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The Muslim Brotherhood undertakes fieldwork to polarize society and establish narratives that eventually lead to terrorism.

Updated: Feb 7

Join us for a conversation between Maya Mizrahi and Dr. Lorenzo Vidino

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, a renowned expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, asserts that the movement has established a comprehensive infrastructure within Western societies, particularly in Europe. He describes the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West as 'social engineering'.

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, one of the world's foremost experts on the Muslim Brotherhood

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in an interview last month with the American Fox News network, “If we don't defeat Hamas, Europe will be next”.

Netanyahu's statement resonated with the sentiments expressed during the mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations held throughout Europe and the US, where hundreds of thousands of people participated. Many of these demonstrators did not condemn the horrific massacre that occurred on October 7; instead, some criticized Israel and even expressed support for Hamas.

This raises the question: Is Netanyahu correct in asserting that Europe and the US are next in line? And does this truly relate to whether Hamas is defeated or not?"

Palestinian demonstrations held throughout Europe and the US

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, esteemed as one of the world's foremost experts on the Muslim Brotherhood and the director of the Center for Extremism at the University of Washington, possesses deep familiarity with Islamist organizations across Europe and the United States and has insights into their plans. "To comprehend the inner workings and motivations of the Muslim Brotherhood, I interviewed individuals who have left the movement. Subsequently, I authored a book about this movement's activities in the West" he explains.

This movement is highly deceptive, having established an infrastructure throughout Europe and attempting to alter Western society by integrating into its mainstream. This poses a significant danger."

Dr. Vidino identifies three distinct categories of radical Islamist organizations dispersed across Europe and the United States.

The first category comprises jihadists, including Daesh and al-Qaeda, which are extremely dangerous organizations that attack the West, and their activities are prohibited. In my view, these organizations are unlikely to change Western society but rather pose a significant security challenge.

Al-Qaeda & ISIS

The second group is the non-violent Salafis. They are a part of Sunni Islam and want to live like people did in the seventh century in Mecca. They think Western society is bad and want to stay apart, living in their own community. This is a bit like some very religious Jewish groups (like in Mea Shearim), but the difference is they want others to become Muslim, while the Jewish groups don't.


The third group is the 'Muslim Brotherhood.' This is the group I focus on.

The Muslim Brotherhood is engaging in a highly deceptive game. Unlike the Salafis and Jihadists, who are quite forthright about their intentions, the Muslim Brotherhood adopts a different approach. Jihadists openly declare, 'We want to kill you, all the infidels,' while Salafis express their disdain for Western society and their desire to separate from it. In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood presents an unexpected facade, claiming, 'We are in favor of integration and dialogue with you.' However, behind this facade, they endeavor to undermine Western society."

They articulate narratives that resonate with what Western society desires to hear, such as 'We need to collaborate,' or 'There is rampant Islamophobia in Europe - reducing it will lead to everything being fine and Muslim society integrating into the West.' They voice sentiments that are widely appealing, yet simultaneously, they engage in contradictory actions.

To Muslim communities, they convey messages like, 'The West despises you,' 'Islamophobia is pervasive,' 'The West aims to destroy Islam,' 'We need to establish separate spaces,' 'One day, we will take over [Europe]' - these are deeply troubling messages. This is why my research indicates that the Muslim Brotherhood represents the most significant threat to the West, surpassing all other groups."

What Is the Difference Between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood?

Hamas is recognized as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, as stated in the second section of its charter. The Muslim Brotherhood is known for its tactical flexibility, adapting its approach to the specific circumstances of each country. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they advocate for Jihad as the sole method of action.

In Middle Eastern countries where the movement is tolerated, like Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood functions openly as a social and political movement, focusing on education and charitable activities. Conversely, in countries where it faces persecution, such as Syria, it operates as an underground movement, focusing on recruiting activists and, in some instances, engaging in violence. It is appropriate to view these networks in each country as 'branches' of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a monolithic entity but comprises separate groups with operational independence, united by a shared vision and their connection to the original movement established in 1928 in Egypt.

In his book, Vidino notes that 'branches' of the Muslim Brotherhood exert control over mosques throughout Europe, manage financial accounts in the Bahamas, operate a poultry factory and a software company in the US, and invest in real estate in Africa and the Middle East. Additionally, they maintain high-profile global connections.

In Europe, politicians and media members often struggle to comprehend the Muslim Brotherhood. While they clearly understand the objectives of jihadists and Salafists, they find it challenging to grasp the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy. This is because the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe skillfully establishes connections with mainstream society, often appearing as benevolent actors. However, this perception is misleading. They are sometimes among the first to denounce terrorist attacks in the West, only to suggest changes in foreign policy or the inclusion of Sharia law as solutions to extremism. The Muslim Brotherhood's approach in the West involves 'social engineering,' a tactic not employed by jihadists and Salafists.


Muslim Brotherhood in Germany

What Percentage of Muslims in Western Countries Are Affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood? 

The Muslim Brotherhood represents a very small percentage. The group is associated with political Islam, which does not interest the majority of Muslims. Most Muslims lead their lives without involvement in such matters, as indicated by numerous polls conducted in Europe. The problem is that even though these groups are small, they have a big influence. The ideas they spread change the way people think. This includes making the issue of 'Palestine' and the Palestinian situation seem very important in Europe. Think about why in Britain, where many foreigners are from India and Pakistan, people don't focus as much on problems in Kashmir or other places where Muslims are in trouble. Instead, they keep talking about 'Palestine.' This is largely because the Muslim Brotherhood has been able to make Palestine a key issue in people's minds.

I read transcripts of wiretaps done by the FBI in the US. They show that people from the Muslim Brotherhood spend a lot of time talking about their plans. They discuss how to present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a certain way and how to share this view with different groups of people.


Vidino explains that the Muslim Brotherhood has set up a network of organizations across Europe. These organizations present themselves to the public as very welcoming and peace-loving. They call themselves names like 'The Islamic Organization of Germany' or 'The Muslims of France.' This way, they become the go-to groups for Western organizations that want to talk to Muslim communities. For example, if a journalist wants to know 'what Muslims think about what's happening in Gaza,' they might look for such representatives. Often, they end up talking to the Muslim Brotherhood without even knowing it.


Vidino's research shows that most members of the Muslim Brotherhood are intellectuals with degrees. They are good at delivering messages in the local language and stand out because of their skills.

In his book, he lists three types of networks that the Muslim Brotherhood has set up in the West:


The first type is a network of 'pure brothers.' This is a secret network, not public, set up by members from the Middle Eastern branches. 'In every Western country, the first generation of Muslim Brotherhood pioneers from the Arab world established structures. These reflected, on a much smaller scale, the structures in their home countries,' he writes in his book. 'In each Western country, they effectively set up a small branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This branch recruits people and works in a pyramid structure. That means there are activists who meet every week at the local level, and there is a selected leadership that oversees the activities in that country.' Vidino says that the Muslim Brotherhood in the West keeps this structure very secret and denies its existence (or in some cases, describes it as a thing of the past).


The second type is a network of open or public organizations set up by people who belong to the 'pure brothers.' 'None of these organizations publicly identify themselves as connected to any structure of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, in reality, these organizations represent the 'pure brothers' – they are the public face of the secret network. This part promotes the group's agenda in society without giving up the secret structure.


The third type is organizations that adopt an ideology clearly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, but they don't have obvious operational ties to the movement. 'In these organizations, you can find traces of the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in the board of directors, funding sources, or ideological influences. However, the population in these organizations can be very diverse. Such organizations might include non-Islamists and even non-Muslims. They might focus on progressive interpretations of classic Islamist thought and might even try to break away from the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.


What is their goal besides directing the narrative and doing 'social engineering?

'There are three more goals:

One goal is to recruit people from the Muslim community. Not many, because they want to keep a structure like an elite group. They are very selective. For them, joining the Muslim Brotherhood is like getting into Harvard. The people they recruit then work within the Muslim community to try to make it adopt a socio-political religious worldview. Their goal is to make Muslims understand politics in a certain way, the way they direct. I'm not saying they always succeed, but that's their goal. They find 'useful idiots' who promote their agenda.

These are people who can talk about Jihad in mosques, but then, when they go to university campuses, they talk about white supremacy theories (like how white Jews in Israel are superior to dark-skinned Palestinians), post-colonialism, and imperialism. With extreme right-wing groups, they use old anti-Semitic language, and with human rights organizations, they talk about Palestinian human rights. This way, they connect with many different audiences and get them to act, even though they are few in number.


The second goal, common to all branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, is to act as the official representatives of the Muslim community in their countries. Becoming the preferred – if not the only – partners of Western governments and elites can give them the financial and political capital to significantly expand their influence in the community. In Europe, everyone in a position of power today – from the president, ministers, and police, to journalists, the church, and local municipalities – talks to them about almost every issue. This ranges from eating 'halal' meat to what's happening in Gaza.

The second goal leads to achieving the third goal. When Western governments see them as legitimate representatives of the Muslim community, they will have an influence on Western policies related to Islam, whether it's domestic or foreign policy. This includes everything from religious education in schools to fighting terrorism and potential bans on internal hate speech. Since most Muslims in Europe are relatively divided and often have lower education levels, these guys stand out. They are very educated, driven by ideology, and well-funded.


Muslim Brotherhood Investigations in UK

You wrote that they work on dividing society and talk in terms of 'us' and 'them.' This reminds me of the Marxist ideology that intentionally promotes conflicts among different groups in society.

'Polarization is where the Muslim Brotherhood thrives. They know that if the Muslim community feels Islamophobia, for example, it will bring them closer to Islam. It's like what happened in Israel after the events of October 7 – the community unites, the country comes together around the tragedy. The Muslim Brotherhood creates conflicts in society so that Muslims will unite against an external enemy.

'The biggest problem with this group is that it polarizes society. It creates tension by making small things seem big. This can lead to terrorism. Europeans are starting to understand this now.


Who funds the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe?

'From 1960 to 2013, the main funder of the Muslim Brotherhood was Saudi Arabia. It was mostly a Saudi project, and then – it ended. Because Saudi Arabia, like other countries, realized that the Muslim Brotherhood is the source of many problems.


Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna founder of the Muslim Brotherhood

Do they create a foundation for terrorist organizations to grow?

Yes. I think that's the understanding in the Muslim world, and by the way, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, expresses the same understanding today. The Muslim Brotherhood does the groundwork for dividing society and creating a narrative that then leads to terrorism.

'Many leaders of the current jihadist movement were in the Muslim Brotherhood. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian religious figure who was key in recruiting jihadists to fight in Afghanistan against the USSR, joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine in the 1950s. His student, Osama bin Laden, was trained in the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia before he decided to leave the group because he thought it wasn't effective enough. Similarly, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's successor as the head of Al-Qaeda, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt before he led the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization.

'The difference between these jihadist organizations and the Muslim Brotherhood is a tactical one. The Brotherhood works for the long term – they focus on gradually and slowly infiltrating society, while the jihadists are impatient and act quickly.


What made Saudi Arabia suddenly realize that the Muslim Brotherhood is a problem, after years of supporting the movement?

The main issue was the election of Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, as Egypt's president in June 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood hinted that the Saudi royal family was their competitor, which the Saudis saw as a threat to their survival. It took some time, but in March 2014, the Saudi government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. They removed supporters of the group from their academic institutions and took books by authors associated with the Muslim Brotherhood out of schools

The United Arab Emirates also declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. But the hostility of the UAE towards the Brotherhood, compared to Saudi Arabia's, is deeper and more ideologically based. Senior officials in the UAE consistently argue that the Brotherhood is the source of terrorism. In their view, this extremist group provided the core ideology that jihadist groups use.


Saudi Arabia sacks 100 Islamic clerics for not condemning Islamic terror organisation ‘Muslim Brotherhood’

Do you think the massacre that happened here in Israel can also happen in Europe?

There have already been quite a few terrible terrorist attacks in Europe by ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The numbers were small, but the attackers' approach was similar to Hamas's on October 7. The problem now is that the threat doesn't just come from ISIS and Al-Qaeda, but also from other groups that grew from the Muslim Brotherhood's foundation. And unlike ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Europe is tolerant of these groups because they are not violent. They are intellectual groups.

But that's a mistake. People who say the Muslim Brotherhood has given up on violence don't understand. The Brotherhood only gives up violence when it conflicts with their interest to use it in a certain context. If that context changes and they think violence is the best way to do it, they will be just as violent as Hamas. In one minute, they could be like that.

Islam in Europe: Terrorist Challenges

So what are you saying? That this is something that will just happen one day in Europe?

We've talked a lot about this among colleagues, especially since October 7. We discussed how we are hosting people who hate us. We asked ourselves if what happened in Israel could happen here too. I say that Europe is in trouble. Even France, for example, which recognizes the problem it has, can't deal with it. What can they do now? France is not Egypt, where you can just take people and lock them up or put them in a hole in the desert. In a democratic society, it's hard to deal with these organizations. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's very difficult. It requires long-term decisiveness, and that's not how our democracies think, especially today.

Paris attacks: Isis propaganda magazine praises 'blessed' massacres and threatens more terror in Europe

As a start, we need to stop foreign funding for these organizations. They receive hundreds of millions of dollars from Qatar. In Italy, they are deporting people who come in and start saying crazy things. They get on a plane and go back to where they came from. But in France and Belgium, they don't do that because these people have citizenship. Politicians are also very sensitive to left-wing groups, human rights organizations, who will come and call them Islamophobes and fascists.


Do the Muslim Brotherhood organizations also receive funding from European countries?

Certainly. The most generous country in Europe is Sweden. If you arrive in Sweden illegally, they don't ask questions, they just give you money. Sweden doesn't deport anyone, and the Muslim Brotherhood organizations have been receiving government funding for years.

In his book, Vidino notes that organizations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood established a public organization in Sweden called 'The Muslim Civil Society.' This organization received a monopoly on the funds the state allocated to the Muslim community in Sweden. 'The Swedish government even funded schools run by Islamists. The schools were managed by people who joined ISIS in Syria. After they returned to Sweden, they were hired as teachers.

In the past two to three years, things have started to change somewhat, even in Sweden, but it's like trying to change the course of the Titanic. You close down a school, and then they fight you in court. It's bureaucracy.

You can take comfort in the fact that there's a big gap between how people on the street feel about this and how politicians are dealing with it. When you look at surveys, you see that people understand it. They understand, for example, that the immigration system in Europe is flawed, that everyone comes in, and only a few are deported. In Germany, about 80% think the immigration system is flawed, but the politicians there are handicapped due to accusations of racism or Islamophobia. They're afraid of being criticized on social media.


The political correctness will eventually kill us.

In a certain way, yes. There's no doubt about it. Let me share an anecdote with you. My sergeant spent nine years investigating the 2009 attack at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. The perpetrator was a Palestinian doctor trained by the American military. One day, he arrived at the base, opened fire, and killed about 15 people.

My sergeant conducted the investigation in the Senate, during which it became clear that for years, there were signs of a serious problem with this individual, but no one had the courage to report it. For example, this individual, who was trained as a doctor, was asked to give a presentation on hearing problems, but then suddenly started talking about jihad. It was incredibly strange. Those who reported it faced backlash. They were told not to raise the issue, that it's culturally sensitive. So, no one wanted to report further. At a certain level, this is what happens.


Even when people talk about it, it doesn't solve the problem. Look at what happened in Israel. Everyone talked about "keeping Hamas in check," but in the end, it didn't happen.

Everyone makes mistakes when dealing with terrorism. Specifically, regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, even Arab countries made mistakes for a long time. For example, Anwar Sadat was assassinated. He had opened the prisons and released all the Muslim Brotherhood members.

The thought in Europe in the past two decades was that if you give money to Muslim migrants and provide opportunities to establish organizations, they will integrate, and everything will be fine. There were some who integrated, but among the Muslim migrants who came to Europe, there were also people with political backgrounds, Islamists.

The idea that they would adopt our culture and become good democrats didn't happen. The nature of their ideology is to corrupt the minds of people. They recruit individuals and create many problems in society.


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