The Middle East expert Barry Rubin has an excellent blog post on the huge success of the Muslim Brotherhood's PR campaign to convince gullible Westerners that it is the moderate alternative to "Salafist" extremism in Egypt and elsewhere. There is one point I disagree with, however: his claim that the Western "far left" is responsible for favoring the Muslim Brotherhood. To the extent that a "far left" exists at all, in the U.S. at least, it consists of marginal cranks with zero influence on public policy. This is related to a consistent flaw in Rubin's argumentation: his uncritical acceptance of the "conservative" American claim that President Obama is some kind of left-wing radical.
It is difficult to understand where this idea even comes from, unless it is really a dishonest way of expressing fear of Obama's "otherness." (I don't think Professor Rubin is guilty of this kind of dishonesty, which makes his adoption of this point of view even more puzzling.) The irony is that despite his exotic name and parentage, the President is well within the centrist mainstream of American politics. His main policy initiatives, such as the health care law, are not even in the spirit of the New Deal, let alone of "socialism." In the New Deal dominated era of American politics from 1932 to 1968, or arguably till 1980, Obama's private sector-centered proposals would have been considered a form of moderate Republicanism. Just look at how he stocked his cabinet from the beginning, when the financial crisis was at its height, with Wall Street-friendly types like Geithner and Summers. Obama has no instinct or appetite for left-wing populism and he sounds half-hearted when he tries to make such noises. In personal and political temperament, as regards domestic policy, the president he is most like is John F. Kennedy.
The question, then, is where the spirit of apologetics for political Islam in Western media analysis comes from. I think at base it's similar to the apologetics heard in the democratic West for fascism and then Nazism--and also for Stalinist Communism--in the 1920s and 30s. Most of the people who spoke along those lines were not really pro-totalitarian (though they sure could sound like it!); they were willfully ignorant about what these movements really stood for and really did in the countries where they reigned. There was much praise of the supposed economic and social efficiency of these movements (a theme we are unlikely to see rehashed once the Muslim Brothers consolidate themselves and start scaring off foreign investors, enforcing the Islamic prohibition against charging interest, etc.)
But the essential psychological mechanism driving the earlier generation of apologists was the worship of power and apparent success, along with a dose of fear and the semi-conscious belief that if the totalitarians were propitiated they would leave the comfortable democratic West alone--the hope that, as I think Churchill put it, the crocodile will eat me last. (For an excellent essay on this phenomenon, see George Orwell's "James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution.)"
I believe a similar psychology is at work now, along with similar willed ignorance, wishful thinking, and the new element of "cultural cringe" before the supposedly Western-oppressed Muslim and Arab societies. And I think that what needs to be done about the apologists is much the same as it was in our grandparents' day--to insist on telling the truth, as Orwell did, no matter how unpopular it is. This is where I believe Rubin's work is so valuable, despite his apparently Republican-influenced misreading of American domestic politics.