Dear Trumpists: Khizr Khan is not ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ and it wouldn’t matter if he Were

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A Trump adviser is trying to smear Khizr Khan, the Pakistani-American legal consultant who spoke at the DNC, as a “Muslim Brotherhood agent.”

This ignorant discourse is only possible because people just have no idea what they are talking about. It wouldn’t fly if done about Western Christians. So for instance we would know that most Swedes are fairly liberal Lutherans and most Spanish are Catholic. Among far right wing Catholics in Spain you have the secretive cult, the Opus Dei. What the Trump people are doing is the equivalent of charging that a liberal Swedish Lutheran is an Opus Dei agent. That charge wouldn’t make any sense to anyone who knew about ethnicity and Christianity in the West. A liberal Swedish Lutheran couldn’t be Opus Dei.

I’m not sure it will do much good, but let me try to explain why a liberal Pakistani wouldn’t be Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood as a movement began in Egypt in 1928. It began as a reassertion of Arab Muslim values in the wake of the 1880-1922 direct British occupation of Egypt, and the subsequent British hidden hand in Egyptian affairs through 1956. The Brotherhood is vague about the kind of government they want, but when they had a chance in 2011-13, they supported democratic elections.


Although the American far right has long dreamed of criminalizing the Muslim Brotherhood, it is a nonviolent, mainstream political organization in Egypt which held as many as 88 seats in the Egyptian parliament after the 2005 elections, and held a majority in Parliament in the fall, 2011 elections.

Egypt is an Arabic-speaking country.

Pakistan was ruled by Britain from the 1840s until the partition of British India in 1947. The British in India instituted a tradition of what was called Anglo-Muhammadan law, which introduced into Muslim law ideas such as precedent and common law (Muslim law had tended to be a jurist’s law). A form of this legal tradition still is taught in South Asian law schools and it tends to be a project of status quo Muslims. Fundamentalists reject this assimilation of British and Muslim law. Their vehicle in South Asia is not the Muslim Brotherhood, which has tended mainly to attract Arabs, but the Jama’at-i Islami

Pakistan is a multilingual country where the main official languages are English and Urdu. Urdu is basically the same as Hindi, but with some Arabic and Persian vocabulary.

So, Pakistani-heritage Muslims don’t typically have anything to do with the Arab Muslim Brotherhood. And even if one did, there isn’t anything wrong with that.

From everything one hears from Khizr Khan, he is what I would term a Pakistani liberal Muslim.

Pakistan has seen since its inception in 1947 a struggle between those, like the late Gen. Zia, who want it to be a fundamentalist Muslim society, and those like its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who just wanted a place where Muslims wouldn’t be oppressed by a Hindu tyranny of the majority.

Khan’s emphasis on the secular constitution, on the rule of secular law, and on democracy are typical for a mainstream educated Pakistani. In his one article on the sharia , he points out that there aren’t many legal strictures in the Qur’an, which implies that most law will be secular. Sharia is Muslim religious law, analogous to Halakhah for Jews and Canon Law for Catholics. The US far right wants to equate sharia to the Communist Manifesto or something, but it just is the way Muslims practice the law of their faith. If anyone tried to criminalize Halakhah or Jewish law, we’d recognize that for what it is. The same should be true of the criminalization of sharia.

Pakistani politics is far more sophisticated than Egyptian, and Pakistan has long-term grassroots parties in a way that Egypt does not. In most Pakistani elections, the Jama’at-i Islami, the fundamentalist party, has polled in the area of 3%. Pakistan is not very much like Egypt in that regard, either, having a strong liberal tradition going back to the poet Muhammad Iqbal and strong grassroots parties like the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League, both of which are Liberal with a big “L,” in the 19th century sense of the term.

So no, Trumpists, that isn’t a thing.

A lot of your talking points reference things that aren’t a thing.

20 Responses

  1. Thanks Dr. Cole, for your fine elucidation. Truly, discounting Trump and his supporters can be as gratifying as punching a fart, but many others have learned something from this post, so your efforts are not for naught.

  2. If people believe something then it functions as ‘true’ in that their attitudes, and often actions, proceed on the basis of the belief. Beliefs can have effects much deeper than most realise, particularly if held in groups because groups are susceptible to emotional stimulation but not to thought or deliberation, they become like vehicles without breaks or ravenous lions, and you cannot expect reason to affect them. In fact any effort to reason, however well intended, is likely to exacerbate them, arousing them to ever more dangerous levels of potential action. Furthermore, extensive support for the Khans, particularly if extended emotionally, heroism and so on, will simply divert the negativity to the supporters. Not here, but in many comment columns you will find contrary beliefs facing off against each other in vitriolic opposition that were it on a street rather than a page might well lead of bloodshed. Much better ignore it and let it simmer down. Truth will outlast erroneous beliefs.

  3. Shouldn’t the countries on the map designated in orange (Syria, Iran) be more accurately labeled “countries who we had dealings with in the past”, such as “sent people to be tortured to, sold weapons to and used to proceeds to illegally fund terrorist groups in Central America”?

    Or, alternatively, “countries which are de facto allies on the battlefields and indicated that they want a closer diplomatic relationship and but were rebuffed since we need official enemies to justify our grotesque levels of defense spending”?

    When we apply the label “state sponsor of terrorism” systematically rather than selectively, it is hard to see how this would actually differentiate between any countries on this map – or beyond it, given e.g. the drone assassination program of the US. On the bright side, everything on that map would be harmoniously painted orange, no borders, no nations.

  4. Yes, the “Shoebat” story is the latest piece of insanity that’s been making the rounds. I’ve already had several tangles on Facebook with people seizing on the post as “proof” that Khan is the second coming of Bin Laden. And it’s being predictably promoted by Breitbart News and the rest of that lot. You would think that most folks would assume Shoebat is batshit and leave it at that. Not this year where crazy is the new black.

  5. Eric

    Agree with everything except that there’s nothing wrong with MB. They’re not violent… yet…. again but they’re awful bigots.

  6. I completely agree with your analysis and conclusion regarding why a moderate Pakistani Muslim would not be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. To suggest it is just further evidence of the intellectual vacuum in which Trump and his ilk operate.

    Nevertheless, I would take issue with the attempt to paint the Muslim Brotherhood as a benign, mainstream organization that supported democratic elections and “won” a majority in parliament. It is in what happened after Mohammad Morsi assumed power that this portrait of a benign political organization begins to unravel.

    Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have only themselves to blame for their downfall and the Egyptian military’s assumption of political power under al-Sisi. It was clear from the beginning that the MB had not changed its stripes, and that it wanted to impose an Islamist government on Egypt. They showed their hand early-on by stating they would not run a candidate for president and would not contest seats in the upper house of parliament, and then reversing themselves and doing both. It was an obvious bait-and-switch ploy to soften the image of their Islamist history and undermine the wariness Egyptians held regarding the MB agenda.

    We can be spared laments about the democratic process being subverted by the military. It was Morsi and the MB who began subverting the democratic process by ensuring a majority in the upper house of parliament and by ramming through an MB-inspired constitution that was heavily Islamist in content. Democracy is a lot more than just winning an election. Many groups, and I suspect the MB is among them, are quite willing to use the democratic election process to attain power, and then, having attained it, attempt to impose an undemocratic regime on a nation.

  7. Pakistan and the Gulf states are allies and not state sponsors of terrorism…alright…don’t be complaining about no Taliban or other anti-US Sunni Islamist militant extremists then.

    Anyways they’re unhinged. The Birther candidate surrounded by Michelle Bachmann level of Muslim Brotherhood obsessed intellectuals are the face of the Republican party, one of two major parties of the US. What does it say about the Republican leadership and Republican supporters?

    ‘Is he crazy?’ the media asks
    link to

    Trump asks ‘why we can’t use nukes?’
    link to

  8. thanks for education on what is what from the political and religious reference points.

  9. Thanks Juan for your always helpful and cogent commentary. I’m guessing that calling Mr Khan a member of Muslim Brotherhood might be like calling Mr. Trump a member of the League of Women Voters? I mean, they are both vaguely Christian.

  10. This is what happens when someone tries to pretend that they know what they’re talking about and the woefully ignorant are more than happy to agree with any random stupidity they read on the internet.

  11. Robert G Kershaw

    See second have of this article for more details on Trump campaign spokeswoman’s Pierson’s attempt to smear the Khan family which has been successful with a lot of the candidate’s supporters and surrogates who trust the right-wing websites they read.
    The whole incident is a useful reminder of just how firmly rooted the entire Trump campaign is in fictional beliefs — many of them revolving around the paranoid delusion that American Muslims are a fifth column secretly plotting to undermine the United States.
    link to

    • This is the reason that I find incomprehensible the attitude of many on this site that Trump is an isolationist who will be good for peace. What is the track record for White supremacists in peaceful co-existence with other peoples?

  12. The labeling of Syria and Iran as “state sponsors of terrorism” without explaining why they merit such a designation is problematic. If one is going to suggest that Syria is a “state sponsor of terrorism” for the war crimes the Al-Assad has inflicted on it’s population, then the application is flawed. What Al-Assad has inflicted on the Syrian population is war crimes. This crime can be tried in court, but instead we try to obfuscate the issue.

    As for Iran, we should also explain why it merits such a label. If this label solely stems from guidelines of the Department of State, then your readers would benefit from such knowledge. If, on the other hand, you actually believe that only Syria and Iran are true “state sponsors of terrorism,” again your readers would benefit from knowing where Informed Comment stands. So, does Informed Comment believe that Iran and Syria are “state sponsors of terrorism?” If so, is Saudi Arabia not a “state sponsor of terrorism” or are there no other “state sponsors of terrorism” in the region? When does this label matter? If these countries are allied with us (USA), can they support extremist groups in Syria and Iraq that commit pogroms without being called out on it?

    What is remarkable is that the 9/11 report directly implicates Saudi Arabia in terrorism. Further, Saudi Arabia openly supports groups that are affiliated with Nusrah Front. Yet, on your map, it is labelled a “Other key ally/partner.” Turkey too has supported extremist groups in Syria.

  13. The Khan family is as American as I am. Please leave this lovely family alone, and find the time to support them in their time of grief…..Trump simply has no class whatsoever.

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