Talisman Gate

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Slightly Pregnant

January 11, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Slightly Pregnant


January 11, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/25707

Folks in Washington nowadays have taken note of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its sister organization in Iraq, the Islamic Party, and optimistically tag such phenomena as "moderate" or "mainstream" Sunni Islamism. There is a hope that such resurgent religious groups would undermine Al-Qaeda's monopoly on politicized Islam and that the Brothers in Egypt and elsewhere would serve as the lesser of two evils for America's interests, much like the secular military dictatorships now in place were useful in warding off the threat of Communism.

One should be gleeful about the back and forth trash-talking that is going on between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda, but no one should root for the former. This is not a case of my enemy's enemy being my friend, but rather it is an opportune episode whereby both sides, equally dangerous, exhaust each other.

There's a matchmaking joke that goes something like this: "Oh young man, have we found a bride for you! She is beautiful, a knock-out! Cultured, cultivated, from a good family, with lots of money - she's only slightly pregnant." Just as being "slightly pregnant" is meaningless, there is no such thing as a 'moderate' Islamist, or Islamist-Lite, since there is no such thing as Shariah-Lite. Islam is still an all or nothing regulator of society and state, and it is the stated goal of the Muslim Brotherhood to re-establish the rule of Islamic jurisprudence, the Shariah, as a stepping stone to the Caliphate. From then, the task is one of "mastering the world for Islam."

The chief doctrinal difference between the Brothers and Al-Qaeda is merely tactical: one wants to subvert the system from within, and the other wants to overthrow the establishment. In many ways, Al-Qaeda is the reincarnation of the Brotherhood's military wing that was set up in the mid-1930s as a proto-fascist disciplined corps of youths. The intellectual forefather of most of these radical groups that we see today like Al-Qaeda was Seyyid Quttub, an Egyptian Muslim Brother who despaired of reforming the system and began articulating its overthrow, until he was executed in 1966. Thus, just like marijuana is considered a "gateway drug" to harder stuff, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood was historically a "gateway affiliation" leading to more hardcore and radical fundamentalist ideologies.

Yet, the "realist" Beltway chorus chimes in, "but they've changed; the Brothers in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria have renounced violence, and they now say nice things about democracy and the rule of law." Wait, did I miss an Islamic reformation? Because the only way an ideological leopard would change its spots is when there is a recalibration or reconfiguration of former ideas to suit our day and age, and this has yet to happen. This would involve some spring cleaning, where some things end up being discarded - for good. Rather, what's been happening over the last 150 years has involved refurbishing Islam, rather than reforming it; it is a re-interpretation of 7th century precepts in an effort to recycle outmoded notions for our times.

And there's a simple reason for why it has been hard to reform: the Prophet Muhammad was too great of a revolutionary who had built-in ingenious ideological mechanisms to thwart a counter-revolution led by the clannish elite of Mecca. Politically, his ambiguous system worked for about half a century after his death; the provincial ancient regime found it easy to use a few loopholes here and there to take back the mantle of leadership - this time at the helm of a world-class Islamic empire. However, Muhammad's iron-clad ideological legacy outlasted such trifles as empires, and it remained cutting edge until Europe's 16th century enlightenment came up with better and more liberal ideas to regulate and improve the life of the individual. The world of Islam has yet to catch up.

Al-Qaeda's no.2, Ayman Zawahiri, was once a Muslim Brother, but as he explained in his book, "The Bitter Harvest," he came to the opinion that working within the system would eventually hit a brick wall. So it was no surprise when he came out last week with a video lambasting his former colleagues for getting hoodwinked by the "charade of democracy" that the Mubarak regime had put together during last September's presidential elections and the more recent parliamentary ones. Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi also piped in last week with an audio recording that denounced Iraq's Islamic Party for getting suckered by the "trap" of parliamentary elections. For Zawahiri and Zarqawi the picture is clear; participating in these man-made institutions of government and parliament was an act that sullied the soul and was in contravention of the divine code. Taking part in the political process lends legitimacy to something not prescribed by the Shariah, and thus takes a step outside the bounds of the faith.

The Muslim Brothers think otherwise, and aim for a long term process of winning over recruits through party discipline and proselytizing. Their emblem carries the wording "Prepare," which is derived from the Koranic verse: "Prepare for them what you can of strength...that that terrorizes the enemy of God and your enemies." Their other long-time slogan is "Islam is the Solution," which is to say that they never intend to uphold the secular structures of parliament or democratic institutions for the long run.

Waiting around for an Islamic reformation is not a luxury, even had it been possible. At one point in history, when life was simpler, the Middle East developed a user-friendly relationship between man and God: the pop-mysticism of Sufism. For most people, it was a colorful manifestation of earlier rustic beliefs imbued with Islamic imagery and ritual. But in these modern urban times, with their sterile lifestyles and linear concrete existentialities, solitary individuals have no time for such contemplative and playful myths.

Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s, was an initiated Sufi when he was a teenager in the Egyptian countryside. But attending a modern school in a modern city, and coming face to face with the encroachment of Westernization, provoked his conservatism into fighting back, and so the mystic transformed into the militant.

Political Islam does not come in shades of gray, since Islam - especially in its modern interpretation and after shedding the hues of Sufism - itself does not come in shades of gray. One cannot selectively cut and paste from the Shariah, applying what is convenient; for those who choose the path of Islamist activism, no arbitrary line can be drawn across God's word. While some, like the Brothers, dissemble their actions and more radical others assemble for a head-on confrontation, the goal is one and the same: resurrecting the Islamic Empire. They may argue over gestation periods, but both camps are definitely expecting the birth of the New Caliphate.

Let them fight among themselves over recruits and funding and who gets to legitimately speak in the name of political Islam, but America and its policy-makers should not lose sight of the fact that an antagonist could never be an ally, even for the short term. Accepting the Muslim Brotherhood as "Plan-B" should the regimes in Egypt and Syria or an alternative leadership for Iraq's Sunnis falter and fail is a compromise that is self-defeating for America and what it stands for.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com

January 11, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >