1) The progressive Islamists
In one of his final dispatches, the late Anthony Shadid profiled a Said Ferjani, a Tunisian Islamist in Islamists’ Ideas on Democracy and Faith Face Test in Tunisia. Most of the article profile Ferjani, but in the middle, Shadid writes about the interactions of exiled Islamists in the 1990’s:
But no less dramatic was the shift under way within various currents inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Ghannouchi, his own thoughts evolving in exile, became an early proponent of a more inclusive and tolerant Islamism, arguing a generation ago that notions of elections and majority rule were universal and did not contradict Islam. Early on, he supported affirmative action to increase women’s participation in Parliament, a break with the unrelenting notion of missionary work that so long defined the Brotherhood.
In debates that played out across the Arab world, though often ignored by the West, the questions of reconciling democracy and Islam raged from the 1990s on. In the middle of that decade, a young Egyptian Islamist named Aboul-Ela Maadi broke from the Brotherhood and formed the Center Party, declaring its support for elections and the alternation of power and, as important, dissent and coalitions with non-Islamic parties.
Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an enormously influential Egyptian cleric based in Doha, Qatar, often sided with the progressives. (In 2005, he turned heads by declaring on Al Jazeera satellite television that “freedom comes before Islamic law.”) Though the Brotherhood still resents Mr. Maadi for his defection, it has largely adopted his ideas, which had seemed so novel in 1996.
Critics view the shifts as tactical, even rhetorical. But the very essence of the debates has marked a fulcrum in the intellectual currents of today’s political Islam.
“Al-sama’ wa’l-ta’a,” went the old Brotherhood ideal, which translates as “hearing and obeying.”
“That’s over,” said Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Islamic scholar based in London and a grandson of Mr. Banna, the Brotherhood founder. “The new generation is saying if it’s going to be this, then we’re leaving. You have a new understanding and a new energy.”
The narrative constructed by Shadid paints a picture of enlightened though; even Qaradawi is associated with “progressive” thought. But three of the names he cites are neither progressive nor enlightened in any Western sense of the words.
Assuming a valid distinction can be made between Islamists who are “extremist” and “reformist,” Ghannouchi clearly belongs to the first category. Since his last visit to the United States, he has openly threatened U.S. interests, supported Iraq against the United States and campaigned against the Arab-Israeli peace process. Indeed, Ghannouchi in exile has personified the rejection of U.S. policies, even as he dispatches missives to the State Department. A visa for Ghannouchi would signal that the United States has become so confused by Islamist artifice that it can no longer tell friend from foe–and not just in Tunisia.
The Middle East Quarterly transcribed a couple of Sheikh Qaradawi’s fatwas in 2004. One was that a woman engaged in a martyrdom operation is allowed to uncover her hair.
Concerning the point on hijab, a woman can put on a hat or anything else to cover her hair. Even when necessary, she may take off her hijab in order to carry out the operation, for she is going to die in the cause of Allah and not to show off her beauty or uncover her hair. I don’t see any problem in her taking off hijab in this case.
To conclude, I think the committed Muslim women in Palestine have the right to participate and have their own role in jihad and to attain martyrdom.
No doubt Gloria Steinem applauded that liberating sentiment.
Last year after the New York Times published an op-ed by Tariq Ramadan, which Barry Rubin critiqued. Rubin concluded:
The more the Brotherhood lies, the more suspicious I become. If it came clean about its past, that might mean it was indeed willing to change. If it openly expressed its goals of a Sharia state, it might show itself willing to take a place as one party trying to exert influence on the direction of society (something like this has happened in Iraq). Yet to pretend that the Brotherhood is about peace, love, and democracy is like watching a wolf dressed up as a sheep: you know it’s up to no good.
But then, for the grandson of an antisemitic Nazi collaborator, and son of top aide to another Nazi collaborator, and who himself advocates a totalitarian state, Ramadan has done very well to be hailed as a man of peace by applauding Western intellectuals.
Ramadan is indeed accurate when he says that the Brotherhood’s leadership “has signaled” that now is the time to act in a moderate fashion so as not to “frighten” the West or the Egyptian people. That’s precisely what he’s doing. Later, when the Brotherhood has a big share of power, it can reveal its true nature and aims. By then it will be too late.
It is a terrible tragedy when a young man dies, especially when he leaves behind a wife and young children. Furthermore Shadid was trying to shed light on the atrocities committed by Bashar Assad against the people of Syria, when he died. Still when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood, his latest showed a blind spot towards their extremism and hostility towards the West.
2) Walt’s flawed thesis
Discourse about this topic has opened up a lot in recent years, but the same tactics are still on display. Case in point: the warning shots fired at the New York Times’ new bureau chief in Jerusalem, Jodi Rudoren, which began when the ink on the press release announcing her appointment was barely dry.
What was Rudoren’s scandalous transgression? She had the temerity to send a pleasant (but hardly effusive) response to a tweet from Ali Abunimah, who is the author of a book advocating one state for Israel and Palestine. Whatever you may think of Abunimah’s views (I happen to think he’s wrong on that issue), he’s not a violent extremist and there’s nothing inappropriate about Rudoren responding to him as she did. Rudoren also tweeted some positive things about Peter Beinart’s forthcoming book The Crisis of Zionism.
Well, before you could say “hasbara,” Rudoren was being chastised by a familiar list of commentators, including Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon, Shmuel Rosner of the Jerusalem Post, and Josh Block, the former AIPAC staffer who recently led a despicable effort to smear the Center for American Progess. And of course Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, self-appointed Supreme Jurisprudent of What is Permissible to Say about Israel, got into the act as well. (Goldberg’s sudden interest in fair-minded reporting is especially amusing, given his penchant for making up lies about those with whom he disagrees.)
I bring this up not to disqualify Rudoren, but there is so much wrong in these three paragraphs. Most notably, Walt’s thesis that there’s something untoward about pro-Israel partisans pointing out possible prejudices among supposedly objective reporters. Though I won’t link to him, Walt’s comrade in Israel bashing, Richard Silverstein was out quickly with a post claiming, “Jodi Rudoren, Known for Pro-Israel Reporting.” Both sides play the game, just one side’s behavior is somehow improper.
I’m not a huge fan of Jeffrey Goldberg, but it was Goldberg’s critic who made up the lies. Shmuel Rosner now writes for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and unless I read him incorrectly seemed more sympathetic to Rudoren than to her critics. And was Josh Block’s accusations about the use of the term “Israel-firster” a smear? I think not.
If someone clings to his thesis despite the preponderance of evidence disproving his thesis and can only marshal questionable data to defend his thesis, he is motivated by something other than academic interest.