Here is a study in preposterous moral equivalence: note the attempts to describe the Brotherhood in terms of inaccurate portrayals of the Catholic Church and of evangelical Christian groups in America. Also noteworthy is the author's reliance on the word of an Emory University researcher who describes Hamas as a "national resistance fighting Israeli occupation."
Not that any of this should be surprising. The folks at the New York Times are the same people that brought you this gem about the Fort Hood jihadist, Nidal Malik Hasan: "the gunman and his motive remain an enigma."
Similarly, the end result here is a story that portrays the Brotherhood as an ideological jellyfish whose exact intentions are impossible to grasp.
Are they really? Brynjar Lia, the historian of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, wrote: "Quoting the Qur'anic verse 'And fight them till sedition is no more, and the faith is God's' [Sura 2:193], the Muslim Brothers urged their fellow Muslims to restore the bygone greatness of Islam and to re-establish an Islamic empire."
And regarding America, a Muslim Brotherhood memorandum had this to say: The Muslim Brotherhood "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and 'sabotaging' its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and Allah's religion is made victorious over all other religions." -- Mohamed Akram, in "An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America."
But their intentions are "unclear." "As Islamist Group Rises, Its Intentions Are Unclear," by Scott Shane for the New York Times, February 3:
WASHINGTON -- After maintaining a low profile in protests largely by secular young Egyptians, the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition force, appeared to be taking on a more assertive role Thursday, issuing a statement asking for President Hosni Mubarak to step aside for a transitional government.
"We demand that this regime is overthrown, and we demand the formation of a national unity government for all the factions," the Brotherhood said in a statement broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The Obama administration has spoken cautiously about the future role of the Brotherhood, which has long been banned by Mr. Mubarak's government, saying only that all parties must renounce violence and accept democracy. But one of the few near-certainties of a post-Mubarak Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge as a powerful political force.
The Obama administration has secretly met with Brotherhood elements and green-lighted their participation in a post-Mubarak Egypt.
The unanswered question, according to experts on the region, is whether that will prove a manageable challenge for the United States and Israel or a catastrophe for American interests in the Middle East.
The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is the oldest and largest Islamist movement in the world, with affiliates in nearly every Muslim country and adherents in Europe and the United States. Its size and diversity, and the decades-old legal ban that has kept it from genuine political power in Egypt, make it difficult to sum up simply. As the Roman Catholic Church encompasses leftist liberation theology and conservative anti-abortion advocacy, so the Brotherhood includes both practical reformers and firebrand ideologues.
Fact check: One Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was instrumental in putting the brakes on liberation theology in the Catholic Church, warning of the threat posed by its reinterpretations of the Gospel. And anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows that opposition to abortion is not some loopy "conservative" hobby horse, but one one of the most high-profile moral causes of the entire Church. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared in November 1989 that "No Catholic can responsibly take a 'pro-choice' stand when the 'choice' in question involves the taking of innocent human life."
So, tell us again what the Church "encompasses," Mr. Shane. Or, just continue muddying the waters about the Ikhwan. (Read on, and he brings evangelicals in on it, too.)
Which of those tendencies might rise to dominance in a new Egypt is under intense discussion inside the Obama administration, where officials say they may be willing to consult with the Brotherhood during a political transition. But Bruce Riedel, a veteran observer of the Muslim world at the Brookings Institution, said the United States has no choice but to accept the group's role.
"If we really want democracy in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a big part of the picture," said Mr. Riedel, who was working as the Egypt desk officer at the Central Intelligence Agency when Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981. "Rather than demonizing them, we ought to start engaging them now."
Would Lake Superior State University kindly consider banning the term "engagement" in their annual list, where the word is used as a euphemism for doing business with thugs?
American politicians and pundits have used the Brotherhood as a sort of bogeyman, tagging it as a radical menace and the grandfather of Al Qaeda. That lineage is accurate in a literal sense -- some Al Qaeda leaders, notably the terror network's Egyptian second-in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, have roots in the organization. But Qaeda leaders despise the Brotherhood precisely because it has renounced violence and chosen to compete in elections.
"The Brotherhood hates Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda hates the Brotherhood," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "So if we're talking about counterterrorism, engaging with the Brotherhood will advance our interests in the region."
Again with the "engaging." And Hamid is depending on an audience who believes al-Qaeda invented violent jihad, and has no clue of the content of Sharia law or the imperative to impose it by any means necessary. In translation, Hamid says it's in our interests to choose currently-slower jihad over fast jihad.
Mr. Hamid said the Muslim Brotherhood's deep hostility to Israel -- which reflects majority public opinion in Egypt -- will pose difficulties for American policy. Its conservative views on the rights of women and intolerance of religious minorities are offensive by Western standards. But he said the group was far from monolithic and was divided between those who will never accept Israel's right to exist and those who accept a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine exist side by side.
"Yes, in their heart of hearts, they hate Israel," Mr. Hamid said. "But they know they have to live in this world and respect the geopolitical scene."
While they have to. One of the Brotherhood's leaders in Egypt, Mohamed Ghanem, has already said the Egyptian army should prepare for war with Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded by an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, Hassan al-Banna, as a grass-roots association whose goal was to promote the reform of Muslim society by a greater adherence to Islam, through preaching, outreach and provision of social services.
"It was a bottom-up, gradual process, beginning with the individual and ultimately reaching all of society," said Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, a political scientist at Emory and author of "Mobilizing Islam," a 2002 book on Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. "It's roughly analogous to the evangelical Christian goal of sharing the gospel. Politics were secondary." [...]
On what planet does "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19) equate with the Islamic imperative to achieve total domination of a society by all means necessary, and to offer unbelievers conversion, subjugation, or war (Qur'an 9:29)?
Asked about the Muslim Brotherhood, Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Monday that the United States would work with any group that showed "adherence to the law, adherence to nonviolence, and a willingness to be part of a democratic process, but not use that democratic process to simply instill yourself into power." Some experts on the Brotherhood said the group has met the requirements of nonviolence and participation in elections in Egypt for decades.
But even among specialists, the degree of uncertainty about the Brotherhood's future role is striking. Several admitted to uncertainty about whether participation in governance would have a moderating effect on the group, or whether moderation may prove to have been a convenient false front to be cast off if the group achieved real power.
Skeptics point to the example of the Palestinian group Hamas, the Brotherhood offshoot that has often used terrorism. Ms. Wickham, of Emory, said Hamas is a national resistance fighting Israeli occupation and thus not a model for a future Egyptian Brotherhood....
Nope, nothing to see here. Nobody is a threat to anybody, except when they kind of are. End of discussion.