Today's Wall Street Journal features an article about the Muslim Brotherhood that tries so hard to be evenhanded that it ignores facts central to the question of what the Muslim Brotherhood represents.
Author Charles Levinson paints of a picture of a Brotherhood that is deeply divided between secularlists and Islamists, but he makes the fatal mistake of knowing too little about his topic to be able to discuss it intelligently. He and Josh Stacher, a political science professor at Kent State University whom he quotes at length, make the all-too-common error of taking things for face value, as a result failing to understand what's really going on.
Take this reference to the Brotherhood, for example:
They also stood up for the independence of the judiciary and pushed for press freedoms, and didn't work to ban books or impose Islamic dress on women—moves many critics had feared.
The fact that the Brotherhood made no overt attempts to ban books or impose Islamic dress is immaterial, since through its well-developed civic institutions, it has cultivated a society that makes those demands for it. That Egypt has become more conservative over the last decade is unquestionable. Laws notwithstanding, women are pressured to cover themselves, and behavior that does not conform to strict Islamic standards meets with increasing opposition, even hostility on the street. When Mr. Levinson refers to members of the Brotherhood who, "who eschew politics in favor of proselytizing Islam," he misses the fact completely that in eschewing politics, those members have not given up the Brotherhood's goal of an Islamic state; they are simply working toward their goal through extra-political means.
...Casting further doubts on the organization's commitment to the separation of church and state...
There are no doubts. The concept of separation of church and state is totally foreign to the Muslim Brotherhood. Any doubts regarding that are fantasies cultivated in the western press.
Mr. Levinson goes on to say:
On Wednesday, when it was still unclear whether Mr. Mubarak would step down, Essam el-Eryan, one of the only reformists currently on the group's 12-member ruling Guidance Council, said in a statement that the group didn't seek the establishment of an Islamic state; believed in full equality for women and Christians; and wouldn't attempt to abrogate the Camp David peace treaty with Israel—all tenets espoused by Brotherhood leaders over the decades. Mr. el-Eryan said those Brothers who had suggested otherwise in their writings and public comments in recent days and years had been misunderstood or weren't speaking for the organization.
But does nothing to address the patent falsehoods in this statement. First of all, there is no misunderstanding here. The Muslim Brotherhood has maintained its existence on the notion of installing an Islamic state and on the destruction of Israel. Its founding statements and the bulk of its internal documents confirm this. Furthermore, while statements about the equality of women and Christians in Islamic countries are common, they are always made in the context of the Islamic state, which places such limitations on that "equality" as to make it nonexistent.
What Mr. Levinson fails to address is the fact that any debate between factions of the Brotherhood take place within an Islamic context and Islam has definite things to say about the concepts being discussed. This is not a western debate. So while a "reformist" faction of the Brotherhood may state that it's for equality of the sexes and tolerance of Christians, equality and tolerance must and will be defined, not as Americans define those terms, but as the Koran defines them, and there is a world of difference in those definitions. This world goes unexplored by Mr. Levinson, and this leaves his readers at a considerable disadvantage.