Totten: Eyeless in Zabibah-stan, Egypt

Zabibah-Master meets master of clueless Middle East reportage

He’s baaack—this time from a trip to Egypt, where itinerant reporter Michael Totten, in his own inimitably vacuous assessment, was “hanging with the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Totten is the classic uninformed roving Middle East reporter who consistently (and tediously) displays his profound historical and doctrinal ignorance of Islam as a badge of honor, or more aptly hubris. Consider this rather pathetic howler from an exchange (during a recent interview by the Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson) before Totten’s trip to Egypt, demonstrating his utter ignorance of basic, contemporary Egyptian history.

Scroll to these pathognomonic < 15 seconds (0:40 to 0: 55).

Totten: The government of Egypt has not been ideological since Gamal Abdel Nasser died…

Robinson: (interjecting) [19]54 maybe?

Totten: It was in the 50s

Totten displays an entirely counterfactual “understanding” of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s well known historical role in the 1967 “Six Day War,” and his death (in political disgrace, and medically, likely related to uncontrolled diabetes) in September, 1970! Pontification in the (mutually reinforced) absence of essential factual understanding.

This alarming fundamental ignorance of the history of the Middle East, is compounded by Totten’s tenuous grasp of daily unfolding events—what he’s supposed to be “good” at understanding, or even just describing accurately. For example, his introduction to the interview presented of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood executive bureau member Esam El-Erian,  cites, an NPR report as “evidence” that “the Brotherhood itself is rupturing into relatively moderate and reactionary fragments.” Totten merely regurgitates, uncritically, NPR’s assessment. And in the absence of any other context, let alone analysis, Totten is content, “…to let this interview with one of its senior officials, executive bureau member Esam El-Erian, [i.e., by Totten and his  colleague Armin Rosen], speak for itself.”

I have provided some brief, relevant doctrinal and historical context—through the present—for the dangerously shallow Mr. Totten.

Writing in 1979, Hava Lazarus-Yafeh noted (from her essay, “Three Remarks on Islam and Western Political Values”) that the traditional Arabic term to denote people or citizen, which is usually ‘abd (plural ibad), meaning “the slave or servant of God,” was antithetical to the Western democratic worldview.  She further described the perverse phenomenon—borne of complete Western rejection—that nevertheless caused an “amalgamation” of Islamic and Western values in the warped political language of Islam’s contemporary theocrats—the Muslim Brotherhood, being a prime example—then, and now. Thus,

When calling for an Islamic totalitarian Republic, wherein the ulama hoped to restore God’s will in history, they used Western concepts of democracy, liberty, equality etc.,…All of these contemporary religious leaders in Islam were raised and nourished by the literary activity of the Modernists who consciously blurred the differences between East and West. Hence we may understand the unintelligible phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, talking about Islamic democracy and freedom while cultivating a vision of an Islamic State, which is certainly a far cry from any Western democracy.

Lazarus-Yafeh’s analysis includes this frank Muslim Brotherhood December, 1976 articulation (from the Brotherhood publication Al-Dawa) of their timeless vision of Islamic democracy and freedom:

We demand an Islamic nation, living a true Islamic life in politics, society, economics, education, culture and every other sphere of life. Islamic law does not restrict itself to the cutting of hands or flogging criminals. To neglect prayer is also a criminal act, and to eat in public during Ramadan is a criminal act and so is the refraining from giving alms, taking interest, drinking, selling or transporting wine, opening public entertainment places and accepting taxes from these places, broadcasting (secular) songs on the radio and showing cheap exotic movies on the television, letting women dress indecently, and print heretic ideas in books and newspapers…We shall not be deceived any more. The Muslim people have a clear goal and will not settle for less than complete victory.

This is the context in which to understand the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s use of the term “Hurriyya” (Horeya)—Arabic for freedom—in a brief late February, 2011 announcement describing the new political party it has created:

Egypt’s largest political opposition the Muslim Brotherhood, has confirmed that it is preparing to establish a political party calling it the Freedom and Justice Party, or Horeya and Adala.”

Hurriyya, Arabic  for “freedom,” and the uniquely Western concept of freedom are completely at odds. Hurriyya “freedom” — as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) the  lionized “Greatest Sufi Master”, expressed it — “being perfect slavery.” And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis’ metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the “master” and his human “slaves.”

The late American scholar of Islam, Franz Rosenthal (d. 2003) analyzed the larger context of hurriyya in Muslim society. He notes the historical absence of hurriyya as  “…a fundamental political concept that could have served as a rallying cry for great causes.”

An individual Muslim

…was expected to consider subordination of his own freedom to the beliefs, morality and customs of the group as the only proper course of behavior…

Thus politically, Rosenthal concludes,

…the individual was not expected to exercise any free choice as to how he wished to be governed…In general, …governmental authority admitted of no participation of the individual as such, who therefore did not possess any real freedom vis-a-vis it.

And as former Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef recently told the NY Times (in a statement published 6/20/11):

Our preliminary platform will be shown through the Freedom and Justice Party. But our full platform will not be disclosed until we are in complete control and take the presidency as well.

The 1976 Muslim Brotherhood statement quoted by Lazarus-Yafeh, above, articulates that “full platform.”

Although Michael Totten fails to offer even a scintilla of post-mortem assessment of the Esam El-Erian interview—an exercise in meaningless superficialities which reveals nothing new, or uniquely substantive—he does make this pitch:

If you learned something from this interview, or even if you just enjoyed reading it, please contribute something to offset my travel expenses as 100 percent of the costs of this trip are coming out of my own pocket. Thanks very much in advance.

Finally, it is doubtful Totten noticed, or certainly appreciated (as even the NY Times did in this 2007 report, “Fashion and Faith Meet, on Foreheads of the Pious”) the significance of Esam El-Erian’s “double” zabibah—one in the receding hairline; one lower down on the forehead—as per Koran 48:29, the skin trauma-induced “prayer bump” from his repeated act of aggressively placing his head on the floor five times daily to help develop his fully Manichean “moderate” worldview (also as per Koran 48:29*, and its exegesis**)!

Eyeless, this time in Zabibah-stan, Egypt, Michael Totten should be forever ignored.

[*Koran 48:29: [Hilali-Khan] Muhammad (SAW) is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves. You see them bowing and falling down prostrate (in prayer), seeking Bounty from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. The mark of them (i.e. of their Faith) is on their faces (foreheads) from the traces of (their) prostration (during prayers).]

[**Maariful Quran, pp. 104-105: “The first quality of the Companions mentioned here is that they are hard against the unbelievers, and merciful to one another. It was proven time and again that they were harsh against the unbelievers. They sacrificed all their ethnic and tribal relations for the sake of Islam. This was especially demonstrated on the occasion of Hudaibiyah….In a Hadith recorded by Bukhari, the Holy Prophet has said, “He who loves for the sake of Allah and hates for the sake of Allah has attained the highest degree of faith”]

Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism ” (Prometheus, November, 2008)

You can contact Dr. Bostom at @andrewbostom.org

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