“The Muslim Brotherhood is a Totalitarian Movement”

Below is an interview with Bassam Tibi from Thursday’s Die Presse. Many thanks to doxRaven for the translation:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is a totalitarian movement”

The Islamic scholar Bassam Tibi does not believe that Egypt’s victorious Islamists will be in the mood to compromise. In Tunisia he sees better conditions for democratisation.

How may the Arab spring be characterised?

Bassam TibiAt the end of the Eighties, parallel to the collapse of Communism, a wave of democratisation swept over the world. However, the Arab regimes proved resistant to this development, preserving a piece of the Cold War. But a year ago all this changed. The fall of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali released a wave of democratisation throughout the region. Imagine you are standing at a zebra crossing in front of a red light. Everyone is just standing there, but as soon as someone goes all the others follow.

Do you see the Arab spring as a success?

In the Arab world a change was initiated that raised many hopes. And from January to February it indeed looked as if there would be a democratisation. But the necessary prerequisites for that to happen are not present. Democracy does not require only elections. Democracy requires economic, cultural and institutional conditions to be supportive. Democracy means giving the right for diverse views to exist and to be expressed without sanction. We see the issue in Iraq: the Saddam regime collapsed with the help of the Americans. However, now the Iraqis are killing each other because they have not learned to tolerate differences. Since the withdrawal of the Americans, a Shiite dictatorship over the Sunni minority is developing under the watch of prime minister Malachi.

However, the democratisation in Tunisia seems to be making more progress.

Tunisia has the broadest civil society, with a broad intellectual class. I met the leader of the Tunisian Islamic Ennahada Party, in Copenhagen. For an Islamist he came across as very gentle. The Tunisian Islamists will be more in the mood to compromise, and they won’t be so set on attacking others. With the Muslim Brotherhood it is quite a different matter.

Why is that?

I see the Muslim Brotherhood as a totalitarian movement, and not as a democratic movement. The Muslims Brotherhood is organised on the basis of ten levels of membership. Starting out in the movement only earns one the status of a ‘sympathiser’. To reach the heights levels requires 5-6 years. This time is used to test your absolute loyalty to the movement.

But many voted for the Muslim Brotherhood in the recent elections. The movement seems to be deeply entrenched in society.

The liberal democratic forces were not well enough organised. The Islamists are often the only political force in the whole region, and they are well organised. In the past they operated underground with extreme care, so that the security service could not infiltrate the groups. It was different for the secular groups. The Islamists also built a network in Europe which aided the opposition in the Arabic countries. The Islamists in Egypt conducted themselves very intelligently. They reached a truce agreement with Mubarak’s security service. But as soon as they saw the regime beginning to disintegrate they went to Tahrir Square to join the demonstrators. And now they are dominant.

Many Egyptians see the Muslim Brotherhood as a solution to their problems. The Muslim Brotherhood was very active in supporting the socially underprivileged.

In addition to their organisational strength, the Islamists possess an immense capability to mobilise by religious slogans. In all the Arabic countries the population is growing faster than the economy. This results in a serious crisis. In addition there is a political crisis that requires democratic solutions. Islamists in turn say: Islam is the solution to the economic political and social crisis. However, Islam is a Religion. I myself am a practicing Muslim. In Islam one has to believe in God, pray five times a day, fast for Ramadan, pay taxes for the poor, and, if one can afford it, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. But how can these solve all the problems? The Islamists would answer: The sharia-state is the solution. However, sharia – as the Islamists understand sharia – is a catalogue of prohibitions. How is it possible to fashion a modern economic policy on this? If the Islamists come to power and implement Sharia in the way they understand it, they will not be able to find the solutions to the problems in those countries.

What geopolitical impact does the transformation have on such states as Turkey and Israel?

Israel is paying a high price, since the basic belief of Islamism, in addition to the sharia-state, is anti-Semitism. If the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt takes power, one of its first acts will be the annulment of the Camp David peace treaty with Israel. The winner in all this is Turkey, since it is the only economically and politically stable country in the Middle East. The first leader to visit Tunisia, Egypt and Libya after the upheavals was the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has been unabashed about, as he sees it, Turkey’s rightful headship role. However, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood disagree. They are cooperative, but there are limits to the love. Erdogan said in Cairo: our party is an Islamic conservative party, however Islam and politics need to be separate. A statement that the Muslim Brotherhood was not too happy with.

What are you predictions for the coming year?

I don’t believe that the revolutions in the Arabic world will lead to democracy. There will be a high level of uncertainty that will be used by the Islamists to establish their vision of stability. The present trends indicate that the authoritarian states of yesterday will give way to sharia-based states. The new sharia order is even more authoritarian, and therefore there should be no illusion of democracy.

About the interview subject:

Bassam Tibi (born 1944 in Damascus) is a renowned Islamic scholar. In his last position he was at the University of Göttingen. Tibi studied history, philosophy and social sciences in Frankfurt, in part under Habermas and Adorno. To date he has written 28 books (in German). His latest book is “Euro-Islam. The solution to a conflict of civilisation” (Euro-Islam. Die Lösung eines Zivilisationskonflikts).

13 thoughts on ““The Muslim Brotherhood is a Totalitarian Movement”

  1. North Africa seems to be turning to
    extreme Islam, a bad sign for those countries but in a funny way a good sign for Europe.Europe needs time to wake from its trance on Islam, the extremism shortly to emanate from N Africa and its immigrants to Europe will hasten the process giving Europeans the chance to get their act together before the tsunami thats Islamic colonisation / invasion can get a foothold.

  2. I see it differently. Although there are differences in tactics, the strategic goal of islam is to world domination. I expect to see national borders break down as various new “strong men” (read mullahs) vie for total control & the sultanship. I think the Europe muslims with strong ties to their regions (not nations) will also divide on religious lines and possibly carry the N. African/Middle East conflicts into the cities of Europe. Just a guess, but I think a real possibility.

  3. Ultimately, the “strategic goal” of every serious cultural/political/economic movement is global domination. A purely racist and nationalist movement that distinguishes one race as being special and thus chosen as suitable for a particular plan of morality, government, or productivity can promote that plan as the most suitable for one race and nation but not for all others.

    But the more common argument of racist and nationalist movements, that the chosen race should be dominant over all others, applies with even greater logical necessity to the promotion of a set of principles that is not explicitly racist and nationalist. If cybernetic ethical calculus is the ultimate in morality (which I do not claim), then why shouldn’t I work towards a world in which everyone will practice it (I have resort to the ‘racist/nationalist’ argument that it is only practicable for genetically exceptional individuals, but what other reason could I give if I regarded it as a superior moral system rather than simply a more entertaining one for me personally)?

    Christianity, Rule of Law, Free Markets…the claimed superiority of these systems isn’t counterbalanced by any clear reason that they shouldn’t be adopted by everyone. They are thus innately global in their ambitions for human betterment. Thus I fail to see why there should be any problem with the fact that Islam is innately a movement that aims for global dominance.

    The problem is the way in which such dominance is to be achieved. In the past, there have been efforts to impose Christianity, Law, and economic freedom in places by means of force. For each of these systems, it raises a rather pressing contradiction with the fundamental principles on which each is based. For Christianity, the spiritual conviction of of the heart is supposed to transcend worldly constrictions, so how can anyone be truly a “Christian” who is one only to avoid punishment? Under the Rule of Law, how can it be justified for Law to be imposed on a nation from without which alter dramatically their existing customs, when the enforcement of those laws depend on creating a privileged rank for the outsiders? Of course the difficulty of forbidding any other economic arrangements from the principles of the Free Market should be obvious.

    But there is another, entirely separate difficulty about imposing any system by force even if there is no clear principled objection from the tenets of the system itself. It generates opposition and degrades productivity to use violence in the unlimited quantities necessary to coerce compliance. In a world where religion is enforced at the point of a sword, deep and genuine religious conviction tends to be the sole province of those able to defend their beliefs in actual combat (or those about to die for their beliefs). Violence is bad for economies. Really, only governments seem to thrive on unlimited violence, because violence is their sole stock in trade…but they soon begin to feel the pinch of economics and their hollow spiritual life.

    Can Islam reject violence as a tool of its global ambitions (which are shared by all potential plans for humanity)? There is nothing within the principles of Islam itself which strongly compels it, so it seems that Islam will have to accrue a large helping of practical experience with the pitfalls of resorting to violent subjugation as a means of spreading itself. Such object lessons will have to be supplied from without, by those who do not want to adopt Islam at gunpoint.

    But given those lessons, I see no insuperable difficulty.

    Chiu Chun-Ling.

  4. I think the Europe muslims with strong ties to their regions (not nations) will also divide on religious lines and possibly carry the N. African/Middle East conflicts into the cities of Europe. Just a guess, but I think a real possibility.


  5. Chiu was it tongue in cheek or a genuine question? Islam CANNOT adapt,change, grow in knowledge or develop in any way, it exists solely to perpetuate itself. Simply put Islam equals Cancer, there is no change or anything else, it is a disease, you either destroy it completely or it will destroy you completely.Why don’t you try to talk to a few Moslems individually, you will find they are trapped in a system and they don’t even know they are trapped, and that system poisons their lives and the lives of those they come into contact with.

  6. A number of Muslims do renounce violence as a tool of universal domination (there are also those that dismiss the global claims of Islam, but this is not terribly relevant). I try to primarily limit my discussions with Muslims about Islam to those that view it as a religion of existential despair rather than those that accept Koranic Islam at face value…there is no point talking to someone whose only answer to every challenge is to threaten to kill you, after all.

    Because of this, I’m more then ordinarily aware of how much “moderate” Muslims have in common with confirmed agnostics and moderate atheists. There is a perverse beauty in their acceptance of the origins and history of their religion as a proof that humans are unfit to approach divinity…at least it compares favorably with the efforts of most agnostics and atheists to deny the much stronger claims of other religions to have discovered something beyond the merely human realm of insight. “Moderate” Muslims derive their existential despair from a religious history that genuinely supports such a dim view of the possibility of divine interest in human affairs.

    It is correct to say that Islam cannot reform itself, but I do not accept that this means that it is necessary or justifiable to exterminate it entirely. If nothing else, the melancholic abandonment of any hope of substantial human betterment provides a valuable perspective on historical events. Not that such a role must be played by adherents to a reformed Islam rather than by some other strand of religious despair, but since they can I see no reason they shouldn’t.

    Of course, for this reform to take place the Koranic Islam that regards all “moderate” Muslims as dangerous apostates (to be killed) has to be suppressed forcibly. And as it is irrational to expect the “moderate” Muslims to accomplish this on their own, that task necessarily falls to those outside of Islam who are motivated by a need to eliminate the threat of Koranic Islam.

    It would be slightly inappropriate to say that a program of complete elimination of Islam would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Reformed Islam is more of an old cripple than a baby. But it would still be discreditable.

    Chiu Chun-Ling.

  7. Koranic Islam IS reformed Islam – reformed to be more true to the original murderous intent of the evil devil Allah and his earthly monster false ‘prophet’ Mohammed.

    I met someone who worked at the FBI who said that the FBI uses Milestones by Sayyid Qutb to understand Islam.

    Everyone here needs to be familiar with these names.

    Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones)

    Sayyid Qutb

    Until the West eliminates Islam once and for all, Koranic Islam will ALWAYS rear its ugly head given half a chance by foolish Muslims and non-Muslims who refer to Islam in romantic terms.

    How many souls must be tortured, molested, raped, and violently murdered before the practice of Islam is banned from humanity?!

  8. Well, there is more than a bit of validity to what you say about the essential tendency of Islam to return to a literal adherence to the Quran. However, I must dispute the idea that Koranic Islam is the “reformed” version of Islam. Muhammad’s prohibition on the writing down of his revelations is antecedent to the written Quran, so a truly ‘reformed’ Islam would necessarily discount the scriptural status of the written Quran and see it as a product of the historical period of internecine succession warfare following Muhammad’s death.

    That said, it seems evident that, to the Arabic speaker, there is some special magic about the language of the Quran. Whether this is imposed by the religious education of the Quran being the standard for all Arabic literary values or is somehow a result of genuine innate linguistic perfection (which I for one do not believe for an instant), it is likely to remain a persistent danger.

    But the same sorts of argument can certainly be made about the tendencies of the atheisms which have produced Marxism and other forms of socialist theories. As mere literary themes, these may be generally harmless (if depressing). But as the ideological basis for any program to structure society “properly” they lead inevitably to even worse atrocities than those of Islam.

    For all of that, I simply cannot condone an effort to stomp out atheism through the use of force. I may have little patience with atheists or their “art”, and I’m certainly willing to wage eternal war to destroy their political aspirations, but abolishing atheism outright is too fraught with perils for a free society.

    Chiu Chun-Ling.

  9. Chiu: “…tendencies of the atheisms….lead inevitably to even worse atrocities than those of Islam.”

    Well, as a woman and a mother, I would definitely debate the conclusion that atheistic Marxism is worse than Satanic Islam.

    It depends on whether you think that torture and death is worse than torture and life.

    How’s that for some existential despair? Ha!

    Marxism = torture and death

    Islam = torture and life

    Oh, and Baron, for this comment, my word verification is hymenish. Ha!

  10. There is certainly some room for debate on the topic of whether it is the atrocities of atheism or Islam that have the worse character.

    And I am unable to think of any current major religions that are as obviously defective (for the purpose of promoting healthy spiritual and economic development) as Islam in either their “reformed” and virulent strains (let alone both). Despite my criticisms of “pure” Buddhism’s negative concept of nirvana, such severe asceticism is not without redemptive spiritual effects (and has surprising economic benefits). Christianity can be credited with having promoted nearly all the major advancements that led to modern Western Civilization. Hinduism is markedly immoral from most any other religious perspective, but has managed to promote a degree of stability that is remarkable (Taoism, Shinto, and certain other quasi-religious traditions that tend to be bundled into New Age packages probably can’t be counted as major religions anymore).

    I suppose that we should have to turn to actual Satanism to find a worse religion than Islam. And I don’t really see any compelling reason to say that Satanism shouldn’t be banned, though I recognize that there are certain difficulties that arise in terms of pure legal mechanism.

    I guess at that point it is just a matter of personal tolerance. I’ve personally disliked Satan forever in a way that I never really despised Muhammad.

    Chiu Chun-Ling.

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