One of the mistakes that the West makes is that it doesn’t listen to what the Islamists are saying. If only we listened, we could hear their strategy. In November 2011, Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Muslim Brotherhood theologian and arguably the most influential Sunni cleric in the world, called on Muslims to embrace “gradualism.”
The doctrine of gradualism is successful because we fail to appreciate the ability of the Islamists to be skillful political strategists. Gradualism is an intelligent form of jihad based on pragmatism, patience, long-term planning and self-evaluation.
The Islamists evaluate their performance and recalibrate their strategy accordingly. The West misinterprets this as being “moderate,” when in reality, not all Islamists are as reckless as Al-Qaeda.
The Muslim Brotherhood is in the process of completing the fourth phase in Egypt.
In this stage, the Islamists implement Sharia by describing it as their form of “democracy” and “freedom.” They will argue that each democracy is different and so we must be tolerant of their version. Sheikh Qaradawi explains, “What I am for is a genuine type of democracy, for a society driven by the laws of Sharia that is compatible with the values of freedom, human rights, justice and equity.”
Qaradawi admits that “our democracy is different.” Secular democracy like that in the West does not honor God and is immoral. “Democracy itself also can make what it wants as lawful, or prohibit anything it does not like. In comparison, the Sharia as a political system has limits. If we are to adopt democracy, we should adopt its best features.”
As far back as 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood had drawn up a 12-point strategy to “establish an Islamic government on earth.” It was discovered when the Swiss authorities raided the home of Yousef Nada in 2001 and is referred to as "The Project."
The document says to exercise “flexibility at the local level” and “to reconcile political engagement and the necessity of avoiding isolation on one hand, with permanent education and institutional action on the other.”
It calls for “controlling the local centers of power through institutional action” and to build alliances with other Islamic groups even if there are disagreements. It supports “temporary cooperation” with non-Muslim groups that are anti-Israel and “struggle against colonialism.”
The strategy document says the worldwide Brotherhood must “support movements engaged in jihad across the Muslim world” but “should not look for confrontation with our adversaries, at the local or the global scale, which would be disproportionate and could lead to attacks.”
It talks of constructive “self-criticism” and using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to further its strategy, “since it acts as the keystone of the renaissance of the Arab world today.” In other words, use the conflict to radicalize the masses.
Hamas, a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, also acts in accordance with gradualism. In December, the leader of Hamas stated that it was working towards the “interim objective of liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem.” The destruction of Israel, or in the Islamists’ words, the “liberation of all Palestine,” follows.
Wherever the Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamists operate, there is a phased strategy—even in the United States. The Islamic Circle of North America, one of the most powerful Muslim-American groups in the U.S., explained its five phases in its handbook published in 2010 and it very closely follows what Badie said in Egypt.
The phases are: Educating yourself; Converting your family; Outreach into the community; “establish an Islamic society” on the state level and then a “united Islamic state, governed by an elected khalifah in accordance with the laws of Sharia.”
At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood, specifically the International Institute of Islamic Thought and the North American Islamic Trust, were working on the first phase. It included creating “political action front groups with no traceable ties” so that it can “peacefully get inside the United States government and also American universities.”
The source told the FBI that Brotherhood operatives “claimed success infiltrating the United States government.”
In 2004, the FBI seized another Brotherhood strategy document that describes its “work in America as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization within.” It describes 5 phases:
The Islamists have a comprehensive long-term strategy for victory that’s been around for decades. It’s about time that we made one of our own.
Ryan Mauro is Clarion Project's National Security Analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.