Rejecting The Muslim Brotherhood

Brian Lehrer in Conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Ayaan hirsi Ali (MARTIN BUREAU AFP/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former member of Parliament in the Netherlands, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizationsdiscussed her experience as a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood as she warned against religious extremism in Egypt.

With all the discussion in the United States about the Muslim Brotherhood in recent weeks—who they are, what they want, what Egypt might look like with the Brotherhood in charge—firsthand perspectives are invaluable. But while many Egyptians back the Islamic organization and say they have nothing to fear from them, Ayaan Hirsi Ali sees things very differently. After all, she was formerly a member of the Brotherhood in Kenya before becoming disenchanted with their political and religious views.

Ali believes the Muslim Brotherhood is still a great threat to secular democracy in the Middle East. Their public, decades-old renunciation of violence may be of some comfort, but Ali said their goals remain the same, and as dangerous to Arabic Muslim nations as ever.

Their main objective was to aspire to a society, a nation, a world that is ruled through Islamic law. That objective has not changed. What has changed is an internal discussion within the movement of when and how to use violence. I think the prevailing attitude now is that the movement can gain its objectives through nonviolent means, particualrly in elections, which is a narrow definition of democracy.

Surprisingly, Ali said the professed pacifism of the Muslim Brotherhood should make us more concerned. It makes them more potent and legitimate in the public's eye than the radical offshoots, although there is little separating the Brotherhood from these groups in ideology, she said. To hear Ali describe it, the Brotherhood sounds like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The extreme violent ones, groups like al-Qaeda, have diverged in a different side, and I think that's what makes the Brotherhood so elusive and, in a way, far more dangerous than al-Qaeda because of their ability to participate in a democratic system even though they have undemocratic objectives, and to make everybody believe they are peaceful...Once they get to a place of power, we've seen quite the opposite...Everywhere groups that share the same objectives as the Muslim Brotherhood get to a place of domination, they change their colors, they change their objectives, and they stick to their mission.

That mission is the implementation of Sharia law in Arabic nations, Ali said. In short, a government that imposes Sharia law would enforce all of the restrictions on diet, sexuality, crime, economics, politics, etc., that are enumerated in the Qur'an—rules that would be considered repressive and authoritarian for non-Muslims and Muslims with less staunch beliefs. 

Sharia is a confusing concept to Westerners and Muslims alike, as interpretations of Islamic code vary widely along with opinions about the role that religion should play in the politics of Muslim majority nations. Ali has no reservations about her opinion: Sharia law should have no place in government. But she told Brian Lehrer that the problem won't be solved with a simple separation of church and state. The once-and-for-all repudiation of Sharia governance could only come with a wholesale revision of one of the world's three major religions.

That would require a farewell from Sharia law and from the dream of the caliphate. It would require very clear scriptural revisions. It would require a revision of the prophet Mohammed as an example for all time, and it would require for Muslims in Muslim majority countries to design constitutions that protect societies from elements that want to introduce Sharia...They have to admit that there is an incompatibility between political Islam and their desire for freedom and economic prosperity.

That's no easy task. Politics and Islam have been intertwined from the get-go (Mohammed himself was a politician), and efforts at the significant reform of public and relgious institutions in the Middle East have enjoyed little success for the past millennium.

Despite all that, Ali is an optimist. Though she doesn't mince words in her warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood, she sees in Egypt the opportunity to forge a "third way," one that has yet to take root in the Middle East. And rather than a hands-off approach favored by some Americans, Ali recommends that the U.S. get more involved in the political transformation if we—and Egypt—expect a brighter future for the Muslim world.

The future of Egypt and other Arabic Muslim countries does not have to be a choice between two extremes of either a strongman tyrant type regime or a Sharia type regime. There is a third way, and I see this as a great opportunity to organize and inspire the liberal democratic forces in Egypt. Here is where the West can help...What we now call development aid, the $1.5 billion America currently gives to Egypt can be used to build that infrastructure of civic and economic institutions so that liberals are able to compete with the Brotherhood in an election. The best thing that could happen to Egypt is that the Brotherhood is defeated at the ballot box over and over again.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali


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Comments [34]



Nice tu quoque fail, moral relativist liberal moron.

Feb. 13 2011 03:07 AM

Ayaan Hirsi-Ali speaking at the 11th annual Herzliya Conference on Islam. A very interesting and important video:

Feb. 12 2011 06:20 PM
learner type

jgarbuz interested in seeing the books you recommend.

anybody else too on judaism or islam.

Feb. 09 2011 05:51 PM
gary from queens

I don't mean to insult anyone on this blog, but I see a problem everyday Brian has a show on islam or jihad etc. The problem is that the liberals have a fixed, preconceived template of conservatives, or anyone who criticizes islam.

Islam is a religion. And it is also a political system that is very oppressive. TODAY. Current version. But more than that, it is the most extreme interpretations----the literal interpretation----that constitutes the mainstream theological institutions and jurisprudence in the middle east. Certainly the most wealthy, such as the Saudi funding and lobbying powers. We now have thousands of madrases teaching kids in the US to follow shariah law----the politcally relevant portions of koran.

Moderate muslims have no place to go to organize. Not in the US either. Not when Brian Lehrer and Obama legitimize shariah adherents as "moderate" muslims. They are not moderate. They are mainstream.

Listen to conservative talk radio. There are some shows that interview true reformist Muslims on their shows. People who left Islam. There are a couple are former terrorists who converted. I've heard several. It is not just Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They all have prices on their heads. Thats how you can tell the difference between moderate and radical. Try listening to Michael Medved or Steve Malzberg, to name two. Listen to these Muslims. They know.

You liberals have a hair trigger. You're reactionary. You suspect every conservative is racist. That is not the reason we are critical of political Islam.

Read Andy McCarthy. He'll never be invited onto Brian's show. So what he writes will be a revelation to you. But it's the closest you'll get to wisdom and reason on this topic:

Feb. 09 2011 01:04 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Jan, you are more than welcome to ask me ANYTHING about Israel you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask. I can answer any question you have as honestly and truthfully as humanly possible. Ask anything you want. Please do. Make my day.

Feb. 09 2011 12:24 PM

every country and religion has it's wing nuts. about jgarbuz from Queens comment, how about a show on that topic, Brian? I have in anger said that Israel is as much a theocracy as the rest of the mideast (as is the 'InGodWeTrust' U.S. for that matter, but the god referred to is likely Mammon). From watching Israeli movies I understand there are different laws for different folks, there are courts that are uncivil, etc. but truly I'm ignorant and would like to learn more.

Feb. 09 2011 12:08 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Toher from Brooklyn

How much do you know about Jewish civilization? If not too much, I can recommend some books to you as well.

Feb. 09 2011 11:57 AM
treejanitor from Stamford, CT

Thank you so much for having Ayaan Hirsi Ali on your program! I had just finished her book, Infidel, and was more than curious, as a feminist and defender or *women's rights* what her take on the situation in Egypt was. In her book, she describes how the wholly liberal society in Holland ignored the problems of deciding to let Islamists immigrate without integrating people of this very different culture into the *laws* of the land they're now living in. She offers nothing but respect to liberal societies but she calls out liberals on their support of multiculturalism over women's rights. For this, she has been branded, in many places, a conservative!

The situation in Egypt is a fantastic opportunity for her to voice her concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood and their [and others] support of Sharia law. We can support the people of Egypt creating a more democratic society, including the potential of creating a more religious Islamic political system, but we should absolutely call a spade a spade and listen to her for her wisdom and experience about the Muslim Brotherhood's tenuous history with manipulation and politics.

We can support the emergence of a more democratic society but also acknowledge that the people represented in that democracy may decide, by majority, that they don't want to acknowledge women's rights. The media has a responsibility to tell this story. The people will decide for themselves.

Ayaan, thank you for speaking to us today!

Feb. 09 2011 11:29 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Sorry jgarbuz from Queens, you really don't know much about Islamic Civilization. Read please, there are some very interesting books out there.

Feb. 09 2011 11:20 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Here is some information for listeners on Islamic parties in Middle East. Turkey’s ruling party has Islamic roots. I don’t see sharia instituted. As a matter of fact Turkey’s economy has been roaring. Civil and religious and gender rights of all citizens is enforced and respected. This is the model for Egypt, a multiparty democracy.

Feb. 09 2011 11:11 AM
Eman R from brooklyn, ny

Although I respect her opinion, Kenya is a diff country, she was in it 26 yrs ago and Egypt is a very diff culture. She just admitted they may not be as aggressive as before but wont say as much out right. im not muslim but i see that she needs to at least give them a chance to prove otherwise.

Feb. 09 2011 11:02 AM
Arianna AOL Huffingnut from the blogosphere

For all the closed minded left wingut commenters here...why listen to WNYC where you hear people from different perespectives and get all steamed in the face so that you have no choice but to rant angrily and vent your righteous rage with angry posts to Brian demanding theyt censor and silence anyine you disagree with?

You can come instead to the Puff Host (or moveout or dailly cuss for lots of *group think!*

or just become a social scientist and join academia...

Feb. 09 2011 10:42 AM
Sarah from NJ

If Egypt is to move toward a more democratic society, it should be up to the Egyptian people to reject or accept the Muslim Brotherhood. What the Brotherhood does with rejection or acceptance afterwards is up to them. They should not be feared or barred from participation in the democratic process just because their claims are not trusted by outsiders.

Feb. 09 2011 10:39 AM
Patricia from FH

Interesting how many people are attacking Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don't hear her saying anything against Islam. Yet the callers and most on the comments board are just up in arms. Hmmm....let me see are these mostly men? As for the caller who acknowledged that according to Sharia Law adultery is punished by stoning. And you wonder why people might not want Sharia Law implemented? No doubt that adultery is destructive but there are others ways to deal with it....such as divorce. Not need to kill someone over it!

Feb. 09 2011 10:36 AM
gary from queens

supporters of the protesters should be careful what they wish for.

According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion.

Feb. 09 2011 10:33 AM
mc from Brooklyn

@CL from New York: I agree. This is why I find her intriguing.

Feb. 09 2011 10:33 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Sharia law was initially copied from Halacha, or Jewish law, much of which was originally grounded in tribalism. For example, stoning for adultery is a biblical proscription. However, Judaism, unlike ISlam, went through 1000 years of interpretation and evolution, because unlike the Quran, the Jews never considered the whole Bible chiselled in stone. Only the ten commandments. And even the ten commandments were not even considered applicable to non-JEws but rather only the 7 laws of Noah. So while Judaism was able to evolve up to a point, ISlam has been hampered due to the doctrine that every word of the Quran is the literal word of Allah. The same that Evangelicals believe about the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. But JEws always have a more open attitude to their scriptures, that much had to be interpreted and adapted to changing times and conditions. Adapted, but not jettisoned.

Feb. 09 2011 10:33 AM
g lopez from queens

the woman who's name i can't spell sounds like someone is in total denial and is a self hating Muslim.

Feb. 09 2011 10:33 AM
Ed Resor from Manhattan

Some knowledgeable and devote Muslims believe that only honest governments with fair judges and enough food for their people are authorized to implement Sharia law.

Mahmud Mohammed Taha, the founder of the Republican Brothers, gave his life for this belief and was executed in Sudan in 1984.

Feb. 09 2011 10:32 AM
CL from New York

AHA has made many inflammatory statements about Islam and has been a rather divisive force in serious discussions about Islam, but she is a powerful thinker with a profound moral sense. And I think it is fascinating (and frightening) how she draws the anti-modernist Islamist thugs out into the open (e.g., the caller who defended stoning of adulterous women).

Feb. 09 2011 10:29 AM
seeking ignorance

if zen buddhists bombed the wtc on 9 11 i'd be interested in zen buddhism. they didn't and i'm not.


Feb. 09 2011 10:28 AM
shaun from nyc - greatest city on earth

An interesting discussion about the Brotherhood, whose participation in any political movement has wide-ranging implications. With regards to specifics about the Brotherhood's position on the role of women in political society, I direct you to an interview with the editor of the organization's official website. We learn, for instance, that they support the role of women in politics, but not at the level of presidency (among other aspects). --Regards,

Feb. 09 2011 10:27 AM
AC from NYC

Why do you have this woman on the show? She has not one ounce of credibility. She's a fraud. She lied to get legal status in the Netherlands and because she claims she's anti-Islamic, she became the darling of the Bush Administration and was quickly given legal status in the U.S. while thousands of her own country people who submitted contrived stories to escape the brutal war in Somalia (as she did in Holland) are being detained by Immigration authorities in the U.S. and being deported from the U.S. and many other countries. She knows nothing about the Muslim Brotherhood. She's just using the talking points of the far right by her use of "caliphates" and claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood will bring Sharia law to Egypt when the Brotherhood has been greatly marginalized in Egypt. STOP using her as an authority on Sharia, Islam or anything else related to the Middle East.

Feb. 09 2011 10:27 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I am intrigued by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but I wonder how her perspective sheds light on the Egyptian situation.

Feb. 09 2011 10:23 AM
Edward from NJ

Perhaps we could get a more neutral guest to explain whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya 20 years ago has *anything* to do with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt today.

Feb. 09 2011 10:23 AM
Soubie from NYC

Not allowing comments on the propaganda piece?

Bringing out the boogieman again - this is not about the Muslim brotherhood it is about the people of Egypt, stop trying to scare Americans into supporting the oppression of millions of people so Israel can feel better - Israel will never feel safe, it's time we realize that and stop pandering their paranoia.

Feb. 09 2011 10:20 AM
benjoya from brooklyn

let's see, she's never heard of the current MB leadership, and a well-known secular egyptian feminist who's been in tahrir square and is part of the revolution has endorsed their commitment to secularism, but ms. ali has her point of view and won't let facts get in the way. boring!

Feb. 09 2011 10:19 AM
LCruz from brooklyn

ayaan hirsi ali is anti Muslim bigot, she is extremely biased against Muslims..... what are ayaan's credentials for speaking about political islam ?

Feb. 09 2011 10:19 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

The AEI loves to trot this woman out whenever they need a "victim" of radical islam to remind us all that there are bad people in the world and some of them use religion to justify their actions. She is and has been irrelevant for many, many years. I wish her well but she has no real insight, obviously, and was not a part of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. This is like interviewing an Avon Rep about the beliefs and intentions of the Avon corporate board - she'd be the last to know.

Feb. 09 2011 10:16 AM
Taher from CVroton on Hudson

Brain thanks again for bring us another right wing idiot. Who wants to conflate her experience with what’s happening in Egypt. May be your producer is trying to destroy your show by bring in these ridicules guests. You guys might as well join Fax News.

Feb. 09 2011 10:16 AM
amorris from nyc

we have been over and over this issue on a daily basis, and now we are getting the american enterprise institute opinion, nothing to add to our knowledge or debate

Feb. 09 2011 10:14 AM

I value this show's effort to take something that's in front of us all -- in this case a so called "broad based secular movement " -- and scrutinizing it with the care of a clear eyed surgeon rather than a sloppy orderly. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's something. God Bless America that we may ask in full voice.

Feb. 09 2011 10:05 AM
amorris from wnyc

How many times does WNYC have to hear that this is a broad based secular movement? This obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood is so contrary to what is going on in Tahrir Square. Seriously reconsidering my membership, its too much to ignore.

Feb. 09 2011 09:49 AM
Herb E from NYC

Encourage the President Obama & members of Congress to change the nature of the aid to Egypt from military credits to economic and social credits. This is a win for America, a win for American allies in the area, and a win for Egypt. The massive military buildup in Egypt is destabilizing. With the acknowledged precarious nature of Egypt's government and the ever-present danger of its growing fundamentalist movement (Brotherhood), it is far more in America's interest to attend to the political, social, and economic needs of the Egyptian people so our country can help create a less desperate situation.

The economic impact to America is neutral, since the money comes in the form of credits to buy US goods. It would be better to let the Egyptian people buy our cars, our computers, our construction equipment, and other American goods. This policy would encourage peace and a more stable Egypt. It would also produce demand for American products beyond the scope of foreign aid.

Feb. 09 2011 08:54 AM

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