Fafner is new critic in Modern Times Review.

In his latest book, Martyn Frampton argues that the Muslim Brotherhood is a contradictory establishment, but its contradictions are also part of its successes.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the West: A History of Enmity and Engagement

Martyn Frampton

Belknap Press /Harvard University Press


At a roundtable on the subject of Islamism held in Paris in 2005, the French scholar Olivier Roy asserted that Western leaders should consider how to integrate Islamists in the political system if they were genuinely interested in reform.

He argued that up until then, attempts to contain and marginalise Islamic groups in the Middle East had failed. It was four years after 9/11, and the world was as divided as ever. In October that year, the current president George W. Bush said that «Islamic radicalism, like the ideology of communism, contains inherent contradictions that are doomed to failure.»

«When Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, he saw secularism as the most lethal weapon ever devised by Europeans.»

That claim – of course – can be contested. And in a way this is exactly what Martyn Frampton does in his new book. As a reader in Modern History at Queen Mary University in London, he sets out to describe the historic relationship between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and that account is far from the monolithic picture we often get from Islamism in our times.

It is a movement with many elements, and yes, inherent contradictions are very much a part of the picture, but in the case of the Brotherhood, their contradictions are also some of the key explanations when it comes to its power and survival.

A clever, political player

When Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, he saw secularism as the most lethal weapon ever devised by Europeans. He saw it as a challenge to the core Islamic ideal of tawhid – the unity of life that reflected the nature of the divine. But al-Banna was not anti-Western per se. Rather, he wished to harness the best elements of «the West», which he himself often conflated with modernity, and reconcile this with an Islamic spirit. He is famous for having said that «haram cinema is haram, and halal cinema is halal.»

His worldview was a reflection of what he saw around him in Egypt in those days. The country was under British rule and al-Banna was deeply conscious of the socioeconomic, political and – not least – the cultural influence in Egyptian society. His movement was a wake-up call, an attempt to reignite popular pride and self-awareness. He was not against, for example, modern technology; instead what mattered was content.

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