Muslim Brotherhood: the new Islamist bogeyman in Canada

Why a recent report that says the group poses a greater threat to North America than al Qaeda is wrong
Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

A report released on May 27 has reintroduced the Islamist bogeyman into the Canadian consciousness. Unlike past manifestations, this time the enemy has a relatively well-known name: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the most widespread Middle Eastern Islamic revivalist movement. It has been making headlines in Egypt, where it was ousted after a year in power by a military coup in July 2013 and is now being hunted nearly to extinction.

Well, not quite, at least according to Tom Quiggin, member of the previously unknown Terrorism and Security Analysts of Canada Network (TSEC) and senior fellow at the Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University. According to his findings in “The Muslim Brotherhood in North America (Canada/USA),” TSEC’s first official publication, the Muslim Brotherhood is not only alive and well, but has a “significant presence in Canada” and “represents a greater existential threat to North American civilization than violent extremist movements such as al-Qaeda.”

This comes on the heels of a U.K. decision to begin a probe into the organization’s activities in Britain and a January statement by Prime Minister Harper’s spokesman accusing the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) of being “an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas.” Hamas, blacklisted by Canada, the U.S. and the European Union, has historical roots in the MB movement, dating back to Brotherhood activities in Gaza during the 1950s. The NCCM denies the allegation and has initiated libel proceedings against both the spokesman and the PMO.

The TSEC report makes sweeping claims of a vast network of front organizations, including the NCCM, working in concert to fulfill the vision of the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al Banna, and calls for greater scrutiny over those organizations. The vision, Quiggin claims, involves nothing short of a complete takeover of Canadian and American societies, infiltrating their institutions, eventually taking political power and absorbing them into a global Islamic caliphate.

“We’ve entered into stage two of the MB’s plans,” says Quiggin in an interview. “Stage one was settlement, of which Canada and the U.S. saw a lot when the movement was persecuted in the 1950s and 1960s in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. Stage two is the establishment of front organizations, which we’re seeing now. The final stage is the acquisition of political power.”

If it all sounds a little far-fetched, that’s probably because it is. Nonetheless, Quiggin does sketch out a seemingly cohesive blueprint of how it all works, naming the groups involved and tracing back their alleged links to the MB. The danger, he says, is the consistency with which many Canadian Islamic organizations claim al Banna’s vision for their own.

Many Muslim organizations, internationally and in Canada, admit that they are inspired by al Banna’s grassroots activism but not with the entirety of his political vision. The MB itself has gone through numerous ideological shifts since its inception, including renouncing violence in 1949. Quiggin argues that has changed. “Internationally, the Muslim Brotherhood is realigning under pressure as old alliances crumble and opportunities arise,” he writes. “An aggressive posture is re-emerging, which has used extensive political violence in the past.”

Most experts, however, disagree. While the Brotherhood has resorted to violence in Egypt in recent months, that has been a response to the brutal crackdown by Egyptian authorities. Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been arrested, hundreds sentenced to death in sham trials.

That local reality bears little resemblance to what is happening in Canada and the U.S. Both countries rank among the top in the world for the satisfaction of its Muslim communities, undermining the influence of extremist elements. If the MB is in fact trying to subvert Canadian Muslims, it’s not working, nor will it. Canada is home to a diversity of Islamic belief and practice. Lively debates over faith and religious practice are a constant fixture in Canada’s Muslim communities, a picture that starkly contrasts with Quiggin’s portrayal of a secretive cabal plotting the downfall of Western civilization from within.

Nonetheless, his report has some important points to make. “There is a need for mature discussion in Canada,” he says. “Brotherhood-affiliated organizations are raising tens of millions of dollars in Canada. There have been numerous cases brought up by the Canada Revenue Agency that prove some of that money has gone to terrorist groups abroad. When these organizations are caught and shut down, they simply re-emerge later under a different name and continue their illegal activities. This needs to be put on the national agenda.”

The danger, however, is that Quiggin’s report reads more like a doomsday manifesto, predicting the end of Western civilization at the hands of Muslims than a call to open discussion. It risks further vilifying an already at-risk community—a risk he openly admits. “I’m very sensitive to the idea that this can cause problems in Canada,” he says. “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”