Muslims may not be on course for another set of gas chambers as some seem to think (see this entry at my own blog), but Islamophobia in Europe is taking on yet another of the characteristics of traditional European anti-Semitism: the conspiracy theory. We’ve all heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forged document containing supposed plans for Jewish world domination fabricated by a Russian agent about a century ago; the tone of a Melanie Phillips diary entry revealing a similarly conspiratorial document of the authorship of members of the Muslim Brotherhood brought precisely this to mind. The Daily Ablution has published a series of articles about the 14-page document, allegedly discovered during a raid on a villa near Lugano in Switzerland by Swiss and Italian police in November 2001. “The Project”, supposedly dating from 1982, is made to sound like a plan for Muslim world domination, “a strategic plan whose ultimate ambition is ‘to establish the Kingdom of God everywhere in the world'”. (More: Crooked Timber.)
You can find a translation of the piece, published 6th October this year in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps here at an Australian Baptist ministry website. (You might notice that it assures the reader that this is “not a conspiracy theory”; you might remember receiving messages assuring you that they are “not spam” which then offer you penis enlargements – even if you’re a woman – or a share in the author’s $30m stash if you can help him get it out of Nigeria.) It seems that only one copy of the document has ever been found anywhere, namely at Mr Nada’s villa; Nada denies that it is Brotherhood policy or that he is its author, claiming that it was written by researchers he refused to name, and said that he agrees with 15 to 20% of the document’s content. Put another way, he disagrees with 80 to 85% of it. Youssef Nada is a long-standing member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has run a chain of companies including an offshore bank, al-Taqwa, registered in the Bahamas. The bank was closed down in 2001, and came under investigation after 9/11, along with the Barakaat bank alleged by the US government to be a conduit for al-Qa’ida. However, Newsweek reported in June this year that after three and a half years of investigation, Swiss investigators could not find enough evidence to charge Mr Nada with anything.
As an example of the kind of red herrings I found when doing my own investigations, an earlier Newsweek report claimed that among al-Taqwa’s shareholders were three of the Bin Laden clan, a vast and wealthy extended family with close connections to both the Saudi royal family and the Bush family. One of them, of course, is now better known for his involvement in terrorism, but the rest of the family is known to have nothing to do with this. Any Google search for Nada’s name will return dozens of results from hostile weblogs.
An un-named western civil servant who studied the document described it as “a totalitarian ideology of infiltration which represents, in the long term, the greatest danger to the European societies” (the auto-translation substituted “companies”, which is also translated in French as societes), alleging that it will become a danger over ten years during which the establishment of parallel state institutions such as “Muslim Parliaments” of the sort existing in the UK will be seen. “The slow destruction of our institutions, our structures will start then.” Quite apart from the fact that the “Muslim Parliament” in London was not a Muslim Brotherhood foundation, it was not really a parliament either; it was one of many organisations established by the Khomeini fan club in London, and supported Iranian positions on such matters as the Rushdie fatwa. The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, which is supportive of the “parliament” and those around it, alleges that both its founder, Kalim Siddiqui, and his successor personally appointed and dismissed members of the “parliament” without going through normal procedures – hardly the way a parliament is run! The institution declined with the passing of Dr Siddiqui, but is commonly used by Islamophobes today as a “proof” of the existence of Muslim para-state entities.
Scott Burgess has begun translating sections of it, having reached the third of the tract’s so-called “points of departure”, a summary of which can be found listed at this post. One might notice that only one of these, the fifth, pertains to the establishment of an Islamic state, and one might ask whether its advocacy of “parallel, progressive efforts targeted at controlling the local centres of power through institutional action” concern non-Muslim countries at all, or just Muslim ones. Burgess intends to translate the rest over the weekend, so we will see how the fifth point expands and exactly how much it should concern anyone in the west. I see little in the parts of the document translated so far to give the impression that it is a plot for gaining control over non-Muslim western societies by infiltration, as was hinted at by Melanie Phillips in the diary post which drew my attention to the controversy.
Perhaps the question we should be asking regarding this document is not whether it is authentic but rather whether it is really relevant. The aim of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely the establishment of Islamic modes of government in Muslim countries, has never been any secret. Burgess suspects that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is either heavily influenced by it (judging by similarities between it and his own book, Priorities of The Islamic Movement in The Coming Phase) or among its authors, more likely the latter.
He cites Reuven Paz, “an internationally recognised expert on Muslim extremist groups”, as claiming that the Project “reflects a vast plan which was revived in the 1960s, with the immigration of Brotherhood intellectuals, principally Syrian and Egyptians, into Europe”. The reader might remember that the Brotherhood was involved in the Hama uprising in Syria in 1982, which led to that city being destroyed by the Russian-backed Assad regime and much innocent loss of life. The reason these intellectuals moved to Europe and America is because the dictatorships of the Arab world made their operations impossible. Their influence, even today, is concentrated in areas with a heavy Arab immigrant population. While the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas have their adherents in the Asian Muslim community, that community has its own traditions (and its own variety of political Islam, the Jama’at-i-Islami and some well-appointed organisations run by its members); like other Egyptian scholars, Yusuf al-Qaradawi has a mostly Arab audience. This may well explain why the European Council for Fatwa and Research is based in Dublin, not London; while London no doubt has more Arabs than Dublin, Dublin’s Muslim community is mostly Arab.
The tract will, of course, strengthen the position of those who complain when people like al-Qaradawi visit this country, but really I fail to see why his involvement in what they think is a conspiracy to take over the west by underhand means is more serious than his support for suicide bombings. What fruit has this “conspiracy” borne in twenty years? The fact that they can get their articles published from time to time in the UK’s third biggest “quality” daily and have occasional contacts with mayors like Ken Livingstone, and only then on matters affecting the Muslim community, and share a platform with some Marxists and people from the outsider faction (Benn, Corbyn etc) in the Labour party. And all this while Muslims in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, which are mostly Arab and thus more likely to be influenced by al-Qaradawi et al, are considerably worse off than they are here.
As a commenter on the latest Daily Ablution post on the issue has already pointed out, little in this document suggests violence, “atleast right out there in glaring obviousness”. The latest extract Burgess has reproduced mentions assisting Muslim causes in places like Eritrea, Sudan, the Phillippines, Kashmir and Somalia (remember that it was written in the early 1980s at a time when a Marxist regime was in power there, hence the references to killing scholars and persecuting the religious). Such matters are unlikely to raise any disagreement from Muslims anywhere, and that would particularly have been so in the early 1980s when, for example, Pakistan was allied to the USA (unlike India) and was a relatively free country for religious Muslims. As so often happens, attitudes are being attributed to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood which are in fact common among Muslims generally.
“The Project” is, in my assessment, not the explosive document some might think; it will give some people one more excuse (as if they need one in this day and age) to oppose visits by some Arab scholars to this country, and no doubt people will be accused from time to time of Brotherhood sympathies and of being part of “the Project”. People might ask how much progress they have made in this country in a conspiracy lasting more than twenty years. Of course, if someone who contributes to a debate has an agenda, it’s important that we know what that agenda is, whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood’s or anyone else’s, but if this really is a plan for the secret infiltration of institutions of all sorts worldwide, it’s not come to much.
Cross posted from my blog, Indigo Jo Blogs.