The role of religion in American reform movements is tested and established. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is the latest and most recognizable figure to merge his faith and political action for non-violent resistance. Martin Luther King was a Christian.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the outcome of King's struggle. It banned discrimination against blacks and women, including racial segregation.
The United States is not alone in benefiting from reforms stemming from popular protests led by charismatic figures who perceived the value of religion in public action. India had its Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Ghaffar Khan, for example. Khan was a Muslim associate of the Hindu Gandhi.
Pacifism has a history dating as far back as Jesus Christ. Might we expect a Muslim adherent to lead a similar non-violent movement of reform in Islam?
Particularly, Is the Muslim Brotherhood a suited partner for democratic reform in Egypt?
The Muslim Brotherhood is a movement, not a political party. It has been suppressed in Egypt by the current Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has wide appeal among the common people.
Here is an article about the Muslim Brotherhood, discussing its origin, history, beliefs, and goals:
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in the city of Ismailia, Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, a scholar from the Sufi sect of Islam. Sufism is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. Another name for a Sufi adherent is Dervish.
Al-Banna adopting the policy of avoiding religious controversies. Sufis are drawn from sectors of Islam that are Sunni, Shia, or mixed.
The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to make religion practical for the individual and community:
[T]he Quran and Sunnah constitute a perfect way of life and social and political organization that God has set out for man. Islamic governments must be based on this system and eventually unified in a Caliphate. The Muslim Brotherhood's goal, as stated by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna was to reclaim Islam's manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia.*
A Caliphate is the government of a spiritual and political leader of Islam. Historically, the office of the Caliphate would include any of the former Muslim rulers of Baghdad (until 1258) and of the Ottoman Empire (from 1571 until 1924).
A Caliphate could heal the divisions of Islam, thus spiritually and politically uniting the nations of Islam. A Caliphate has the potential of securing both Islamic countries and the West against Islamist terrorism.
It is claimed the Muslim Brotherhood is Islamist, which alarms Israel and some western pundits. This charge is especially relevant in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda Islamists against the United States. An Egyptian, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is is a prominent leader of al-Qaeda and closely associated with Osama bin Laden.
In 1998 al-Zawahiri merged Egyptian Islamic Jihad into al-Qaeda. Egyptian Islamic Jihad is not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Zawahiri reportedly said, "[W]e are different from the Muslim Brotherhood because sometimes they do not oppose the government".**
Given this history, it is understandable the West pauses when considering the prospect of an Islamist role in the current popular unrest in Egypt. Is there reason for pause?
An Islamist is a supporter or advocate of Islamic fundamentalism. While Islamic fundamentalists are motivated by similar objectives, particularly a resurgence of the Caliphate, their methods are markedly different. Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad believe in armed resistance as a method for transforming the social order. Islamic Iran by its Constitution advocates Islamic revolution -- even violent revolution -- as state policy. The former groups are Sunni while Iran is predominantly Shia, so violent resistance as a tool of advancing the spread of religion is symptomatic rather than sectarian.
Should the Muslim Brotherhood be classed among these groups? Does the Muslim Brotherhood wield violence as a legitimate method to achieve the social change it desires?
What sort of Caliphate is acceptable to the Muslim Brotherhood?
A FASCIST CALIPHATE
In al-Qaeda and the Iranian Revolution of 1979, we are witnessing the the rise of modern Islamofascism in the Muslim world.
For purposes of this discussion, I define fascism as a governmental system led by a dictator having the power to forcibly suppress opposition and regiment all aspects of society, including its economy, to support an aggressive nationalism.
In September 1963, Manfred Halpern of the RAND Corporation published "The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa". He prepared the report for the United States Air Force.
In chapter eight*** Halpern discusses the sources of totalitarian appeal, tactics, varieties, and the potential and fate of totalitarianism in the Islamic community. While Halpern gives special emphasis to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, he briefly notes Wahhabism, the Saudi Arabian faction of Islam that influenced Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Who is an Islamic fascist? According to Halpern, "To call them 'fanatics' -- for in their concern for Islam they do not hesitate to kill fellow Moslems -- is to indicate primarily that we cannot fathom their ambiguous, destructive intensity. To call them 'extreme nationalists' is to mistake them for secular politicians. No nationalist in the Middle East, however extreme, is likely to join the leaders of Islamic Islamic totalitarian movements in saying that 'my religion is dearer to me than my family and clan. My religion is the first country that I take shelter in,' or to assert that nations have become 'idols,' and that national unity should never be purchased at the expense of religion. To say that they advocate 'the application of religious precepts in the government of Moslem countries' is to confuse them with moral reformers. . . .
"The neo-Islamic totalitarian movements are essentially fascist movements. They concentrate on mobilizing passion and violence to enlarge the power of their charismatic leader and the solidarity of the movement. They view material progress primarily as a means for accumulating strength for political expansion, and entirely deny individual and social freedom. They champion the values and emotions of a heroic past, but repress all free critical analysis of either past roots or present problems" (pages 135, 136).
As similar apocalyptic movements, Halpern likens modern neo-Islamic totalitarianism to Christian millennialism (page 136). Neo-Islamic totalitarian movements regard themselves as intermediary to the eschatological Caliphate.
ISLAMIC FASCISTS ARE NOT RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES
In their devotion to religion, totalitarians differ from mere conservative or ultra-conservative adherents, who are content to observe every jot or tittle of religious law, either under the paternalistic protection of the host society, or quietly, communally self-segregated but still "present in the world". Totalitarians identify with a leader and a movement who pledge the violent overthrow of the established order. By the self-admission of their own ideology, totalitarians cannot be reformed.
As soon as the totalitarian movement evolves into a mature totalitarian government, it typically includes a secret police, censorship, terror, and propaganda. An absolute leader incarnates the movement. His thoughts embody the state. Faith is reduced to the raw elements of love and hate.
ISLAMIC FASCISM IS NOT REFORMIST
"A neo-Islamic totalitarian movement has no real interest in a program. Its chiliastic expectation makes the very effort towards producing a program irrelevant; the reformist Islamic component makes its actual program irrelevant since its closed system of deductive procedure insures an inner coherence at the price of isolation from the world; its modern involvement, however, makes an effort to form a program inescapable" (Halpern, page 143).
ISLAMIC FASCISM IS EXPANSIONIST
Neo-Islamic totalitarianism "opposes the abstraction of the nation bound by geographic limits which separate the believers from each other. it is not an extremist nationalist movement; it is anti-nationalist at home and abroad. Far beyond the recapture of Palestine, it advocates conquest and aggrandizement for the sake of the community of believers -- an entity without territorial limits" (Halpern, page 147).
Halpern cites "The Call of the Moslem Brotherhood" (Cairo, October 1938):
"'The Mediterranean and the Red Sea must be two Moslem lakes, as they were before. . . . Following that, we would want to issue our call to the world, and subdue every powerful man to it completely, that there may be no confusion, and that all religions may be Allah's.'"
THE LEADER IS THE KEY TO FASCISM'S STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS
Halpern believes that the survival of a totalitarian movement depends upon the charisma of its leader. The hierarchical structure of the movement, while at first contributing to its rapid successes, eventually becomes its principal weakness.
Thus, the life-cycle of a totalitarian movement can be cut short by the assassination or natural death of its leader. If the leader fails to appoint a successor, the movement will succumb to internecine conflict as lieutenants vie for the position of leader. Further, the movement may split because, by relying on strong leadership, its members tend to know no way of resolving conflicts peacefully. Splitting results in further weakening.
DEMOCRACY THE ANSWER TO FASCISM
In a sub-section titled "The Authoritarian Road to Democracy", Halpern refers to the "inescapable laws of history" as supporting authoritarian leadership as a necessary stage of political development in cultures unfitted by the bias of tribe or kinship to practice representative government.
Citing John Stuart Mill, Halpern states that a despotism is permissible when "'the dictator employs the whole power he assumes in removing obstacles which debar the nation from the enjoyment of freedom'" (page 224).
Irrespective of the obstacles, the goal remains of representative government. Thus, on page 214ff, Halpern proffers democracy as the antidote to fascism. In this, Halpern has strong support from President George W. Bush.
NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY TO COMBAT ISLAMIC FASCISM
In his March 2006 National Security Strategy, President Bush cited Islamofascism as a significant factor in the War on Terrorism. President Bush touts the promotion of democracy as the principal weapon for defeating terrorism.
On page 9, he wrote "From the beginning, the War on Terror has been both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas – a fight against the terrorists and against their murderous ideology. In the short run, the fight involves using military force and other instruments of national power to kill or capture the terrorists, deny them safe haven or control of any nation; prevent them from gaining access to WMD; and cut off their sources of support. In the long run, winning the war on terror means winning the battle of ideas, for it is ideas that can turn the disenchanted into murderers willing to kill innocent victims.
"While the War on Terror is a battle of ideas, it is not a battle of religions. The transnational terrorists confronting us today exploit the proud religion of Islam to serve a violent political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for murder against those they regard as apostates or unbelievers – including Christians, Jews, Hindus, other religious traditions, and all Muslims who disagree with them. Indeed, most of the terrorist attacks since September 11 have occurred in Muslim countries – and most of the victims have been Muslims."
President Bush recognizes the magnitude of the threat posed to the world by the expansionist aims of the Islamofascists. On page 36, he wrote: "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century and finds the great powers all on the same side – opposing the terrorists. This circumstance differs profoundly from the ideological struggles of the 20th century, which saw the great powers divided by ideology as well as by national interest."
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN PERSPECTIVE
An Islamist is not necessarily an Islamic Fascist. However, the Muslim Brotherhood has a mixed record of violence and non-violence. Halpern (p. 134) notes the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Egyptian Premier Mahmud Nuqrashi in 1948 and attempted to assassinate President Nasser in 1954.
The Muslim Brotherhood's participation in the political arena for the purpose of forwarding its religious and social agenda must be characterized by peaceful activism. An Egyptian reform government should implement the institutions of democracy quickly in order to secure the checks and balances of power necessary to prevent abuses.
In addition to governmental checks and balances, reform should include the normal freedoms of a democratic society, including press freedom and freedom of religions.
Most importantly, as a condition of participation in politics, the Muslim Brotherhood must renounce the use of violence or even the perception of violence as a tool of social policy. Such a renunciation is consistent with the pursuit of a benign Caliphate.
Martin Luther King was a Christian who altered the current of history by incorporating his faith into practice. American society has benefited from his contribution. There is reason to believe by his example that faith communities other than Christianity can spread non-violent resistance and impact their societies for the better. The Muslim Brotherhood is no exception.
The Muslim Brotherhood has potential for offering a unifying approach to Islam. Because of its cross-sectarian appeal, the Muslim Brotherhood may play a fortuitous role in the emergence of a transnational benign Caliphate. Its participation in politics would be enhanced by renouncing violence and accepting the checks and balances and normal freedoms associated with modern democratic societies.
At a mature stage in his life, Gandhi was asked whether he was a Hindu. He replied, "Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew."**** The pro-social values that underscore all religions inform and nurture the common community known as Solidarity.
***"Resurrecting the Past: Neo-Islamic Totalitarianism" (pages 134-155)