Muslim Brotherhood

So, in an attempt to counteract the bellicose hysteria about Muslims, Islam and the Middle East that seems to be generated or insinuated by many mainstream media organisations, I bin educamating meself.

In order to do so, I've been listening to lecture series about those subjects by Professor Richard Bulliet of Columbia University, Professor Martin W. Lewis of Stanford University and a scholar named Dr Graham Leonard, who has lived in the Middle East for more than 35 years.

All these dudes are whiteys, at least one is a Jew, two have spent long periods living in the region and it's fair to say they know their stuff. Bulliet, for example, has done work on the Middle East for everyone from the US and Iranian governments to Time magazine and The New York Times.

I'd also generalise and say they aren't terrified of Islam, don't see it as a "threat" - at least not one that will topple our Western way of life - and have a respect for the Muslim world ... something that usually happens when you've experienced a people, rather than taken Today Tonight's word on the matter.

Anyway, I was listening to Bulliet's lecture No.19 about "New Muslim Organisations" and he, of course, got around to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is poised to take power in Egypt and is the world's oldest and largest Islamic political group and its "most influential Islamist movement", al-Jazeera says.

The Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by the Islamic scholar and schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna - who was assassinated in 1949, most probably by agents of the Egyptian government.

Since its inception, the movement has officially opposed violence to achieve its goals, been criticised roundly by the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for betraying jihad terrorism and also spawned a few terrorist nutcases, who seem to have gotten jack of politics and left the group to go kill people.

(One notable would be Ayman al-Zawahiri - now al-Qaeda's top dog, who joined the MB when he was 14 - but that's kind of like Martin Bryant joining Rotary before he got down to the business of mass murder.)

Anyway, what grabbed my attention about the MB was a series of observations Hassan al-Banna made about Western society in his writings, which have no doubt influenced much of the Brotherhood's modern day followers.

Al-Banna wrote: "Among the most important traits of European civilisation are the following:

"1. Apostasy, doubt in God, denial of the soul, obliviousness to reward or punishment in the world to come, and fixation within the limits of material, tangible existence.

"2. Licentiousness, unseemly dedication to pleasures, versatility in self-indulgence, unconditioned freedom for the lower instincts, gratification of the lusts of the belly and the genitals, the equipment of women with every technique of seduction and incitement, and excess in pernicious practices until they shatter both body and mind, destroying the integrity of the family and threatening the happiness of the home.

"3. Individual selfishness, for every man wants the good only for himself; and class selfishness, for each class vaunts itself over the others and seeks to appropriate all profits to itself; and national selfishness, for each nation is bigoted on behalf of its members, disparages all others, and tries to engulf those which are weaker.

"4. Usury, granting it legal recognition, regarding it as a principle of business dealings and expertise under its various forms and varieties, and making it a general practice among nations and individuals. These purely materialistic traits have produced within European society corruption of the spirit, the weakening of morality, and flaccidity in the war against crime."

In his lecture, Professor Bulliet asks: "Who is the audience for this? Who finds this a riveting message?"

Now, I'm a reasonable, intelligent Christian and a lot of al-Banna's thoughts resound deafeningly with me - except for the stuff about "the equipment of women with every technique of seduction and incitement" - so how do you think it lands with Muslims?

Taken in conjunction with other passages of al-Banna's writings and sections of the Koran which he quoted, Bulliet suggests the audience was probably migrants, "Muslims from villages".

"You're coming into the city, maybe you're coming because you believe there's a job to be had, and there may well be but it's probably not there at the moment you arrive.

"Who welcomes you? Who makes it possible for you to become a person of worth in this new city of residence? Who is going to support your self-esteem?

"Well, maybe if you get a job in a cotton mill, the union will speak for you but it's hard to see the other parts of what we would now call the 'social safety net' being provided by the government [particularly in post World War I Egypt - or even Egypt today].

"So where will you find a welcome?" he asked.

"I think it is in this kind of verbiage that you get from Muslim Brotherhood that you see something of an answer to that," he said.

Bulliet said this might also provide an answer to one of the Western world's enduring questions of today: "How come the people who our government deems the bad guys never run out of soldiers?"

"A lot of it is this matter of socialisation. Where do you find a reinforcement of your identity, of your worth in a society in which you're having a great deal of social change?"

Add to this the fact that it is often organisations such as the MB that feed the poor, supply healthcare, legal advice and small loans to people.

"In a large earthquake in Turkey a number of years ago, the state prohibited any Muslim organisations from sending aid to the earthquake victims because they didn't want the state to lose credit," Bulliet said.

"That is kind of sad."

Anyway, I found this fascinating - in fact, I dare say I have more in common with many Muslim brothers than I do with some of the people I see out on a Friday night, especially some of the dickheads I dealt with on Australia Day.

And the way I'm feeling at the moment about my life, I might see myself joining such an organisation - because it would give me hope, purpose and a feeling of being part of something doing great things in the world.

The thing that would prevent my participation in the organisation would be MB's attitudes to women, but on other subjects, well, I'd at least be sympathetic.

If I was a poor, 20-year-old Muslim guy living in the slums of Egypt, I'd probably be there with bells on.

Your thoughts?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.