In a scene straight out of North Lebanon, children in a school in Philadelphia were recently seen singing “Blood and Martyrs,” a song traditional to terrorist organizations like Hamas. This comes after Rep. Ilhan Omar claimed anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin, barely weeks after the deadliest terrorist attack in Asia, where more than 500 people were slaughtered in Sri Lanka after a coordinated Islamist attack, of which India and U.S. intelligence had warned.
In light of that, the Trump administration’s proposed designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization is a recalibration of American foreign policy that has been a long time coming. According to the BBC, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the plan, and said, “The President has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process.”
She also said this comes at a push from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been a major influence and ally of the United States, as well as Israel, against the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
For years, regardless of Republican or Democrat governments, there was a utopian streak in American foreign policy that ignored realpolitik’s concern for national interest while pursuing “monsters to destroy.” Nowhere was this more visible than in the Middle East. For example, Damascus under Bashar al Assad, and Tripoli under Muammar Gaddafi, were the two governments that provided the most information against Islamist terrorists. Brutal though they may have been, they were secular, and were facing the same threat from al-Qaeda, like us.
Yet the first thing President Obama did after the Arab Spring was misunderstand the nature of the revolt. Put simply, we toppled the tyrants who were a bulwark against the terrorists. That same course carried on in Egypt, the historic ally of the West since 1979, as we saw a brief Muslim Brotherhood government after Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a revolt, which, among other things, saw a sexual assault on Lara Logan by the same people we were told were Madisonian democrats. If one calculated strategic mistakes, Obama’s naïve misunderstanding of the Arab Spring would rank among the top five in American history.
The potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror organization is a needed corrective. It is not just a civil society group, which should be needless to mention.
A report by the Counter-Extremism Project states that “As the progenitor of the modern Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood (i.e. the Brotherhood) has had a profound influence on the belief system that fuels al-Qaeda and ISIS. These groups share ideological underpinnings based on the writings of the late Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The Brotherhood has also served as a bridge for young Islamists—including bin Laden, al-Baghdadi, and al-Zawahiri—to more violent jihadist groups. Although their execution strategies may differ, at their core, all three groups maintain a shared Islamist vision of establishing a global caliphate.”
That in itself has been a cause of discontent in the West. It is easy to ignore the Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoys the support of a section of the Middle Eastern population, but it is not just that. Western nongovernmental organizations and Islamist apologists, for example, get funded by organizations with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Reports suggest the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is heavily funded and tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in turn influences a lot of American debates on Islamism. The same is true for other Islamic organizations in the United States, which lobby freely. The Muslim American Society and CAIR are so toxic that even the United Arab Emirates designated them as terrorist organizations, on par with groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabab. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Omar from speaking to and showing solidarity with CAIR.
Thankfully that is changing. One of Trump’s changes from the previous two administrations is the infusion of a bit of realism while dealing with Islamists. The engagement rules and strategy of dealing with ISIS changed, from Obama-era attrition to annihilation. More importantly, the change in grand strategy is more reflective of a new-age Kirkpatrick doctrine.
For the uninitiated, Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote an essay in 1979 that formed the baseline of the Reagan administration foreign policy. It said that for the greater good, sometimes one needs to align with dictators and totalitarians, if that provides stability against a greater evil.
The Trump administration’s alignment with al-Sisi of Egypt and Khalifa Haftar of Libya portrayed that recalibration. The days of utopian nation-building and democracy promotion to actors in regions that are fundamentally incapable of adopting such is over, and realpolitik is back. Secular tyrants and strongmen, while not ideal, are still a better alternative than chaos, anarchy, and terrorists filling a vacuum. In that sense, Trump is trotting a different path from both the Bush and the Obama administrations.
The bottom line is this. Dubbing the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization might be a controversial policy, but it serves a valuable purpose. It is better to be vigilant of those forces trying to destabilize the west from within than to spread values in foreign lands.
As Thomas Hegghammer wrote in his phenomenal paper, Islamism spreads through the available jihadi entrepreneurs, and clandestine actors. Put simply, agents and apologists within western societies are far more dangerous to overall security than are foreign jihadis.
Most of the families of ISIS terrorists, for example, who are currently rallying to bring back their jihadist relatives, knew about their deviant, anti-western, jihadist intentions. The insurgency attitude cannot survive without the knowledge of elders and guardians in traditionally tight-knit communities. And most of these community centers, lobby groups, NGOs, and so forth have ties to organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Political Islam remains a potent enemy of the Western lifestyle and values, and marking them as enemy agents sheds further light on these people, their activities, and their political backers. Americans have a right to know which politicians, and which NGOs and lobby groups, promote what in their society.