In Unpacked, Brookings experts provide analysis of Trump administration policies and news.
THE ISSUE: Members of the Trump administration have pushed to designate the non-violent Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which could have significant consequences for the U.S., the Middle East, and the world.
There is not a single American expert on the Muslim Brotherhood who supports designating them as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
THE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Members of the Trump administration have pushed to designate the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement, a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
- Islamists believe that Islam and Islamic law should play a central role in public and political life.
- While terrorist organizations like ISIS are on the fringes of the far right of the Islamist spectrum, most Islamists belong to mainstream groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Mainstream Islamist groups accept the nation-state and work within the structures of the nation-state. These groups are not stoking revolution or orchestrating terrorist attacks.
- Though they have differing views on some of the group’s activities, American experts who study the Muslim Brotherhood unanimously oppose their designation as an FTO.
- If the U.S., as the leader of the free world, decides to classify the group as a terrorist organization, it opens the door for repressive regimes abroad to crack down on Islamist groups.
- Associating the Brotherhood with terrorism also carries the risk of feeding into ISIS propaganda.
- While Islamists in Muslim Brotherhood-inspired parties participate in the parliamentary process, ISIS rejects the idea that change can be achieved within the political process, and instead promote violence and brute force.
- If the U.S. fails to make the distinction between extreme groups like ISIS and mainstream groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, it supports the idea that there is no room for Islamists in the political process.
- Though Trump has not specifically called the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, members of his administration and surrogates are promoting a false narrative that different U.S. Muslim organizations have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Designating the Brotherhood as an FTO could serve as a smokescreen to attack the American Muslim community through a kind of guilt by association.
- Phrases used by the administration like “radical Islamic terrorism” make for effective rhetoric because they support the idea of a broader struggle between an ideological enemy challenging Judeo-Christina civilization, and not a fight against a very tiny minority of Muslims worldwide who engage in terrorist acts.
- This language works to enlist Americans to join the “civilizational struggle”—an idea once reserved for those from the farthest fringes of the far right in the United States, now held by people in the very center of American power: the White House.
Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World
More than just the Muslim Brotherhood: The Problem of Hamas and Jordan’s Islamic Movement
Islamism after the Arab Spring: Between the Islamic State and the nation-state
Rethinking Political Islam
Islamism and Trumpism: The search for a politics of meaning
Falling apart? The politics of New START and strategic modernization
Sentiment inside the Beltway has turned sharply against China. There are many issues where the two parties sound more or less the same. Trump and others in the administration seem heavily invested in a ‘get very tough with China’ stance. It’s possible that some Democrats might argue that a decoupling strategy borders on lunacy. But if Trump believes this will play well with his core constituencies as his reelection campaign moves into high gear, he will probably decide to stick with it, if the costs and the collateral damage seem manageable. But that’s a very big if, especially if the downsides of a protracted trade war for both American consumers and for American firms become increasingly apparent.
Over the arc of his presidency, Trump has shed himself of cabinet secretaries he doesn’t trust and surrounded himself with loyalists. That will continue and escalate. But the big problem is, he doesn’t know where he’s going.