The Islamic radical moderates in the Middle East
All Islamic movements, parties, or groups fighting for the creation of the Islamic states governed by the Muslim authorities can be divided into two categories: 1) Those who are seeking their goals using peaceful means; and 2) Those devoted to the use of different kinds of violence including and terrorism. In the first group can be counted the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah (Arab. Hizbullah), or Turkish Justice and Development Party (currently in power). However, they are joined by a variety of Islamic parties and/or movements that are reshaping the electoral map of the Muslim states. In the second group of the Islamic political arena are the jihadists.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah followed by similar emerging Islamic political parties can be called Islamic radical moderates. They are radical as they are dedicated to the creation of Islamic religious authorities in the Muslim world but they are at the same time moderate as they are in principle preferring to achieve their political goals by peaceful means including above all parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, they are as well as moderate concerning their vision of the Islamic state to be created by them in power which has to be enlightened which is blending religious morality with the best of modern technology.
The presence of such Islamic radical-moderate groups is the most vibrant political force in the Muslim world. As a matter of fact, by all accounts and parameters, including election results and the results of opinion surveys, they are drawing their political support from a broad spectrum of a Muslim community. It is true that in many Muslim states, even less devout Muslims are finding their vision of an enlightened Islamic state especially now at the time of turbo-globalization as a political reaction to the brutal Westernization of the globe. The creators of the Western neo-imperialism at the time of turbo-globalization after 1989 found that the Islamic radical moderates constitute a far greater barrier to especially U.S. (and Israeli) control of the Middle East than the Islamic jihadists. The nature of the jihadist message of violence and terrorism repels Muslims and flies in the face of Islamic law. However, the message of the Islamic radical moderates is mainly seductive, as is their commitment to honesty, equality, and welfare. In addition, unlike the jihadists who are a very small segment of the Muslim world, the radical moderates are already its mainstream. The Islamic radical moderates are as well as blending their propaganda message of Islam and Muslim social values without pain with the potential for both terror and guerrilla warfare. It was the letter that drove Israeli occupation forces from Lebanon in 2000 and U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2021.
Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, and some other less violent groups of the Islamic radical moderates claim that they are not inherently anti-American and that they are sharing Western anti-jihadist sentiments and attitudes. Moreover, they have long supported pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East like in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Those groups are opposing the military presence of the U.S. in the Middle East but unlike the jihadists, they are not attacking the U.S. military posts. However, this is not true of Israel – a state that occupied Muslim land and committed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are the leaders of the Muslim struggle to force Israeli occupation troops and civic administration from the Arab territories occupied (and de facto annexed) during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Muslim Brotherhood is by now not far behind Hamas and Hezbollah but not using violent methods as they do.
According to the Islamic radical moderates, the focal problem during the last two decades in their relations with the U.S. is that the Washington administration proclaimed the war on Islam after 9/11 within the excuse of a formal declaration of “The War on Terror” in 2001. Additionally, the U.S. administration is opposing the establishment of Islamic governments in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world. The crucial viewpoint by the Islamist radical moderates is that if Washington would stop its war on Islam and force Israel to evacuate occupied Arab lands in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, anti-Americanism in the Middle East will recede and the Islamic jihadists would lose the ground to exist. In reality, however, the Islamic movement cannot be defeated but rather it can be led either by the jihadists or radical moderates. The more Americans attempt to suppress Islam, the more radical and violent the Islamic resistance will become.
Nevertheless, the Western political analysts argue that there are no firm guarantees that accommodating less extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah will reduce on the ground either anti-American policy or terrorism – nor is there any guarantee that the Islamic radical moderates will accept the existence of (a Greater) Israel and its borders. While in the mid-2000s some European states established certain contacts with some diverse radical-moderate groups, both Israel and Egypt warned that the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah are merely fronts for terror.
The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood
Today, the most well-known and influential Islamic radical modernist group is the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikh-wan al Muslimun, established in March 1928 by Hassan al-Banna) which has its branches in more than 70 states. The Brotherhood was officially established as a “religious organization dedicated to doing good and stamping out evil”. Nevertheless, the heartland of this group is Egypt followed by neighboring Arab nations with predominantly Muslim Sunni believers. However, its real total membership is very difficult to know for the reason the Brotherhood is very much operating, in fact, under different names followed by the fact that it is in some countries legally outlawed like in Syria, Libya, or Saudi Arabia. It is known that only 20 years after the establishment, the organization-movement had almost 2 million followers spreading its activities across the Muslim world. Al-Banna, an excellent speaker, knew how to exacerbate his countrymen’s resentment of the British colonial presence and in his speeches laid all the Muslim community’s problems at the doorstep of Western domination. Today, the membership is surely in millions, with a far larger body of dedicated sympathizers but in any case, the Muslim Brotherhood is a dominant political organization in the Islamic world either among Arabs or not.
The Muslim Brotherhood was organized along the lines of a religious fraternity (like in Christian cases) and required that its members unquestionably obey the Guide (murshid). It was advised by a consultative assembly, quickly becoming a genuine, structured political movement. That gave it considerable power, as it controlled a number of social organizations like mosques, charitable groups, health centers, or students associations.
The Brotherhood themselves reinvigorated the position of moderate reform but without abandoning the salafiyya approach (the principles and practices of early Islam) which, however, at their founding was condemned. Originally, the Muslim Brothers have been fighting against Western imperialistic colonialism in the Middle East and Western secularism (in the sense of the separation of state and religion). The organization adopted at the beginning the way of Arab nationalism against the Western occupation of Muslim lands. They are looking deeper into the roots of Islam for the sake to purify and renew it by focusing on the principles and practices of the earliest generations of Islam – the salaf.
The final aim of the group is to reestablish Islamic rule in all predominantly Muslim countries across the world but mostly focus on the Middle East. However, the members of the Brotherhood are quite convinced that this will not happen in the immediate future but rather the reestablishment of Islamic rule is going to be a long-term process in which secular governments will gradually give way to their Islamic counterparts. Different Islamic governments will gradually come together until a unified Islamic state of some variety will be recreated. According to the conception, such an Islamic state doesn’t need to be administered by the Muslim Brotherhood as it is only important that the country’s authorities will apply Islamic law and govern it in the spirit of Islam.
The goal of the Brotherhood’s activities in Christian states of North America and Europe with Muslim minorities is to enable Muslims to deepen their faith by providing them with a network of mosques, religious schools, and Muslim associations. All of these measures will finally assist Muslims to become more influential in non-Muslim societies. It can be said that this process is well underway in West Europe but at the same time is lagging in the U.S.A. The best position of the Muslim minority in West Europe today seems to be in France where they have even an official religious council that works with the French government for the sake to shape the government’s policy towards the large Muslim minority in France. Similar councils have Jews, Catholics, and Protestants.
Other states and regions are not so much convinced like the French government by the peaceful intent of the Muslim Brotherhood. For instance, in October 2002, Russian security forces uncovered the cells of the Muslim Brotherhood in several places across Russia. The members of the Brotherhood have been accused of the preparation of the rebellion and, in several cases, of supporting al-Qaeda. A similar picture appeared as well in several ex-USSR countries after 9/11.
One of the focal questions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood became: Is the Brotherhood a reformist organization dedicated to the peaceful evolution of an Islamic state, or is its commitment to nonviolence only of strategic nature? The answer can be found in the 5 principles of the Brotherhood: 1) Allah is our objective; 2) The Prophet is our leader; 3) Quran is our law; 4) Jihad is our way; 5) Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. However, this is not the way the Brotherhood is behaving in reality. For more than four decades, the organization is using persuasion rather than violence and terror for the sake to reform Islam from within. On the ground, the policy of moderation is not giving the results of the liberation of occupied Islamic lands by Israel among them the most important West Bank, Golan Height, and Gaza Strip in the Middle East or Indian-occupied Kashmir, etc. According to the Brotherhood, the only way to liberate these lands is jihad. Therefore, it can be concluded that the apparent contradiction between the Brotherhood’s moderate official face and its testimony glorifying jihad is making strong concern that the Brotherhood’s present posture is only strategic adjustment designed to cover its true intention.
Nonetheless, there is one big difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic jihadists. For the Brotherhood, it is impossible to kill either innocent civilians or any Muslims. Consequently, all of those corrupted Arab leaders and other Muslim leaders of the Muslim states who are cooperating with the U.S.A. and Israel and being sinners cannot be physically eliminated as they are simply, nevertheless, Muslims but they will be judged harshly by Allah. The Brotherhood must lead them back to the true path and encourage them to apply Islamic law. However, the Islamic jihadists believe that the leaders of the Arab Islamic countries have repudiated Islam through their actions and their cooperation with the U.S.A., Israel, and other enemies of Islam and, therefore, they are already unbelievers (kafirs) and must be exterminated. In addition, the Islamic jihadists do not make any difference between military and civilian targets as all unbelievers (not Muslims) are potential soldiers against Islam.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s three strategies
The Muslim Brothers are using three strategies for the realization of their political and other goals founded basically on the reformation of the secular regimes of the Islamic world: 1) Teaching and preaching; 2) Providing welfare to the needy; and 3) Political activism. Among all Muslim states in which the Brotherhood is operating, these strategies are mostly developed in Egypt but are finding expression in all of the 70 states in which the organization exists.
Strategy No. 1: Teaching and Preaching
Egypt was and is the center of the activity of the Muslim Brothers. The organization itself was founded in Egypt as a youth organization designed to strengthen the religious and moral foundation of Egyptian (Muslim) society. The strategy of teaching and preaching remained focal to the program of the Muslim Brotherhood which believes that its final goal of the creation of the Islamic state cannot be realized without a strong foundation of dedicated believers. This process, according to the Brotherhood, starts by building the Muslim individual: brother or sister with a strong body, high manners, cultured thought, earning ability, strong faith, correct worship, conscious of time, of benefit to others, organized, and self-struggling character. Strong Muslim individuals are making strong Muslim families, and finally, strong Muslim families are building a strong Muslim society. This process of making a strong Muslim society is a significant step toward the recreation of the Islamic state and the eventual re-establishment of the Islamic nation or Umma.
The Brotherhood’s propaganda-indoctrination program is carried out in a vast network of mosques, schools, and religious associations. Both sermons and lectures are stressing the general need for a moral society and urge vigilance against the enemies of Islam. The leaders of Muslim states are seldom attacked directly. The government of Egypt is constantly denying that it censors the sermons of the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is watching their content very closely. The Egyptian censors pay close attention to the Brotherhood’s vast media network which is heavy of religious character but all the time there is a space for criticizing both the U.S.A. and Israeli policy in the Middle East.
Political or ideological indoctrination, however, is far more than sermons in mosques or churches. It is as well as the discussions with the faithful that take place either before or after the sermons or some study groups, meetings, camps, trips, courses, workshops, and conferences. The Muslim Brotherhood like many Christian fundamentalists is involved in the business of saving souls, and Muslim Brothers can spend endless time convincing potential converts of the righteousness of their propaganda and cause. One of the Brotherhood’s policies is the integration of all dimensions of the life of the individual within the concept of the Brotherhood family. Prayer and service are combined for the purpose to create the sense of kinship that is very important in life in the Middle East. As a matter of fact, there are in the Middle East and the Islamic world many youngsters who are bewildered, and the Muslim Brotherhood is providing them with the sense of belonging and purpose that they so desperately need.
Nevertheless, the indoctrination-propaganda program of the Muslim Brotherhood is providing beyond the moral basis for a future Islamic state the foundation for its political and social activities. Sympathizers from the majority of the Muslim states vote and contribute money, but the truly zealous are from the cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is they who get out the vote, volunteer for service in Islamic struggles like Kashmir or Palestine, and staff the Brotherhood’s vast network of schools, welfare centers, and media outlets. It has to be noticed that religious organizations are allowed in most Islamic states but political organizations are not and, therefore, the preaching role of the Muslim Brotherhood has other dimensions and benefits as well. In other words, both preaching and teaching are simply providing a cover for a broad range of political activities that would otherwise be banned.
To be continued