The news today is that the United States of America has a new President in Donald Trump. Beyond that, the world of fact and fantasy has collided to create a fake news landscape in which it is going to become increasingly difficult to separate the truth from lies.
It is a twilight zone in which the very worst dirty tricks are currently being employed. Trump has already blamed gullible US intelligence agencies for falling for a Russian dossier compiled by an ex-British spy, in which lurid allegations were made against him.
Although he dismissed the dossier angrily as fake news, it seems that Trump and his administration are selective when it comes to which fake news to believe and which to condemn out of hand. The new Washington set-up is already, for example, being duped into believing fake news about the Muslim Brotherhood. What else can we conclude when we hear that one of the first things he is preparing to do in the White House is to ban the Muslim Brotherhood in the US by declaring it to be a "terrorist organisation"?
The bill to this effect — the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015-16 — has been drafted by right-wing Republican Senator Ted Cruz. It identifies the Brotherhood and three of its offshoots, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), as "terrorist" groups.
Any reasonable person with even a modicum of understanding of the Muslim world knows that this is poppycock. Nevertheless, there are attempts to lump the Brotherhood in the same category as the Taliban, Al-Qaida and Daesh. Those who can differentiate between the ideologies of the latter three will know that from Kandahar to Raqqa, the Brotherhood is regarded as virtually heretical and hence is reviled by their supporters.
There is no doubt that as far as the pro-Israel lobby is concerned, the Brotherhood's branch in Palestine — the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) – is the Devil's spawn. This has to be regarded in context, though, because the Zionist lobbyists despise anyone and everyone who gives active support to the Palestinian cause, from families boycotting Israeli produce on the supermarket shelves to peaceful activists on the front line resisting Israeli teargas and bullets to protect olive trees in the occupied West Bank.
When the good people of Palestine held democratic elections and swept Hamas to power in 2006, the movement's victory so angered the US administration that it funded, along with Israel, an attempted coup by a faction within Fatah; it failed, but the subsequent Israeli-led siege of Gaza has been in place ever since, with Washington's full approval. America's response to the movement's electoral victory sent a warning shot across the region, for the benefit of the dictators and despots clinging to power, that the rest of the Arab world beyond Palestine might also want a taste of freedom and democracy.
It remains to be seen if Trump recognises the dossiers and briefings on the Muslim Brotherhood as fake, or if he will collude with the same Arab dictators and tyrants who have their own agenda as well as a long-distance relationship with the truth, along with their compliant media organisations.
Earlier this month, the Muslim Brotherhood took the unusual step of issuing an official statement decrying the fake news created to demonise the movement. This came after some sections of the media invented a story saying that the remnants of the Brotherhood in Egypt had announced "the militarisation of its movement against the military coup and that it has decided to resort to violence."
"The General Office of the Muslim Brotherhood," the group explained, "and all the departments affiliated with it, would like to stress that the group's position as announced in February 2014, and which has been endorsed by the new Shura Council that was elected in the middle of this past December, of adhering to the revolutionary path in order to break the coup does not mean 'militarising the revolution' or heading toward violence."
This simply means that the Brotherhood "is endeavouring to possess the tools necessary for achieving victory, in their all-encompassing definitions, based on civil resistance that peoples around the world legitimately resort to and that is supported by all the resolutions of international legitimacy in order to get rid of military dictatorship and win their freedom and dignity. This is a path that free nations cannot afford to do without in their endeavour to protect their gains and inflict defeat on the real terrorism that is being nurtured by the despotism of repressive regimes."
The Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to bringing about change in such a troubled region as the Middle East through non-violent means should be commended and welcomed by any and all reasonable people, including those in Washington. However, it seems that the explicit statement is already being ignored by Trump's advisors. Somebody needs to tell the new US president that his people are lying to him about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, both in America and overseas.
When dictatorships and rogue states that do not encourage freedom of speech, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, have outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood it should be obvious that this indicates that the movement stands for the sort of values despised by such regimes and trumpeted — no pun intended — by the US and other Western states.
After the Muslim Brotherhood was swept into power in Egypt and Mohamed Morsi become its first democratically-elected leader it sent shock waves throughout the region. If freedom and democracy could come to Egypt, it was believed, then it could happen anywhere; that is why unelected regional heads of state set about spending billions of petrodollars to destabilise the Arab Spring and undermine the fledgling Morsi government in Cairo.
The result is that Egypt's only democratically-elected president is now languishing in a Cairo hell-hole of a prison under sentence of death. Over the past three and a half years he has been joined by thousands of other political prisoners from the now banned Brotherhood. The Egyptian economy is in a mess and the government of coup leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is propped up by foreign aid.
Ted Cruz's bill requiring the US State Department to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a "foreign terrorist organisation" looks very likely to become law just months after outgoing US President Barak Obama hosted a meeting with some senior members of the movement in Washington. A press release from the Texas senator claims that the Brotherhood "espouses a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West", which is contradicted completely by the group's own statement.
If Trump hates fake news so much he should practice what he preaches; if he's going to ban anything at all, it should be political statements by Republican ideologues like Cruz which spread false information. He has had a taste of what it's like to be on the receiving end of lies when confronted with the dodgy intelligence dossier on his activities in a Moscow hotel. In truth, though, while most of us had a snigger at Trump's expense, the reality is that no one died.
The deployment of misinformation about the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, has been exploited eagerly by dictatorships with vicious crackdowns on their own citizens, at great cost to liberty and life. The stakes in this issue are high; fake news can be fatal. Now's the time to put an end to such devious shenanigans. Trump should outlaw them today, and ignore the scaremongering about the Muslim Brotherhood by Ted Cruz or anybody else.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.