Banning the Brotherhood

Banning the Brotherhood
Comment: Trump's calls to declare the Brotherhood a 'terrorist organisation' will form the basis for a wholesale war against Muslim American organisations, writes Waqas Mirza.
6 min read
13 Feb, 2017
The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy debate the Act's consequences, 2015 [AFP]

Decrying the coming takeover of the United States by the Muslim Brotherhood has long been a favored hobby of well-funded, far-right Islamophobes in the United States.

Despite the Brotherhood being one of the oldest Islamist organisations in the Middle East and one that has eschewed the use of violence to achieve its ends, there are still frequent calls for designating the group as a foreign "terrorist" organisation.

Such calls have become especially pronounced under Donald Trump's presidency, according to a recent report in The New York Times, no doubt reinvigorated by a fresh supply of established Islamophobes to Trump's administration.

Frank Gaffney, "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes" according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has for years complained of Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of and influence in the Obama administration.

In 2012, Gaffney went so far as to accuse President Obama of being "sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood supremacist agenda". There was, he maintained, an "obvious and worrying pattern of official US submission to Islam," one so subtle that apparently only he could detect it.

Brietbart, home to some of the most virulent white supremacists and Islamophobes today, has similarly warned of the supposed threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and clamored for the organisation to be declared a terrorist group.

There is no evidence that the Council on American-Islamic Relations has links with any 'terrorist' groups

The recent discussions inside the Trump administration regarding the Brotherhood can in part be traced to the influence of Steve Bannon, former executive chair of Breitbart and now President Trump's Chief White House Strategist, who seems to enjoy an outsized influence in the administration.

With Donald Trump's ascendancy to the presidency, many Republican officials have also smelled blood and accordingly gone for the kill. Ted Cruz, for example, recently introduced a bill to designate the Muslim Brotherhood (and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) a terrorist group. "It is time to call this enemy by its name," announced Cruz on Twitter.  

Previously, both the Bush and Obama administrations had refrained from such a designation. The British government had also rebuked such calls and a report published by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee last year concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood did not engage in "terrorism".

'Terrorism' itself is a political term which in US government usage has applied to few other than its official enemies

"Terrorism" itself is a political term which in US government usage has applied to few other than its official enemies. The Afghan Taliban, for example, was listed as a foreign terrorist organisation for years only to be removed when the US sought to engage the group in peace talks.

The Pentagon later called the group "an important partner in a peaceful Afghan-led reconciliation process," despite the group disavowing neither its tactics nor its ideology.

The calls to declare the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation have little to do with whether or not the organisation indeed carries out terrorist attacks. Instead, such a measure is intended to establish a legal basis for a wholesale war against Muslim American organisations.

For over a decade, the far-right has sought to tie organisations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and others to the Muslim Brotherhood in order to criminalise their operations.


A recent report in Breitbart, for instance, claims that ISNA maintains "disturbingly close ties to the global Muslim Brotherhood". CAIR, for its part, consists of
"jihadists… doing business as the Muslim Brotherhood," according to Frank Gaffney.

Trump's measure to brand the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation - hopes Gaffney - "will speak volumes about the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other front groups operating in this country under its banner".

CAIR is no stranger to such discredited accusations. It has spent a decade and a half subjected to allegations that it is a front organisation for Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and every other organisation its interlocutors think would help delegitimise the group.

At times, such fear-mongering has succeeded. In 2006, Senator Barbara Boxer of California issued a Certificate of Appreciation to the local CAIR chapter but was quickly forced to revoke the certificate when critics began accusing her of sympathising with "terrorism".

There is no evidence that CAIR has links with any "terrorist" groups. As Michael Rolince, a retired FBI official, told The New York Times in 2007: "Of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares."

The coming attack on Muslim American political, civil, and charitable organizations - under the pretext of going after the Muslim Brotherhood - is aimed to undo the already woefully incomplete integration of Muslims in the United States.

  Read more: The spectacular failure of American Muslim politics

Previously an agenda of the far-right, the Trump administration is set to use the full force of the US government to carry out wide scale attacks on any organised Muslim presence in the United States.

Much like the now infamous Muslim ban, the designation of the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation will be an explicit signal to Muslim Americans that they are not welcome in this country.

CAIR will most likely be the first target if the Trump administration proceeds with its plans. The group stands at the forefront of protecting the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Muslim Americans. Any attempt to link CAIR to the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism will be a significant blow to Muslim American communities from which it will take years to recover.

If such a scenario seems far-fetched, it may be useful to look back at the sham political trial of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF). In 2001, the charitable group was labelled a "specially designated global terrorist" by the Treasury Department and a few years later five members of the group were charged with a number of terrorist offences.

The targeting of minority populations and dissident groups is not an anomaly in US history

The US government claimed that the money raised by the group was ultimately going to Hamas. Yet none of the committees funded by HLF were on the proscribed list of terrorist organisations and, awkwardly enough, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had also funded these very same committees.

The Holy Land Five, as the members on trial came to be known, were nonetheless found guilty and given sentences ranging from 15 to 65 years.

The targeting of minority populations and dissident groups is not an anomaly in US history. Nor are the ostensibly democratic institutions of the country a bulwark against the massive surveillance and repressive apparatus now in the hands of Donald Trump.

It is unfortunately not difficult to imagine the criminalising of Muslim American organisations, imprisonment of community leaders, and even more aggressive policing of protests and organising.

Such is the logical conclusion of the longstanding association of Muslims with terrorism - so useful for waging wars abroad - that has been maintained by both Republican and Democratic administrations through immigration restrictions, law enforcement surveillance, FBI entrapment, expansive legislation on material support to terrorist groups, and programs such as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

In order to successfully oppose the Trump administration's demonisation and repression of Muslims, it is necessary to challenge the entire foundation of Islamophobic rhetoric and policies that have, at times, received support from some Muslims themselves.

There is no longer any room for equivocation or compromises. Those who advocated for a middle path must account for why it led to the Trump White House.

Waqas Mirza is a writer and activist based in Massachusetts. His work focuses on US foreign policy, War on Terror, Islamophobia, surveillance, policing and development.

Follow him on Twitter: @waqasahmi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.