The bombing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai was most probably the end result of a stealth jihad operation. That might seem like a strange way of putting it, because we usually think of stealth jihad as something that radical Muslims do to subvert non-Muslim societies. Yet, unless there were already a stealth network in place, it’s unlikely that an ISIS operative would have been able to get by security and place a bomb on board the Russian plane.
Although ISIS has taken credit for the bombing, they probably did so with the help of another group–a group that would not claim credit because they prefer to maintain a facade of non-violence. The stealth jihadists in Egypt are the Muslim Brotherhood. For a long time, they were suppressed by the Egyptian government, but they bided their time, infiltrated key institutions, and eventually, with considerable help from the Obama administration, they came to power under President Mohamed Morsi.
After a year in power, they were removed from office and driven back underground by General (now President) Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. By that time, however, the Brotherhood had already penetrated deeply into Egyptian society. You can trace their growing influence by comparing photos of graduating classes at Cairo University. The graduates in the late fifties are dressed and groomed like their contemporaries in Chicago or Toronto. The grads in the most recent photos look like they just returned from prayers at a Wahhabi mosque. The Muslim Brotherhood no longer control the government of Egypt, but they still control the loyalty of many Egyptians.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
Stealth jihad takes place in Muslim countries too. Turkey provides another example. In 1924, after the overthrow of the Caliphate, Turkey was remodeled by Kemal Ataturk along Western, secular lines, and it remained that way for the rest of the twentieth century. Now, however, under the rule of President Erdogan, Turkey is well on its way to full Islamization.
The triumph of Erdogan and his AKP party was built on a cultural transformation similar to that engineered by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In fact, Erdogan’s long march through the institutions was consciously based on the Brotherhood model. After his first electoral win in 2002, Erdogan methodically placed Islamists in government bureaucracies, in the police, and in judgeships. He paid particular attention to what a Turkish journalist dubbed the “educational jihad.” Erdogan put Islamic academies and Qur`an schools on an equal footing with secular schools, and created a network of new universities and colleges run by Islamist sympathizers. He also allied himself with Fetullah Gulen, a one-time imam who had already created a network of Islamist schools in Turkey. Like Erdogan, Gulen was a master of the art of cultural jihad. By 2006, it was estimated that some 75 percent of Turkey’s preparatory school students were enrolled in Gulen institutions, and that he controlled “thousands of top-tier secondary schools, colleges and student dormitories throughout Turkey.” Although Erdogan and Gulen had a bitter falling-out in 2013, they had by that time almost totally transformed the face of Turkish culture.
What does this have to do with terrorism? A number of observers claim that the success of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is due in no small part to overt and covert help from Turkey’s Islamist government. According to numerous sources, ISIS warriors have been provided passage in and out of Syria, weapons and supplies, medical care in Turkish hospitals, and a market for the petroleum they have expropriated from Iraqi oil fields. In the Middle East, the victories of armed jihadists owe a lot to support from their stealth jihadist sympathizers.
Are there any lessons here for the U.S. and its European allies? Europeans and Americans are rightly worried that what happened to the Russian airliner can happen to their planes, as well. If it happens too many times, air travel may become a risky proposition—about as unpredictable as a sea voyage in the sixteenth century. If stealth jihadists and armed jihadists continue to extend their power, the concept of “friendly skies” will someday be a distant memory.
As should be obvious at this point, tighter security measures at airports are only a part of the solution. The culture that surrounds the airport also needs to be made secure. That, of course, is a tall order. So perhaps the main lesson to be taken away from the Egyptian and Turkish experience is that cultural jihad needs to be stopped early. Past a certain point, the effects of a stealth campaign are hard to reverse. El-Sisi’s counter-revolution in Egypt came very late in the game—after the Muslim Brotherhood had already wormed its way deep into the social fabric. In Turkey, a rollback of Erdogan’s Islamization program becomes more unlikely with each passing day.
Even in Europe, it will be difficult to reverse decades of Islamic cultural subversion. The combination of cultural jihad, guilt-induced self-subversion, and ever-increasing numbers of migrants not only makes for unsafe airports, but also for unsafe trains, buses, subways, and streets.
How about the U.S.? Compared to Egypt, Turkey, and Europe, there is a much smaller pool of Muslims in America from which Islamists can draw recruits. On the other hand, stealth jihadists have been active in the U.S. for decades. The aforementioned Fetullah Gulen has resided in Pennsylvania since 1998 and operates over 140 charter schools— the largest chain of charter schools in America. Gulen’s people are also active in numerous small American colleges, and have been particularly successful in setting up exchange programs to bring Turkish faculty and students to the U.S.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been in America longer still—since 1963, when it set up the first Muslim Student Association at the University of Illinois. Currently there are Muslim Student Associations in almost every large and mid-size university in America. Interestingly, Mohamed Morsi was first introduced into the Muslim Brotherhood while a student at the University of Southern California and a member of the MSA there.
In addition to the MSA, there’s the MAS (Muslim American Society), IIIT (The International Institute of Islamic Thought), ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America), FCNA (Fiqh Council of North America), NAIT (North American Islamic Trust), CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), and a few other alphabet organizations either derived from the Muslim Brotherhood or connected to it.
With the exception of a few graduates of the Muslim Student Association (such as terror master Anwar-al Awlaki), the Islamist culture warriors in the U.S. are not the bomb-planting type. But they have helped to create an environment in which bombers can more easily ply their trade. For example, groups such as CAIR and ISNA have repeatedly opposed national and local anti-terror security measures on the grounds that such measures are “Islamophobic.”
Still, they have nowhere near the number of followers that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood commands. But the Muslim Brotherhood clones in the U.S. do have one advantage that the Egyptian Brotherhood no longer possesses—namely, government support. In Egypt, the government is doing its best to root out the Muslim Brotherhood; in America, representatives of Brotherhood-linked organizations are invited to the White House and appointed to important positions. In Egypt and the UAE, the Muslim Brotherhood is a designated terrorist group; in America in 2012, government officials refused to conduct an investigation into Muslim Brotherhood penetration of federal agencies. In 2009, President Obama demanded that representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood be present at his Cairo speech, even though the group was outlawed by the Mubarak government. In 2012, Secretary of State Clinton called for the Egyptian generals to surrender their power to Mohamed Morsi. Immediately after his election, Morsi was invited to the White House.
Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood seems less strange when one considers that his own aims are not unlike theirs. The founders of the Brotherhood drew inspiration not only from Muhammad, but also from Marx and Lenin. They saw their movement as a total revolution that would change Egyptian society from top to bottom. Obama also has revolutionary dreams. The one pattern that emerges from his foreign policy is his support for radical movements that seek to overthrow the established order—the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the guardians of the Iranian Revolution who, although they are now the establishment, manage to cloak themselves in revolutionary garb, and Erdogan’s cultural-political revolution in Turkey.
Obama’s first presidential trip abroad was to Turkey, and he has on several occasions spoken of his admiration for Erdogan. As Andrew McCarthy explains:
The two men’s apparent affinity for one another is not difficult to understand; their career arcs merge. Like Erdogan, Obama’s roots lie in revolutionary radicalism, sporting among his allies and mentors both terrorists and agitators who spent their adult lives striving to upend the traditional society. Like Obama, Erdogan is making good on his life ambition to fundamentally transform his country.
In the battle to keep the blue skies friendly, Egypt is at a disadvantage when compared to America. It has a much larger pool of potential terrorists and it lacks (one assumes) the advanced detection technology available in the U.S. The one advantage it does have is a president who understands who the enemy is.
(Photo courtesy of Reuters)