Over the last few weeks Dutch media have published information gleaned from Dutch intelligence files regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. One report indicated that Samir Azzouz and Noureddine el Fatmi, two top members of the Hofstad group (and, later, of the so-called "Piranha network") had had close financial dealings with members of the Brotherhood based in the Netherlands. Another indicated that the Brotherhood, through the European Trust (its powerful financial arm in Europe), controlled two of the country's largest mosques.
The lively discussion taking place both in the Dutch parliament and in the media as a consequence of these revelations resembles very closely the debate that is taking place on this side of the pond at various levels (and on this site). I have published an article in the latest issue of Opinio, a Dutch weekly, regarding the issue. While the article is in Dutch, below is the translation:
Recent media reports revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and most influential of all militant Islamist groups, has gained a foothold in the Netherlands, quietly placing itself behind two of the country's largest and important mosques (de Rotterdamse Essalammoskee en de Westermoskee in Amsterdam-West).
The debate at the Tweede Kamer that immediately followed the revelation mirrors the discussion that is taking place among academics and policymakers throughout Europe and America on the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood and on whether it poses a danger to the West. Some, including the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid (WRR), consider that the Brotherhood has renounced the violence that has characterized its activities since its foundation in the 1920s, has embraced democracy, and can even be considered a viable partner in attempts to contrast jihadi groups. Others, both in the West and in the Muslim world, consider this position naïve and based on statements made by Brotherhood leaders for the consumption of credulous Western ears, ignoring what the group says in Arabic and, more importantly, what it does on the ground.
The truth is that, despite its recent claims of moderation, the Brotherhood still adopts the same radical agenda that has characterized it for the last 80 years. In a December 2005 interview to the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Mohammed Akef, the group's official supreme guide clearly stated that "the Muslim Brotherhood is a global movement whose members cooperate with each other throughout the world, based on the same religious worldview - the spread of Islam, until it rules the world." On the Brotherhood's website Akef also tellingly said: "I have complete faith that Islam will invade Europe and America, because Islam has logic and a mission."
And while the final goal of the Brotherhood is, as its publications and leaders openly say, world dominance, the group adopts different tactics to obtain it. Flexibility and deceit are the two qualities that distinguish the Brotherhood from groups such as al Qaeda and that have allowed the group to thrive throughout its history. The Brotherhood, in fact, operates in different ways according to the circumstances. In places were conflict is what it deems the best option to achieve its goal, the Brotherhood will pick up arms. In Palestine, for example, the Brotherhood operates through Hamas (art. 2 of Hamas official charter states: "Hamas is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine."). In the West, on the other hand, the Brotherhood has chosen a completely different tactic. Having realized that a full front confrontation, as the one al Qaeda is attempting, against the West, is premature, given the relative weakness of the radical Islamic movement, the Brotherhood has decided for a more nuanced approach.
In the West violence and confrontation are replaced by a cleverly engineered mix of penetration of the system through appeasement and simultaneous radicalization of the Muslim population. Its leaders publicly vow the group's dedication to integration and democracy, representing themselves as mainstream, and seeking to portray themselves as the representatives of the various Western Muslim communities in the media and in dialogues with Western governments. Yet, speaking Arabic or Turkish before their fellows Muslims, they drop their facade and embrace radicalism. While Brotherhood representatives speak about interfaith dialogue and integration on television, the group's mosques preach hate and warn worshippers about the evils of Western society. While they publicly condemn the murder of commuters in Madrid and school children in Russia, they continue to raise money for Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
Some, eager to create a dialogue with their increasingly disaffected Muslim minority, overlook this duplicity. Yet the Brotherhood's plans are there to be seen. In 1990 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, possibly Sunni Islam's most influential scholar today and the unofficial theological leader of the international Muslim Brotherhood, published a book called Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase. This 186-page treatise can be considered the most recent manifesto of the Islamist revivalist movement. As Qaradawi explains in the introduction, the "Islamic Movement" is meant to be the "organized, collective work, undertaken by the people, to restore Islam to the leadership of society" and to reinstate "the Islamic caliphate system to the leadership anew as required by sharia."
After examining the situation of the "Islamic Movement" throughout the Muslim world, the dissertation devotes significant attention to the situation of Muslims living in the West. Qaradawi explains how Muslim expatriates living in Europe, Australia and North America "are no longer few in numbers," and that their presence is both permanent and destined to grow with new waves of immigration. While Qaradawi says that their presence is "necessary" for several reasons—such as spreading the word of Allah globally and defending the Muslim Nation "against the antagonism and misinformation of anti- Islamic forces and trends"—it is also problematic. Because the Muslim Nation, and therefore Muslim minorities "scattered throughout the world," do not have a centralized leadership, "melting" poses a serious risk. Qaradawi warns, in other words, that a Muslim minority could lose its Islamic identity and be absorbed by the non-Muslim majority.
Qaradawi sees the lack of Muslim leadership not only as a problem, however. He also views it as an unprecedented opportunity for the Islamist movement to "play the role of the missing leadership of the Muslim Nation with all its trends and groups." While the revivalist movement can exercise only limited influence in Muslim countries, where hostile regimes keep it in check (the Brotherhood is outlawed in several Muslim countries), Qaradawi realizes that it is able to operate freely in the democratic West. Muslim expatriates disoriented by life in non-Muslim communities and often lacking the most basic knowledge about Islam, moreover, represent an ideally receptive audience for the movement's propaganda. Qaradawi asserts that revivalists need to take on an activist role in the West, claiming that "it is the duty of [the] Islamic Movement not to leave these expatriates to be swept by the whirlpool of the materialistic trend that prevails in the West."
Having affirmed the necessity of the Islamist movement in the West, Qaradawi proceeds to present a plan of operation. The Egyptian-born scholar openly calls for the creation of a separate society for Muslims within the West. While he highlights the importance of keeping open a dialogue with non-Muslims on the surface, he advocates the establishment of Muslim communities with "their own religious, educational and recreational establishments." He urges his fellow revivalists to try "to have your small society within the larger society" and "your own ‘Muslim ghetto.'" Qaradawi clearly sees the Islamist movement playing a crucial role in creating these separated Muslim communities and thereby providing it with an unprecedented opportunity to implement its vision, at least partially. Its local affiliates will run the mosques, schools, and civic organizations that shape the daily life of the desired "Muslim ghettoes."
What Qaradawi outlines in his treatise might, at first glance, appear to be nothing more than a fantasy. In reality, it corresponds to what the international network of the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing in the West for the past fifty years. Since the end of World War II, in fact, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have settled in Europe and worked relentlessly to implement the goals stated by Qaradawi. In almost every European country, they founded student organizations that, having evolved into nationwide umbrella organizations, have become—thanks to their activism and to the financial support from Arab Gulf countries—the most prominent representatives of local Muslim communities. They established a web of mosques, research centers, think tanks, charities and schools that has been successful in spreading their heavily politicized interpretation of Islam.
The consequences of their activities of radicalization of the Muslim population are particularly dangerous considering the tensions between Muslim minorities and the rest of society that are present in Holland and in virtually every European country. The "Muslim ghetto" that Qaradawi theorizes and the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to build in Europe is exactly what the Algemene Inlichtingen-en Veiligheidsdienst has repeatedly warned about. In its 2002 report Van Dawa tot Jihad, the AIVD specifically mentioned the disrupting effect that the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood can have on Dutch society. Openly stating that the Brotherhood is a group that "pursues a type of society that is completely different from the democratic legal order, using covert and non-violent means (covert Dawa)," the AIVD warned that, "rather than confronting the state power with direct violence, this strategy seeks to gradually undermine it by infiltrating and eventually taking over the civil service, the judicature, schools, local administrations, et cetera. Apart from clandestine infiltration, covert Dawa may also be aimed at inciting Muslim minorities to civil disobedience, promoting parallel power structures or even inciting Muslim masses to a revolt."
The effects of the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, as described by the AIVD, can only magnify the already well known problems of radicalization of parts of the Dutch Muslim youth. In today's tense environment, the continued emphasis of the Muslim Brotherhood on the superiority of Islam over any other religion and system of government can only exacerbate the already existing social tensions and jeopardize the Nederlandse samenleving. While the Western branches of the Muslim Brotherhood rarely directly involve themselves with violence (even though their financing of terrorist groups such as Hamas is well documented), their contribution to the creation of an "us versus them" mentality among Muslims is the first step towards violence. While stopping short of openly advocating violence in the West, continuously preaching about the evils of democracy and the alleged conspiracies of "infidels" against Islam can only create a fertile environment for those who want to make the next step and use violence.
Moreover, the Brotherhood's renunciation of violence seems more opportunistic than genuine, considering that its European members use fiery rhetoric to endorse terrorist operations in the Middle East. While they are quick to condemn violence in the West to avoid becoming political pariahs, they do not refrain from approving of it elsewhere, notably in Palestine and Iraq, because they believe they can get away with it. It is not unreasonable to assume, therefore, that should it become convenient for them to do so, the ever-flexible Brotherhood would embrace violent tactics in the West as well.
A strong debate on the activities of the Brotherhood in Holland is sorely needed. The discourse needs to be accompanied by a firm understanding of the group's real agenda, and the experience of some Middle Eastern countries can provide us with a good insight. Moderates throughout the Muslim world have repeatedly warned about the threat posed by the Brotherhood. Dr. Ahmad Al-Rab'I, the former minister of education of Kuwait, sternly stated: "The beginnings of all of the religious terrorism that we are witnessing today were in the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology." Al-Rab'I is right in pointing out that the roots of all modern Islamist terrorist groups, from al Qaeda to rag-tag gangs such as the Hofstadgroep, lie in the teachings of Hassan al Banna and Sayyid Qutb, the top ideologues of the Muslim Brotherhood. Today jihadi groups have decided to achieve their goals through violence, resorting to terrorism as their tactic of choice. The Muslim Brotherhood has opted for a more nuanced approach, tailoring its modus operandi to the time and the place. But while the tactics might differ, the final goals of the two currents are the same, and the two movements represent simply two sides of the same coin. The Brotherhood's added danger lies in its ability to fake moderation, operate under our nose, and spread its divisive message undisturbed.
Lorenzo Vidino is an analyst at the Investigative Project and the Jebsen Center at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the author of the book "Al Qaeda in Europe."