We are all grimly familiar with groups such as Al Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram and Hizb ut Tahir. You don’t need to be an expert in extremism and terrorism to have a basic understanding of their destructive ways. Far less well known, however, is that all of them were founded or run by individuals who have some past or existing connection to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is a religious-political movement, whose stated aim is to replace Western legal systems with their version of Sharia – a version far more brutal than already exists in many Muslim nations around the world. One of their founding principles is the establishment of a global caliphate with a single supreme political and religious leader.
Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood is generally believed to have taken a more violent turn in the 1950s, when its most notable theorist, Sayyid Qutb, promoted jihad as a weapon to be used against secular Arab governments. Qutb argued that Muslim societies living under these governments existed in a state of jahiliyya, akin to Arabia´s pagan existence prior to the Prophet Muhammad. Qutb believed offensive jihad and the killing of secular officials could lead to the implementation of the Brotherhood’s vision, and that all who stood against this ideology were takfirs – or apostates – and therefore legitimate targets.
The Brotherhood seeks to implement its vision for a caliphate in stages. Its founder, Hassan al-Banna, promoted the gradualist construction of the Muslim individual, the Muslim family, the Muslim community, and finally the Muslim government, or Islamic State, which he believed would bind all Muslims to the Brotherhood. This can be viewed as the gradual de-coupling of individual Muslims from secular or non-Islamic states and societies.
When you examine the goals of groups like Al Qaeda, Isis and others, it’s easy to see how their inspiration derives from the Brotherhood’s puritanical definition of Islam, exemplified in Wahabism and Salafism. These orientations share several traits and beliefs, including that Muslims have deviated from ‘Pure Islam’ and that only a literal and strict interpretation of the Quran and Hadith is acceptable.
It is clear from even a cursory glance therefore that the Brotherhood is not a peaceful movement. They seek to impose their ideological purity on every aspect of life, from sexuality to economic life, to diet and even clothing. Their approach is absolute and total, with all criticism labelled ‘heresy’. And it is this fear of being labelled ‘heretics’ or ‘Islamophobic’ that drives European civil society away from adopting a more overtly critical approach to the Brotherhood.
Thankfully, that is finally starting to change. In March last year, Austria became the first European country to ban the Muslim Brotherhood’s logo, and the first to designate them extremists. In July this year Austria launched an initiative to identify and register institutions targeted by Islamist-controlled organisations for political purposes. Minister for Integration Susanne Raab said that the goal was to end parallel social structures that promoted patriarchal and separatist communities.
Austria’s approach is rightly being lauded as pioneering compared with the policies of many other European countries. It recognises, challenges and drags out into the open the Muslim Brotherhood’s inherently clandestine and subversive way of operating. Seeking to understand and tackle the threat of radical Islamism should be high on the EU’s agenda. It hasn’t been for far too long.
Terrorism, and especially radical Islamist terrorism, remains a potent threat across the continent. Countries such as France are also waking up to the threat. In mid-July, the French government relaunched its ‘state of the nation’ agenda around the fight against Islamism. It has promised legislation to target activity directed against the French state to combat the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also exploring a ban on the organisation on French territory – a move which would be long overdue.
In the UK, Sara Khan and the independent Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) give hope that we might soon see real action against these noxious groups. Khan has called on the Home Office to do more to tackle what she calls “hateful extremism” – a form of non-violent extremism. The CCE’s flagship report on the topic last year made several useful recommendations, including adopting an updated definition of extremism and creating a new task force to tackle radical groups under the auspices of the Home Office. In June this year, the CCE also launched a legal review to examine whether existing legislation adequately deals with hateful extremism. Implementing the recommendations of both would be a good start.
Why is all this important? Well, take the example of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Brotherhood-linked organisation mentioned in the CCE report. The group was officially banned in Pakistan in November 2003 for its alleged links to several terror plots, but continues to operate legally in the UK, radicalising young Anglo-Pakistanis in working-class immigrant communities. Although its methods may differ from violent groups like Islamic State, Hizb ut-Tahrir teaches the same poisonous notion that you cannot be both British and Muslim, and openly shares Isis’ goal of establishing a Muslim caliphate. Tony Blair vowed, and failed, to outlaw the group in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London. With renewed impetus by policymakers in the UK, we might finally see a ban on it and other extremist groups in the near future.
The Brotherhood has had a presence in Europe for over half a century now, establishing networks and building official and unofficial relationships with politicians and government officials. They have spawned numerous offshoots that continue to promote in one form or another their hard-line brand of Islamism, seeking to draw Muslims away from the state and their wider communities. France and Austria have shown that countries can wake up and take swift action. It is time for the UK to do the same.
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