In her book Le frérisme et ses reseaux, l’enquête (The Brotherhood and its Networks, An Investigation), Florence Bergeaud-Blackler paints a comprehensive picture of the history, ideology, structure, goals, strategy, and allies of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) galaxy in Europe and beyond — thus bringing her previous research on the halal eco-system to the next level.
The book, divided into eleven chapters, takes the reader from the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood to its evolution and present-day iterations, dissecting every single aspect in ample detail thanks to a rich variety of sources that range from academic literature (including primary sources in Arabic) to blog accounts, newspapers, and institutional websites. Thereby, Bergeaud-Blackler shows the mastery of both academic and “investigative” skills that is necessary to penetrate a complex and protean movement that changes and hides its many faces in a hall of mirrors.
The Structure of the Brotherhood System in Europe
Chapter One paints a general picture of the MB’s structure and goals, highlighting the differences and similarities between the original Egyptian model and the European one; what emerges is not a political party, a social movement or a theological school, but a system characterized by a Vision (an update version of the Islamic state), a collective and cohesive Islamic Identity, and a long-term Plan to reach the goal. This strategy is what Bergeaud-Blackler calls the “VIP system”, mocking the MB as the dignitaries of Islamism. Chapter Two shows the application of this strategy in the context of Europe, by going through the MB’s different phases of implantation on the European continent.
Chapter Three is dedicated to the MB’s main modern ideologue, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who was crucial in both developing the ideological system underpinning MB action outside an Islamic context, that is in non-Muslim-majority states, as well as in masterminding virtually all MB-linked organizations in the West. Chapter Four goes through those structures by giving plenty of details on the MB entities in Europe and the main actors involved; thus it sketches the “starfish” (to quote former Muslim Brother Mouhamed Louizi) with all its arms and the nerves connecting them.
Political Allies and Fellow-Travellers of the Brotherhood in Europe
The following chapters dissect the penetration of the MB galaxy into both the cultural and institutional milieus of the West, and Europe in particular. The Brotherhood has been able to dance to the tune of the dominant academic and political players, who in turn have found in the MB valuable interlocutors reinforcing their own power and outreach. At the intellectual level, the MB endeavour of “Islamization of knowledge” (Chapter Five), scrupulously devised by Brotherhood actors across the world in the 1970s, has found the perfect breeding ground in post-modernist and post-colonialist sociology and anthropology, as well as in the Islamological strand of “post-Islamism” and later in critical theories and “woke” studies (Chapter Eight).
Outside academia, the MB’s soft power has found receptive ears within local, national and supranational political and institutional circles. At the national level, a relevant case is the fascination and the clientelist logic that has welded Islamism with different manifestations of the French left (Chapter Seven). At the supranational level, a towering example is the MB successful lobbying within the European Union and the Council of Europe to wage a fight against “Islamophobia” — de facto, a liberticidal tool to suppress blasphemy and accentuate a separate “Muslim identity” (Chapter Six). None of the institutional or political supporters seem to have been deterred by the blatant contradiction between their highly touted progressive principles and the hyper-conservatism of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology — which is very close to Salafism in values, if not in strategy, the so-called fréro-salafism (Chapter Seven).
The two final chapters before the Conclusions are dedicated to the case studies of women and children indoctrinated by Islamist preachers and media.
How to Tackle the Muslim Brotherhood’s Influence
What must be done to counter the nefarious influence of the Muslim Brotherhood? Bergeaud-Blackler concludes with a lucid and straightforward list of recommendations, which give the book a twist, lending it the air of a policy report with a plan of action.
Specifically, Bergeaud-Blackler recommends that the EU not only avoid financing projects that go against its Charter of Fundamental Rights, but also vet each beneficiary of a supported consortium to ensure that none of them has skeletons in the closet. From this perspective, the MB, in all its facets, cannot be regarded as a trusted partner. In fact, it is MB action that prevents integration and thus encourages separatism and radicalization, and not the opposite as some have claimed (namely, the failure of the West to integrate Muslims that pushes them in the arms of radicals). Consequently, secular states can and must prohibit religious practices that violate their values and exert control on places of worship. The enforcement of secular, liberal democratic norms must include strong support for and protection of so-called “blasphemers”, who risk their lives to challenge a new form of lurking dictatorship.
In retrospect, the last point looks like a sinister prophecy, considering that Bergeaud-Blackler herself is now living under constant police protection due to the death threats she received after the book’s release. Her employer, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (a state body under the Ministry of Education and Research), only felt the need to publicly convey its support one month after the threats and two weeks after the police intervention — with a mere tweet released under the pressure of French magazine Le Point. This unfortunate delay seems to confirm the importance of another recommendation present in the book, namely the need to expel wokeness and cancel culture from academia, as they represent the antipode of free and objective research.
Overall, the work offers an impressively comprehensive picture of the frérisme et ses reseaux, and it does so with both theoretical and empirical depth. As to the former, it delves not only into the history and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also into the philosophical currents underpinning it, not only the process of the “Islamization of knowledge” and Islamic feminism, but also postmodernism, postcolonialism, critical theory and their woke degeneration. As to the latter, it gives plenty of details and examples about problematic organizations and actors, and their links with each other, as well as with sectors of society and public institutions.
The writing style is fluid and direct, combining a clear-cut breakdown of the topics with a lucid evaluation thereof, never hiding the author’s opinion behind a smokescreen. In other words, Bergeaud-Blackler clearly shows that she aims to avoid the obscure and esoteric language — and the (spurious) relativism — that she reproaches postmodernist intellectuals for adopting.
Despite this, the text remains a complex academic endeavour whose richness does not render it accessible to every readership. From this perspective, the division in many sections and subsections certainly helps to guide readers by giving them a map, although it is not always easy to engage in such categorization when approaching a labyrinthic topic with multiple intersections. Given the intricacy of the work, what is really regrettable is the lack of a final index.
Finally, the book opens as many new roads of investigation as it attempts to shed light on. While the title and many of the chapters have a wide international breadth, others tend to focus exclusively on France: this is something that could be expanded in further spin-offs or even in an English translation of the same work — which I would wholeheartedly recommend. Furthermore, Bergeaud-Blackler opens the Pandora’s box of public support (at the local, national, and European levels) for the MB network: this is a crucial field, still underexplored, which would certainly deserve a follow-up.
Overall, Le frérisme et ses reseaux, l’enquête constitutes an impressive effort that betrays a profound knowledge of a complex topic. Using a vast array of sources, Bergeaud-Blackler manages to convey the essence of a “liquid movement” (movement liquide) that goes beyond the “MB confraternity” and involves an entire system of action, whose chameleon-like nature makes it difficult to grasp and all the more dangerous for the cohesion, secularism and freedom of our societies.
While the book is not intended for casual readers looking for a quick compendium on the Muslim Brotherhood, it is an indispensable tool for specialized researchers, policy makers, journalists, and civil society operators who wish to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the network, its strategy, and its objectives.
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