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Why Is America Midwiving a Muslim Brotherhood-Ruled Syria?

Viewed from this historical perspective, Farouk Tayfour’s effort to recast the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood as innocent, unprovoked victims of the Assad dynasty’s aggression, is a transparent whitewashing of the organization’s violent legacy of jihad terror, aimed at enforcing its Sharia supremacist Weltanschaaung. Tayfour’s and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s broader contemporary apologetics -- designed for Western consumption -- strive to portray the organization’s modern, “secular” and pluralistic outlook. But even these public attempts, both the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s April 25, 2012 “Pledge and Charter,” and Tayfour’s statements, invoke Syrian Muslim Brotherhood founder Mustafa al-Sibai’s example -- Tayfour explicitly citing al-Sibai as a paragon of “democratic partnership.”

A Wise, Prescient U.S. State Department Assessment of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood -- Circa December, 1947

Fortunately, during the era before cultural relativism hopelessly muddled the perceptions of U.S. diplomats, a confidential State Department analysis, filed December 19, 1947 (Despatch # 883, Subject: “The Moslem Brotherhood in Syria”; recently obtained by the author via a Freedom of Information Act request), captured in real time the ideology and commensurate activities of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and its founder, Mustafa al-Sibai.

The December 1947 State Department report opens with these general, introductory observations:

The Brotherhood is an increasingly important organization in Syria and is of vital interest to the American observer because it plays a leading part in hammering anti-foreign sentiments into a population already basically suspicious of Western “Colonizers.” The organization cannot merely be called conservative; the recently overused word “reactionary” accurately applies. It demands for Moslems to return to the old customs and traditions of Islam. Although recognized by the Government as a non-political association, in practice it [the Brotherhood] illustrates its strong opposition to the separation of state and religion by actively participating in politics…The Ikhwan al-Muslimin [Muslim Brotherhood] is dedicated to reversing [the] secular trend and its success has not been negligible. The Brotherhood in Syria is a growing organization with an apparently assured future. The hysteria surrounding Palestine and the deep-seated popular dissatisfaction with the proposed United Nations settlement, supported by European and Western Powers, of that troublesome problem is exploitable by the Brotherhood. It has already been so exploited.

The section of the report entitled “History,” summarized the Syrian Brotherhood’s origins and concerns, particularly its anti-Westernism, anti-Communism, opposition to women’s rights, and obsessive emphasis on neighboring Palestine. Evidence for the movement’s popular appeal to the Syrian Muslim masses was also provided:

Representatives sent by Sheikh Hassan al-Banna from the already flourishing Egyptian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood arrived in Syria shortly after the French bombarded Damascus in May, 1945. They laid the groundwork for the Syrian society, reportedly gave it financing and promised support until the Syrian branch could get on its own feet…On June 22, 1946 the first issue Al-Manar (The Beacon), the Brotherhood’s press organ, appeared in Damascus under the editorship of Mustafa Sibai…From the start, Al- Manar has been extremely xenophobic, but certain changes in the pattern of its attack have been visible in the past 18 months. One of those is the gradual increase given to abuse of the United States. Vehemently anti-British from the beginning, the paper slowly devoted more attention to America. This was not unconnected with America’s Palestine policy.

The Communists also have received harsh treatment at the hands of Mustafa al-Sibai and his fellow writers [at Al-Manar]; never so harsh, however, as in the days following the [Palestine] partition vote of the United Nations when the Communists were castigated as “traitors, spies, and assassins.” Brotherhood hatred of the Communists, heartily reciprocated, has resulted in series of clashes between these left and right groups. In Homs and Damascus on more than one occasion there has been bloodshed. Beyond the mutual antagonism of any two rival extremist factions, Brotherhood antipathy was based on a firm anti-foreign stand reinforced by the belief that the Communists were representatives of the “irreligious” Soviet Union. Ikhwan members were an important if not the predominant part of a mob which on November 30, 1947, the day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, attacked Communist headquarters in Damascus. At least one student and one Communist Party member were killed in the resulting melee, numerous other persons were badly injured, and Communist headquarters was burned. Al-Manar claimed a victory…

The role of the Brotherhood in stirring the masses to concern over Palestine has been an important one, since no other group has so consistently emphasized the importance of the coming struggle. Following release of the UNSCOP [United Nations Special Committee on Palestine] Report, the Ikhwan organized political meetings to follow each week the important Friday morning prayer sessions at the principal mosques throughout Syria. These sessions were usually fight talks urging the faithful to lay down their lives and fortunes to defeat Zionism. The Brotherhood was probably the first organization in Syria to register volunteers for action in Palestine. It is believed that the Society actually gave some military training to its members at two camps, one near Haffe, in the Allouite [Alawite] Mountains and the other near Hama.

[T]the Brotherhood also stands against sin. Sin in fanatical Moslem eyes includes the exercise by women of freedoms taken for granted in other societies. For example, a public incident of early Brotherhood history in Syria was an attack by turbaned Brothers on the Roxy theater in Damascus. Sheikhs stoned the building, broke glass, and threatened the audience. Provocation for this outburst was the “ladies day” attendance promotion scheme of the theatre manager. The idea of unattended women viewing Clark Gable or even Mickey Mouse is apparently revolting to devout Moslems.

The strength of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin is difficult to estimate but there are perhaps 10,000 active members. Potentially every devout Moslem is a member, for no other political group in Syria has the same religious appeal. It is thought that many “true believers” holding Government jobs and so barred by law from political activity are sympathizers, if not secretly members…The showing of the Brotherhood in the July, 1947 parliamentary elections was impressive, especially in the free and relatively honest balloting of the first day. Many observers believe the Brotherhood list would have swept the field had not Minister of Defense Ahmad [al-]Sharabati and others taken “steps” to assure the election of National Party candidates in the run-off election.

The report’s concluding section summarizes a Brotherhood pamphlet entitled, “Aims and Principles of the Moslem Brotherhood,” which elucidates the organization’s program. Five salient features are highlighted -- Islamic globalism, totalitarianism and anti-secularism; female inequality, and limitations on freedom of conscience and speech; Islamic morality; xenophobia; and obsession with the “Palestine question”:

The general philosophic and religious principles of the Moslem Brotherhood are in places so much gibberish, but the doctrines of “Pan-Islamism” and of the unity of state and religion are clearly discernible. One of several definitions of Islam reads: “Islam is improving spirit, manners, and character. It has all provisions and regulations for social life. It is a belief, worship, character, and religion. It is religion and state. Any attempt to separate it from public life is a deprivation of society of its greatest weapons and of medium reform and organization.” (Article 7) Finally, unity of the Arabs and Islam is declared, “The Arab nation is one nation…” (Article 8) and “Islam is the Arab nation’s mission…” (Article 9)

Article 17 states that “all persons are equal before the law,” but from other references to the place of women it is almost possible to conclude that females are not persons. “Freedom of thought and speech is a steady right…provided…it does not conflict with social regulation.”

On questions of morality, the Brotherhood lays down the law. Liquor, prostitution, gambling, indecency in films, papers, magazines, and popular music are attacked and women are enjoined “to dress decently.” A man who is not virtuous may not hold public office. Co-education is flatly forbidden.

If any one impression is gained by a perusal of the “Aims and Principles” it is that the Brotherhood is completely and determinedly committed to an anti-foreign campaign. Foreigners may have no economic concessions (Article 24), they may not own property or real estate (Article 25), Syrians who have ever served foreigners must be dismissed from teaching posts (Article 40) and foreign schools are absolutely prohibited (Article 46). The pre-judgment of the situation which underlies this basic policy is indicated in Article 12: “Colonization is evil. We fight it in all shapes and forms. Our attitude toward foreign states is caution. We keep peace with them as long as they keep peace with us: we fight them when they injure our interest or affect our sovereignty; and we consider any propaganda of a foreign state or its doctrine and regulations which contradict our principles as evil imperialist propaganda.” Employing a narrow view of “our interest” and “our sovereignty” and sprinkling the indictment with Communist terminology as the Brothers do the Ikhwan is led to practically absolute xenophobism.

This then is the Moslem Brotherhood, an organization determined to reform the Arab World, built on faith in Islam, dedicated to the defeat of secularism and convinced that direct intercourse with foreigners is evil. It opposes and will continue to oppose Soviet Communism, British Imperialism, and American colonization believing these derogatory words to reflect the true aims of the powers and acknowledging no good from any of them. Growing rapidly, capitalizing on the Palestine hysteria, and respected by the populace, the Brotherhood is a force to watch in Syrian politics.

An additional section of the 1947 report entitled, “Organization and Leadership,” includes biographical details about Syrian Brotherhood founder Mustafa al-Sibai. This section opens with an introductory comment about the Brotherhood’s leadership “triumvirate” which reinforces the report’s earlier observation explaining the movement’s mass appeal to traditionalist Syrian Muslims:

One of the strong points of the Brotherhood is the fact that its leaders, dangerous fanatics in American eyes, are respected by the Syrian people. Unwavering in purpose, the top men are all “good” Moslems and far more honest than most Syrian politicians.

[Al-]Sibai, not quite forty, comes from an impoverished branch of a large and influential Homs family. As a student he showed considerable ability and when he became interested in religious studies, he was sent to the oldest and most dignified center of Islamic religious learning, Al-Azhar College [University] in Cairo. While in Cairo studying theology and jurisprudence, Sibai presumably made the contacts that resulted in his selection as first Chairman of the Moslem Brotherhood in Syria some fifteen years later. Possibly key to the success of Mustafa Sibai is his acknowledged ability to sway an audience. In a country where the power of oratory is highly valued, Sibai ranks with the best. When in October, 1947 he toured north Syria demanding action in Palestine, the turnout was startling. His regular speeches at the Ommayad [Ummayad] Mosque in Damascus following Friday prayers leave the audience virtually frothing; such is the state of exultation he creates.

Finally, elsewhere in a comment from the report section “History,” it was noted:

Sibai and some of his cohorts spent part of the war [World War II] in British concentration camps for suspected pro-Nazi sympathies.

Mustafa al-Sibai’s Sharia-Supremacist “Democratic” Vision

Two episodes from al-Sibai’s biography (1915-1964) which took place after the December, 1947 State Department report was filed, capture his defining, obsessive Islamic Jew-hatred. Under al-Sibai’s personal leadership (as the General Overseer), the Syrian Muslim Brothers sent a jihadist battalion which fought the beleaguered Jews of Palestine at the battles for Jerusalem, and neighboring al-Qastal, in May, 1948. Two years later, in 1950, al-Sibai achieved notoriety for suggesting Syria re-align its foreign policy (then) and seek diplomatic support from the Soviet Union for the expressed purpose of countering Western support of Israel.

Mustafa al-Sibai’s Islamic supremacist Weltanschauung can be gleaned in specific detail from his most important writings. However, in essence, al-Sibai shared with great fidelity his colleague and Egyptian (and international) Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna’s ideology. Immediately after his election as General Overseer of the nascent Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, al-Sibai celebrated this achievement with a message (on May 23, 1946) to al-Banna, which stated:

How wonderful it is for names to merge after goals and programs have been united. If we could not manage, because of official obstacles and current circumstances to complete our link with the leadership and with the organizational structure, let us hope that God will bring the day when this is achieved in the near future.

Al-Banna, on September 5, 1948, writing in the Egyptian Brotherhood daily al-Ihkwan al-Muslimin, expressed, unabashedly, the movement’s global aspirations, consistent with the traditional hegemonic goals of Islam:

The Ikhwan is not a regional movement, but it is indeed an international one, because Islam is an international religion.

Subsequently, Mustafa al-Sibai, reiterated this formulation, stating:

The Call of the Muslim Brothers is not a narrow party political call. We are not a localized organization, the function of which is restricted to narrow local or national boundaries…But we are an international movement.

These clearly expressed ideals contextualize Al-Sibai’s 1960 essay “Mutual or Joint Responsibility,” (translated here, pp. 151,54,61) which discussed jihad as a “nation’s,” or “state’s,” or “country’s” shared obligation.

To fight for Allah (al-jihad) with money and self…The paying of part of a citizen’s money for a holy war (jihad) is preserving all his money from being taken by the enemies if they win…[Mutual] responsibility with respect to defense states that every Muslim in the state must cooperate with the rest of his fellow citizens in defending the security of the country. It is his duty to sound a general alarm if an enemy raids any part of the nation such that a state of panic is caused. In this regard, the saying of Allah is (Koran 9:41), “Go ye forth, (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of God.”

When viewed in the very specific context of his bellicose words and aggressive deeds vis a vis the jihad against the Jews of historical Palestine (i.e., fiery sermonizing, raising funds,  and organizing and leading a jihadist battalion), it is quite clear that Al-Sibai’s use of the terms “nation,” “state,” or “country,” referred to at least the regional Arab Muslim (and more likely, global Pan-Islamic) umma. Al-Sibai’s understanding of “defense” was equally elastic—consistent with the classical Islamic jurisprudence on jihad war.

In an earlier 1938-39 essay, “Ulama and Politics” al-Sibai had emphasized the significance of foundational Islamic theologians and jurists as prototype jihadists:

Regarding their jihad for Allah and for achieving victory for His religion, this is a long story and suffice if I cite several episodes. Abd Allah b. Al Mubarak [d. 797; a merchant and transmitter of hadith, who was a disciple of the seminal jurist Abu Hanifa, founder of the Hanafite school of jurisprudence], the God-fearing imam and scholar, who was in the habit of alternating between making a pilgrimage to Mecca one year and taking part in holy war [jihad] the next year, until he dies on the way back from a holy war. Imam al-Shafii (d. 820; founder of the Shafiite school of jurisprudence] traveled to Alexandria, and for several days was stationed at its shore, facing the sea, prepared to forestall any danger. Imam al-Bukhari (d. 870; compiler of the most important of the six canonical hadith collections), the commander of the faithful in compiling the Hadith, was stationed in an outlying called Firrir [a village in Bokhara, now modern Uzbekistan], and at nightfall, he would begin to gather hadith and begin to worship his God. Imam Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328; the famous Hanbali jurist) rode from Damascus to Cairo in order to call for its help against the Tatars, returning after he recruited fighting forces, and standing at their forefront. There are many other examples of such imams, for whom the jihad for religious knowledge did not divert them from the jihad to spread the word of Allah…