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Given the Trump administration focus on rebuilding damaged alliances with traditional Middle Eastern allies that were neglected by President Obama, Israeli, Emirati, Saudi and Egyptian views on issues such as terrorism and whatever relationship the Muslim Brotherhood has to that, will have more influence in the US in the coming years than say, the Qatari narrative that had much weight during the Obama years.

On that note, this is a fascinating article that was published in Al-Hayat, a major regional newspaper, by a distinguished Saudi anthropologist. It sheds some interesting light on those perspectives mentioned above, so I decided to translate it.

There’s alot in here – but I mark in blue what I think are the more noteworthy points, with my commentary at the end on what this may mean from a Trump administration Counter-Terrorism perspective.

The Soft Terrorism of the “Brotherhood” is the Foundation of violent religious movements

Al-Hayat Newspaper. 17 January 2015. Abdullah Hamidaddin

The phrase “soft terrorism” entails a totalitarian vision of the world, the self, the “other,” and history. This causes the individual to be in a state of continuoius existential struggle with himself and his society, if not the entire world. By contrast, “hard terrorism” takes the form of traditional violence.

While it may be true that “Soft terrorism” isn’t violent per se it does create a climate that is conducive to people committing various acts of social and political violence, given that the rejection of the “Other” may lead all the way to that person committing actual violence.

Soft terrorism includes two components. The first is the formulation of this totalitarian vision. The second is its spread.

These two factors first began to take shape in the late 19th century as a reaction to Western imperialism, and the fragmenting of the Ottoman Empire.  However, it was only with the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood [late 1920s] that they developed into a comprehensive ideology propagated by political and cultural activists. The “Brothers” were inspired from their beginning by the ideas of National Socialism in its Nazi formula and the Leninist version of the Marxist vision.

This process reached its climax with Sayyid Qutb.  Readers of his famous books “Signposts in the Road” or “In the Shade of the Quran” got the feeling they were actually reading  “What Is to Be Done” by Lenin or “Mein Kampf” by Hitler.

In fact,  the most dangerous thing the “Muslim Brotherhood” did – whether intentionally or not – is their fusion of the Leninist/Nazi vision of the world with  [the Muslim] religion. This meant that the sanctity of Islam was lent to a violent, exclusionary ideology. As a result, what is now known as Political Islam is little more than Nazi/Leninst ideology with an Islamic facade  but with no relationship to Islam itself.

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Picture on side of article

The study of the relationship between the ideas of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and the ideas of Nazism/Leninism is not something new. Unfortunately, however, it has not gotten  quite the attention it deserves because most analysts uncritically accept that Islam is the inspiration of Political Islam.

For example, when Sayyid Qutb put forth his ideas using references from the Koran and the Hadith, too many people just assumed that Islam is in fact the inspiration for his ideas. They don’t imagine that Qutb would have taken the ideas he already had in his head before writing his books and attributed them to Islam. As if Qutb himself even thought that’s what he was doing! 

The result is this: whenever a terrorist issues a statement explaining the reasons for his suicide in religious terms, the common assumption is to take their word for it and that religion was in fact the inspiration. Or if a Daesh member kills someone after accusing them of being an infidel,  we conclude that the religious concept of Takfir was in fact what caused the physical and social violence.

This distinction between the religion [of Islam] and political Islam does not become clear to the observer until they make comparisons between the discourse of these ideologies and the discourse of other totalitarianisms. By studying the ideas that had an influence on Islamism during its formative period, like the ideas of Alexis Carrel, author of  Man, The Unknown  in cooperation with the French Vichy Government during the Second World War, we learn that Political Islam is merely a totalitarian ideology in clever disguise.

Furthermore, the distinction between the religion [of Islam] and Islamism is made even more clear when we consider the difference between justifying an action, and the motivations for a action, when we learn that the motives and the intent don’t always overlap.

Even the concept of Takfir that is attributed to the culture of terrorism is innocent of this. Takfir is a repugnant practice but Takfir as practiced today differs from how it was understood in previous eras. Takfir in the past was aimed at those who did not believe in Allah. However, the Islamist Takfir of today is aimed at those who oppose the efforts of the saving  vanguard of mankind.

This new Islamist-version of Takfir is far more dangerous. It is what takes the individual to the level of committing terrorism because it creates a personal enmity as massive as the Umma, history, and even existence itself between the person doing the Takfir and the one being Takfired. Contemporary  Islamist Takfir has its roots in the terrorism of the French revolution, Naziism, Stalinism, and Maoism, but not the Takfir of Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

In their 2007 study  titled  “Radical Islamism and Totalitarian Ideology: a Comparison of Sayyid Qutb’s Islamism with Marxism and National Socialism” Hansen and Kainz stated that  “Despite all the differences between them, their arguments  are all very similar: the history of mankind is viewed as a struggle between life and death, between good and evil, and where evil threatens humanity. Those who encapsulate “good” must act as messengers to save humanity from mankind and to realize the utopian society.”

Hansen and Kainz note the commonalities in the Nazi, Leninist and Islamist vision towards mankind. For example, each believe in the central problem of the world being the presence of a group that exploits other groups. They believe that history trends towards decadence/decay and the Islamist world view is that the world is at war against Islam and Muslims and want to prevail over the religion. And that the world is in a state of “ blind ignorance.”

The Islamist, Nazi and Leninist ideologies also believe in the need to create an elite  vanguard capable of changing the trajectory of this path. They also believe that the dominant values of the world, such as freedom and human rights are merely ways for the arrogant to exploit the weak. Or from the Islamist viewpoint, Western values aim to overcome Islam internally.

What is so dangerous here is that the Nazi/Leninist worldview, carried out in Islamist garb, has had gained tremendous influence throughout the Muslim World. The great success of the “Muslim Brotherhood” lies in the fact that they “Brotherhoodized” the majority of the Islamic world.

For example, the Revolutionary Shia Political movements were inspired by their vision, but with a Shia cloak.

The Salafi movements, which even though they excommunicate the “Muslim Brotherhood,” adopt the Brotherhood vision completely even if they reject the activist angle of their approach. In other words, Contemporary Salafism is the Muslim Brotherhood free of the organizational structure.

Jihadists are merely “Muslim Brothers” who believe in the necessity of speeding up the stages of reform, through war against ‘Jahaliya” of their societies, and against the enemy of Islam that is the West. Even the enemies of the “Muslim Brotherhood” from the religious non-affiliated, adopted this vision or at least some of it.

The versatility of the “Muslim Brotherhood” and especially Sayyid Qutb, is taking the Nazi/Leninist principles of Totalitarianism, and giving them religious cover but with a smoother and more attractive style.

Two factors assist in that process: First, that process of formulating this [Islamist] Vision occurred in a period of struggle against Imperialism. At that time the focus of all movements was on formulating an ideology to be used to combat colonialism.

The second factor in Islamism’s success was that Arab Nationalism that dominated the region for this period, also adopted this basic [Nazi/Leninist] vision, but with a facade of pan-Arabism. In other words, the climate  [in the Middle East] was favorable to such a Nazi/Leninist vision and the political powers and governments adopted it as well. This vision was a fundamental part of the collective Islamic and Arab conscious, then it became a fundamental part of the religious education curricula.

So in essence, when pan-Arabism collapsed politically, Political Islam was there to quickly rise in influence, because all it was doing was putting forward a more attractive version of a vision that was already firmly entrenched.

Another factor even more important is that this ideology was formed to combat Colonialism, but after Colonialism ended the focus gradually changed its focus to resisting local regimes. Arab Monarchies fell in the Arab nationalism period, and Al-Khalifa Al-Rashida was established in the Islamist period, for which we can essentially point to the beginning of this period with the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, where it gave hope to the possibility of reimplementing the model of the the Rashidun Caliphate set by the first generation of Islam.  In response, various political Islam movements spread, cloning that experience.

The religion of Islam – as it is understood by Muslims – like others need a Revision. But Islam – especially Takfir and Jihad – does not explain terrorism. Daesh and Al-Qaeda will not be overcome with a closer look at the religious passages, or an increase in religious tolerance or even a religious renewal. The number one way to combat terrorism is combatting the Leninist/Nazi ideology which has become a part of our collective consciousness and in which we have started believing in it’s vocabulary.

To combat terrorism we must first combat the soft terrorism which spreads the totalitarian Leninism/Nazism in an Islamic spiritual cloak. We must also put forward a discourse criticizing this Totalitarian vision. Perhaps the first part of this is to criminalize the Muslim Brotherhood, considering them the chief manifestation of this soft terrorism. However, it’s not enough because this soft terrorism has become practiced by the majority of the religious currents and non-religious, and all the while we have been so neglectful!

Commentary: 

(1) To What Extent are the roots of Political Islam “Islamic” or not? 

This is one of the most interesting and critical  points of the article. The author claims that violence committed by Islamists has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. That’s certainly a line that many would agree with to varying degrees in pro-government circles in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.

I would definitely agree with the author in his historical comparisons between Nazism, Leninism and what he calls “Political Islam (but I call anti-Establishment Jihadism).

As I write in my Jihadism Reading List the key is to look  not at what people and movements say but what they do.  At many levels, there is virtually no difference between what Communists and Nazis did, and what Jihadists are doing today.

If Mr. Hamidaddin says it has nothing to do with Islam, Professor Gorka -the  senior Trump advisor whose important and nuanced book I reviewed last week– argues that it’s entirely or at least primarily related to the ideology of Islam.

What if both are right?  Here is how I would frame it:

So-called Political Islam (especially anti-establishment Jihadism) is a rebellion against the Muslim Establishment. On that basis,  the Leninist/Hitler comparisons are apt given their record as the two most “successful” anti-establishment movements of all time – which serve as a model for other similar movements.  But “Islamism/JIhadism” is “religious” in the sense that those who are unhappy with the “establishment” status quo, adopt anti-establishment interpretations of Islam. Those who are content, are fine with the Establishment interpretation of the religion.

 

(2) Do we beat Ideologies or the CAUSES of ideologies? 

Let’s turn now to the issue of what can governments like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and the US do about stopping Jihadist ideology?

The problem with this overall excellent article from a Counter-Terrorism perspective, along with Dr. Gorka’s book, is that it avoids a discussion about why people freely choose to embrace radical Jihadist ideologies. Both call for a strategy of simply attacking the Jihadist ideology.

As I wrote previously though it comes down to this:

Do you believe that  people adopt ideas and beliefs because they seek them out and agree with them because they best explain their predicament?  They offer the most meaning?  Or do  you believe that people adopt ideas because they are told to believe them?   Do people choose ideas? Or do ideas choose them? Do you trust people to choose what they think?

I  happen to believe 100% of decisions to join Jihadist groups or to “become an extremist” are “rationale” and “logical.” (totally different story than whether it’s a smart idea or a “good thing”).

But every single recruit is influenced by their surrounding social-economic, cultural, and political circumstances that lead to their CHOICE to embrace the ideology. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.

Therefore, to beat the ideology, the focus has to be on the various circumstances leading people towards the ideology. No counter-ideology is possible unless it addresses those conditions.

If Jihadism is so similar to Nazism and Communism, as both Gorka and Hamidaddin say (and which I agree), did we not drain those movements of support post-World War Two by massive focus on developing the economies and the socio-economic problems that led so many people to embrace these movements? Why is it different with Jihadism?

Here are some ways I have written about before that can attack those circumstances that lead people to CHOOSE the ideology.

 

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