If the charge had been made in early 2002 it may have gained traction. Michelle Bachmann and others claimed that Huma Abedin should be investigated for possible links to Muslim Brotherhood. The warning: perhaps she and other Muslim “extremists” have infiltrated the highest ranks of the State Department and US government, putting the country in danger.
Bachmann had no evidence, and ultimately only could point to the fact that back in Saudi Arabia her late father had connections with people who had connections with people who were in an organization with connections with the Muslim Brotherhood. So clearly, she’s a threat. She also probably knows Kevin Bacon.
But in the emotion-laden post-9-11 days, just the hint of the fact a Muslim was high up in the State Department and could potentially be linked to extremists would have had the country atwitter. There probably would have been a series of calls for investigations and warnings of Muslim infiltration of the apparatus of the US government. Unfortunately for Bachmann her call came ten years too late — it was like warning of Communists in the State Department in 1963.
Instead Republicans from John McCain to Jim Sensenbrenner called Bachmann out for her outlandish claim, defending Abedin and noting that it was un-American to make such accusations based solely on her religion or vague ties of acquaintances of her family decades in the past. The Muslim Brotherhood itself professed puzzlement at the charge, noting that it’s having trouble infilitrating even the Egyptian government!
Hopefully this is a sign that the Islamophobia that seemed to grab the country in the 00’s has given way to recognition that Muslim Americans are not all would-be terrorists out to destroy the western way of life. Indeed, the Arab spring has shown Americans that Muslims in the Mideast want freedom and democracy as well.
Still, the fear remains. Behind Bachmann’s outrageous charge is a nefarious organization called the Center for Security Policy, headed by hard core neo-con Frank Gaffney, which has as its primary goal the promotion of a neo-conservative foreign policy. Such a policy seeks to spread American ideals through force if necessary, and sees any indigenous Islamic movement in the Mideast as dangerous. However, even Gaffney has to know that Abedin is no inside threat. What really bothers him and those who still cling to the neo-con dream of an American dominated Mideast is the fact that the US increasingly recognizes that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups in general are not the enemy. Indeed, they are important actors in moving the Islamic world towards modernism. Gaffney and those of his ilk would prefer we see any Islamic organization not overtly embracing western values as a threat.
During the era of knee jerk Islamophobia after 9-11 it was assumed that political Islam was all a variant of Osama Bin Laden’s ideology and al qaeda. Evidence for that claim could always be found using quotes of members of different organizations, even if the quotes were decades old and not aimed at the US. This led to support for a US effort to dominate the region to both bring in an American style democracy and have friendly regimes in control of Persian Gulf oil. That was considered the best way to undercut future terrorism. The Iraq war has shown that such a strategy was folly – it didn’t work and was based on false premises.
Now, however, a more nuanced view dominates. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have a wide range of views, and some quotes and ideas do sound radical. That’s to be expected given the oppression and violence used against them by dictatorial regimes in the past. But these organizations are evolving in a reality where politics is becoming more open. They are no longer just a small group competing against powerful corrupt regimes, but have become a large organization needing public support to try to remake the politics of the region.
As such there is no reason to expect them to be hostile to the US and the West, so long as we are not hostile to them. Indeed, it is in our interest to cultivate a solid relationship with such groups to help them make the transition from being on the outside fringe to governing. This isn’t a new process either. Ever since Robert Michel put forth his view on the “iron law of oligarchy” in 1911, it’s been well known that radical groups moderate when they become part of the system. The Greens in Germany, for instance, went from being radical pacifists and anti-NATO/anti-growth to being part of a German government that fought in Kosovo and embraced pro-market policies to increase growth and competitiveness in Germany.
The neo-cons and other fear mongers will point to parties like the Nazis in Germany and say “see, they didn’t moderate.” But there is no reason to expect the Muslim Brotherhood or other such organizations to behave that way – quite the opposite, in fact.
Change in the Arab world will be gradual, a culture dominated by Ottoman style repression and dictatorship for 700 years doesn’t blossom into a stable functioning democracy overnight. Some states like Saudi Arabia have yet to start the inevitable transition. But with the almost universal rejection of the McCarthy like Islamophobic “warning” of Michelle Bachmann, there is cause to believe that the US can be a positive influence in assisting change, working with a variety of groups in the Mideast to develop a path to democracy rather than fearing our lack of control over the process.