Sophistry And Defining The Muslim Brotherhood, Ctd

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by Conor Friedersdorf

Over at Ricochet, Claire Berlinski takes exception to a post I wrote yesterday about the Muslim Brotherhood. Put briefly, I discussed efforts to inform Americans about the organization, and criticized what I regard as flaws in Andy McCarthy's work on the subject. I took particular exception to his statement that "Hamas is not merely colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood."

When Ms. Berlinski has issues with something I've written I take notice. Since discovering her work I've been impressed by it: she is constantly trying to persuade her readers that it is important to understand foreign affairs, and although I sometimes disagree with her conclusions, I always feel as if she's doing her best to inform. That isn't just gut instinct. What I mean is that when I come across a passage in her work, find my curiosity piqued, and go out seeking more information, I usually conclude after having educated myself that her characterization was at least fair. It's for this reason that I value her stuff. Especially on the subject of foreign affairs – her specialty is Turkey, where she resides – the lay reader is in the writer's hands. There isn't time to check every assertion or to second guess all analysis.

In recent weeks, she and I have disagreed repeatedly about the quality of Mr. McCarthy's foreign affairs analysis. At issue are his book, "The Grand Jihad: How Islam And The Left Sabotage America," his pamphlet, "How Obama Embraces Islam's Sharia Agenda," and the blog posts linked above. Says Ms. Berlinski in yesterday's post, "Conor Friedersdorf, I don't know what your problem is with Andy McCarthy. But you've got better things to do with your time on a day like this than to denounce his 'sophistry' about the Muslim Brotherhood." Truly, I haven't anything against the guy personally. But I find his work deeply flawed. That's my problem: I object to his arguments. Since he is one of the right's leading voices on these issues, a bestselling book author, and a frequent contributor at National Review, speaking up now seems timely. And it isn't as if Dish readers were lacking for breaking Egypt content. Later in this post, I'll return to this most recent disagreement about Hamas and The Muslim Brotherhood. Before I do so, I want to briefly sketch my general disagreements with Mr. McCarthy, because if Ms. Berlinski isn't clear on what my problem is I haven't been nearly as clear as I'd thought.

Issue one: Mr. McCarthy asserts that President Obama is leading a Grand Jihad against America wherein the hard left and radical Islamists form an alliance against this country. As he tells Kathryn Jean Lopez:

I mean the Islamist movement which, though very mainstream among the world’s Muslims, is by no means representative of all Muslims. By “the Left,” I mean the modern hard Left led by President Obama I do not mean all people who would identify themselves as progressives or liberals. And when I say Islamists and leftists work together, I mean they have an alliance, not that they’ve merged.

In contrast, I think that President Obama's foremost loyalty is to the United States, and that rather than allying himself with Islamists, he is prosecuting two declared wars and various undeclared drone wars and special operations against the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and affiliated Islamist terrorist groups.

Issue two: In the exerpt of his book that is printed in The Washington Examiner, Mr. McCarthy makes assertions about President Obama's rhetoric that proved, once I checked up on them, to be demonstrably false. See here.

Issue three: In his writing on the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Mr. McCarthy seldom if ever acknowledges that demonstrably innocent people were held there. Instead he argues as if all the detainees were guilty. This is not so.

Issue four: I believe justice demands that a defendant in a judicial proceeding receives legal representation as he or she navigates an unfamiliar system – and that attorneys who provide this service are showing loyalty to the justice system, not any group with whom their client happens to be affiliated. Andy McCarthy believes that "many" of the American lawyers who volunteered to represent Gitmo detainees (often at the request of the United States government!) were "pro-Qaeda or, at the very least, pro-Islamist." He also argues that "the issue isn’t so much whether, in a vacuum, Leftist lawyers are pro-al Qaeda or pro-Islamist. It is where their sympathies lie as between two opponents: the United States as it is and Islamism,” implying that these lawyers are on the side of Islamism. (Links here).

Issue five: In the pamphlet titled, "How Obama Embraces Islam's Sharia Agenda," there actually isn't an argument that comes close to demonstrating that President Obama embraces sharia! (Hmm. I wonder why.) What is offered in place of persuasive arguments is worth briefly exploring, because it exemplifies McCarthy rhetorical tricks that I find odious. For example, he writes, "Equally troubling is the administration's promotion of sharia in our financial system." Wow, I thought, I haven't heard about that! If you read on, however, you discover that insurance giant AIG at some point developed a sort of financial instrument for Muslim customers that didn't transgress against Islamic law. Then for entirely unrelated reasons – that is to say, because of the financial crisis – the federal government took over AIG (including that small part of the business involving a type of insurance that doesn't trangress against Islamic law). If you're Andy McCarthy, a fair way to describe this is that the Obama Administration is promoting sharia in our finance system. (See here for more holes in his argument.) Which is why I don't tend to trust his characterizations – there are the ones that are inaccurate, and the ones that are perhaps true in a Clintonian sense.

Having clarified my problem with Mr. McCarthy, let's return to the matter at hand: The Muslim Brotherhood. The organization is currently the subject of wide disagreement. For our purposes, it's enough to know that there are some people who think they're wildly dangerous, and should never be dealt with or trusted; other people who think they can definitely be engaged and influenced politically; and a mix of folks who aren't sure or take some middle ground. I don't have a dog in this fight – or if you prefer, I am in the group that is uncertain, and open to arguments from either extreme. Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Berlinski share a belief that the Muslim Brotherhood is tremendously dangerous.

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