Muslim Brotherhood antisemitism may have influenced ISIS in Iraq

In 2014, Islamic state (ISIS) rampaged across northern Iraq, setting fire to Shi’a mosques and persecuting Yazidis and Christians. Its ideology was commonly attributed to  Salafism exported from Saudi Arabia. However, a doctoral thesis published in 2022 at Uppsala University in Sweden takes a different approach to  the question of Islamist violence. The author, Evin Ismail, an Iraqi Shi’a, considers that genocidal antisemitism inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideologue, Egyptian-born Sayyid Qutb, is at the core of ISIS philosophy and transferred itself from Jews to Iraqi Shi’a Muslims. Qutb’s brother Muhammad, a professor in Saudi Arabia, disseminated Sayyid’s anti-Jewish writings, while the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking refuge in the country after the Hama massacre of 1982, also imported its virulent antisemitism into Saudi Arabia. 

Muslim Brotherhood Sayyid Qutb was responsible for its ideology of antisemitic violence. Qutb was jailed by Nasser and executed.

The rise of the Islamic State, and its antisemitic ideology, has led to violence against Jews in Europe and a genocide of Shia Muslims in Iraq. This thesis investigates the causes and origins of Islamist antisemitic violence from a social identity perspective. It is the first systematic study of Islamist antisemitism and anti-Shiism that accounts for its trajectory from its inception in the 1930s until 2018. The material consists of primary sources of Islamist literature. First, it studies antisemitic perpetrators of Islamist attacks in Europe. Second, it analyses antisemitism in Islamic State propaganda. Third, it studies Sayyid Qutb’s antisemitism. Lastly, it studies the antiShiite legacy of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Sahwa movement.

The study does not situate the problem of Islamist violence within the religion itself or the Sunni or Shia branch of Islam but rather within how political actors use religion for political purposes. This thesis challenges the conventional view of the Islamic State’s violence as originating from the theological interpretations of Salafism and argues that rather, it originates from the political ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Furthermore, it centers antisemitism and its interconnected anti-Shiism at the core of Islamist ideology and use of violence. The findings demonstrate that mainly two concepts are central to Islamist antisemitic violence: the war against Islam conspiracy and the imaginary victimized ummah. Additionally, it shows that antisemitism and anti-Shiism are interconnected since the Sahwa movement and ISIS transferred antisemitic notions onto Shiites.

The study also shows that the war against Islam conspiracy is the main feature of ISIS antisemitism and that it was developed by Sayyid Qutb, who inspired the Sahwa movement. It also demonstrates that the Sahwa movement inspired ISIS in their politicized genocidal antiShiism.

The findings can be divided into seven categories: 1) the war against Islam conspiracy; 2) a politicization of religious identities; 3) Muslim identity as either victimized or martial; 4) the imaginary victimized ummah; 5) violence in defense of the imaginary victimized ummah; 6) a transfer of antisemitic notions onto Shiites; and 7) antisemitic Islamist excommunication of Muslims. This thesis argues that antisemitic and anti-Shiite violence is the result of the politicization of religious identities within a war narrative. In addition, this thesis demonstrates how the Muslim Brotherhood combined Nazi antisemitism with politicized interpretations of Islamic scripture, inspiring the Islamic State’s Islamist antisemitism and violence.

Read thesis in full

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