Charlie Hebdo: Political Islam is more ally than enemy in the fight against jihad

To mistake them for each other plays into the hands of terrorists

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Now we’re agreed that the world’s 1.6bn Muslims are not all responsible for last week’s Paris atrocities – thanks to Rupert Murdoch for bringing everybody together on that score – another question, with a less obvious answer, presents itself. Is political Islam responsible for the “cancer” of jihad?

The two share some goals. The Tunisian Islamist party, Ennahada, used their time in office, which started in 2011 and ended last year, to open the way for more sharia law; in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood did likewise. Who else wants to merge the mosque and state? Isis would pop a hand up here, as would Boko Haram.

This has led some to the conclusion that political Islam and radical Islamist groups are not worth the effort of telling apart; six of one, half a dozen of the other. And, following from this, that the fightback against terrorists with Kalashinikovs should include an attempt to crush the Islamist movements that, in the eyes of their critics, simply hide fanaticism behind suits and ties.

This is, in fact, a grand mistake. It is nevertheless one being made by rulers across the Middle East, with little protest from Europe and the US. Three of the Arab statesmen who appeared at the anti-terror rally in France – from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – were representing regimes that have recently labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” organisation, and put those who support it in jail. (Free speech being one of those things, like a fanny-pack, best worn on holiday).

These regimes will now be able to claim the West “stands beside” them in their campaign against "terrorism" at home, with the definition of that term stretched to include politicians and many others who would never sanction mass murder to “avenge the Prophet”. On their part, Isis holds nothing but scorn for the Muslim Brotherhood – a “fallen idol”, now a “secular project”, according to a spokesman.

Meanwhile the publication of a UK report that leaks suggest will come to the obvious conclusion that the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation has been spinelessly delayed. Since we are now allied with Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the war against Isis, any kind of song and dance that might damage that coalition is off the cards.


I don’t support political Islam. It is illiberal, often anti-Semitic… I wouldn’t want to live in a state run under it. But millions around the Middle East still do and would. That’s why Islamist parties came to power in Tunisia and Egypt – ordinary Muslims voted for them. Were these people terrorists? No. Were they supporting a terrorist agenda? Nonsense. Are they more likely to turn away from democracy – and possibly towards jihad - if they see that the only “state” that supports their right to exist is the so-called Islamic State? Yes. Many have already. How do you like that for a counter-terrorism strategy?

So long as it stays political, political Islam is not the problem. Hawks mistaking it for one is. The West should do what it can to engage with its leaders, no matter how tectonically their vision of society differs from our own.