Al-Guardian & the Brotherhood
In his Guardian columns, Faisal Bodi, news editor of the Islam Channel TV station, has said many strange and wonderful things. In March, during the Abdul Rahman apostasy case, Bodi championed the orthodox punishment for those who leave the Religion of Peace™ – despite its being rather permanent and involving ritual murder: “It is an understandable response from people who cherish the religious basis of their societies to protect them… from the damage that an inferior worldview can wreak.” In a climate of cultural equivalence, it’s somewhat refreshing to hear a Guardian columnist openly refer to an “inferior worldview”. Though I suspect one might disagree with Bodi’s estimation of which worldview is less enlightened.
Taken in isolation, Bodi’s advocacy of Islam Taliban-style might seem little more than an attempt to be contentious. But in matters of Islamist zeal, a remarkable pattern of endorsement runs throughout the Guardian’s commentary. It began, more or less, in January 2004, when the paper published a speech by Osama bin Laden in the form of a regular opinion piece, prompting waggish comments about the al-Qaeda figurehead being “recruited as a Guardian columnist”. Dubious humour aside, at least readers were clear about the author’s political affiliation. However, the Guardian has subsequently published no fewer than 14 opinion pieces by members of, or advocates of, the Muslim Brotherhood, the radical group whose militant ideas directly inspired bin Laden. Curiously, the commentators’ links with the group were not disclosed to readers.
One recent example, a piece by the Brotherhood’s Egyptian vice-president, Khairat el-Shatir, is the first to acknowledge the writer’s membership of this illegal organisation. In Shatir’s article, titled ‘No Need to be Afraid of Us’, we were, improbably, told: “The success of the Muslim Brotherhood should not frighten anybody: we respect the rights of all religious and political groups.” Shatir’s reassurances are at odds with comments by the Brotherhood’s president, Muhammad Mehdi Akef, who last year told the Egyptian newspaper al-Arabi: “Islam will invade Europe and America because Islam has a mission.” Speaking in December, Mehdi described the Holocaust as “a myth” and insisted that, when in power, the Brotherhood would not recognise Israel, whose demise he “expected soon.” Mehdi views “martyrdom operations” in Palestine and Iraq as a religious duty and has described all Israelis – including children – as “enemies of Islam.” And yet Guardian readers are assured that the Brotherhood “has long espoused non-violence.”
In January, the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yusouf invited Ragab Hilal Hamida, a Brotherhood MP and former member of the jihadist group Jama’at al-Takfir Wa al-Hijra, to clarify earlier comments expressing support for bin Laden. Hamida promptly obliged: “’Terrorism’ is not a curse when given its true [religious] meaning. From my point of view, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi are not terrorists… I support all their activities.” When asked if such statements might reflect badly on the public perception of Islam, Hamida replied, “Islam does not need improvement of its image.”
The Guardian’s comment editor, Seumas Milne, seems to be unfamiliar with the Brotherhood’s less conciliatory statements to non-Western journalists, including the group’s ambitions for “the widespread implementation of Islam as a way of life; no longer to be sidelined as merely a religion.” Nor, it seems, is Milne aware that the Egyptian Brotherhood’s own website directs young Muslims to a website for children that celebrates jihad and homicidal ‘martyrdom’, albeit with colourful cartoons.
It isn’t clear why Milne continues to give a platform to the Brotherhood and its affiliates. Like many other refugees from the Communist Party of Great Britain, Milne may be vicariously titillated by the revolutionary intent of Islamic fundamentalism. Though one has to wonder how contempt for pluralism and free speech along with the theological mandate of arbitrary murder have become such obvious causes for a “progressive” newspaper. Granted, the Brotherhood shares with much of the left a hatred of U.S. ‘imperialism’, which is, allegedly, the cause of all evil in the world. Though, again, I’m not sure how these anti-imperial credentials sit with the slogan that still adorns the Brotherhood’s literature and website: “Islam will dominate the world.”
Guardian readers are, however, spared such troublesome details. It’s not entirely obvious whether these omissions are a result of Milne’s ignorance, or of some deeper sympathy with delusional bigots. Either way, I’m inclined to wonder if the Guardian would publish a regular series of propaganda pieces by members of Stormfront or the BNP, championing the benign ambitions of white supremacist groups, without reference to the writers’ membership of those groups, and without any subsequent challenge or contrary point of view.
Here’s a small taste of the views that go unchallenged in the Guardian’s comment pages. In July 2004, Sohaib Saeed, a Brotherhood activist and spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, insisted criticism of the Brotherhood’s foremost cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, should only be raised “in appropriate times and places”. Alas, Saeed neglected to specify which times and places might be permissible. We were, however, informed that Qaradawi is a “shining example of moderation” and asked whom British Muslims should follow if not the Brotherhood’s “esteemed” spiritual leader.
The following month, Anas Altikriti – whose father happens to be the head of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood – warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the right continued to “smear and demonise” Islam. That these “smears” are very often statements of fact passed without comment. And labelling as “rightwing” anyone who asks inconvenient questions is itself a form of demonisation, if only to Guardian readers.
And let’s not forget the Guardian’s former trainee journalist, Dilpazier Aslam, whose enthusiasm for radical Islam will, of course, be sorely missed. Readers may recall that Aslam is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a supremacist movement banned in Germany and much of the Middle East – chiefly for circulating the kind of xenophobic literature that one would think rather at odds with the Guardian’s multicultural ethos. The Hizb newsletter proclaims a “clash of civilisations is not only inevitable but imperative” and in October 2002 the group’s Danish representative, Fadi Abdelatif, was prosecuted for distributing an anti-Semitic leaflet titled And Kill Them Wherever You Find Them.
Many of the Guardian’s non-Muslim contributors also seem determined to sanitise Islamic radicalism for purposes of their own. Last September, Natasha Walter downplayed Hizb’s anti-Semitic hysteria and stressed the group’s “espousal of decent things like women’s rights.” But according to Hizb’s own on-line draft constitution, those “women’s rights” would involve compulsory segregation of the sexes, limited voting and enforced “modesty”. Evidently, Ms Walter was too busy describing Hizb as an “alternative to capitalism” to actually read what these anti-capitalist revolutionaries wish to bring about.
One month later, Madeleine Bunting conducted a bizarre Hello-style interview with the Brotherhood’s moral compass, Yusuf al-Qaradawi. In it, she enthused about his “horror of immorality and materialism”, his “independence of mind” and his mastery of the internet. However, Bunting was careful to skip over the actual content of Qaradawi’s website, which propagates the cleric’s “problematic” endorsement of suicide bombing, executing homosexuals and the beating of disobedient women. One wonders if Ms Bunting chose not to question Qaradawi’s beliefs for fear of receiving similar chastisement.
Elsewhere in the Guardian, Seumas Milne has argued that extremists should be given a voice within the media, rather than being driven underground. Well, a public testing of ideas is one of the virtues of democracy, and even the most poisonous views can be countered with contrary facts and a healthy dose of ridicule. But a public testing of Islamist ideology is precisely what is missing from the left-leaning press and from the Guardian in particular. What we see instead is an unchallenged platform for those who don’t wish their ideas to be tested at all.
This unilateral concession and failure of courage should concern everyone, irrespective of their politics and religion. As Islamic zealots invariably claim to speak on behalf of “all Muslims”, it’s imperative that their beliefs are challenged unapologetically. Yet what we find in the Guardian is a non-debate between advocates of the Brotherhood like Azzam Tamimi, who defends suicide bombing as a measure of pious “desperation”, and those, like Iqbal Sacranie and Karen Armstrong, who disingenuously deny terrorism has anything to do with conceptions of Islam and the teachings of its prophet.
Unfortunately, this denial of reality sidelines Muslim reformers and serves the cause of the extremists. Whether through ignorance or embarrassment, moderate believers say ‘Oh, terrorism is nothing to do with Islam’. Then the jihadists prove them wrong by pointing out the relevant verses from the Qur’an and Sunnah, using Mohammed’s own instructions and example as their mandate. Consequently, it is the jihadists who gain kudos as more knowledgeable and “authentic”. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote in her book, The Caged Virgin: “The central figure in this struggle is not bin Laden… or Sayyid Qutb, but Mohammed.”
Any realistic response to the Brotherhood and its affiliates must include a frank discussion of the theology from which they claim legitimacy. Yet the prevailing climate remains one of deference, evasion and blatant double standards. Islamists may well react to any questioning of their beliefs with umbrage, threats or howls of impropriety. But what is more troubling is that the mainstream organ of the British left is giving a preferential platform to fascistic ideas, shielded from any meaningful opposition or factual correction, at least in its print form. Perhaps this bias and timidity is part of an attempt by the Guardian to siphon readers from Q News or the Muslim Weekly. But a fear of offending any strand of Muslim opinion – no matter how bigoted and grievous it may be – has left the Guardian critically hamstrung on a defining issue of our time.
© David Thompson 2006