On October 7, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women’s rights activists, including the first Arab woman winner. Her name is Tawakul Karman; she is a member of a Muslim Brotherhood party with an Al-Qaeda-linked official as one of its senior leaders. The committee chairman acknowledged her membership and said the West’s opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood is wrong. To the committee, the Islamist ideology — complete with leaders who recommend suicide bombings and provide material support to terrorists — and peace are not mutually exclusive.
Karman is a 32-year old journalist with three children. She leads an organization called, Women Journalists Without Chains. To her credit, she has fought for women’s rights and has been imprisoned for challenging Yemeni President Saleh. She was instrumental in the Arab Spring’s manifestation in Yemen, and is an adversary of the Salafists. She wants legislation passed against child marriage. She boldly stopped wearing the niqab in 2004 and appeared on television without it.
Although these are admirable causes, the fact remains that Karman chooses to sit on the Shura Council of Islah, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islah was founded in 1990 and has three pillars of support: Tribes, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. The Islamist party has been extremely critical of Yemen’s relationship with the U.S. and wants a religious police to “promote virtue and curb vice.” It has been revealed that Anwar al-Awlaki hid in three homes owned by Islah members before he was killed by an American drone. One home belonged to Amin al-Okaimi, the chairman of Islah. The second safehouse was owned by al-Awlaki’s driver, whose brother is a high-level Islah official. The third house was Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani’s, a co-founder of Islah that can be referred to as Yemen’s version of Shiekh Yousef al-Qaradawi.
Zindani’s leadership role in Islah proves that the party is not moderate by any standard. In 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department labeled him a “specially designated terrorist” for arming, recruiting and funding for Al-Qaeda. He also has links to Ansar al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. A U.S. federal court said that he coordinated the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and a lawsuit accuses him of having personally chosen the two suicide bombers for the attack.
The university he founded in Sanaa has been indoctrinating students since its founding in 1993. John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” who was captured while fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, went to school here. Anwar al-Awlaki did as well, and even was a lecturer from 2004 to 2005. The terrorist who tried to set off a bomb in his underwear onboard a flight to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was also in Sanaa during this time for “education.” It has not been proven, but there is a reasonable suspicion that Abdulmutallab and al-Awlaki met at Zindani’s school.
Zindani is very close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. He is an official with the Union of Good, a network of charities overseen by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Muslim Brotherhood theologian. This network is used by Hamas for fundraising. In April 2006, Zindani met with Khaled Mashall, the leader of Hamas, at a fundraiser in Yemen. Zindani urged the crowd to donate to Hamas.
Islah claims that Zindani has no connection to Al-Qaeda or terrorism at all. Even if that were true, his extremist preaching should be enough for Yemeni democratic activists to condemn him: He speaks in favor of Hamas’ suicide bombings and preaches that “an Islamic state is coming.” He is fervently anti-American, telling his followers that the “so-called war on terror is in fact a war against Islam.” It logically follows that Muslims who fight the U.S. military engaged in the war on terror are defending Islam.
Tawakul Karman’s fight for women’s rights and free elections has drawn the ire of some of her Islah colleagues. Zindani is in favor of allowing underage girls to get married to full-grown men. Some clerics in the opposition have spoken out against her. This is positive, but as Michael Rubin writes, “Karman may be honorable, but certainly it is worth asking her how she can affiliate with a party whose co-founder embraces such positions.”
She may argue that Islah is the most viable alternative to Saleh, but the opposition umbrella group to which Islah belongs is diverse. Why stick with Islah? If she feels that the other parties are no better, then why not create her own? She is a rock star in the Arab world and certainly has the following to start her own party.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee did not even begin asking these questions. In fact, the chairman even upheld the Muslim Brotherhood as a positive force. Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said that the group knew about her Muslim Brotherhood ties, acknowledging that “in the West [it] is perceived as a threat to democracy.” To him, her Brotherhood affiliation was far from a disqualifier. He said the West is wrong to fear the group. “I don’t believe that [the West’s view]. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”
The Nobel Peace Prize committee is supposed to recognize those who fight for human rights, justice, peace and good-will. Instead, it has honored a prominent member of a Muslim Brotherhood party that has an Al-Qaeda-linked preacher of hate among its leadership. The Nobel Peace Prize committee has lost whatever credibility it had left.