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The Book and the Sword: The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe

New religious, political and demographic alignments appear to be emerging

Winston Pickett Mark Gardner

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For much of the twentieth century the constellation of totalitarian ideologies coalesced around the Second World War and the Cold War, a fact that provided historians and analysts with familiar points on the political compass. Broadly speaking, extremism was bounded within the ideologies of fascism on the one hand, and the revolutionary Left on the other. Both reached their zenith, but not their demise, in the twentieth century.

At the start of the twenty-first century – especially since the ‘war on terror’ in the wake of 9/11 – the geopolitical landscape has become infinitely more complex. New religious, political and demographic alignments appear to be emerging from a complex matrix of population movement, instant communications, internationalised conflicts and competing self-identities. One growing ideological movement that has emerged is an instinctively illiberal political Islam, vying to become the template for a nascent European Muslim identity. It is essentially a totalitarian movement, paradoxically seeking a non-assimilationist accommodation for Muslims within a supposedly pluralist Europe. However, the terminology employed by commentators when discussing these trends can obfuscate, even misleading. ‘Terror’ becomes a reified euphemism for militant Islamism, with its origins located in the Middle East and an influence linked to the growing Muslim populations in Europe and the West. Even this juxtaposition lacks precision and arguably opens itself up to charges of Islamophobia as if demography and ideology were automatically linked or Muslim Europe constituted an undifferentiated mass of inchoate extremism. Rather than viewing Muslims in Europe in the same terms as other population groups – as made up of a range of trajectories including mainstream integrationist, centre left/liberal, economically mobile, democratically and socially invested, and the like – classic xenophobic stereotypes tend to rise to the fore.

The focus of this chapter is not on the threat of an emerging ‘Muslim Europe’ or the growth of a hard-core, jihad-driven and eliminationist brand of militant Islam on the continent. Instead, it seeks to examine the impact of extremist concepts and ideologies – particularly those of the Muslim Brotherhood – on the mobilising potential of a totalitarian impulse within a European Muslim framework that is a part of the new Europe, and is positioned to grow in demographic and ideological importance.

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