Should the Muslim Brotherhood Debate Include Another Rogue Islamist Party?

by Abha Shankar
IPT News
April 7, 2017

A leading Islamist party recently demanded punishment for bloggers who “insult” Islam and condemned the execution of the murderer of a prominent politician who spoke up against his country’s rigid blasphemy laws. The Islamist party also blamed the U.S.-led war on terror for the rise in global jihadism and the destruction of Islamic civilization.

For those of you wondering, the Islamist party in question is not the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, or Muslim Brotherhood (MB), whose designation as a terrorist organization is currently a hot topic of debate in Washington. Rather, it is the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a South Asian Sunni revivalist movement that has an active network in North America and the West.

The Islamist movement often defends terrorists and rationalizes attacks against Western targets, in addition to working to advance a rigid interpretation of Islam in the U.S. and other secularly-governed nations. The debate over political action against Islamist parties, therefore, does not stop with the Muslim Brotherhood.

JI’s recent blasphemy push provides an example of that thinking in action.

In a press release, Sirajul Haq, the leader of JI’s Pakistan affiliate, condemned the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who had killed former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, a fierce opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Haq also called on Pakistan’s political leadership “not to link terrorism with Islam…to please colonial powers,” and alleged “that the enemy was trying to destroy the Islamic civilization and values and to promote its obscener [sic] and nude culture.”

Haq had earlier described Qadri’s hanging as the “darkest moment in the country’s history” and said that by executing him, the Pakistani government “had proved itself a slave of US President Obama and not a slave of the Holy Prophet.” He added that “the government had executed one Mumtaz Qadri but now every youth and [sic] grown up in the country would turn into Mumtaz Qadri.”

JI’s Ideological Similarities with the MB

The JI was founded in 1941 in Lahore, Pakistan (then part of British India) by Islamist scholar Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi. Maududi is a leading pioneer of Islamic revivalism in South Asia who was inspired by the Brotherhood ideology. Maududi also had a profound influence on Sayyid Qutb, a leading Muslim Brotherhood ideologue who has been described as the “father of modern Islamist fundamentalism.” Qutb is believed to have also inspired al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Soon after the Arab Spring protests led to the ouster of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, top Brotherhood and JI leaders met in Cairo to “strengthen the relations between the Islamic movements in different countries ” and “promote Islam.”

JI’s primary objective in Pakistan “is to implement Sharia” and “make Pakistan an Islamic welfare state” based on the “model of the state of Madina,” the multi-religious Islamic state established by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.

Although the MB has a deeper foundation and wider network in North America, the front groups of the JI—Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and its charitable arm ICNA Relief—also have an active and long-term presence.

ICNA and ICNA Relief collaborate extensively with MB front groups in the U.S. and Canada. For example, ICNA annually partners with the Muslim American Society (MAS) to host its national conventions that feature radical speakers who advocate jihad and call for the elimination of Israel. MAS was created in 1993 as the Brotherhood’s arm in the U.S.

Both ICNA and ICNA Relief are listed as members of the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), an umbrella group featuring several groups tied to the American Muslim Brotherhood. It was launched in March 2014 to lobby Congress to enforce an Islamist agenda on U.S. counterterrorism efforts, as well as on issues concerning American Muslims and the larger Muslim ummah (community).

ICNA’s educational programs feature staunch Islamist ideologues, and Maududi’s books have been promoted on the website of ICNA’s youth division, “Young Muslims.”

After trying him in absentia, a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal sentenced to death ICNA’s former vice president and leader of its New York chapter Ashrafuzzman Khan on charges connected to the kidnapping and murder of several intellectuals during the country’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. The tribunal claimed Khan was the “chief executor” of the killing squad, Al-Badr, a militant offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Following accusations of alleged war crimes against Khan, ICNA scrubbed the names of executive board members, including Khan, from its web page.

Khan still is believed to be in New York. But others convicted by the tribunal have been executed, drawing criticism from ICNA as a “shameful act of judicial killing which is part of the ongoing brutal persecution of political opponents” in Bangladesh.

The Muslim Brotherhood also condemned the executions and called on the global community to “reject and condemn these unjust and unfair trials that violate all international norms and conventions….”

The Brotherhood’s website described JI leader Mir Quasem, who was executed in September after being convicted of running the lethal Al-Badr militia, as an “icon of freedom and resistance against tyranny.”

Quasem’s “martyrdom” was compared to that of MB ideologue Sayyid Qutb in 1966: “When the Egyptian regime executed Sayyid Qutb in 1966, they thought they killed his ideas and ideology; but—as tyrants do in every era and place—they unintentionally immortalized him, inadvertently spread his ideas, and unwittingly introduced the people to his call—his ideology.”

JI Leaders Featured As Speakers at ICNA Events

Yusuf Islahi, a leader of JI’s Indian affiliate (JI Hind), is scheduled to speak at the upcoming MAS-ICNA convention in Baltimore. Islahi, a chief patron of ICNA’s dawah or proselytizing project, WhyIslam, has spoken at past MAS-ICNA conferences. In a 2009 interview, Islahi criticized the Western interest-based economic system: “A society where interest is accepted and becomes widespread is disliked to such an extent that both Allah and His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, are at war with them.”

At a 2001 JI Hind event hosted in the Indian city of Aligarh, Islahi reportedly blamed Jews for the 9/11 attacks, which he described as a fitting response to American arrogance: “[T]he September 11 event is a well-planned conspiracy to defame Islam. Muslims are being blamed for it without any evidence. Everyone knows who is the real culprit, Jews …. The United States has unjustly and arrogantly ruled the world for too long. Allah has destroyed that arrogance on September 11. God willing, this will also inaugurate the age of Islam the world over.”

ICNA’s invitations to JI leaders to speak at its events goes back a long way. Former JI leader Qazi Hussein Ahmed, for example, was a featured speaker at ICNA’s 1999 convention in Baltimore. In an interview the same year with ICNA’s newsmagazine Message International, Ahmad spoke about the role Islamist movements such as the JI and MB play in creating an Islamic state: “The Islamic movements through out [sic] the world under the guidance of Maulana Syed Abdul A’la Maudoodi (r) and Shaheed Hasan al-Banna (r) and many other prominent Muslim leaders and scholars and Mujahideen have adopted the same attitude and the same process which was evolved by the Prophet of Allah. Call the people towards Allah and to train and purify them, organize them into Jama’ah and work for the service of mankind. In this process we will create an Islamic society, an Islamic government and an Islamic state.”

The late Ghulam Azam, a former leader of JI’s Bangladesh chapter, also spoke at the 1999 convention. Azam was sentenced to 90 years in prison for committing war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. Hamas leader Sheikh Muhammad Siyam also was part of the 1999 convention.

JI’s Support for Terror

JI affiliates in Bangladesh and Pakistan criticize the United States, openly voice support for terrorist groups and praise their leaders. For example, people like Osama bin Laden never die, former JI Pakistan leader Syed Munawar Hasan said in a 2014 video. They continue to live in the people’s hearts people and give voice to their people, he said. Hasan described Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing of in a U.S. drone strike as “martyrdom.” He called the U.S. an enemy of Pakistan: “America was our enemy yesterday, it is so today, and tomorrow too it will not refrain from enmity against us.”

The JI has provided an ideological platform and recruiting base for terrorist groups in South Asia. One example is the Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HuM), a Kashmiri jihadist group that emerged in 1989 as JI’s militant wing.

The U.S. designated HuM as a foreign terrorist organization in 2004. In a recent video, HuM commander Zakir Rashid Bhat noted that the Kashmiri people’s struggle for independence was “nationalistic” and was “haraam” (“not permissible”) in Islam. “Nationalism and democracy are not permissible in Islam,” he said. HuM has been behind several terrorist attacks in Kashmir. In 2013, HuM claimed responsibility for an attack on an Indian police camp in Kashmir that killed five security personnel.

JI’s former student wing in India, the Student Islamic Movement of India or SIMI has been implicated in some of the deadliest terror attacks in the country. The group has been banned in India and is alleged to have links to terrorist groups such as the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Nurul Islam Marzan, one of the masterminds behind the July terror attack on a Dhaka café that killed 17 foreigners, helped lead a group with alleged ties to the banned Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and was active in JI’s student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS) at Chittagong University. Suspects in the 2013 murder of blogger and activist Ahmed Rajib Haider reportedly acted on orders from an ICS leader.

The Jamaat-e-Islami global network’s support for a totalitarian Islamist ideology provides an environment conducive to the radicalization of future terrorists. The Islamist movement’s active presence in the U.S. and the West, its defense of terrorists, condemnation of U.S. foreign policy, justification of terror attacks against the U.S. and its allies, and rejection of Western democratic values and ideals make it relevant in the debate about designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. The Islamist threat is not isolated to one source.

Political Islam Is Today’s Anti-American ‘Long March Through The Institutions’

The Federalist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, March 27, 2017:

The following is an excerpt of the Hoover Institution publication “The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It,” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You may read the full report here. ​ This excerpt was originally published in Defining Ideas. ​Copyright © 2017 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University.

It is refreshing and heartening that President Trump acknowledges the need for an ideological campaign against “radical Islam.” This deserves to be called a paradigm shift.

President Bush often referred to a “war on terror,” but terror is a tactic that can be used for a variety of ideological objectives. President Obama stated that he was opposed to “violent extremism” and even organized an international summit around this subject. Yet at times he made it seem as if he worried more about “Islamophobia” than about radical Islam.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, Obama declared: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” In what follows, however, I shall refer to “political Islam” rather than radical Islam.

Political Islam is not just a religion as most Western citizens recognize the term “religion,” a faith; it is also a political ideology, a legal order, and in many ways also a military doctrine associated with the campaigns of the Prophet Muhammad. Political Islam rejects any kind of distinction between religion and politics, mosque and state. Political Islam even rejects the modern state in favor of a caliphate. My central argument is that political Islam implies a constitutional order fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and with the “constitution of liberty” that is the foundation of the American way of life.

Yes, Islamists Have Everything to Do with Islam

There is no point in denying that political Islam as an ideology has its foundation in Islamic doctrine. However, “Islam,” “Islamism,” and “Muslims” are distinct concepts. Not all Muslims are Islamists, let alone violent, but all Islamists—including those who use violence—are Muslims. I believe the religion of Islam itself is indeed capable of reformation, if only to distinguish it more clearly from the political ideology of Islamism. But that task of reform can only be carried out by Muslims.

Insisting that radical Islamists have “nothing to do with Islam” has led U.S. policy makers to commit numerous strategic errors since 9/11. One is to distinguish between a “tiny” group of extremists and an “overwhelming” majority of “moderate” Muslims. I prefer to differentiate among Medina Muslims, who embrace the militant political ideology adopted by Muhammad in Medina; Mecca Muslims, who prefer the religion originally promoted by Muhammad in Mecca; and reformers, who are open to some kind of Muslim Reformation.

These distinctions have their origins in history. The formative period of Islam can be divided roughly into two phases: the spiritual phase, associated with Mecca, and the political phase that followed Muhammad’s move to Medina. There is a substantial difference between Qur’anic verses revealed in Mecca (largely spiritual in nature) and Qur’anic verses revealed in Medina (more political and even militaristic). There is also a difference in the behavior of the Prophet Muhammad: in Mecca, he was a spiritual preacher, but in Medina he became a political and military figure.

It cannot be said often enough that the United States is not at war with Islam or with Muslims. It is, however, bound to resist the political aspirations of Medina Muslims where those pose a direct threat to our civil and political liberties. It is also bound to ensure that Mecca Muslims and reforming Muslims enjoy the same protections as members of other religious communities who accept the fundamental principles of a free society. That includes protection from the tactics of intimidation that are so central to the ideology and practice of political Islam.

Background on Today’s State of Affairs

The conflict between the United States and political Islam in modern times dates back to at least 1979, when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by Islamic revolutionaries and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. In the decades that followed, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania reminded Americans of the threat posed by political Islam.

But it was not until the 9/11 attacks that political Islam as an ideology attracted sustained public attention. The September 11, 2001, attacks were inspired by a political ideology that has its foundation in Islam, specifically its formative period in Medina.

Since 9/11, at least $1.7 trillion has been spent on combat and reconstruction costs in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The total budgetary cost of the wars and homeland security from 2001 through 2016 is more than $3.6 trillion. Yet in spite of the sacrifices of more than 5,000 armed service personnel who have lost their lives since 9/11 and the tens of thousands of American soldiers who have been wounded, today political Islam is on the rise around the world.

Violence is the most obvious—but not the only—manifestation of this trend. Jihadist groups have proliferated all over the Middle East and North Africa, especially where states are weak and civil wars rage (Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria, not forgetting northern Nigeria). Islam-inspired terrorists also have a global reach. France is in a permanent state of emergency, while the United States has been profoundly shaken by terror attacks in Boston (the Marathon bombers); Fort Hood, Texas; San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; and Ohio State University, to name but a few.

Of the last 16 years, the worst year for terrorism was 2014, with 93 countries experiencing attacks and 32,765 people killed. The second worst was 2015, with 29,376 deaths. Last year, four radical Islamic groups were responsible for 74 percent of all deaths from terrorism: the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. Although the Muslim world itself bears the heaviest burden of jihadist violence, the West is increasingly under attack.

How large is the jihadist movement in the world? In Pakistan alone, where the population is almost entirely Muslim, 13 percent of Muslims surveyed—more than 20 million people—said that bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often or sometimes justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies.

Disturbingly, the number of Western-born Muslim jihadists is sharply increasing. The United Nations estimated in November 2014 that some 15,000 foreign fighters from at least 80 nations have traveled to Syria to join the radical jihadists. Roughly a quarter of them come from Western Europe.

Yet the advance of political Islam manifests itself not only in acts of violence. Even as billions are spent on military intervention and drone strikes, the ideological infrastructure of political Islam in the United States continues to grow because officials are concerned only with criminal conspiracies to commit acts of violence, not with the ideology that inspires such acts.

According to one estimate, 10−15 percent of the world’s Muslims are Islamists. Out of well more than 1.6 billion, or 23 percent of the globe’s population, that implies more than 160 million individuals. Based on survey data on attitudes toward sharia in Muslim countries, total support for Islamist activities in the world is likely significantly higher than that estimate.

What Scholarship on Political Islam Says

There are two sets of academic literature aimed at helping policy makers grapple with the threat of radical Islam. In the first set, Islamic religious ideas form a marginal factor at best. Authors such as John Esposito, Marc Sageman, Hatem Bazian, and Karen Armstrong argue that a combination of variables such as poverty and corrupt political governance lies at the root of Islamic violence. They urge the U.S. government and its allies to tackle these “root causes.”

For these authors, devoting attention to religious motives is at best irrelevant, and at worst a harmful distraction. They are not concerned about political Islam as an ideology, only about individual acts of violence committed in its name.

A second set of scholars—which is growing in importance—sees a radical ideology derived from Islamic theology, principles, and concepts as the driving force of our current predicament. Scholars such as Michael Cook, Daniel Pipes, Jeffrey Bale, and David Cook, and authors such as Paul Berman and Graeme Wood, acknowledge that factors such as poverty and bad governance are relevant, but argue that U.S. policy makers should take seriously the religious ideology that underlies Islamist violence.

The failed polices since 9/11 (and even before) in the struggle against radical Islam were built on false premises derived from the first set of literature, which absolves Islam wholly of the atrocities that it inspires. As the failure of American strategy since 2001 has become increasingly clear, however, the view has gained ground that the ideology underlying Islamist violence must be tackled if our efforts are to be successful.

This view is not only held by a few Western scholars. All over the world, there are now Muslims who are engaged in a long-overdue process of reassessing Islamic thought, scripture, and laws with a view to reforming them. These Muslim reformers can be found in positions of leadership in some governments, in universities, in the press, and elsewhere. They are our natural allies. An important part of our future policies in the war on Islamic extremism should be to encourage and empower them.

It’s Time to Understand Dawa

From 9/11 until now, the dominant Western response to political Islam has been to focus only on “terror” and “violent extremism.” This approach has failed. In focusing only on acts of violence, we have ignored the ideology that justifies, promotes, celebrates, and encourages those acts. By not fighting a war of ideas against political Islam (or “Islamism”) as an ideology and against those who spread that ideology, we have made a grave error.

If Islamism is the ideology, then dawa encompasses all the methods by which it is spread. The term “dawa” refers to activities carried out by Islamists to win adherents and enlist them in a campaign to impose sharia law on all societies. Dawa is not the Islamic equivalent of religious proselytizing, although it is often disguised as such by blending humanitarian activities with subversive political activities.

Dawa as practiced by Islamists employs a wide range of mechanisms to advance the goal of imposing Islamic law (sharia) on society. This includes proselytization, but extends beyond that. In Western countries, dawa aims both to convert non-Muslims to political Islam and to bring about more extreme views among existing Muslims. The ultimate goal of dawa is to destroy the political institutions of a free society and replace them with strict sharia. Islamists rely on both violent and nonviolent means to achieve their objectives.

Dawa is to the Islamists of today what the “long march through the institutions” was to twentieth-century Marxists. It is subversion from within, the use of religious freedom in order to undermine that very freedom. After Islamists gain power, dawa is to them what Gleichschaltung  (synchronization) of all aspects of German state, civil, and social institutions was to the National Socialists.

There are of course differences. The biggest difference is that dawa is rooted in the Islamic practice of attempting to convert non-Muslims to accept the message of Islam. As it is an ostensibly religious missionary activity, proponents of dawa enjoy a much greater protection by the law in free societies than Marxists or fascists did in the past.

Worse, Islamist groups have enjoyed not just protection but at times official sponsorship from government agencies duped into regarding them as representatives of “moderate Muslims” simply because they do not engage in violence. Islamist groups that have been treated in this way include:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
The Islamic Society of Boston

For organizations engaging in dawa, the main elements of the strategy are:

  • to have well-organized Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims, while marginalizing Muslim reformers and dissidents.
  • to take ownership of immigration trends to encourage the “Islamization” of Western societies by invoking hijra, the emigration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina.
  • to reduce women to the status of reproductive machines for the purpose of demographic transformation.
  • to take advantage of the focus on “inclusion” by progressive political parties in democratic societies, then to force these parties to accept Islamist demands in the name of peaceful coexistence.
  • to take advantage of self-consciously progressive movements, effectively co-opting them.
  • to increase Islamists’ hold over the educational system, including some charter schools, “faith” schools, and home schooling.

Typically, Islamists study target societies to identify points of vulnerability. In the United States, Islamists focus on vulnerable African-American men within prison populations, as well as Hispanic and Native American communities. Recent targets of Islamist infiltration include the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter.

Agents of dawa also systematically lobby private-sector organizations, governments, and international bodies:

  • They seek to pressure governments to accede to Islamist demands on the grounds of freedom of religion or status as a religious minority.
  • They urge the United Nations and the European Council to combat “Islamophobia” by devising what amounts to censorship guidelines for politicians and journalists and by punishing those who dissent.
  • They press institutions such as the Associated Press to distort the language they use to suit Islamist objectives.
  • They wage sustained campaigns to discredit critics of radical Islam.

The Sinews of Dawa

The global infrastructure of dawa is well funded, persistent, and resilient. From 1973 through 2002, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia spent an estimated $87 billion to promote dawa efforts abroad. Josh Martin estimates that, since the early 1970s, Middle Eastern charities have distributed $110 billion, $40 billion of which found its way to sub-Saharan Africa and contributed heavily to Islamist ideological indoctrination there.

Nongovernmental organizations in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia continue to distribute large sums overseas to finance ideological indoctrination and activities. Powerful foundations such as the Qatar Foundation continue to grant financial support and legitimacy to radical Islamic ideology around the world.

Many Islamic charitable foundations use zakat (mandatory charity) funds to mix humanitarian outreach with ideological indoctrination, laying the ground for future intolerance, misogyny, and jihad, even if no violence is used in the short term. When informal funding mechanisms are included, the zakat funds available could reach “hundreds of billions of dollars” worldwide each year.

The Key Problem Is Using Our Freedoms to End Them

Let it be said explicitly: The Islamists’ program is fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution, religious tolerance, the equality of men and women, the tolerance of different sexual orientations, and other fundamental human rights.

The biggest challenge the United States faces in combating political Islam, however, is the extent to which agents of dawa can exploit the constitutional and legal protections that guarantee American citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech—freedoms that would of course be swept away if the Islamists achieved their goals.

In 2010, one senior American intelligence analyst summed up our predicament: “In the US there are First Amendment issues we’re cognizant of. It’s not a crime to radicalize, only when it turns to violence . . . America is thus vulnerable to a threat that is not only diversifying, but arguably intensifying.”

To give just one example: A cleric in Maryland, Imam Suleiman Bengharsa, has openly endorsed the Islamic State, posted gruesome videos, and praised terrorist attacks overseas. As of February 2017, however, he remains a free man and U.S. authorities insist nothing can be done against him because he has not yet plotted to commit a specific act of violence. One expert has said that Imam Bengharsa “can take his supporters right up to the line. It’s like making a cake and not putting in the final ingredient. It’s winks and nods all the way.” This is what we are up against.

The global constitution of political Islam is formidable. The Muslim Brotherhood, with its numerous American affiliates, is an important component, but not the only one. Even if one were able to eliminate the Brotherhood overnight, the ideological infrastructure of dawa would remain powerful. The network of radical Islamist preachers, “charities,” and organizations that perpetuate political Islam is already well established inside and outside the United States.

To resist the insidious advance of political Islam, we need to develop a strategy to counter not only those who use violence to advance their politico-religious objectives—the jihadists—but also the great and complex ideological infrastructure known as dawa, just as we countered both the Red Army and the ideology of communism in the Cold War. Focusing only on “terror” as a tactic is insufficient. We ignore at our peril the ideological infrastructure that supports political Islam in both its violent and its nonviolent forms.

It is not just that jihad is an extension of dawa; according to some observers, it is dawa by other means. Put differently, nonviolent and violent Islamists differ only on tactics; they share the same goal, which is to establish an unfree society ruled by strict sharia law. Institutionally, nonviolent Islamists have benefited from terror attacks committed by jihadists because such attacks make nonviolent Islamists appear moderate in the eyes of Western governments, even when their goals and values are not. This is known as the “positive radical flank effect. Ian Johnson, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, observed:

Al Qaeda was the best thing to happen to these [Islamist] groups. Nowadays, our bar is so low that if groups aren’t Al Qaeda, we’re happy. If they’re not overtly supporting terrorism, we think they’re okay. We don’t stop to think where the terrorism comes from, where the fish swim.

Dawa must therefore be countered as much as jihad.

Yet, as things stand, dawa cannot be countered. Its agents hide behind constitutional protections they would dismantle unhesitatingly were they in power. In 2017, Congress must therefore give the president the tools he needs to dismantle the infrastructure of dawa in the United States and to counter the spread of political Islam at home and abroad.

While recognizing that our freedoms are sacrosanct, we must also remember the wise words of Karl Popper, who memorably identified what he called “the paradox of tolerance,” namely that “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”

If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise.

But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

Ayaan is a fellow at The Harvard Kennedy School, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
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This was a very good debate that took place in 2010. It is worth watching again if you have time:

Former Labour Foreign Minister: UK Can’t Defeat Terror Without Understanding Religion

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by Liam Deacon, March 24, 2017:

A former Labour Party foreign minister has implied the government of Tony Blair was wrong to ignore the religious roots of Islamist terror, urging authorities to ‘take on’ the ideology to defeat terror.

Kim Howells, who oversaw the work of MI5 and MI6 during the Blair and Brown years, said Islamist violence is distinct from other forms of terror and Western values such as democracy must be defended.

“I was part of a Government that said: ‘Well, we don’t do God.’ But you can’t afford not to do God on this one, I think,” he told Wales Online.

“These people aren’t motivated – not on the most part, anyway – by money or some kind of nationalism. It’s different from the IRA. These people are prepared to kill themselves and they do it because they think it’s a shortcut to paradise…

“Unless people have enough courage to take that on and try and convince young people that the Caliphate is not a better way of running society than a democracy they are going to be lured to these organisations.”

Whilst some say Islamic terror is largely driven by grievances such as “Islamophobia”, “alienation”, and Western foreign policy, Mr. Howells argues it is necessary to appreciate the importance of theological turmoil going on within Islam.

“These guys are not just trying to kill unbelievers and Christians and so on. Their main enemy is another form of Islam,” he said, referring to the violent schism between Sunni and Shia Islam.

People hold up placards during a candlelit vigil at Trafalgar Square on March 23, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty)

Many other nations and ethnic groups have been affected by foreign interventions and discrimination, yet the vast majority of recent terror attacks have occurred in countries afflicted by Islamist insurgencies.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, in 2015, “69% of all deaths due to terrorist attacks took place in five countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen)”.

Terrorists returning from these conflict zones present a real challenge to the UK.

Between 700 and 1,500 Brits have travelled to join Islamic State terrorists, and Mr. Howell said former jihadists should be a “real worry” for the security of the nation.

“There’s going to be a significant proportion of those people who are determined to carry on the fight here. They’ve been trained in how to use guns and how to construct bombs,” he said.

“They are going to have to be watched very carefully. But just to watch one person takes a large number of people and a lot of money.

“How on earth you keep tabs on 400 or 500 people at any given time as well as those who never went to Syria but you judge are posing a threat is not easy.”

Government Report: Islamists Building ‘Parallel Society’ in Sweden Aided By PC Culture of Silence

David Ramos/Getty

Breitbart, by Liam Deacon, March 4, 2017:

Aided by a politically correct culture of “tolerance”, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is secretly building a “parallel” society in Sweden by infiltrating organisations and political parties, a government report has concluded.

Surprisingly, the document takes aim at “political elites” for fostering a doctrine of multiculturalism and silence, which can help and facilitate the nefarious ends of anti-democratic organisation like the Brotherhood.

Somewhat predictably, however, the publication of such claims in Sweden – where open criticism of liberal, multicultural ideals is rare – has caused a row, with critics labelling the report “conspiratorial” and claiming it misrepresents Islam.

Published Friday, the document was commissioned by Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), part of the country’s Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for civil protection and public safety.

The paper’s authors claim the Brotherhood is working to increase the number of practicing Muslims in Sweden, encouraging tension with Secular society, and targeting political parties, NGOs, academic institutions and other civil society organisations.

They also slam the “established structure of values among the country’s political elite [which] places a high value on ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’ of citizens who are in some sense different from the mainstream”.

In the report, the Islamism of the MB is described as a totalitarian political ideology born out of Islam, a religion. This can make it “difficult to oppose what on the surface appears to be (a vulnerable minority) religious rights”, it explains.

Critics, therefore, “run the risk of being called ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ and because of the situation in Swedish society such classifications endanger people’s careers”.

The press was quick to label these claims inflammatory, and 22 academics and “experts” in religion have published a blog post questioning the methodology of the research.

The academics – from many of Sweden’s leading universities – say it is “almost conspiratorial” to suggest criticism of Islamism is difficult in Sweden. They also insist the claim that the Brotherhood is building a parallel society is refuted in past research.

In response to the blog post, the department has refuted the criticism of their methodology, and the report’s editor, Magnus Norell, told public service broadcaster SVT:

“Had they smoked something before they read it? You just need to read the report. If someone doesn’t accept this, there’s not much I can do about it. It’s proven.”

Controversially in Sweden, the report also links Islamism and poor social integration to immigration.

“Islamists aim to build a parallel social structure competing with the rest of the Swedish society the values of its citizens. In this sense, MB’s activists pose a long-term challenge in terms of the country’s social cohesion”, it states.

Adding: “Migration from Africa and the Middle East is likely to continue in coming years, both in form of relatives and refugees…

“Given that MB’s goal is to increase the number of practising Muslims in Swedish or European territory, there is a great likelihood that a ‘tug of war’ will occur between the majority community and the Islamic community with the MB’s encouragement…”

The authors of the blog post objected to this claim. “The [report’s] authors seem to conclude that Swedish Islam is a homogeneous phenomenon and that Swedish Muslims are led by the Muslim Brotherhood…” they write.

“It is a conclusion that goes against the overall research, which rather points towards the Muslim community being diverse and there being competition between Muslim groups…”

Founded in 1826, the MB aims to create a global, Sunni Islamic Caliphate by organising Muslims politically. It is arguably the largest Islamist organisation in the world and has links to the Muslim Council of Britain and many other mainstream European Islamic institution.

The group has been accused of fostering links to militants and is considered a terrorist organisation by the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Also see:

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Keith Ellison Risks Legitimizing Extremists

Keith Ellison (Getty Images)

Keith Ellison (Getty Images)

Daily Caller, by Sam Westrop, Feb. 23, 2017:

The Democratic National Committee recently banned a candidate from the chairmanship race, after he claimed that fellow-candidate Keith Ellison, a Muslim Congressman, was unfit to lead the party because of his religion’s opposition to homosexuality. There is no evidence that Ellison himself is anti-gay, and it was unfair to suggest as such. Ellison does have a history, however, of sharing platforms with some of the most extreme anti-gay preachers in America.

In April, Ellison is billed to speak at a conference organized by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS). Ellison will be sharing the stage with an assortment of clerics known for their extremist rhetoric – including Siraj Wahhaj, who cites the death penalty for homosexuality, which he describes as a “disease,” and labels non-Muslims as “foul” and “corrupting.”

Under a Trump administration, some Democrats may feel particularly drawn to declaring solidarity with American Muslim communities. Islamist groups know this, and will seek to exploit the company of politicians who are keen to broadcast their anti-Trump credentials. Political patronage gives credence to the claim of Islamists to be community leaders – to be legitimate representatives of ordinary Muslims (who are given little say on the matter). It serves to distract attention away from their extremist ideas and links to terror. And it gives them an opportunity for influence that, as a minority group of extreme political operatives, they would otherwise never wield.

If all goes well in February’s DNC leadership elections, Representative Ellison could be addressing the ICNA-MAS conference in Baltimore as the newly-minted DNC chairman. For ICNA-MAS and its conference speakers, Ellison’s presence means the support of the liberal anti-Trump establishment. It means the whitewash of illiberal Islamism.

In December, Ellison withdrew from a similar conference, also organized by MAS and ICNA, after the Middle East Forum and its allies published research showing that almost half of the speakers had made comments advocating for jihad, promoting anti-Semitic and homophobic ideas, or praising terrorist groups such as Hamas. Several of those same extremist speakers are now also listed to speak at the conference in April.

Has Ellison agreed to attend the ICNA-MAS conference because the DNC election campaign will be over? Or perhaps it is simply because he is not aware some of the same extremists he distanced himself from in December will be again sharing his platform in April. In case Representative Ellison is simply uninformed, he should know a little more about at least one of his fellow speakers.

Siraj Wahhaj is a preacher with a long history of involvement in extremist causes. In 1995, the U.S. Attorney for New York named Wahhaj as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing. Wahhaj also served as a character witness for Omar Abdel Rahman, the notorious terrorist operative, whose group was responsible for the attack.

Newly-discovered sermons now reveal the full extent of Wahhaj’s extremist ideas. Wahhaj has advocated for jihad in America, and fundraised for the Benevolence International Foundation, a prominent front group for Al Qaeda, now banned. Elsewhere, he describes American society as “satanic”, supports “chopping off the hands” of thieves, advocates “death by stoning” for “adultery or fornication”, and labels non-Muslims as “dirty” and “corrupting.”

Wahhaj reserves quite a bit of his hatred for homosexuality. “The Prophet,” Wahhaj claims, “cursed the feminine man and the masculine women. …  Brothers and sisters, I don’t believe any of you are homosexual. This is a disease of this society.” Feminist movements, he adds, “are headed by lesbians.”

Although Wahhaj advises his audience not to “beat up homosexuals,” he nevertheless reminds them: “You know what the punishment is, if a man is found with another man? The Prophet Mohammad … said the one who does it and the one to whom it is done to: kill them both.

Wahhaj is not the only extremist advertised to speak in April. Others include Yusuf Islahi, who claims that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks, as part of a conspiracy to defame Islam; and Yasir Qadhi, who incites hatred against Shia Muslims, and has described the Holocaust as “false propaganda.”

The hosting organizations have their own history of extremism. In 2014, MAS was designated by the United Arab Emirates as a terrorist organization. And ICNA is the American arm of Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian Islamist group that carried out mass-killings of civilians during the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh.

As a congressman, Keith Ellison is perhaps just another liberal politician being exploited by illiberal Islamist groups. But as a possible DNC chair, he would be lending the legitimacy of the Democratic Party to some of the most abhorrent Islamist clerics and activists in America today, and betraying the trust of moderate American Muslims.

Politicians who oppose the Trump administration must take care not be so anti-Trump that they ignore the danger of Islamism. If politicians across the spectrum are serious about tackling extremism, radicalization and terror, they must deny Islamists the liberal stamp of approval. Keith Ellison, whether as Chairman or Congressman, must withdraw from this conference.

Sam Westrop is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum

Also see:

Yes, It’s Legal To Designate The Muslim Brotherhood A Terrorist Organization

shutterstock_211423306Designating the Muslim Brotherhood would be a serious impediment to continuing the bipartisan, but failed, policy of cooperating with Islamists in the Middle East.

The Federalist, by Kyle Shideler, February 10, 2016:

As President Trump moves towards designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, we’re hearing all the reasons he can’t or shouldn’t.

The latest tactic has been to assert that designating the Muslim Brotherhood is not possible, or simply illegal, because it does not conform with the letter of the law regarding Foreign Terrorist Designations. This is a specious claim, but made with such confidence that it requires a serious examination to debunk.

Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood Exists

One of the chief arguments that designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization would be illegal is there is no such thing as the Muslim Brotherhood. A textbook example of this claim comes from Benjamin Wittes in the Lawfare Blog:

The short answer is that the Brotherhood is not in a meaningful sense a single organization at all; elements of it can be designated and have been designated, and other elements certainly cannot be. As a whole, it is simply too diffuse and diverse to characterize. And it certainly cannot be said as a whole to engage in terrorism that threatens the United States.

While Wittes admits that there does exist a single body known as the International Muslim Brotherhood, he claims “it is difficult to assess the strength of the ties between the international organization and the various Brotherhood chapters, because of the organization’s penchant for secrecy.”

Indeed, the International Muslim Brotherhood is so secretive that it published its bylaws on the Muslim Brotherhood’s website in 2010. These bylaws make clear that the leadership of national branches answer to the overall Muslim Brotherhood leadership. The bylaws state that branch “secretary generals must abide by the higher leadership’s decisions,” are obliged to “get approval of the general guidance office prior to making any important political decision,” must file “annual reports” with the higher leadership, and must “pay an annual subscription” to the higher leadership.

The claimed ability to approve policy, enforce common decisions, and closely scrutinize activity, and the transfer of funds from lower members to higher leadership would all seemingly meet the requirement of a single organization. No doubt plenty of district attorneys would long for such an overt statement of hierarchy and cooperation when attempting a racketeering prosecution.

But the argument about the level of the Brotherhood’s cohesiveness is ultimately a distraction. The law governing Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation defines a terrorist organization by citing a separate section of law , 8 U.S. Code § 1182, which reads in part:

(vi) “Terrorist organization” defined As used in this section, the term “terrorist organization” means an organization—

(I) designated under section 1189 of this title;

(II) otherwise designated, upon publication in the Federal Register, by the Secretary of State in consultation with or upon the request of the Attorney General or the Secretary of Homeland Security, as a terrorist organization, after finding that the organization engages in the activities described in subclauses (I) through (VI) of clause (iv); or

(III) that is a group of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engages in, or has a subgroup which engages in, the activities described in subclauses (I) through (VI) of clause (iv).

The key section here is (III), “a group of two or more individuals, whether organized or not, which engages in, or has a subgroup which engages in, the activities described in subclauses (I) through (VI) of clause (iv).” So while Wittes cites pro-Islamist experts to argue that the International Muslim Brotherhood lacks demonstrable cohesion or the ability to enforce common policy, ultimately the total level of organization is irrelevant. The only question is whether the organization has engaged, or possesses a subgroup that engaged, in terrorist activities. Here the answer is an obvious yes, given that Hamas is a self-acknowledged subgroup of the International Muslim Brotherhood, and is already a legally designated FTO.

Yes, Muslim Brotherhood Affiliates Engage in Terrorism

Even aside from the role of Hamas as a subgroup of the International Muslim Brotherhood, there is strong evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood engages in “the activities described in subclauses (I) through (VI) of clause (iv).” Those read as follows:

(iv) “Engage in terrorist activity” defined As used in this chapter, the term “engage in terrorist activity” means, in an individual capacity or as a member of an organization—

(I) to commit or to incite to commit, under circumstances indicating an intention to cause death or serious bodily injury, a terrorist activity;

(II) to prepare or plan a terrorist activity;

(III) to gather information on potential targets for terrorist activity;

(IV) to solicit funds or other things of value for—

(aa) a terrorist activity;

(bb) a terrorist organization described in clause (vi)(I) or (vi)(II); or

(cc) a terrorist organization described in clause (vi)(III), unless the solicitor can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he did not know, and should not reasonably have known, that the organization was a terrorist organization…

The key factor here is (IV), “to solicit funds or other things of value” for “a terrorist organization.” The U.S. government has already successfully argued in court that the Muslim Brotherhood founded Hamas, and that the Muslim Brotherhood created and maintained an international infrastructure to finance and support the Hamas subgroup. Specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood established a “Palestine Section,” which in turn oversaw “Palestine Committees” in each of the Muslim Brotherhood’s branches, in order to raise funds and engage in propaganda (obviously a thing of value) on behalf of Hamas.

Muslim Brotherhood apologists know that designating the Muslim Brotherhood would be a serious impediment to continuing the bipartisan, but failed, policy of cooperating with Islamists in the Middle East.

Whether U.S. engagement with Islamists is useful is a policy question that can be debated, but it should be done openly. The recent invocation of claims it is “illegal” to designate the Muslim Brotherhood is an attempt to hide behind dubious legal claims, in order to avoid a policy argument on the merits. Such tactics perhaps suggest how weak the apologists’ policy position is.

Kyle Shideler is the director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy. Kyle has worked for several organizations involved with Middle East and terrorism policy since 2006. He is a contributing author to “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” and has written for numerous publications and briefed legislative aides, intelligence, and law enforcement officials and the general public on national security issues.

How James Mattis As Defense Secretary Could Bust Our Deathly Political Correctness About Islam

Photo Wikimedia Commons

Photo Wikimedia Commons

The Federalist, by M. G. Oprea, November 30, 2016:

Is political Islam in America’s best interests? This question should be central to our strategy of fighting ISIS and Islamist terrorism in general. Yet it’s one that many political leaders would rather not answer, because of our politically correct climate. But since Trump’s transition team announced last week that it’s considering retired Gen. James Mattis for secretary of defense, this reluctance might fade.

In a speech given at the Heritage Foundation last year, Mattis spoke about America’s position vis à vis political Islam. Rather than equivocating on the matter in order to avoid saying something uncomfortable or politically incorrect, Mattis simply pointed out that America needs to make a decision about its stance toward this ideology.

Recall that political Islam, or Islamism, is a movement within Islam: it works toward the increasing implementation of Islamic law and values in all areas of life—usually via state control—in order to make Islam a dominant force in the world.

Why We Don’t Talk About Islamism

Mattis’ suggestion—which sounds like a basic element of defense strategy—has been surprisingly neglected in the years since 9/11. The U.S. tends to deal with Islamism on a case-by-case basis. And so long as any particular group or political entity doesn’t have a direct and obvious link to terrorism, we tend to give them a pass. Even then, this is sometimes too high of a bar, as is the case with the Muslim Brotherhood and associated groups.

No one wants to delve into the question of Islamism because it has become a politically charged issue, one that often leads to accusations of bigotry and Islamaphobia. As Islam is increasingly treated as a protected class by America’s progressive Left, any scrutiny of any faction within Islam is considered off limits. This is done in the name of tolerance, but is in fact a highly intolerant position. But it’s successfully scared off politicians and military personnel, who tend to make vague and noncommittal statements on the topic.

This makes Mattis’ statements all the more notable. He’s simply urging the U.S. to make a decision. And what’s more, he’s arguing that this decision ought to be based on what we believe is in our best interest:

“Is political Islam in the best interest of the United States?…If we won’t even ask the question then how do we even get to the point of recognizing which is our side in the fight? And if we don’t take our own side in this fight we’re leaving others adrift.”

What Is In The Country’s Best Interests?

This is a surprisingly unpopular question to ask in general, and specifically when it comes to Islam. The concept itself—asking what is in America’s best interest—has largely been ignored as of late. Under Obama, America has pursued a policy of “leading from behind,” and more or less disregarding America’s interests abroad. The Obama administration has done this based on the notion, central to the progressive narrative of history, that America is a de facto colonialist power, whose influence in the world is malign and ought to recede of our own volition.

But if the U.S. can’t identify what is in its best interests, or refuses to pursue those interests out of an oversized sense of political correctness, there’s no way to forge a comprehensive global defense strategy. As Mattis points out, if we won’t even talk about political Islam with a critical eye, how can we figure out which side we’re on, and make decisions from that point? Neglecting the question not only hurts our interests—it leaves our allies unsure of where we stand and how we will proceed when Islamist movements gain traction in their countries.

Mattis also points out that ISIS is counting on Americans not having a debate on whether political Islam is good for America. If we don’t examine this question, we can’t create a cohesive strategy, and our fight against ISIS’s self-proclaimed Caliphate (or other groups like them) will ultimately fail.

This is the opposite of what some Islamist apologists and those on the left insist, which is that ISIS wants us to talk about the connections between Islam and violence, in order to make Muslims feel like the West is at war with their entire religion. Then, so the thinking goes, Muslims will turn on the West.

Mattis Would Change Our Reputation

As it is, ISIS has largely won this battle. Any serious strategic discussion about the relationship between political Islam and American national interests has been deemed illegitimate and offensive by the political Left. See, for example, the scrubbing of terms related to Islam from Department of Homeland Security training materials.

Mattis’ appointment as Defense Secretary would be a marked change not only from the Obama administration, but also from the Bush years. Both administrations were reluctant to substantively engage in a debate on the merits or threats of political Islam.

Since giving this speech at Heritage, ISIS has experienced significant territorial losses. But the question Mattis raises has not lost its relevance. It will be central to many of the Trump administration’s foreign policy challenges. Political Islam remains, and will remain, a problem for the West both in terms of domestic security and global strategy. Whether it’s the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the U.S., or political Islam in a post-Arab Spring Middle East, the U.S. needs to know where it stands on this issue.

Mattis concludes that political Islam is not, in the end, good for America. But he acknowledges that what’s most important is that we have a discussion about it—so that we can develop a broader strategy for how to deal with Islamism in the world. Without a cohesive strategy, there is little hope of checking the destructive influences of political Islam both at home and abroad.

M. G. Oprea is a writer based in Austin, Texas. She holds a PhD in French linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow her on Twitter here.