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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

An Islamic State in Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood and the Presidential Elections

by Barbara Zollner, guest contributor

Banned Muslim Brotherhood CandidatesA composite photograph of Egyptian Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail (left), Khayrat al-Shater (center), and former Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Egypt’s election commission said on April 14, 2012 that the three men were among ten candidates barred from running for president. (Photo by Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

The battle over Egypt’s democratic future is at a significant crossroads. But while the fight for succession to Mubarak’s throne is fully under way, the rules of the competition seem to be constantly changing.

Only two weeks ago, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) announced their decision to field a candidate for the May presidential elections. They nominated businessman and multi-millionaire Khayrat al-Shater. Fostering deep-seated fears about Islamist regimes, the Washington Post expressed concern that, should Shater win the elections, Islamic law would be enforced.

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A Fundamental Rearranging of Societies, Hopes, and Dreams

by Krista Tippett, host

Scott Atrain in DamascusI love it when we can find a way into a story that is blanketing the news — and open it up in a revealing, humanizing way. I feel that listening to Scott Atran this week does just that.

I first heard him on the BBC in the middle of the night a few months ago. I wrote down his name in a kind of fog. He was talking about his book Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists.

He has spent the last decade listening and conversing across a range of Muslim cultures with people implicated in suicide bombing attacks as well as political leaders and extended circles of friends and family beyond the radicalized young. The perspective he has gained is not uncontroversial, and not comfortable. But it is challenging in the best way: mind-opening and eye-opening.

And that is the kind of insight we need right now. For if there is any universal reaction I’m hearing to events on the streets of Tunisia, Yemen, and especially Egypt, it is the surprise of them. Behind that surprise, we’re aware that little of the last decade’s profusion of facts, news, and analysis about “the Middle East” and “the Arab world” prepared us to expect this very human democratic eruption. Nor do we know how to respond to it, it seems, either at the highest political levels or as citizens.

Talking to the Enemy:  Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists by Scott AtranScott Atran offers deep context for this picture of social upheaval. He came to study anthropology under the late great Margaret Mead, and spent the first part of his career studying Mayan Indians and the Druze people of the Middle East. Then a decade ago he turned his attention to the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism from Indonesia to Europe to the Middle East.

He sought to understand why some young people become radicalized, asking: Why do some of them become terrorists and suicide bombers? What makes young people in the extended circles of family and friendship around these people susceptible or immune?

What he has learned is a fascinating backdrop for hearing and seeing the young who are at the heart of the movement in Cairo and elsewhere. For their energies, anger, and dreams — fueled by the same frustrations that political analyses have labeled as breeding grounds for terrorism — are now surfacing as breeding grounds for democratic reform. They are doing so with impressive courage and civility.

Scott Atran also offers some sweeping ideas that become food for thought as we rearrange our view of how our world might unfold. Without denying the danger and devastation of terrorism, he points out that American minds, in particular, became convinced of a magnitude of terrorist threat that hasn’t been borne out beyond the 9/11 attacks.

Al Qaeda, he says with certainty, is not what it once was. More importantly, as Atran would have us see, this focus on Al Qaeda blinded us to the human and democratic possibilities alive in other cultures just as they are alive in our own. The “clash of civilizations” that so many feared, he offers, may really be a crash and potential rebirth of territorial cultures — a fundamental rearranging of societies, hopes, and dreams.

And surely one of the most galvanizing qualities of the voices from Tahrir Square is how they are echoing quintessential themes of American history. As someone who also knows the Muslim Brotherhood well, Scott Atran would have us resist catastrophizing about the unlikely possibility that they might come to power. At the same time and just as fervently, he would have us attend to the range of Muslim people and organizations that will help weave the fabric of a new democracy, if indeed a democracy emerges in Egypt — just as a whole range of fervently Christian people and organizations were integral threads in the fabric of American civil society from the very first.

About the top image: Scott Atran in Damascus to do follow-up interviews with Middle East leaders on the role of sacred values in seemingly intractable conflicts. (photo: Scott Atran)


Visions of Islam in Egypt: From the Muslim Brotherhood to Shariah Law (video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Haroon Moghul's recent articles in Religion Dispatches, particularly "4 Reasons Why Egypt’s Revolution is Not Islamic," have been one of many perspectives that I’ve found of great help in trying to make sense of events happening in Egypt during this past week.

And, much to my delight, today he spends nearly an hour discussing the Muslim Brotherhood — its history, its potential role in Egypt, and how it exists in the United States — and a pretty good primer on shariah law — from its historical context to how it exists and functions within contemporary, democratic societies. I’d love to know what you found interesting or points that confuse your understanding of these ideas.

Wars are only won in two ways — you destroy your enemy or you make them your friends.

Scott AtranScott Atran, a scholar and research scientist at the University of Michigan who specializes in group dynamics and Middle East ethnography and political economy

Krista just finished her interview with the author of Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood and the (Un)making of Terrorists, who characterizes the Muslim Brotherhood as “Keystone Cops.” We’ll be turning this show around for next week. It’s gonna be a good one.

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor