Why can't our Government spot the difference between Isis and the Muslim Brotherhood?

It isn't exactly hard...

Memphis Barker
Tuesday 19 August 2014 09:42 BST
(Getty Images)

Let’s play a round of “spot the terrorist”.

Exhibit 1) A democratically elected president who vowed, in 2012, to rule for all his citizens – whether they had voted for him or not.

Exhibit 2) A recalcitrant warlord whose force of jihadist berserkers has recently butchered its way to power – crucifying anybody who gets in their way.

Perhaps that’s a little easy. It ought to be. The first, of course, is Mohamed Morsi – leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose government was last year deposed by a military coup. The second is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the leader of Isis, or the Islamic State. One is the sort of man you wouldn’t mind sharing a Tube carriage with. The other is not. Yet it seems our Government has been struggling to tell the difference.

In April a report was ordered into whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be labelled a “terrorist” organisation. If you consider anyone who prays to Allah and believes in some union of mosque and state to fit the “terrorist” bill, then maybe there’s a case to be made. You’d have to ignore the group’s disavowal of violence and decades of civic activism. You’d also have to ignore the fact that, by calling the Brotherhood a “terrorist” organisation, you’re simultaneously applying the label to all its millions of peaceful, moderate supporters across the Middle East.

Finally, you’d have to make your peace with the fact that, in America, the driving force behind attempts to dub the Brotherhood “terrorist” is Congresswoman Michelle Bachman. Who also believes in “intelligent design”.

Anyway, the report’s author has apparently reached the inevitable conclusion that, no, the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation. It might not be a model of tolerance (and Morsi no doubt governed poorly) but for the moment it is pacifist and pursues its aims through the political process. The publication of this news has been delayed, however. Our allies in Saudi Arabia are unlikely to be pleased with a negative verdict.

Like the Egyptian regime, which last year massacred 1,000 unarmed Brotherhood supporters, the Saudis have designated the group a “terrorist” one. Its popularity is a threat.

Quite how mad it is for the UK to attempt to classify the Brotherhood as “terrorist” can be simply set down. We need moderate Islamists - the vast majority who abhor the idea of beheading infidels - to fight the influence of the jihadis. We need them to stop young men joining the Islamic State. Our Government’s YouTube campaign to head off that threat is so much whistling in the wind. It falls to the Muslim community across the Middle East to combat murderous interpretations of Islam.

If we fail to acknowledge the difference between a legitimate political movement and a group like Isis, more Brotherhood supporters will give up on the civil process and turn to violence. It should be obvious. Morsi is not a terrorist leader. Baghdadi is. That we would even consider merging the two is a hideous misjudgement.

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