Archive for Haroon Moghul

Asra Nomani in The Daily Beast: Spy on White People

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by loonwatch

(cross-posted from avari)

By Haroon Moghul

So, Asra Nomani writes an(other) embarrasing example of self-hatred for The Daily Beast, applauding law enforcement’s apparent targeting of Muslims throughout the Greater New York City area. Her essay is riddled with simple errors, clear misperceptions of how law and constitutionalism function, an inability to process profiling, and some faulty logic, perhaps the finest instance of which is here:

Indeed, just as we need to track the Colombian community for drug trafficking and the Ku Klux Klan for white extremists, I believe we should monitor the Muslim community because we sure don’t police ourselves enough.

The first part of her sentence, about Colombians, is actually right on (by her silly logic); the second part contradicts her own logic (she can call for profiling some Latinos, but she doesn’t have the courage to apply her racializing logic to white America), and everything after “I believe” speaks to how little Asra actually knows anything about the Muslim community, as well as the several seconds of your life which you could have done something better with.For law enforcement to go after white extremism the way it seems to be going after Muslims (at least, with respect to the NYPD), they wouldn’t be going after the KKK, as Asra suggests–unless Asra means to suggest that Muslim student organizations at Yale and UPenn are offshoots of al Qaeda. Law enforcement would instead have to spy on as many white institutions (churches, civic clubs, student organizations, etc.) as they could.

Because, of course, by Asra’s article’s painful logic, a person’s whiteness is a sufficiently significant lead to get law enforcement to pay attention to him, just as a Muslim institution is, on the grounds of its Muslimness, a target of suspicion sufficient to merit law enforcement’s full attention. This is a point Amy Davidson made far more succinctly in an excellent post at The New Yorker:

There is a difference between chasing clues and treating Islam, in and of itself, as a lead.

Does Asra mean to suggest we should be spying on white folks indiscriminately, because they, like the KKK, are white? Should we spy on white Muslims twice, since they are white and Muslim, and so somehow become extremists that hate themselves. I spoke about this issue on a far more relevant basis to Welton Gaddy of State of Belief Radio.

By the way, I’ll be at Fordham’s Manhattan campus today (Monday, March 5th), speaking about the long history of Islam and especially Islam in America. It’s free, and I’ll try to make it fun, educational, and enlightening. We’ll be starting at 6pm at Fordham’s South Lounge inside 113 West 60th Street, right off Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The event ends at 8pm.

Haroon Moghul is a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. He is an Associate Editor and columnist at Religion Dispatches and writes for the Huffington Post.

Haroon Moghul: Stop the Reckless Spying on Muslims

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2012 by loonwatch

Stop the Reckless Spying on Muslims

by Haroon Moghul (Foreign Policy)

The United States spends millions flying diplomats around the planet to bolster America’s relationship with the Muslim world. Meanwhile, its reservoir of trust among the Muslim community at home is rapidly being depleted — courtesy of the New York Police Department (NYPD).

On Feb. 20, Yale University President Richard Levin expressed his anger at the NYPD’s extensive surveillance of American Muslim students, which has included monitoring students’ emails and websites,events and speakers, and activities — not only at Yale, but at universities across the northeast. In one frequently cited incident, an undercover police officer accompanied students from the City College of New York on a white-water rafting trip, noting their topics of conversation and the frequency of their prayers. This type of surveillance, Levin wrote, “is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”

New York City’s top officials, however, have shown no inclination to rein in the NYPD’s obsessive monitoring of American Muslims. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made light of the Yale president’s concerns, calling them “cute” and “ridiculous.” He then attacked Levin: “Yale’s freedoms to do research, to teach, to give people a place to say what they want to say is defended by the law enforcement throughout this country.”

Far from supporting academic freedom, the NYPD has done tremendous damage to campus life. Far from “keeping the country safe,” as Bloomberg stated, the NYPD is making us less safe.

I’ve worked with Muslim students across the United States — offering media training, leading workshops debunking common and pernicious myths about Muslim history, and giving lectures on Islamic law, Muslim identity, and the value of civic engagement. These students are bright, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and remarkably civic-minded. Targeting them is not merely offensive and contrary to American values and principles, but clueless. Don’t take my word for it, either. The students on whom the NYPD is spying attend some of the highest-caliber universities in the world: Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and New York University, among others.

American Muslims are, in fact, the most accomplished and educated segment of the global population of 1.5 billion Muslims. Our successes are American successes, and they undeniable evidence of America’s pluralism and promise. Restrictions on our rights fuel extremist arguments that Muslimswill never be accepted as equals in the West. For those like me who have spent years trying to shrink the trust deficit, this is a tremendous setback.

Put yourself in the shoes of an American Muslim student: One day, you learn that NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly cooperated in the production of a hateful pseudo-documentary on Islam — the film alleges American Muslim organizations are conspiring to take over the United States — even though his office initially denied his role in the project and hid the fact that the film was screened to some 1,500 officers. Would you feel that law enforcement still has your best interests in mind?

The NYPD’s surveillance efforts seem to be shockingly extensive and targeted specifically at American Muslims. As discovered by the Associated Press, which won a prestigious Polk Award for its investigation, the NYPD under Bloomberg has engaged in a massive effort to compile information on Muslims, including spying on New York City mosques. In the process, the NYPD has exceeded the limits set even by the FBI and has frequently pursued its investigations for no discernible purpose and based on no evident allegations. The only relevant consideration for the NYPD seems to have been that all Muslims are worth spying on.

On Feb. 22, we learned that the NYPD’s activities extend to Newark, New Jersey. The Associated Press’s Matt Apuzzo reported that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not told about what he termed the NYPD’s “disturbing” spying activities across state lines. Christie called for the state’s attorney general to investigate the NYPD’s actions, concluding on a note of frustration: “NYPD has developed a reputation of asking forgiveness rather than permission.” (Read the rest)

Jesus, Carpet Bomb My Heart: An Undercover Muslim in Detroit

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2011 by loonwatch

An evocative inside look into the Evangelical crusade for Muslim hearts.

Jesus, Carpet Bomb My Heart: An Undercover Muslim in Detroit

by Haroon Moghul (Religion Dispatches)

I’m the one they’re after. I’m “the enemy,” the believer in the “false idol,” “the darkness” Jesus needs to cast out of America, the reason they’re spending all night in Detroit’s Ford Field, sending prayers over Michigan mosques “like sending special forces into Afghanistan.” And there are thousands of them, come because Pastor Lou Engle asked them to.

Founder of TheCall, Engle warns that an Islamic movement is rising in Dearborn, Michigan—“Ground Zero” for America’s spiritual future (and site of a new TLC reality show, All-American Muslim). When I heard the goals for TheCall Detroit—healing America in a time of crisis, accomplishing racial reconciliation, and (here’s where I come in) bringing Jesus to Muslim hearts—I figured a Muslim in the crowd could be a nice twist.

So I was there with them for hours into the late night and hearing their ex-Muslim speaker ridiculously early in the morning, the undercover Muslim surrounded by tens of thousands beside me, praying for Jesus to invade my heart. My plan was to report from the inside, to talk to the attendees as one among devoted thousands (though probably not revealing my religious background, unless I had to and knew where the exits were).

I’d observe firsthand what goes on at a gathering like this. I’d try to understand how such Christians understand Islam. Lou Engle’s world is alien from my New England roots and New York life. I’d attended churches before, but nothing like this. We need to know where this fear and hate come from, what its intentions are, and who it appeals to.

But as the day approached, Engle’s connections to a network of right-wing activists and political Christians came into focus. From the involvement of US Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin (who has helpfully compared Islam to a diabolical religion), to a Michigan Call coordinator named Rick Warzywak (who believes that Christians should “go back and occupy or take back the land” of American Muslims), to a particularly weird twist on the theme of racial reconciliation (involving sending Detroit’s African-American Muslims, or ex-Muslims, to the Middle East), it was clear that this might be an uncomfortable assignment.

So I shaved my beard down to a goatee. Just in case.

But that anxiety only confirmed the importance of what I was doing. I needed to see this for myself. Americans, and American Muslims especially, need to know how certain interpretations of professedly apolitical Christianity become allied to a far-right agenda of foreign wars and domestic austerity, glorifying the rich while demonizing the poor.

Political Christianity’s treatment of Islam is one of the few points, and perhaps the only point, at which right-wing, political Christianity’s radical agenda is revealed, for its attitude to Islam speaks both to the narrowness of its domestic vision (America for certain Americans) and the aggressiveness of its foreign vision (going abroad to find monstrous Muslims to convert). Don’t let the language of love fool you.

A Pep Rally for Jesus

I was sure I’d be one of very few non-white folks in attendance, yet when the gates opened on Friday afternoon, I was struck by the diversity—and the juvenile vibe. I took my seat close to the stage, surrounded by people of every color, finding it hard to focus because of the pounding Christian rock music shaking the stadium. Folks were on their feet, dancing and swaying. Rather than stick out, I blended in perfectly.

People have tried to compare Islamophobia to old-school racism. And I’ve repeatedly disagreed. We have a tendency to accuse arguments rooted in religion and tradition of reaching back to the past; the truth, however, is much more complicated. As much as religion shapes the world, it is shaped by the world. Even when we invoke the past, we must accommodate the language and conclusions of today. Just fifty years ago, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann would not have been viable candidates. Hell, they wouldn’t have been candidates at all. And so too with TheCall.

The rally formally opened with a Native American band (actually, since they were Canadian, a First Nations band). Everybody seemed into it, on their feet and swaying to the beat. Judging by those first hours, this was worship at the altar of a multicultural Jesus, advertising its many ethnicities, stressing the need for racial reconciliation and forgiveness, encouraging populations pushed apart by suspicion to come together in Jesus’ name. I found it encouraging and I found it worrying.

The diversity was nice. Different languages were spoken on the stage, many different ethnicities were represented. But that diversity could be used to excuse a more subversive intolerance, all the harder to detect for the polyglot multiplicity. It’s not so different from how, since the 1960s, consumer culture has appropriated the language of diversity, and even its attitude, without dealing with its underlying and democratic point. And so we have elite institutions that are ever more racially diverse, who increasingly deploy people of different colors and backgrounds in their advertising and hierarchies, even while social mobility goes into steep decline and the middle class is eviscerated.

I’m sure Engle believes in a Christian movement that transcends race, to reach around the world. Just as I’m sure he’d be greatly pleased by my conversion to his Christianity. But this misses the deeper point, the truly political and partisan nature of TheCall; I saw this as far more than a spiritual exercise in part, I think, because I was forced to process what was happening around me as an outsider. Because, after all, religions are not interchangeable, like different color cars of the same make and model.

Raised in Sunni Muslim tradition, I always experienced worship as the effort to establish an immediate, intimate, and contemplative connection with God; in Sunni mysticism, observing the law is a necessary condition of spirituality. I say this not to establish distance, or to enforce division, but to draw our attention to how religion can be either a source of strength or a source of harm. To make a long point short, Islam is a religion of moral law; when the institutions that produce its legal scholars (who are, ideally, also spiritual authorities) are subverted, undercut, or simply insufficiently rigorous, the resulting interpretations of law become irrelevant—or dangerous.

Keeping that in mind, I found TheCall was immediately shocking.

A friend called a few hours in, concerned that I might be kidnapped (I’m sure he was joking—I hope), and asked what I made of the whole thing. And the first thing that came to mind was: “It’s like a pep rally for Jesus.”

So that Jesus Might Invade Their Dreams

Even when there were speakers, they were bookended by passionate music, deeply emotional calls to prayer, folks spontaneously joining hands and forming prayer circles, turning not to established rituals but whatever the moment led them to. A man behind me started speaking in tongues, and within a few hours, people were fainting and falling to the ground. I had never experienced anything like it.

But with all the transport out of and away from yourself, there was little time to digest what the speakers were saying, little time to think through the implications of their exhortations. In fairness, that didn’t seem to be a problem right away. As I said, the first few hours seemed to be a public relations dream come true; I heard little overtly anti-Muslim sentiment (and no mention of homosexuality).

A look at the program confirmed why. The section titled “Dearborn Awakening” was dumped in dead time, 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Since Dearborn is home to many Arabs and Muslims, as well as one of the largest mosques in America (a Twelver Shi’a mosque, incidentally), I knew this must be the part of TheCall that would confront Islam. Likely the organizers wanted to shift the more controversial stuff to when nobody would be paying attention; according to Rachel Maddow, this might also have been in the hope that, with Michigan Muslims asleep, Jesus might invade their dreams.

Engle underestimated this Muslim’s desire to see through the subterfuge.

I left Ford Field after five hours, frankly exhausted by the emotional commitment requested by TheCall. A friend took me to an Arab restaurant, where all the waitresses wore hijab. That, and seeing Arabic signs and advertisements everywhere, only fifteen minutes from Ford Field, was pleasingly jarring (and strategically reassuring: In case things turned ugly, I knew where to run, and had a reasonable sense of how fast).

I explained to one of the friendly, all-American, veiled waitresses what I was doing in Dearborn. She seemed skeptical. So I shared TheCall’s promotional literature, and she was stunned. This poor girl hadn’t realized she was part of any “Islamic movement in America” (in America, but not “American”). That night, I spoke to other Muslims about TheCall. They were either deeply concerned or just shrugged it off. As of Friday night, I would’ve been with the second group.

At midnight, I was back in my hotel, stuffed full of shish tawouk, Arab pastries, and chai. I took a two-hour nap, and then went back for more.

Like the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood used to have a popular slogan: “Islam is the solution” (Islam huwa al-hall). “Jesus is the answer” is the same kind of sloganeering. I’m not just saying that because I know it would drive Engle nuts. It is an overly and therefore problematically easy answer to some very knotty problems. And hearing Engle insist on this point brought me back to the very format of TheCall, which rushes through speakers, condenses their points, and squishes them between loud music and unreflectively emotional appeals. There’s little time to ponder what it means for America if only Jesus can solve our problems.

In an introduction found in the event program, Engle wrote:

Revolution is in the air. But the revolution that is needed is not a revolution of snarling protesters or angry mobs; it’s a Jesus revolution, a revolution of forgiveness, racial reconciliation, compassion.

It’s one thing if he genuinely disavowed politics, but time and time again his supposedly apolitical efforts have an undeniable political goal. In fact TheCall is deeply and suspiciously political, and—at least here he is honest—revolutionary. It seeks to heal America by making a different America in its place, one whose moral conversation displaces its political discourse, one whose reference point is Jesus. Rick Perry’s prayer rally The Response was modeled on Engle’s interpretation of the solemn assembly described in Joel 2, which in turn shaped TheCall. Engle himself has traveled to Sacramento, Washington, and Kampala to praise efforts to restrict the rights of LGBT people and has led elected Republicans in a prayer session that predicted God would punish America for passing health care reform.

But most relevant here was the vacuity of the content: The solution to America’s great crisis was prayer, from start to end, and apparently little else. Any religiosity that encourages worship without broader social engagement—non-Christians were barely acknowledged over the course of an event designed to heal America’s profound crisis—while allying with those who seek to do away with much of our government is anything but apolitical. It just doesn’t have the courage to admit it.

Engle argues that America is in crisis. So do a lot of folks. But then he argues that the only way out is through Jesus. Undoubtedly every political and social crisis has a moral dimension, though to admit that means little. What matters more is to think this logic through: How will we solve political and social crises if we read them through religious lenses? While a universalized, transnational Christianity has its appeal, it doesn’t leave much room for other Americans—or America as a political project. The more I listened to Engle diagnosing America’s problems, the more I thought of old-school Islamists.

Moozlums Allergic To Jesus

Of course, I had come to hear what TheCall would say about Muslims. Engle’s disavowal of any political agenda is, on this point, either evidence of duplicity or naiveté. We are at war in numerous Muslim-majority countries, facing an America in fiscal crisis, fighting a magnificently costly war on terrorism with no defined end, and watching a movement to ban Shari’ah law to save the Constitution while our civil liberties are increasingly challenged. There is no way that any conversation about Islam in America cannot have political implications. Long story short, I’m glad I was wide awake and raptly attentive at 3 a.m.

“Dearborn Awakening” began with a preacher who could not pronounce “Muslim.” He seemed to think it was “Mooz-lum.” I wanted to raise my hand to correct him, but everyone else had his or her hands raised (for different reasons). In the singing, one of the chorus lines was “Gather the remnants/among the Muslims”—a reference to the remnant of Christians remaining during the Tribulation who will evangelize the non-Christians so they will be saved before Jesus’ return. Another speaker clued us in on Jesus’ attitude to the Muslims: “You love them, and there’s nothing they can do about that.” Leave it to TheCall to make love sound alarming, even terrifying.

But the best was yet to come, and his name was Kamal.

Kamal was the reason we were here (and awake). I didn’t know who Kamal was, and would only later learn his identity, although while he was speaking, I suspected he was a fraud. (I’m not the only one who finds Kamal Saleem dubious). Kamal introduced himself as an ex-terrorist, which usually makes me wonder, considering how others have made lucrative careers profiting from ignorance, paranoia, and naïveté. (Imagine how much money I could make as a “former Muslim” on the incestuous right-wing circuit. I’m imagining it right now, and am mildly depressed.)

I’m not saying Kamal Saleem is definitely a fraud; it may simply be that he was raised by one of the dumbest Muslim families in the world.

Kamal claimed that he was raised in “jihad” in Lebanon, and kindly shared the implications with an audience that knew no better. For example, he said, when a Muslim’s blood is first shed in the path of God, he becomes a Messiah. (Unfortunately for Kamal, there is only one Messiah in Islam, and it’s Jesus—who, to take the previous speaker’s logic to its conclusion, loves us even if Lou Engle doesn’t want him to.) Kamal then told us that Islam teaches that there is only one way to go to heaven, and that is war. In fact, he shared many “facts,” the full effect of which was to convince the audience that Islam is purely demonic. Indeed, numerous references were made to “the darkness,” “the enemy,” and “false idols,” oblique enough to avoid outright outrage, but obvious enough to anyone more than half awake.

Stressing his Muslim credentials, Kamal said that one of his uncles was “the holiest of holies,” the Muslim Pope. There is no Muslim Pope, though to be fair, Kamal’s uncle might just have been lying to the poor boy. Kamal then told us that he was recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO (a secular organization) and went on his first mission into Israel—we’re assuming that this was a military operation—at the age of seven. At the age of eight, he went on his second mission. Years later, when he first met Christians in America, Kamal was repulsed. His initial reaction was: “I’m allergic to Jesus.” (The audience loved this part.) Unfortunately for the supposed former Muslim, nobody taught Kamal that a Muslim who does not honor Jesus is by the consensus of every school in Islam not a Muslim.

Kamal then turned his sharp mind to theology, and distinguished the Muslim concept of God from the Christian, arguing that what Muslims believe in is a false idol. Christians, on the other hand, believe in the true God of love. Nobody told Kamal that one of Islam’s ninety-nine names of God is al-Wadud, the Loving, and that many other names express compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Pretty much everything Kamal praised about the “Christian” God, short of the Trinity, could easily square with Islam’s understanding of the Divine: God is loving, forgiving, merciful, and personally concerned with us. Kamal closed with his conversion story, and a reminder that since converting, Saudi Arabia, the PLO, and the Muslim Brotherhood had all put a price on his head.

All the friendly diversity from Friday night, the warm and smiley openness, had vanished. Love and freedom were convenient catchphrases justifying the identification of nearly one-quarter of humanity with the demonic. It’s one thing to say that you’d like Muslims to convert to Christianity. Fair enough. Many Muslims want Christians to convert to Islam. It’s another thing to so brazenly misrepresent Islam. Conflicts in the past could be safely broached, but when it came to today’s war on terror, the disingenuousness and ill-spiritedness of choosing a former Muslim with the worst possible perspective on Islam revealed Engle’s agenda and its overlap with fearmongering Islamophobes.

After Kamal, there was mostly prayer and music, and prayerful music, until 6 a.m., at which time the first prayer of the day came in (I prayed at the hotel, just to be safe). Afterwards I took a long nap and came back to TheCall by late morning. But by then much had changed. Ford Field, which at best was half full, was empty and dulled. And it was hard to talk to people. Folks were friendly, but rarely chatty—though to do them justice, most of them were fasting, and probably hadn’t slept the night. The conversations I had with participants and performers were generally rushed. I didn’t want to be too obvious by raising the topic of Islam, and so it never came up.

Meanness of Spirit

Even back at the hotel, I didn’t get much traction. Most folks focused on the intensity of the experience, although my coming all the way from New York intrigued some. While taking a shower on Sunday morning, I heard a man in the room next door passionately scream Jesus’ name, but on reflection, that might have been something else entirely. There wasn’t much else to do, and I wanted the other side of the story. Saturday afternoon, I headed for Dearborn’s giant mosque, the Islamic Center of America, where I spent an hour asking the folks I met what they thought about TheCall. One activist noted that he hadn’t made any initiative to reach out to Engle; as an African American, he noted, he wouldn’t reach out to David Duke. For him, Engle was another piece of the Islamophobia puzzle.

After praying at sundown—the first time, incidentally, I’ve prayed in a Twelver Shi’a mosque (this trip was full of new religious experiences)—I visited a mosque in Rochester Hills, this one mostly South Asian and Sunni, where I was also able to get some local Muslims’ reactions to TheCall. There was of course concern, and some surprise. Many had heard, but many had not. More of the Muslims were more interested in hearing what it was like to be there. I’d live-tweeted TheCall and issued far too many Facebook updates, so some looked for clarification or explanation of certain points. I went back to the hotel by midnight and fell asleep fast, and didn’t begin to reflect on the whole experience until Sunday morning.

I was naturally disheartened, considering that the participants probably thought Kamal Saleem represented Islam. But on the drive to the airport that disappointment lifted. America is in crisis, as Engle warned, but its solution can be intimated in the popular energy that has animated engagement from Wisconsin to Wall Street to Tahrir—on the way to the airport, I drove past Occupy Detroit.

Our imaginations are once more open, as we consider the incompatibilities of unchecked capital and genuine democracy. In this time of reconstructing the way our world works, a polarizing and exclusive religious vision is not particularly relevant. America is also inescapably and increasingly diverse, and its domestic and foreign policy requires finding a method of engagement with difference that is reasonable and respectful.

But there is a more inescapable truth about Engle’s “Dearborn Awakening.” He chose a speaker who lied, obfuscated, and confused. Should any of the participants want to learn more about Islam, if even to bring Jesus to Muslims, they have already heard the worst of the worst. And they’ll quickly find out that Islam is very different from what they were told it is. All the passionate music, jubilation, and spiritual energy cannot hide the meanness of spirit that would perpetrate this kind of fraud.

As much as TheCall prayed for “Jesus to cover Dearborn in light, and cast out the darkness,” Kamal Saleem was the one speaking in the dead of night. Engle should pay more attention to his own moralizing etiology of America’s crisis. Democracy, like a free-market economy, operates on trust, and when that trust is lost, it is very hard to recover. The relationship of the faithful with their leaders is much the same. Those many thousands who were clearly lied to on Saturday morning will find out. Perhaps not immediately. But eventually. And then they’ll begin to wonder what else was a lie.

Be careful, Lou Engle.

Haroon Moghul on Why the Egyptian Revolution is not Islamist

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2011 by loonwatch

Via the Huffington Post, an insightful and nuanced analyses from Haroon Moghul. Hopefully people will start to listen.

4 Reasons Why Egypt’s Revolution Is Not Islamic

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletterhere.

Just as in the case of Tunisia, we’ve been caught off guard by the rapid pace of events in Egypt. Commentators are having a difficult time understanding the dynamics of the Arab world and especially the role of religion in this latest apparent revolution. Many wonder why this isn’t an Islamic Revolution, and are audibly breathing a sigh of relief that it isn’t — assuming that somehow Egypt would follow Iran’s rather unique trajectory in 1979 and thereafter.

So why isn’t Egypt’s revolution an Islamic one? And what sets Tunisia and Egypt apart from Iran? Due to the quickly shifting nature of events, I’ve recorded four reasons why Egypt’s uprising isn’t an explicitly Islamic one.

1) The political Islamism that ended up triumphing in Iran was a much more authoritarian interpretation of Islam. It specifically embraced political power and preached a narrative of resistance, though its victory in Iran paradoxically ended any chance of victory elsewhere. That’s because when elites and other, non-religious ideological forces in neighboring Muslim countries saw the purges of prior elites taking place in Iran, they immediately became skeptical of working alongside Islamists in their own country.

Islamic challenges to regimes in Tajikistan, Algeria and Tunisia, among others, were violently supressed even though they pursued their goals democratically. Most Islamists learned from this brutal experience and grew from it; Egypt’s most powerful Muslim group, the Muslim Brotherhood, was one such group. It’s probably safe to say that Iran was the only victory for this style of Islamism, and now, some 30-plus years later, its moment has largely passed. The geopolitical, economic and social reasons for its emergence have disappeared.

2) Iran’s Islamist opposition to the Shah was shaped by the peculiarities of Shi’a Islam and Iranian history. Shi’as have a more organized and powerful clergy than Sunnis, and Iran’s clergy, unlike Egypt’s, were much more independent of the state. In Egypt today, among the main trends in Islamic practice are a quietist Salafism, which seeks a rigorous but non-political personal morality, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

And while the Brotherhood is an incredibly large and powerful organization, it is today a product of years of suppression, torture, and intimidation. While it seeks to change society, it does not pursue an explicitly political agenda. Rather, it believes that an ideal politics will be achieved once society is Islamized — in other words, enough introduction of Muslim values into popular culture, and society will simply reform itself — and that includes the state. So while they have political ideals, they certainly don’t have an explicit political program.

That said, it’s no surprise that the Brotherhood weren’t out ahead in the recent protests: They’ve largely eschewed street politics (it ends with their members electrocuted in jails). It’s also worth considering, although this is still conjectural, whether the Brotherhood declined to play a more public role even after they caught up to events on the street precisely because they know a more prominent role for themselves could draw negative attention. I’m sure the Brotherhood knows that Mubarak would love to have Islamists to blame for the uprising. It would make our government support for his crackdown that much easier to obtain.

3) People who study Iran know how vexed the relationship is, and has been, between Persian cultural identity and Islam. While many Iranians before the revolution were religious in a non-political way, the country’s elite tended to see Islam and Persianness as mutually incompatible. On the other hand, Egypt is a proudly Arab society (hint: the Arab Republic of Egypt) which has never seen Islam as incompatible with their specific ethnic and national project.

Arabness and Islam are hard to pull apart, such that the late Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party — he was a Christian — praised Islam as an achievement of the Arab cultural genius. (Many Muslims wouldn’t take too kindly to such a reading, but there you have it.) That difference in dynamics between Egypt and Iran needs to be stressed.

While Iran’s Shah campaigned against Islam and sought to erase its role in Persian history and culture, Mubarak never attacked Islam with anywhere near the same vehemence. He’s far more concerned with preserving power for himself than he is with rewriting Egyptian history (unfortunately for his prospects of remaining in power, he’s concerned with himself–and not even for Egypt’s advancement, unlike other Third World dictatorships, which do emphasize and achieve real economic growth). And this brings us to the most important point…

4) Egypt’s revolution doesn’t have to be Islamic because Islam isn’t at the heart of the problem on the ground. In fact, the non-political Egyptian Islam of the last few decades has succeeded in deeply Islamizing Egyptian culture, making Muslim piety interwoven with the everyday rhythms of Egyptian life. We saw this in the protests after the Friday prayers today, in the spontaneous congregational prayers that took place in the heat of demonstrations–and we can see it in the number of Egyptian women who veil (though many don’t and still strongly identify with Islam, whether culturally or religiously, personally or publicly).

Egypt’s society is a deeply Muslim one, and the very success of this non-political religious project has negated the need for a confrontational Islam. Egyptians know their religious identity is not under threat. ElBaradei, for example, joined in Friday prayers today before going out into the streets. Whether Egyptians identify with political Islam or secular democracy, their Arabness and Islam tend to be mutually supportive, and certainly not incompatible.

Where there is a danger is that if the United States does not come out explicitly in favor of the people, subsequent events will become more confrontational, and may even see the introduction of a more cultural and civilizational rhetoric. The Shah monopolized power and sought to erase a culture. Mubarak, for all his brutality, has had no such grandiose presumption.

As an aside, I might also add that Muslim societies often have flourishing religious institutions and practices, organic and varied. But in the case of Iran, the regime paradoxically undermined that popular and organic religiosity when they sought to enforce faith through the state. This is an argument for keeping religion and politics separate in the Muslim world: in the interest of defending both from the negative effects of the other. Egypt’s “secular” dictator, who didn’t meddle too far into his people’s religious life — he was no Shah, and no Ben Ali — hasn’t created a sharp cultural divide in his country (the economic one is something else altogether). So why would Egyptians need, want, or stress, an Islamic Revolution?