The Roots of the American Right’s Muslim Brotherhood Panic

Reza Aslan has a good piece up at the Washington Post, in which he both demystifies the Muslim Brotherhood and exposes the hypocrisy of American conservative politicians like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum for fomenting panic about the Brotherhood’s supposedly theocratic aims:

After all, in the United States it is axiomatic that Islam is inherently opposed to democracy and that Muslims are incapable of reconciling democratic and Islamic values. Never mind that the same people who scoff at the notion that religion could play no role in the emerging democracies in the Middle East are the same people who demand that religion must play a role in America’s democracy. Ironically, one of the most vocal proponent of religious activism in politics is Mike Huckabee himself, who has repeatedly called Americans to “take this nation back for Christ” and who, while running for president, proudly declared that “what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.”

Joel Beinin of Stanford University, writing at Middle East Channel, also notes how the Brotherhood was late to the protests, debunking the American right’s insistence that the Brotherhood is behind the protests, and therefore that toppling Mubarek would mean shari’ah law and all that:

The Muslim Brotherhood, widely acknowledged as the largest and best organized opposition force in the country, abstained from the January 25 demonstrations, but belatedly endorsed the January 28 demonstrations. Perhaps as a result of this waffling there has been almost no Islamic content to the demonstrations. The tone has mostly been nationalist and secular.

But that reality gets in the way of some good propaganda for the American right, namely that the Muslim Brotherhood is the architect of the right’s imagined Islamic plot to replace the Constitution with shari’ah law. 

A propagandist like Frank Gaffney finds many opportunities to peddle this claim. He — and others, including the authors of the laughable book Muslim Mafia, which claimed that the Council on American Islamic Relations planted interns to spy on Capitol Hill – point to a document used in the terrorism financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation as the genesis of their theories that the goal of “radical Islamists” is a global theocracy and that the Muslim Brotherhood lurks in every corner of America. This document, “An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America”  – authored by a single Brotherhood member in 1991 — is virtually unknown to people outside the “creeping shari’ah” and “stealth jihad” cottage industry, but within that world it has been used to create a mythology around a supposedly global plot.

That document lies at the heart of the Clarion Fund’s film “The Third Jihad,” which claims, preposterously, that a fifth column of jihadists aims to institute shari’ah law (described inaccurately in the film as honor killings and beheadings of non-Muslims) in the United States. The star of the film, Zuhdi Jasser, is reportedly on Rep. Peter King’s list of witnesses he will call for his hearings on “radical Islam.”

Gaffney, who after being shunned by next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference,  claimed it was infiltrated by the Brotherhood, serves on the Clarion Fund board. The document is also used in support the claims of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which makes millions fomenting irrational fear of Islam.

Gaffney, appearing on Glenn Beck’s program in August 2010, claimed that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, then one of the organizers of the Park51 (a.k.a. “Ground Zero Mosque”) project, is part of this plot:

Muslim Brotherhood started in 1920 in Egypt, thereabouts. And its main effort is to restore the call caliphate, through stealthy means, in the West. It is very much present here. In fact, any Muslim American organization in this country of any prominence is a Muslim Brotherhood front. We know that from the Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, Texas. And unfortunately, this network, like every other, bringing them forward as the spokesman for the Muslim American community. They shouldn’t be, any more than the president should be reaching out to them and utilizing them, I should say, as his go-to people.

Gaffney’s claim that “in fact, any Muslim American organization in this country of any prominence is a Muslim Brotherhood front” is a complete lie. This, too, comes out of the Holy Land Foundation trial — in which the U.S. government charged the Holy Land Foundation with funneling money to Hamas — during which the government submitted into evidence a document listing numerous American Muslim organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators.” The court later held that identifying 245 groups as “unindicted co-conspirators” violated their Fifth Amendment rights. (As many critics of the government’s tactic noted at the time, if the groups were co-conspirators, why not indict them?) But that hasn’t stopped Gaffney and others from claiming that they are part of a Brotherhood “front” and bent on subverting the constitutional republic.

Just yesterday, Gaffney reiterated his shari’ah claims:

As the Center for Security Policy’s new, best-selling Team B II report entitled, Shariah: The Threat to America, found, It is now public knowledge that nearly every major Muslim organization in the United States is actually controlled by the MB or a derivative organization. Consequently, most of the Muslim-American groups of any prominence in America are now known to be, as a matter of fact, hostile to the United States and its Constitution.”

(emphasis in original; I wrote more about Gaffney’s calls on Congress to “investigate” shari’ah here). WND’s Aaron Klein, whose attempt to link the Brotherhood to Obama I wrote about on Saturday, and has been echoed by Rush Limbaugh, now promises, “Islamists, in particular the anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood, seem poised to take power throughout the Middle East as a result of riots that have already toppled one Arab regime and are threatening others, in what some are calling only the latest wave of an Islamic ‘tsunami’ sweeping the globe.”

Oh, and look! The Brotherhood has learned its tactics from Bill Ayers and Code Pink. Don’t you love living in a fact-free world?

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email