The Corner

My Speech on the Muslim Brotherhood and ‘Guilt By Association’

I gave a speech yesterday morning at the National Press Club on the Muslim Brotherhood and why we need to worry about our government’s growing coziness with it.  I spoke for almost an hour and then there was an extensive Q&A. C-SPAN covered it, and you can watch here. (The text of my speech is here.)

Dana Milbank, the leftist columnist of the Washington Post, covered the event — though you can judge for yourself whether his account of it in the paper today accurately reflects what I actually said. It would take too long, and is not worth the time, to react all of Mr. Milbank’s meanderings. I do want to address two contentions he makes, however:

1. Ms. Abedin is an inconsequential official being subjected to “guilt by association.”

I guess we’ve come a long way since John McCain first claimed that the concerns about Huma Abedin’s ties to Islamists were “unspecified and unsubstantiated.” Those concerns have now been so overwhelmingly proved that apologists have to change tacks. So now the argument is, “Well, all right, there are many connections to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, but Ms. Abedin is a victim of ‘guilt by association.’” Mr. Milbank tries to make that fly today. 

Remember, we are not talking about an indictment here. When people are being evaluated for their suitability for appointment to high public office and access to national-security information, the whole process is about associations – that’s why, for example, the form all candidates for security clearances have to fill out exactingly probes a person’s background, relations and associations. I don’t expect Milbank to agree with me on this point — although he certainly seemed to think background and associations were pretty significant when Sam Alito was nominated to the Supreme Court). Still, given that I specifically addressed the charge in the speech, he might at least have given readers my take on the “guilt by association” canard:

The five members [of the House of Representatives who have asked for five executive branch inspectors-general to investigate Muslim Brotherhood influence at their agencies] have not made accusations of criminal wrongdoing. The critics who say they are relying on “guilt by association” are absurdly mixing apples and oranges.

Our bedrock principle against “guilt by association” has to do with criminal prosecutions — we won’t tolerate someone’s being convicted of a crime and having his freedom taken away just because of who his friends are, or what his associates have done. But “guilt by association” has nothing to do with fitness for high public office. High public office is a privilege, not a right. Access to classified information is a privilege, not a right. You need not have done anything wrong to be deemed unfit for these privileges.

It is not a question of your patriotism or your trustworthiness. It is about whether you would be burdened by such obvious conflicts of interest that you would be tempted to act on those interests, rather than in the best interests of the United States. It is about whether the American people can have confidence that you are likely to act in the public interest rather than out of bias, favor, or intimidation. It is about whether there’s a reasonable chance you could be compromised — not whether you have been compromised.

In making his guilt-by-association claim, Milbank mentions that he questioned me yesterday (you can see it on the C-SPAN video), but he fails to note that I did not accept two premises that he asserts as if they were fact rather than his (implausible) opinion. The first is that Ms. Abedin is a person of no substance as far as the State Department is concerned — he describes her as Secretary Clinton’s “personal aide” whose job is “helping her boss with suits and handbags and logistics.” That’s a pretty demeaning suggestion. Ms. Abedin is actually the deputy chief of staff to the U.S. secretary of state; she is a top adviser . . . and not just on handbags.

Milbank also claims I conceded Ms. Abedin is not a policymaker. You can see for yourself what I actually said. My concession was that the person ultimately responsible for Obama-administration policy is President Obama, and that the person who shapes and executes the president’s policy at the State Department is Secretary Clinton. Neither of them, I acknowledged, needed Huma Abedin to make them sympathetic to Islamists — they are their own people and have extensive records. Nevertheless, I also argued that second- and third-tier officials and advisers like Ms. Abedin “have very influential positions . . . because they have a lot to say about how policy gets shaped and executed.” That seems pretty elementary. Does Milbank really think that, say, Rahm Emanuel had an inconsequential position in the White House because he was just a top staffer and it’s the president who made all the policy — was Emanuel just advising Obama on handbags? 

2. The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs has nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.

Milbank also belittles Ms. Abedin’s connection to Abdullah Omar Naseef, a major Muslim Brotherhood figure and a financier of al-Qaeda, by claiming that the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, which Naseef founded and which Ms. Abedin worked at for twelve years, was an inconsequential sideshow that focused on such issues as “The North African Heritage of the Hui Chinese” and “Muslim Mudehar Women in Thirteenth Century Spain.” This is a frivolous contention.

To begin with, let’s say a Bush administration official had had a longstanding business relationship with an al-Qaeda facilitator — and we won’t even get into whether the business relationship occurred in the context of longstanding, intimate relations between the the facilitator and the Bush official’s family. Is there any way that Dana Milbank would be saying, “Hey, wait a minute, let’s not make an issue of that. After all, the business relationship seems to have nothing to do with the Islamist agenda.”

More significantly, Naseef’s journal, of which Ms. Abedin was an assistant (and of which one or the other of her parents has been chief editor since its inception in the late Seventies), actually has a great deal to do with the Islamist agenda. As I said in yesterday’s speech, the journal promotes the fundamentalist version of sharia championed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Naseef, and Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s chief sharia jurist.

Now, does it publish essays like the two Milbank alludes to? Sure. When I was investigating the Blind Sheikh, I learned that sometimes he was interpreting sharia to exhort terrorism and other times he was explaining sharia’s instruction on matters like diet and hygiene — the latter did not diminish the former.

On this score, after poring over many editions, Andrew Bostom has just written a rumination on the journal’s worldview. It is lengthy, but I’d recommend all of it. Suffice it to say that, if we looked only at the last issue (April/May 2012) of the journal, it features two essays that champion what Bostom accurately describes as (a) “the global hegemonic aspirations of major 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood jihadist ideologues, such as the eminent Muslim Brotherhood theoretician, Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), and Abul Hasan Nadwi”; and (b) “the more expansive application of Sharia within Muslim minority communities residing in the West, with the goal of replacing these non-Muslim governing systems as advocated by contemporary Muslim Brotherhood jihadist ideologues, [Sheikh] Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Tahir Jabir al-Alwani.” (I’ve written at NRO about Alwani, here.)  

Both these essays are lavishly praised by Dr. Saleha Mahmood Abedin, who is the journal’s editor and Ms. Abedin’s mother. As Bostom demonstrates, they are representative of the journal’s historic output and consistent with Dr. Abedin’s oft-stated views. 


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