This past week the Trump administration has signaled that he intends to officially designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. This is an absurd and damaging decision. For most of this very decentralized organization’s 100-year history, it has eschewed and condemned violence. The few Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups that have not completely disavowed violence have already been designated terrorist organizations by the US government, justly or not. Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups are peaceful participants in the developing democracies of Tunisia, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and many other US allies.
We should take a moment to focus on how damaging this move would be by asking what the Muslim Brotherhood stands for today in America, and what it could represent for the future of US relations with the Middle East. Tens of millions of supporters around the world, and many Muslim Americans, see value in the Muslim Brotherhood’s mission. It inspires people to strive for a life of God consciousness, liberty, and justice, and to convey a clear picture of Islam. Whether you agree with these principles or not, designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization will not defeat the ideology that it espouses. It is an American movement like any other, destined to succeed or fail on the strength of its arguments.
A designation would not only be counterproductive and legally baseless, it would be a waste of American political capital at home and abroad; like a star batter whose impeccable timing is thrown off by playing softball. It would widen the scope of counter-terror efforts to an impossible degree. Any enforcement would be entirely arbitrary. Resources that could be used against real threats of Al Qaeda and ISIS would be squandered. The Trump administration is already focused on a wide array of threats and situations, this designation would not help resolve any of them, and would make Middle East policy specifically vastly more complicated.
As an attorney representing the underprivileged, my work led me to engage with many Muslim Brotherhood affiliated figures and organizations, giving me a sense of the issues that face the movement abroad. I caution the President not to indulge the failed policies of the brutal regime of President el-Sisi of Egypt. His violent usurpation of a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government should not set the tone for US foreign policy. Criminalizing one of the Muslim world’s largest voices for democracy would be counterproductive. We all know how vehemently Americans resent any attempt to take away their freedoms or deny their sense of individuality; it is human nature to desire the forbidden. Well it’s the same with the Muslim world and politics. Majority Muslim nations will vote for Islamic parties, in part, because they have repeatedly been denied that option for governance. This attempt to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization is another in a long line of policies from Washington, DC that has led, again and again, to failure in its professed objective to bring about stability in the region.
The peoples of the Middle East have experienced a disastrous series of dictators, whether of the socialist persuasion or petty monarchies, nationalists or American puppets. What they have not had is the opportunity to experience democratically elected moderate Islamic governments, despite repeatedly choosing them. If we continue to thwart the yearning for self-determination in the Arab world, when given the opportunity for free and fair elections they will vote for Islamic parties as they have so many times before in Algeria, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Kuwait, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, and others. In each of these instances the US and or Europe has played a destabilizing and negative role, undermining democratic processes. Regime change wars don’t work in the long run. If the US had left Hamas to govern without sanctions, blockades and bombs, they could very well have been voted out of office by the next election cycle. Thanks to US and Israeli policies, this next cycle of course never came.
In addition to destabilizing the Middle East, the designation would have unintended consequences here at home. Beyond promoting the dangerous Islamophobic tropes that all Muslims are terrorists and through their organizations are infiltrating government by stealth to impose shariah law are we not immensely misjudging the situation? In listing the Muslim Brotherhood we would unjustifiably harm genuinely loyal, law abiding and good-natured Muslim Americans and their mainstream organizations. The Muslim American Society, often vilified as a Muslim Brotherhood organization, promotes active involvement in communities across the U.S. by providing opportunities for community service, interfaith initiatives, youth programs, and civic engagement. By cooperating and collaborating with other organizations, MAS has expanded its reach into thousands of communities across the United States, and done an extraordinary amount of good.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a nonviolent organization, and it’s an American one too. Lincoln once said "I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better." To the President I say get to know my clients. They are Americans too. After such an engagement there would be no need to designate the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ashraf W. Nubani, Esq. is a Virginia based immigration attorney and Muslim community leader. He has been involved with the Muslim American Society for over 25 years.