CHARLOTTE, April 9, 2013 – Jon Stewart is a smart man. Love him or hate him, agree or disagree, his biting commentaries are insightful and intelligent. Then why did it take the Comedy Central star so long to realize the Muslim Brotherhood is bad news?
Was it because Stewart just happened to overlook the history of the Egyptian-based organization? Did it have more to do with the Brotherhood’s efforts to silence the free speech of fellow comedian Bassem Youssef?
Such questions are a constant source of amazement. How can intellectual thinkers and administration officials continuously believe Islamic fundamentalist groups will alter their goals after fourteen centuries of hatred? Why are we so naïve as to believe we can change the course of history by ousting one terrible despot and replacing him with another? Will we ever learn?
In 2005, when the Brotherhood participated in pro-democracy demonstrations, they captured 88 parliamentary seats in Egypt by running under the banner of “Islam is the Solution.” Pro-democracy or not, that should have been an indication of a problem rather than a solution.
Democracy has considerably different connotations depending upon its cultural vantage point. For some reason however, Americans continue to use Jeffersonian Democracy as the standard of measurement when such tenets are completely foreign to Middle Eastern perspectives.
The United States was founded upon Jeffersonian principles, which makes it understandable that our approach would follow such beliefs. On the other hand, Switzerland has been a democracy for more than 700 years and our American concepts in no way resembles the Swiss way of doing things. So why should we expect our methods of governing to work in a region which totally rejects them?
Jon Stewart should have already known that. So should the federal government. Following a dozen years since the events of 9/11/01, somebody should have figured that out by now. It isn’t as though we haven’t had our share of examples to demonstrate a precedent.
Electing a group to parliament does not give them credibility or change their philosophy. What it does do is give them power. Power is a primary goal of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been the core of its background since its inception. It is also a stated goal of radical Islamic ideologues to establish “the Islamization of society and permanent conflict with the West.”
The complexities of the situation in Egypt related above are a major simplification, but that is always the case when attempting to explain Islamic relations.
Egypt’s government quickly identified the Brotherhood’s veil of “diplomacy” and changed the rules for the 2010 elections. The result was the removal of all but one of the MB’s candidates. What the government could not do however, was change the opinions of support from the people and the media.
So why should we be surprised by the events taking place in the streets of Cairo today?
The Muslim Brotherhood came into existence in Egypt in the spring of 1928 as a religious, political and social movement of Islam which is really no different than the fundamentals of faith itself. Much of the difficulty in dealing with Islam is that it is all-inclusive. Religion, politics and social issues are one in the same and cannot be separated. Consequently, Islam is more of a way of life than it is a religion.
At the outset, the Muslim Brotherhood set its sights on charity work and education, but it rapidly became a champion for the disenfranchised elements of society. Historically that is not radically different from the ideals of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.
The Brotherhood’s most outspoken and influential thinker did not come to prominence until the mid-1960s when writer Sayyid Qutb advocated violent revolution. Qutb and six other members of his group were executed in 1966.
Though many in the Egyptian Brotherhood distanced themselves from Qutb’s violent ideology, it became a popular mantra by Muslims in other countries and that strategy has been in vogue throughout the region ever since.
All of which brings us back to American foreign policy and Jon Stewart’s newfound awareness that there are some bad actors on the radical Islamic stage who are professing some sort of democracy. Not democracy as we know it, but democracy with another interpretation.
The good news is that maybe Bassem Youssef’s ordeal has shined a spotlight on his American colleague. It is a little late, but Jon Stewart is a welcomed guest at the party if he has truly been awakened.
“Democracy” is a good word, but it must have a broader context than the popular Middle Eastern definition. When that meaning can be translated into appropriate actions, the world will become safer. Until then, we must suspend our endless optimism that simple diplomacy can change fourteen hundred years of cultural brainwashing.
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Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in
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