The ‘Terrorist’ Designation Game: A Tool to Consolidate Power and Saving Islam from Islam!

On November 15, 2014 as part of new broader initiative to combat terrorism, the United Arab Emirates government designated 82 terrorist organizations that will be subject to the newly issued anti-terrorism law. As expected, the UAE’s own Muslim Brotherhood Movement group called al-Islah was at the top of the list. The Egyptian MBM branch was included and several Shiite groups, as well as rightly so ISIS and Al-Qaeda appear on the list. The new law and groups designation comes on the heels of similar steps taken by Saudi Arabia and Egypt with few other Arab states expected to follow suit in the near future.

What was most shocking about the list is thei nsertion of a number of American and European Muslim organizations, and groups that are registered and legal in Europe and the U.S., linking them to the war on terrorism. The designation is flat out wrong and must be immediately withdrawn for the effort to counter real terrorism to have much creditability moving forward, if any, is left at present.

The inclusion by the UAE of well-respected legally registered organizations and in good standing in each respective country points to the use of the catch-all combating terrorism charge to conduct a regional ideological battle and the readiness to export it internationally. Altogether, the groups listed have been the first and primary line of defense for besieged communities in the U.S. and Europe, and this blow from a Muslim country was shocking as much as it was unexpected. One can mention that the UAE has been supportive financially, politically and religiously of Muslim efforts and organizations in the West for a long time.This includes some of the groups listed in the newly issued law,which provide some hope that this was a serious policy mistake to be corrected in the near future. The groups on the list include:

38- Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
39- Alleanza Islamic d’Italia or Islamic Alliance in Italy
40- Islamic Association in Finland
41- Islamic Association in Norway
42- Islamic Relief Organization in the UK
43- The Cordoba Foundation in Britain
67- The Muslim American Society (MAS)
68- Union of Muslim Scholars
69- Union of Islamic Organizations in Europe
70- Union of Islamic Organizations of France
71- Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)
72- Islamic Society of Germany
73- Islamic Society in Denmark
74- Islamic Society in Belgium

After the UAE issued the list, the Islamophobic industry went into another celebratory mode as if finally winning bigotry’s all-important super bowl and racism’s marathon after a long wait. Indeed, the Islamophobic industry in the U.S. has been insisting for over a decade that CAIR, MAS and other Muslim organizations are all front groups and urged Congress and the Justice Department to pursue investigation against them and if possible to find ways to link them directly to terrorism. Not surprisingly, many of those involved in this campaign are ardent supporters of Israel’s right wing polices and see any support for Palestine and Palestinians as a threat to Israeli interests and using terrorism laws to silence it. Thus, the UAE listing of American and European Muslim organization points to a strategic mistake, lack of clarity, a sure grave miscalculationon their part and done on the basis of recommendations coming from Neo-Conservative and Islamophobic consultants that want to score their own points on the back of the existing regional conflicts.

The attacks and insertion into the regional Arab discourse of prominent groups in the West comes directly from the writings and attacks from Neo-Conservatives and Islamophobes on Muslim organizations and institutions. From a strategic perspective the Islamophobes are keen at pushing Muslims out of civil society in the West and have undertaken an intense campaign to achieve the criminalization of Muslim groups in the U.S. and Europe but were met with failure more often than not due in part to the mobilization by organizations like CAIR and MAS. The listing is intended to bring Muslim ideological and regional conflicts to bear on the internal dynamics in western countries with the emergence of an active and assertive Muslim population that increasingly are successful in countering the existing orientalist and Zionist formations that singularly problematize Islam and Muslims with shock and awe being their favorite remedy, and Israel as the vanguard of “western civilization” in the region.

Clearly, the list’s focus is on the attempt to deliberately and systematically target the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in the Middle East and around the world but it also should be read in relations to Egypt and the efforts to bolster al-Sissi’s rule after the military coup. Al-Sissi’s attempt to consolidate power should not surprise anyone and the broadstrokes painting the opposition as terrorist is likewise understandable even though completely wrong and will, in the long run, fail to achieve its goals. However, the UAE and Saudi Arabia governments break with the Muslim Brotherhood Movement is few years in the making and points to a shift in Gulf strategic position via the Islamist movements on the one hand and more critically the Palestine cause.

As recent attacks on Gaza exposed the growing rifts in the Arab and Muslim worlds, the new alignment in the region transformed Israel into an Arab strategic ally. The Palestinian resistance for this alignment became more a liability, and the move toward criminalizing all Islamists took on a different trajectory. Thus, the shift that started with al-Sissi’s coup that criminalized the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in Egypt took on a regional dimension with a number of states acting to express support and bolster the newly constituted Egyptian government, financially and politically. And now exported globally with this new list.

The financial resources included billions to prop up a collapsing Egyptian economy while the political cover included pressure on European and U.S. leaders’ to not interfere on the one hand, or to seek their help in persuading the Brotherhood Movement to accept the new reality. After failing to pressure the Brotherhood Movement to accept the new reality, al-Sissi and his allies demanded the group to be included in Europe and the U.S. as a terrorist organization, which was met with failure. In addition, the new alliance moved swiftly to criminalize any and all ideologically connected groups regardless whether they committed any violent offense in any of the Gulf countries or around the world. For Egypt’s coup to have legitimacy it must be constructed as the vanguard in the fight against ‘Islamists terrorism’ and to be construed as rescuing ‘moderate’ Islam from the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and the terrorists. Removing an elected president and parliament by a military coup should be cast by al-Sissi’s PR machine as rescuing democracy from itself for if left to its own devises it will bring the Islamists into seats of power. Likewise, the regional effort was extended to direct military interventions in Libya and politically in Tunisia to prevent the ascension to power of Islamist parties.

Indeed, for Israeli policy makers, the emergence of an Egyptian democracy led by the Muslim Brotherhood Movement represents the collapse of the strategic wall constructed on the southern border with the Camp David Agreement and opening depth for Palestinian resistance. Furthermore, the Egyptian democracy would not be committed to a confrontation with Iran or considering it the strategic threat that Israel and the Gulf States have made it to be since the 1979 revolution. The coup was needed to maintain the strategic alignment and to push forth the thesis that the major threat in the region is Iran and the spread of Shia influence. While not discounting Iran’s regional interests and ambitions, nevertheless these have to be considered in light of both Israel’s and U.S. policies in the region and the attempt to maintain total regional hegemony.

Uncivil and undemocratic Islam lays claim to defending democracy from itself in the name of the illusive ‘moderate Islam’ that gets to be defined by those in power and never to be freely elected. Ideas on how to bring about change in the Arab and Muslim worlds abound with many contemplating an internal civil war, reformation, civilizational rehab programs and military coups and violence are in the mix. At the core is the constant and never ending problematizing Islam and Muslims. Saving Islam from Islam, saving Muslims from too much Islam, rescuing Muslim women from Muslim men who have either too much Islam or the wrong Islam and supporting moderate and secular Muslims against traditionalist or fundamentalist who have the wrong epistemic Islam and are not like us, the West! Democracy is far too important to leave it to people who might take it seriously and think they can rule and control their own destiny or more importantly ‘our’ oil and access to their markets.

Indeed, the ideological conflict is present and at hand, but it is not the correct one that is being pursued. While the current development in Iraq and Syria are important and deserve attention, nevertheless, the focus should be on how the movement emerged, who funded it and what role did regional strategic math play in pushing this particular extremist group on the stage. What role did regional actors play in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, which sought to weaken and collapse both so that the remaining uncivil and undemocratic ‘Islamic order’ can remain intact and never to be challenged in the future. Who are these members of ISIS and what countries facilitated their arrival, training and movement initially and at present are pursuing their elimination. How does the containment strategy pursued for over 30 years directed at Iran and Shia influence play into this current conflict? The questions are many yet none answered with this UAE terrorist list. More critically, the groups included from Western countries are those that have been vocal and critical of current policies including a persistent critique of the shameful alliance with Israel and the military coup in Egypt.