Dear apologist

In your public declarations, you now claim — contrary to what I heard you say in a private gathering twenty-two years ago — that your movement never advocated its followers infiltrating every institution of the state. Each time you are asked about the growing body of evidence that suggests that they did precisely that, you assertively reply: “It was not infiltration, but integration.” You argue that having consistently been such high performers in education, it was statistically inevitable that people with sympathy for the movement would attain the top roles in those institutions.

This argument, of course, sounds perfectly reasonable and plausible. The gatekeepers of the secular state have had a long history of suppressing conservative Muslims, undermining their efforts to participate in the political life of their nation. It was only natural that they would strive their utmost to bring about change from within, by seeking to work within the system, rather than agitating for change from outside. To an enlightened audience, grounded in solidarity with the disenfranchised and striving against societal discrimination, this narrative sounds utterly persuasive. Yes, integration, not infiltration; an organic, circumstantial change of fortunes, as witnessed across a multitude of diaspora populations building new lives abroad.

The uninquisitive of us would be minded to leave it there, accepting your narrative at face value. Repeatedly you assert that your movement is not a hierarchal organisation made up of members, but is rather a loose grassroots fraternity, made up of men and women inspired to live a good life in the service of others. Some of these men and women may organise themselves into groups, acting together towards a common goal, but that is no business of the movement, for the movement does not in fact exist, other than as the seed of an idea planted in the hearts of man. There was no grand masterplan, directed from the centre, for there is no centre. There was no great strategy, carefully planned, just random acts of kindness, multiplied by the millions bound together by a common mentality.

All of which would be fine, were it not for an unfortunate series of events, in which powerful and influential men with strong connections to the movement connived to bring their opponents to their knees, utilising forgeries and planted evidence. In their sights, the hated secular elites and their brutal protectors in the military, accused of plotting to overthrow the newly elected government. You know as well as I do that evidence of this coup plot was leaked in a popular liberal newspaper, thought serious enough to authenticate prior to publication and non-partisan so as to avoid charges of political bias. It was enough for most in civil society, across the political spectrum — liberal and religious, left and right — that the claims rang true. The military had, after all, staged numerous coups over the preceding decades, ruthlessly stifling democracy in its defence of secularism. For this reason, the military was hated and distrusted across society, by the left and the religious alike.

As we both well know, a series of criminal trials thus began, in which vast numbers of senior generals in the army and navy were arrested. A few independent analysts voiced concerns about the so-called evidence, citing anachronisms in the documents that suggested they were forgeries, but most people rejoiced in the prosecutions regardless, delighting in seeing the military being put back in their box. I remember friends at the time regaling me of every development, and observed as the government stood back to watch, recognising that the purges were to their full benefit. “Back to your barracks,” they would say. The trials ended with hundreds sentenced to long spells in prison, amongst them generals and officers of the military, as well as journalists, politicians and unconnected critics of your movement.

What united the police, prosecutors and judges in these cases, however, was a shared mission: they were all associated with the same religious movement. I know that in your mind, that is mere happenstance: if they did act together, then they can only have gone rogue. If not, then it was once more the result of that statistical inevitability, that people inspired by the movement, receiving the best education that the country had to offer, had risen through the ranks and found themselves in positions of power at just the wrong or right time, depending on your perspective. When pressed on that episode now, you say that you neither condemned that abuse of power in the movement at the time, nor did you speak about it at all. It was not on your radar, you claim, even as all of movement-aligned media covered it in depth for years.

In any case, your view seems to be that if they really were acting on orders from the top of a sinister secret society, their plot would surely never have been discovered. To which my response is: “Well, only if they were as competent and brilliant as they think themselves.” No doubt the forgers of evidence were quite smart, but they weren’t that smart.

They were smart enough to burn the forgeries onto a CD using a back-dated computer hosting incriminating user accounts to produce convincing metadata. However they were not smart enough to screen the hexadecimal data behind the files to remove the telltale evidence that the files had been created in Office 2007, software that was not released until four years after the documents were said to have been created. Nor were they smart enough to remove anomalies referencing organisations that did not yet exist and events that had not yet occurred in 2003.

These sham trials and the mischievous reporting of movement-aligned media, you consistently attribute to misguided individuals at best or a rogue group at worst, moved by their personal zealotries to ensure the military never had power to stage another coup ever again. Perhaps that intent was commendable. But explain to me, if you will, the backfilling of those senior posts in the armed forces, left vacant by the generals and officers sentenced to prison or summarily dismissed. More fortuitous happenstance, I suppose, as the statistically inevitable promotion of the very best minds of the nation occurred once more, filling the navy with yet more senior men with innocuous ties to the movement.

A beautiful case of integration at its finest, enabled by nothing but hard work, a decade-long witch-hunt and a perfectly reasonable smattering of planted forged evidence, that no amount of forensic expertise could disprove, due to the fortuitous happenstance that the judges involved in the case had been promoted into key positions to corruptly sentence unpopular men to prison as a result of probable inevitability. Fear not, I will duck before you fire back: “Government propaganda!” For it is not necessary to absorb the unflappable hogwash published by the pro-government press to reach these conclusions. If your worldview has matured over the years as much as you say it has, feel free to review the penetrating analysis of the government’s fiercest critics.

Here is a wee anecdote for you to ponder. While residing abroad a few years ago, my brother-in-law, a staunch secularist, had a habit of reprogramming my television whenever he came to visit. While I was busy making tea for my guests, he would be found working his way down my list of channels, deleting every pro-government channel he could find, while promoting his antagonistic anti-government channels to the top of the list. There is no free press in that country you claim, speaking from exile; only, after every visit from my brother-in-law, my television would spew anti-government rhetoric morning, noon and night. Naturally, I am well-versed in the arguments of the government’s opponents. Fortunately, as a foreigner, I am not required to pick a side.

I must confess, as much as I frequently find myself wound up by the government’s groupies — especially the fan-clubs abroad sold on a righteous fiction, lacking all perspective — I find your apologia for the movement nauseous. Mutual friends of ours have been totally taken in by it, regurgitating the legends you promulgate without pause. Some seem to believe that there is a simple binary at play: that critics of the movement must necessarily support the government. Nonsense! Each group used the other when it suited them, and then discarded them totally in their pursuit of power. Never truer: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If you are sincere, as I am optimistically inclined to believe you are, perhaps it is time to step back and properly review the abuses of power of the movement, which you grudgingly admit occurred when challenged by a friendly academic. While I know you have no real interest in doing so after two decades of propagandist dialogue, utilising faux academic symposiums as cover, if you are moved by the truth you should speak the truth, even if against yourself. We are not bound by loyalty to a group, but by loyalty to the truth alone.

We all misspoke in our youth, uttering words we regret decades later. Perhaps you too now regret sentiments you uttered in my presence, blabbering outloud ideas long disowned. You have hindsight on your side now. So disown them. Time to stop speaking of statistical inevitabilities and probabilities, surprised that some men took words you and your companions once uttered more seriously than you did yourself. See, despite everything, always willing to grant you the full benefit of the doubt, despite all indications. For none knows the hearts of man and the unseen except He who has power over all things.

In pursuit of the truth,

An old friend.

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