who will require the host societies to make “major adjustments” to accommodate them. “We must move forward from integration,” he declares, while Muslims “must no longer see themselves as a ‘minority.’”

What does all this mean? What is Western society supposed to be in transition to—an Islamic one? What are these “major adjustments” that the Western democracies must make? What is wrong with the model of integration, which has served the United States well in the past, and why is it no longer good enough for Muslims? And why must Muslims no longer see themselves as a minority, if that is what they are?

Ramadan’s manifesto, moderate as it may sound, in reality amounts to a program of Islamification by stealth. His family was exiled from Egypt, and Ramadan remains persona non grata there, because the Muslim Brotherhood was and is seen as dangerous. It was the first and is still the largest Islamist organization in the world. Ramadan has achieved respectability in Europe, where he is feted by academics at Oxford and Geneva—he was even invited by the British government to sit on an advisory committee after the 7/7 subway bombings in London.

But the United States has looked more carefully at his record and decided that he represents a threat. To allow Ramadan’s brand of Islamism a platform in the heart of the American academy would be the equivalent of allowing, say, Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt to lecture in the United States during the Third Reich. It was the judge who had prosecuted many Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, who warned that the Constitution is not a “suicide pact.” It is not incumbent on a democracy to allow its enemies the freedom to subvert its very existence. Tariq Ramadan is just such an enemy.

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Clash of Civilizations

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

Daniel Freedman of It Shines for All has posted a must-watch video of Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes and Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It, taking on London’s pro-Islamist mayor “Red” Ken Livingstone and Birmingham city councillor and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob in a debate on the clash of Western and Islamic civilization. contentions blogger Daniel Johnson attended the event and covered it for the New York Sun.

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