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The Big British Left-Liberal Blind Spot

barry rubin muslim brotherhood islamist britain west democracy politicsProfessor Barry Rubin draws our attention to an important shift in the policy of the Muslim Brotherhood: explicit endorsement of the extremist jihadist program of Al Queda and its affiliates.

Unfortunately, as Prof. Rubin points out, they've made their intentions known in Arabic. Will the West notice?

“This is one of those obscure Middle East events of the utmost significance that is ignored by the Western mass media, especially because they happen in Arabic, not English; by Western governments, because they don't fit their policies; and by experts, because they don't mesh with their preconceptions.”

However, the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood happens to be “the most powerful group, both politically and religiously, in the Muslim communities of Europe and North America” makes it imperative that Western leaders, policy-makers and commentators rid themselves of the current debilitating blind spot which causes them to largely regard events in the Middle East as having no bearing upon their own environment.  Generally speaking, much of the West’s media, academia and politicians seem determined to avoid seeing at all costs the connections between the anti-Israel rhetoric on their streets and the creeping influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in their own countries, with all its implications.

For considerable time now, the anti-Israel campaigns in Europe and America have been largely orchestrated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates. Moshe Dann has provided a comprehensive and useful overview of the Muslim Brotherhood and its partner organizations in North America. The situation in Europe is, if anything, even worse. In the UK Hamas activists operate openly and in some cases have achieved a remarkable level of entryism into British institutions.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s foothold in Britain became significant with the arrival there of its official spokesman for Europe, Egyptian-born member Kamal El Helbawy  in the mid 1990s. In 1997 Helbawy founded the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), together with fugitive Hamas commander Mohammed Sawalha, Azam Tammimi (who between 1989 and 1992 worked for the Muslim Brotherhood’s in Jordan) and the son of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq, Anas Al Tikriti. Since then, numerous Muslim Brotherhood associated organizations have sprung up in the UK, often connected to at least one of the four above names. They include the Palestinian Return Centre, Interpal, the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, the Centre for the Study of Terrorism  and media outlets such as the monthly Hamas magazine ‘Filastin Al Muslima’ and the ‘Palestine Times’.

Also operating in the UK are several organizations set up by the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) which is the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella organization in Europe, established in 1989. The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO) for example enjoys links with the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations as well as close links with the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in British universities.  

Another example is the ‘European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza’ (ECESG) which is a body set up in 2007 by the FIOE and, among other activities, is behind flotillas attempting to reach Gaza, including the one which ended in violence aboard the Mavi Marmara due to the actions of members of the IHH; a member of the ‘Union of Good’ – the collection of charities providing funding for Hamas (and chaired by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood) which was designated a terrorist entity by the USA  and banned in Israel.

The head of the ECESG is Dr. Arafat Madi, who is also executive director of the Palestinian Return Centre with which the ECESG shares offices and a telephone number in North London. Not only has Dr. Madi reportedly had the ear of the President of the European Parliament, but the ECESG organized a delegation of European MPs to Gaza in January 2009 to meet with Hamas representatives there. 

British supporters of the ECESG  include Lord Nazir Ahmed, Baroness Jenny Tonge ( also a patron of the Hamas supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign), Lord Richard Harries, former MPs (until 2010) Clare Short and Brian Iddon and current MP Roger Godsiff, as well as various members of the Scottish Parliament. This in effect means that a Muslim Brotherhood organization has influence at the highest levels of British politics and legislation.    

 The Palestinian Return Centre’s board of trustees includes another Hamas operative named Zaher Birawi, who is also the spokesman for ‘Viva Palestina’ and is considered by some to be the liaison between George Galloway and Hamas. From 2001 to 2003 Birawi was the chair of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the de facto branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another MAB leader,  Mohammed Sawalha, was a member of the steering group of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s ‘Coalition to Defend Freedom of Religious and Cultural expression’ as a representative of the British Muslim Initiative (BMI) – a MAB offshoot run by Anas Al Tikriti -, of which Birawi is also a member.

Birawi is also a functionary for ‘Educational Aid for Palestinians’ – another ‘Union of Good’ member – and the Muslim Brotherhood ‘Al Hiwar’ TV channel , together with Hamas sympathizer Azam Tamimi.  In addition, Birawi also acted as chairman of Leeds Grand Mosque at the time at which it is known that some of the 7/7 bombers met there. The mosque’s Imam Sheikh Muhammed Taher has been on record as giving some extremist sermons  and at least since 1998 the mosque has hosted a weekly lesson by Sheikh Abdullah Al Judai who is one of the founders of the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research which is headed by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi and is a known Muslim Brotherhood organization and FIOE offshoot. 

The Palestinian Return Centre is considered to be one of the central institutions for Hamas activity in the UK. As well as Madi and Birawi, its trustees include Ghassan Faour (who is also a trustee of Interpal  – a member of the Union of Good), Majdi Akeel, also associated with Interpal and mentioned as a Hamas activist in the Holy Land Foundation trial  in the US, and Majed Al Zeer , a known Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood operative who accompanied  European MPs to Gaza on the aforementioned trip organized by the ECESG. Dr. Daoud Abdallah, a signatory of the Istanbul Declaration  (together with Mohamed Sawalha), acts as a senior researcher for the PRC.

One of the more interesting phenomena in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK has been its willingness to nurture what is known as the ‘red-green alliance’; the link to radical Left wing groups such as the Socialist Workers Party as seen in the form of the Stop the War Coalition which is one of the main players in the campaign to delegitimize Israel in the UK. It has to some extent also dabbled in mainstream politics in the form of George Galloway’s Respect party, for which Anas Al Tikriti stood as a candidate for the European Parliament in 2004. But it is not only within the fringes of the extreme Left that Muslim Brotherhood activists find political sympathy in Britain; both Anas Al Tikriti and Azam Tamimi (a man who openly admitted aspirations to be a suicide bomber in Israel) have had articles commissioned by the mainstream newspaper ‘The Guardian’ and are to be found voicing their opinions on British television.   

Equally interesting is the level of entryism of Muslim Brotherhood linked groups into the British academia. Anas Al Tikriti, as well as lecturing at British universities himself, is president of the Cordoba Foundation  which, together with Islam Expo to which both Azam Tamimi and Mohammed Sawalha are connected, sponsors the European Muslim Research Centre  at Exeter University. Until 2005 the University of Wales in Lampeter had academic ties with the European Institute of Human Sciences which has connections with Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi and at least one other member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s European Council for Fatwah and Research; the same Sheikh Abdullah Al Judai connected to Leeds Grand Mosque. Of course the Muslim Brotherhood is by no means the only source of Islamist funding in UK universities but its considerable influence on the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) which currently claims to represent some 90,000 Muslim students in the UK – including, but far from exclusively, training programs organized by the Muslim Brotherhood’s FEMYSO - and the sheer number of its former members who have been involved in terrorist activities presents a prime cause for concern.

There is barely an aspect of British life today in which Muslim Brotherhood and/or Hamas supporters lack influence. From the academic world, including student organizations, through politics and government, trades unions, the media, the legal system and even some Christian churches, they have succeeded in re-writing the prevailing narrative by means of the employment of the language of charity and human rights. Skillfully, they deflect criticism by the use of anti-racism laws and social mores and manage to market themselves as the face of ‘moderate Islam’ so successfully that they are often invited to act in an advisory capacity to decision makers and are even able to secure government funding .  

Supporters of Israel frequently ask themselves what has changed in recent years to prompt the dramatic shift in public opinion in the UK and turn it into one of the major hubs of delegitimization of Israel. One of several answers to that question is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has been allowed a free rein in British society and has slowly and patiently promoted an atmosphere of ideological extremism not only within sections of the Muslim community, but also within the host society, to a point where terrorism is so acceptable that many ordinary British people find nothing exceptional in thousands of people marching through their capital city under the flags and banners of terrorist organizations.

The effect that this has upon the public perception of Israel’s constant battle against terrorism is just one aspect of the situation. Another, no less significant effect is the one it has upon the host society which to a large extent is still blissfully comatose with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood’s aims and intentions. As Professor Rubin points out:

  “…..it does mean that something awaited for decades has happened: the Muslim Brotherhood is ready to move from the era of propaganda and base-building to one of revolutionary action. At least, its hundreds of thousands of followers are being given that signal. Some of them will engage in terrorist violence as individuals or forming splinter groups; others will redouble their efforts to seize control of their countries and turn them into safe areas for terrorists and instruments for war on the West. “

Only if the citizens of the UK and the rest of the Western world rouse themselves from their current apathy and begin to recognise the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood for what they really are by setting them aside from the subject of the Israel/Palestine conflict can this potentially critical development be handled safely and effectively. 

Hadar Sela is an Anglo-Israeli writer, blogger, and Israel advocate living in Israel, with a special interest in the influence of the media on contemporary antisemitism in the United Kingdom.

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