Britain’s half-and-half policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood
The British parliament recently had a modest session to examine one question that has, for many years, been on the minds of many inside and outside the United Kingdom: Why hasn’t London placed the Muslim Brotherhood on the list of terrorist organisations?
There is no official answer to that question because the United Kingdom’s relationship with the Brotherhood is complex and stretching over decades of give and take. Therefore, it has been difficult for each side to abandon the other even if it wanted to. A rupture in the relationship requires years of preparation and must be arranged over several stages.
The relationship between Britain and the Brotherhood is complex. It is not doing as well as it used to, especially before the emergence of the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS).
At the same time, it never reached the stage of direct hostility and rivalry. However, Britain began reconsidering its relationship with the Brotherhood because of terrorist attacks on its soil perpetrated in the name of Islam. London decided to step back its support for the Brotherhood after it discovered two truths about it, truths it had wilfully ignored for decades or that were part of the deceit practised by the organisation over London and other Western capitals.
The first truth is that the Brotherhood’s dogma and thinking can only lead to extremism. In a Western context, this dogma does not mean that a Muslim would intellectually and culturally isolate himself from the rest of an atheist and sinful society and be content with living in a constant mental state of defending himself and his faith, without moving towards the stage of attacking this hostile environment verbally and physically.
Time has shown that the generations produced by the group and its dogma prefer attacking over defending and this translates into concretely fighting the sinful and atheist culture of the West because it continues to “reject Islam.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political version of Islam is the other facet of violent or militant Islam, as some describe it. This is not a personal opinion but a summary of a government review of the Brotherhood’s activity in Britain, conducted under then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
That report said the group incites violence and its extremist ideas constitute a broad gateway to terrorist organisations. What this means is that the Brotherhood produces terrorists who readily go fight with al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram, among other terrorist groups.
The second truth that the British realised is that the Brotherhood does not exercise leadership of Muslims around the world. All illusions built on the group’s ability to promote a moderate non-extremist discourse towards the West have proven wrong and have been abandoned, along with the belief that the group could control the paths of Islamic extremism and steer it away from the United Kingdom.
Therefore, it has become unrealistic and dangerous to defend the theory that embracing the Brotherhood constitutes a protection for Britain and for British citizens everywhere against terrorist attacks.
All the anti-terrorist procedures initiated by the British government in the past five years, including developing anti-terrorism legislation and methods, monitoring the content of curricula in Islamic schools, examining books read by prisoners and those that are a source for speeches, lectures and sermons in mosques, in addition to tracking the money that comes to Islamic societies or goes to charitable projects have been built on the realisation of these two truths. So, the Muslim Brotherhood was included among the suspicious groups targeted by these procedures, if not at the forefront of them.
The UK Ministry of Justice banned from prisons books such as works of Muslim Brotherhood theoreticians Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna. Education watchdogs banned from school curricula material that adopted the group’s thought of considering Christians as disbelievers.
The Brotherhood’s discourse has been monitored and rebuked so were its societal and economic activities. All that remains is placing the group on terrorist lists for reasons that many lawmakers say are more than sufficient.
Evidence of the Brotherhood’s extremism in Britain has been cited at the British parliament by advocates of banning the Brotherhood. They cited evidence from outside UK borders. Some of them argued that the Brotherhood’s targeting of Christians in Middle Eastern countries is sufficient reason to place the group on terrorist lists. Others drew attention to a smartphone application adopted by the Brotherhood, calling for targeting Christians around the world and targeting Muslims who join the British Army as well.
Despite all evidence, successive British governments refuse to ban the Brotherhood. In trying to explain the mystery, speculation has abounded about the group’s historical links with British intelligence. History books mention the secret relationship between London and the Brotherhood in Egypt since the 1920s.
A hundred years have passed since that date and we have not seen a divorce between Britain and the Brotherhood. However, in the past ten years, conservative governments have been dealing with the group on the basis of supporting it half way and criminalising the other half.
It seems that the half that has to do with supporting them has external purposes rather than internal ones. The Brotherhood is under suspicion everywhere and most of what the Brothers could provide to the British government internally is to help track down and neutralise those who absorbed the Brotherhood’s extremist ideology and were waiting for the right moment to express their convictions.
This type of cooperation can be said to represent the price London has to pay and, thus, be used to justify the government’s half-hearted attempts to criminalise the group. These attempts may serve as a prelude to a possible historic disengagement on the part of the two parties.
In 2015, the British review of Brotherhood activity said the group’s ideology and network have become a transit point for individuals and groups involved in violent and terrorist acts. Some reports said what was hidden from this review was far more serious than what was mentioned.
It is precisely the Brotherhood’s role as a transit point that has led the group’s relationship with the United Kingdom to a crossroads, with one road leading to placing the group on British terrorist lists, although that road may still be a bit long.
One of the British MPs demanding a ban on the Brotherhood declared that he won’t back down until the group is classified as a terrorist organisation. His attitude recalls former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration: “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”