Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood:
Democratic Actor or Threat to the United States?

On Tuesday February 1st , 2011 Sean Hannity and many of his guests spent most of the hour criticizing an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood that Sean fears may come to power in Egypt as a result of the current democratic uprising there. I decided to check the accuracy of his claims. I was truly surprised by what I found.

Unfortunately, fox news doesn’t post a complete transcript or video for previous shows, so my analysis will come from my admittedly fallible memory.   

Hannity began by claiming that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supports Sharia law. That is true (bbc). Sharia law is a cruel and outdated Muslim religious code of law which requires women to be veiled in public, makes blasphemy a crime, and prescribes stoning as the punishment for a woman who commits adultery (Duhaime). However, supporting Sharia law is not too different from conservatives in the United States who wish to make laws based on the bible, which calls for the stoning of disobedient children (Bible Gateway). However, most politicians who wish to legislate based on the bible are doing so based on the more accepting and reasonable passages, while Islamists accept the whole of their religious text, not just the humane parts. Our longtime ally Saudi Arabia employs a strict adherence to Sharia (Council on Foreign Relations).

Hannity’s second claim was that The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood supports Hamas. That is also true (Yahoo News). Hamas has launched rocket attacks on Israel in the past, which has landed it on the US government’s list of terrorist organizations. Such attacks are morally abhorrent and contemptible. But Hamas won the election in Gaza and is seen by many Muslims as freedom fighters who are in a valiant struggle against their occupiers and oppressors. Negotiations haven’t worked out well for the Palestinians in the past, so it is understandable why some of them would support violent means even if others rightfully condem it.  

Hannity also claimed that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is violent. This one is false. While the Brotherhood has supported violence in the past, the Brotherhood disavowed violence in the 1970s and condemned a recent bombing in Cairo (CFR).

One of Hannity’s guest claimed that the symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood included a phrase which specifically used the word “terrorism,” and supported it. This claim is absurd on its face. No group would refer to themselves as terrorist-supporters. They would use a euphemism like “freedom-fighter” or “Martyr.” The phrase on their symbol actually translates as, “prepare yourselves” (Der Spiegal). That’s not the most conciliatory or peaceful message, but it is a far cry from an outright endorsement of terrorism.

Hannity went on to say that there is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States. That is true (Washington Post). He also went on to say that the group is a threat to the United States and Israel. The validity of that statement is mixed. The Brotherhood’s ties to Hamas means that it is a credible threat to Israel. However, the Muslim Brotherhood does not support terrorist attacks against the United States the way Al Qaeda does. Organizationally, the Muslim Brotherhood poses no threat to the United States. However, Individual members of the Brotherhood have gone on to join groups which do pose a threat to the US. The planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was formerly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait (Washington Post).

Hannity’s final mistake was to characterize Jihad as “holy war.” This is a common mistake in the United States. To Muslims the term means something else entirely. It refers to a process of self-betterment towards being a better person. It also means trying to make the world a better place, much akin to the informal use of “crusade,” as in ‘the crusade against hunger.’ The term can also refer to the use of violence in an attempt to cure injustice, but the term refers to much more than violence alone (Quranic Studies).

Hannity’s concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood stem from an understandable concern for the safety of the United States and Israel, not from an attempt to deceive. He has a history of welcoming those who disagree with him to his show, an act which I applaud. It was truly amusing to watch him ask each of his guests if they have been following the events in Egypt, including Larry the Cable Guy.

On the bigger issue, I believe that the Brotherhood must play a part in a future democratic Egypt. The overwhelming majority of Brotherhood members are non-violent. Throughout the world the Brotherhood brings Muslims together to form friendships and community bonds. In Egypt the Brotherhood also provides social services such as health care and education (The Real News). It is unlikely that the Brotherhood would come to power in Egypt as CNN security analyst Peter Bergen estimates that if a free and fair election were held, they would only receive a third of the vote (CNN). Nevertheless, they form a significant portion of the Egyptian population and can’t be excluded from the political process if Egypt is to become a true democracy. Democracy is what Egypt yearns for, and after 30 years of dictatorial rule they are ready to seize it for themselves.

Decide for yourself what you think of the Brotherhood. Here is a link to their English-language website. The Doha Debates did a wonderful show on whether Political Islam is a threat to the West, I highly recommend it.

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