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Saturday, February 05, 2011

What the West needs to understand about the Muslim Brotherhood

It is maddening to see Western reporters get the Muslim Brotherhood so very wrong.

The MB publicly eschewed violence in the 1960s, but it was a tactical move (and a response to Nasser's crackdown on them), not a sea change in their methods.

The MB is now saying that they do not seek an Islamist state and that they will not field a candidate for President - and these are tactical moves as well.

The question that Western observer need to be asking is: what are their goals? 

They are very explicit in answering that question. Their main goal is to restore the caliphate, creating a single state run according to Islamic precepts that would stretch from Spain to Indonesia.

Once you know what their goals are, it is shortsighted to accept their statements made today as indicating anything opposing those goals. In fact, everything they are saying is consistent with their overarching goal of overthrowing not just Egypt but the governments of dozens of states with Muslim majorities or that were once under Muslim conquest.

The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood are exactly the same goals as their offshoots Hamas and Al Qaeda. At this time, their methods are different, but that does not make them any less of a long-term danger to world peace.

While it is not an MB offshoot, one only needs to look at how Hezbollah effectively has taken over Lebanon. They also claimed they did not want to upset the status quo; they also claimed to respect democracy; they also claimed that they did not want to field a candidate to lead the country. Yet here they are, with veto power over everything that happens in that state and with their own independent army and communications system, poised to gain more power in the coming years as Christians flee and organized opposition withers or flees in fear. The most-watched (and feared) speeches in Lebanon are from Hassan Nasrallah, who is not even part of the government. They became the de-facto rulers of Lebanon - even without being a majority - by executing a strategy that completely and thoroughly outmaneuvered any competition. They are still treading carefully, and going slowly, but one day in the not too distant future Lebanon will wake up to being an Iranian satellite with no possible recourse.

Islamists take a very long-term view of events. While Westerners think in terms of election cycles, Islamists think in terms of centuries. To these groups, a decade is an eye-blink. 

To Islamists, the Crusades were an unfortunate century or so, which they rectified. They look at Israel the same way - as an anomaly that will inexorably be destroyed in the coming decades, due to their current strategy of picking away at it piece by piece and enlisting clueless Westerners to rally to the cause in the name of "international law" and "human rights" that the Muslim world itself utterly rejects. Their patience and ability to take the long view is their strength. 

The important word is "strategy." The Islamists have one - a long term plan - and the West does not.

In most Arab countries, the Islamists have been quietly gathering strength for the eventual takeover of the lands - if not this decade then in five. They act with one voice. They use social service programs to gain acceptance with the masses. They engage in outreach to gain adherents. They happily use new and old media to spread their ideology. They are executing a brilliant, long term strategy.

Their strength comes from their single-minded purpose, their lack of internal dissent, their apparent authenticity and honesty, their seeming care for every Muslim, and their consistent message over the decades.

Is their any countervailing strategy that the West has? Is there any already existing, pro-Western movements in Egypt or any other Arab country that have been quietly building up an organization and adherents, ready to take advantage of the political vacuum and chaos that could occur at any time?

The very idea is absurd. To Westerners, creating a pro-democracy satellite TV station that is not viewed by anyone is the height of strategic thinking. And even if we had a strategy, the next occupant of the White House would probably change it, as would his successor. 

Western-style freedoms and democracy are not as easy a sell as we think. And building truly democratic institutions is time consuming. 

Egypt and Tunisia shows us how poor our planning has been. We should have been prepared for these events - because our enemies sure have been. (and, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood is gearing to eventually take over  Tunisia as well, even though they are relatively weak now.) 

Even worse, the Islamists have co-opted Western terminology to advance what is ultimately an anti-Western, anti-freedom agenda, making any legitimate Western ideals seem like a cheap knock-off of Islamist propaganda.  

They have a strategy. We don't. And you cannot win over the long term without one.

(See also here.)