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Taming the Islamists

A friend of mine asked me the other day what I think of this quote from the Economist:

‘The best way to tame the Islamists, as Turkey’s experience shows, is to deny them the moral high ground to which repression elevates them, and condemn them instead to the responsibilities and compromises of day-to-day government.’

For a while now, even reflecting on the situation in Palestine where the West helped overturn election results bringing Hamas to power, I have had sympathy with this viewpoint. But there are a few other nuances to highlight.

As concerns ‘condemned to rule’, we should not start by saying that governance is a curse. On the contrary, it is a privilege, a trust. That Islamists have this now is their opportunity, even if the thrust of the quote is true.

As concerns ‘tame’, it must be distinguished from another sentiment often lying underneath such analysis. Many would substitute subconsciously the word ‘defeat’.

The capriciousness of government will keep Islamists from extremism – this is how they are tamed. But it has also lessened their popularity, as they do lose the moral high ground. Many find the military has yielded power to Islamists first in parliament to give them opportunity to discredit themselves. That they now have the presidency is only further rope with which to hang themselves.

So if the author of the quote is quietly hoping for such an outcome, there is another sense in which being in power is not ‘condemnation’ – it is their opportunity to cement themselves in the system.

While on the one hand it is fine and good for Islamists to gain credibility as a political player, it is also widely suspected the Brotherhood will use its opportunity to infiltrate the system and get their people in every nook and cranny.

Then, even if ‘defeated’ at some stage in the political process, having been yielded governance even for a spell, it will have advanced their overall cause. I have no evidence other than anti-Brotherhood testimony this is their plan, but the testimony is ample and often specific.

Finally, taking Turkey as an example – the Islamists might just do well in terms of governance, and then they win.

This is a good outcome for Egypt, of course, as Turkey is an example of improved economy and civil society. But Turkey is also not the best example. From what I understand, Turkey is among the worst nations in terms of freedom of the press.

While Islamists might keep winning free elections there, and by extension in Egypt, questions exist as to how they may be softly manipulating society. This is very different from the hard corruption of a dictator, but is less than free and open democracy in a transparent system.

Finally, it should be stated that Islamism is different from the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamism in general simply represents the idea that religion should play a definitive role in shaping the political system. The Brotherhood is an organization dedicated to this goal, which may or may not be acting honestly for the good of society independent of itself. It is quite possible to be an Islamist outside the structure of the Brotherhood.

In any case, these are more questions to explore than convictions I possess. As to the overall aptness of the quote above, if these points are taken into consideration, I think it is on the whole correct.

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5 replies on “Taming the Islamists”

Nice to read, but the picture you posted at the top is really ugly and one might think you have put it to generate a nice, little bit of religious hatred for Islamists, so that it would justify your opinion about the quote. Your arguments are logical and true in my opinion, therefore you do not need that picture. Anyway, I suggest you add a sentence to describe what’s happening, and the context in which it takes place, to make things a bit more objective.


Good observation. Yes, choosing a picture presents a challenge, but it is not done to generate perception, rather just to attract the reader. I don’t like marketing at all, so in trying to learn it on the fly I may well do the things that make me dislike it so much.


In many of the stories of people in the West converting to Islam, they mention that one of the things that got them interested is the way media portrays Muslims, especially news media. Sadly they end up reading their books, converting, and eventually follow those same people’s ideas, extreme ideas. Many have beards, wear face-veils and long black clothes and the like. I wish the media and critics would criticize the extreme Islamists without any manipulation of photos and de-contextualized information, so that people know the truth, and themselves become critical of what extremists do and think, instead of just feelings of superficial hatred, which might disappear when they start to sympathize.

I know this is very far from what you intended and from your writings, but this is the reason such pictures always catch my attention. I feel they have been the powerful tool that has created sympathy and interest in something that is arguably wrong.

I’m sad it has created credibility and sympathy for them in Egypt, without them having the experience needed for government and responsibility.


Interesting point on conversion, but I had always thought it worked the other way. Yes, while some Western converts become extremists, I would think that as the violent and extremist pictures of Muslims are pronounced in the media, as they meet ordinary, kind hearted, normal Muslims, they convert into this expression. I have heard that the day after September 11 was the high water mark into Islam. Similarly, I have heard the greatest Christian evangelist was the Ayatollah Khomeini.

It is what makes manipulation and agendas so horrible. Not only do they dishonor truth and engender rejection, they also often backfire counter to the propagandist’s aims.


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