Update: After 18 days of demonstrations, the military executed a coup in Egypt today. This is the best possible news for Egypt and the West.
Today, our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, referred to the Muslim Brotherhood as a "peaceful" and a "largely secular organization". Really. On a related note, today is "Islamic Revolution's Victory Day" in Iran. It was this day in 1979 that the last of the Shah's forces fell. As we ponder the Obama administrations apparent willingness to countenance the Muslim Brotherhood as a benign organization and potential partner for the U.S. in Egypt, it would do well to remember just a few of the highlights from the Iranian Revolution.
Like the Muslim Brotherhood (see, e.g., here, here, here), Khomeini left a long paper trail of books setting forth his true radical Islamist views:
In the 1960s and 70s Khomeini had already talked about almost everything he did. Even in 1944 he talked about how evil democracy and modernity are, how evil the rule of law is. He talked about the establishment of Velayat-e faqih, the rule of Islamic jurists.
Yet, like the Brotherhood of today, as the opportunity to take power presented itself, Khomeini articulated a very benign viewpoint, portraying himself as a freedom lover, willing to tolerate complete freedom of speech, and expressly disavowing any role for himself or the Shia clergy in the government. For example:
"In Iran's Islamic government the media have the freedom to express all Iran's realities and events, and people have the freedom to form any form of political parties and gatherings that they like." Interview with the Italian newspaper Paese Sera, Paris, November 2, 1978
"In the Islamic government all people have complete freedom to have any kind of opinion." Interview with Human Rights Watch, Paris, November 10, 1978
"In Islamic Iran the clergy themselves will not govern but only observe and support the government's leaders. The government of the country at all levels will be observed, evaluated, and publicly criticized." -- Interview with Reuters news agency, Paris, October 26, 1978
The secular opposition to the Shah was disorganized in Iran, but it was widespread, from liberal democrats to labour. "Khomeini worked to unite this opposition behind him by focusing on the socio-economic problems of the Shah's regime (corruption and unequal income and development), while avoiding specifics among the general public that might divide the factions — particularly his plan for clerical rule . . ." And while the Khomeinists were significantly outnumbered amongst many protesters against the Shah, they were by far the most organized.
Khomeini did not reveal his true colors until after taking power, when he became hyper-militant in stamping out all opposition to his theocracy. For example, in his own words:
"Those who are trying to bring corruption and destruction to our country in the name of democracy will be oppressed. They are worse than Bani-Ghorizeh Jews, and they must be hanged. We will oppress them by God's order and God's call to prayer." -- In a talk at the Fayzieah School, Qom, August 30, 1979
"Those who have not voted for the Islamic Republic, it means that they want the previous system. Those who boycott the election so no one votes for the Islamic Republic are seditious. We will treat them like enemies, and we will oppress them. You are enemies that you want to cause trouble. You are enemies that you are conspiring against Islam and against the country. Your comings and goings are controlled. We have been informed that you are in contact with those who want to bring our country back to its previous system. Now that your conspiracy has been proven, we will destroy you all. If you don't stop your evilness, we will mobilize an even higher mobilization, and we will clean out all of you. We will not allow you groups of corrupt people to remain and continue your activities. -- In a message at the end of the month-long Islamic fasting celebration, September 3, 1979
As one observer put it, in terms that parallel the situation in Egypt today:
What began as an authentic and anti-dictatorial popular revolution based on a broad coalition of all anti-Shah forces was soon transformed into an Islamic fundamentalist power-grab," that significant support came from Khomeini's non-theocratic allies who had thought he intended to be more a spiritual guide than a ruler — Khomeini being in his mid-70s, having never held public office, been out of Iran for more than a decade, and having told questioners things like "the religious dignitaries do not want to rule."
Khomeini's consolidation of power between 1979 and 1982 was bloody and deliberate. Khomeini initially threw his entire authority behind secular moderate Mehdi Bazargan as the new head of state while he built up his own, separate revolutionary apparatus loyal only to him. On March 30, 1980, Khomeini arranged for a national vote on whether to replace the monarchy with an "Islamic Republic." The term "Islamic Republic" was left undefined, and it was only after winning the vote with a 98% majority vote did Khomeini have a Constitution drawn up - for a theocracy. And before the next vote on the Constitution, Khomeini moved into full force, crushing the opposition, murdering thousands once associated with the shah, closing down newspapers opposed to a theocracy, and threatening with death any who would vote against him. In the end, it was Khomeini and his "radicals who won. Because they were the most ruthless. They were the most brutal."
Given the organization and popularity of the Brotherhood today in Egypt, there is little reason to think that they could not achieve similar results over time. We should have no misconceptions. As to the nature of the Brotherhood, this from Zhudi Jasser, issued today after DNI Clapper's dangerously ridiculous characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood:
"The Muslim Brotherhood is the antithesis of a secular organization as asserted today by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. Clapper's statement presents a significant concern that our primary Intelligence officer has a complete lack of understanding of an organization that presents the greatest threat to the security of the United States. The Director of Intelligence is either grossly naïve or covering up for an ideology that is in an ideological war with the United States and western society.
The Muslim Brotherhood is built on the ideology of political Islam which adheres to a belief in Islamic Supremacy. To be a secular organization the Brotherhood would have to completely disavow the very beliefs that define the organization.
Further, the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to the political process in a post-Mubarak Egypt and throughout the middle-east. Thugs like Mubarak have created an atmosphere that has allowed the Brotherhood to thrive. The United States needs to be active within the country of Egypt countering the ideology of the Brotherhood helping the people of Egypt develop liberty-minded, democratic infrastructure to secure the country's future. We need to demonstrate to Egyptians that freedom does not come in the form of Islamic law or in the rule of theocratic clerics.
Our Intelligence community cannot afford to allow political correctness or this severally mistaken understanding of the Brotherhood to enter the conversation of how we will confront the changes in Egypt."
As we deal with political Islam domestically and abroad it has hundreds of permutations from the most violent (Al Qaeda) to the non-violent (Islamist groups in the west). They all are pursuing the same goal which is the Islamic state based in Sharia Law. This is because they all share the same roots - The Muslim Brotherhood. This very conflict is what defines our American Islamic Forum for Democracy. If America gets this conflict wrong we are doomed to become accomplices in the ascendancy of Islamic theocracy throughout the world which ultimately threatens our national security.
As I wrote below, Mubarak's decision today, refusing to step down, makes a violent revolution exponentially more likely - and nothing would more favor the Brotherhood. Obama should be doing all in his power to encourage a coup by the military that would forestall such an event, and that would allow time for secular opposition to organize prior to elections. Hopefully that would be enough to prevent a repeat of Iran.