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The Church Of Scientology, Fact-Checked

New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright explains how he found a number of inconsistencies between documents the Church of Scientology says are official records of founder L. Ron Hubbard's war service and the actual official military records that Wright obtained.


Other segments from the episode on February 8, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 8, 2011: Interview with Lawrence Wright.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Church Of Scientology, Fact-Checked


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Screenwriter and director Paul Haggis left the Church of Scientology in
2009 after writing an angry letter about the church to its spokesperson.
Haggis had been a member of the church for nearly 35 years.

He's spoken publicly about his departure for the first time to
journalist Lawrence Wright. In the current edition of The New Yorker,
Wright profiles Haggis and investigates the Church of Scientology
through interviews with other former members of the church and through
church documents and military documents about its founder, L. Ron

Wright's article is titled "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of
Scientology." Haggis wrote the screenplay for the film "Million Dollar
Baby." He wrote and directed "Crash." Each of those movies won an Oscar
for best picture.

Lawrence Wright is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book
"The Looming Tower," about the history of al-Qaida. The book includes a
history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which we'll talk about a
little later.

Lawrence Wright, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. LAWRENCE WRIGHT (Journalist, Author): Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: So your story revolves around Paul Haggis. Who approached who?
Did you approach him, or did he approach you?

Mr. WRIGHT: No, I approached him. I began - when he dropped out of
Scientology, I was very intrigued because I was an admirer of his work.
I thought "Crash" especially was a wonderful movie. And I got his
business manager's telephone number and called him and said I would like
to write an article, a profile of Paul, apropos of his decision to leave
the Church of Scientology. And the response was: Are you kidding? We
would never do that. And...

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, you know, it's a subject that's very thorny and
controversial. The business manager's opinion was that Paul didn't need
that kind of attention.

And then I got hold of Paul's personal email address, and I sent him a
note. And I said: Your business manager says this is not the right time,
but if there's ever a time when you'd like to tell the story of your, as
I said, intellectual and spiritual development, I'd love to be the one
to do that.

And 20 minutes later, I got a note from him, saying: Very flattered.
Let's have lunch on Tuesday. And so we did. And during the course of the
lunch, I said: Of course, the story is occasioned by your decision to
leave the church.

And his eyes got a little wide, but only later, in another interview,
did he admit that it had never occurred to him that we were going to
talk about Scientology. He was just so flattered that the New Yorker had
taken an interest in him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRIGHT: So it was just a lucky misunderstanding on my part.

GROSS: So how did he agree to talk with you about Scientology?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I was really surprised how candid and open he was. You
know, although from the beginning, he was a little guarded when we
started. And he had never talked about it in public, and actually with
very few of his friends, as well.

And many of the questions that I was asking over the course of the
nearly 10 months that it took to do this story, he had never really
asked himself. So there was a process of discovery for him, as well, I
believe, in the course of the writing of this article.

GROSS: Why were you interested in talking to a former Scientologist? Why
were you interested in Scientology?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, Terry, I've always been intrigued by why people
believe one thing over another. The U.S. is such an unusual place in the
world, because you can believe anything you want. There's a lot of
countries in the world where that's not true.

But here, freedom of belief is like a supermarket. You can choose to
believe anything. And that opens up the question: Why would you believe
this over something else?

And in the course of my career, I've written about the Amish. I've
written about Mormons, Southern Baptists, you know, much about Islam. So
I've spent a lot of time interviewing people about their beliefs, and
Scientology has always been intriguing to me because it's such a
stigmatized religion.

And why people would be drawn to something that has so many negative
connotations around it, I thought there must be something that this
religion offers them, and that's what I wanted to find out.

GROSS: Do you feel like you got an answer to that?

Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. I found that, especially in talking to Paul in the
early days of his association with Scientology, he felt that it helped
him with his relationship. It helped him with his career, gave him a
sense of how interpersonal relations work.

He was not so infatuated with the theology that he later got into. But
in the first part of his association, he felt that he was very rewarded
by his involvement in Scientology.

GROSS: Well, let's get to why Paul Haggis not only left Scientology, but
he left very angry with Scientology. He wrote a very angry letter to
Tommy Davis, who's Scientology's spokesperson. What are some of the
things Paul Haggis criticized about Scientology in that letter of

Mr. WRIGHT: To begin with, his upset with the church had to do with
Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative that would forbid
gay marriage. Two of Paul's three daughters are gay, and he - one of the
churches in Scientology in San Diego had affiliated with the forces that
were proposing this proposition. They had signed their names to this
proposition, the supporters.

And when that came to Paul's attention, he wrote a letter to Tommy
asking the church to formally renounce that affiliation with the
supporters of Proposition 8 and actually take a stand against it. He
thought that the church, having made that mistake, should be more
forthright and stand against it.

And Davis responded that the church didn't engage in those kinds of
political activities. It would stir up more trouble if he renounced it,
and he thought that if we could just simply issue a statement saying
that it had been a mistake, that that would leave it - that he would
leave it there.

But that was not satisfactory to Haggis, and he began an investigation
of Scientology, something that he had not done in his nearly 35 years as
being a scientologist. He had never really looked at what people said
about Scientology. And, in fact, the church discourages that kind of
independent inquiry.

GROSS: There was a meeting that you refer to in your article about
Scientology, where people from the New Yorker staff met with
representatives from Scientology. What was this meeting about?

Mr. WRIGHT: That was one of the most amazing days of my life. I had been
out to Los Angeles to interview Tommy Davis over the Memorial Day
weekend. And when he finally did come to meet with me, he said that he
had decided not to talk to me.

So - but I asked him if he would agree at least to, you know, to respond
to our fact-checking queries about the church. And he agreed to that.
And over a period of time, we sent them 971 fact-checking queries, which
alarmed them.

And so in September, Tommy Davis and four Scientology lawyers arrive in
New York with 47 volumes of supporting material, these binders that
stretched seven linear feet. And we met in a conference room in 10 in
the morning with me and two of the checkers and the head of our checking
department and our lawyer and my editor and David Remnick, the editor of
the New Yorker, who had just come in to welcome everyone, but took a
seat and didn't get up until six that evening.

The whole day was quite fascinating because it was finally my
opportunity to interview Tommy Davis and learn about the Church of
Scientology, and it was a revelatory meeting in many respects. And the
material that he was able to produce in these binders has been very
useful to us.

GROSS: What did you ask him? What's one of your most interesting
questions and his responses?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I think probably the most critical response had to do
with the founder of the church, L. Ron Hubbard. In some of the material
that I had been reading and in some of my interviews, there was a big
question about Hubbard's - his war record and his medical history.

He had said that at the end of World War II, he was blind and a hopeless
cripple, and that he had healed himself through these measures that
later became the basis of "Dianetics," which is the book that he wrote
in 1950, out of which Scientology arises.

And I'd find that - I had found evidence that Hubbard was never actually
injured during the war. And so in one very interesting moment, Davis
said: Of course, if it's true that Hubbard, Mr. Hubbard was never
injured during the war, then he never did heal himself using "Dianetics"
principles, then "Dianetics" is based on a lie, and then Scientology is
based on a lie. The truth is that Mr. Hubbard was a war hero.

And the way he phrased that, that everything depended on whether Hubbard
had sustained these injuries and healed himself was like a wager on the

And so we pressed him for evidence that there had been such injuries and
that he had been the war hero that he described. And eventually, Davis
sent us what is called a notice of separation. It's essentially
discharge papers from World War II, which along with some photographs of
all of these medals that he had won, a Purple Heart with a palm, some
other commendations from different countries, and so on.

At the same time, we finally gained access to Hubbard's entire World War
II records, and there was no evidence that he had ever been wounded in
battle or distinguished himself in any way during the war. So we also
found another notice of separation which was strikingly different than
the one that the church had provided.

GROSS: So did you show those documents to Tommy Davis, the Scientology

Mr. WRIGHT: One of the most interesting moments in the meeting is when I
asked Tommy Davis to square the records that we had with the church's
own records of Mr. Hubbard's war records. And he said: Well, we the
church were also puzzled about it until we found an expert who clarified
all this.

And he said the man who did that was Mr. X in Oliver Stone's movie
"JFK," who in real life was a man named Fletcher Prouty, who had been
involved in inner circles of the American Defense Department.

And Prouty, who also had worked for the church, had told them that
Hubbard had actually been an intelligence agent, and the records were,
as he said, sheep-dipped. That's apparently a term of art in
intelligence that maintains that there were two sets of records.

And we obtained all of Mr. Hubbard's military records, and there was no
second set of records. There was no evidence that he had ever acted as
an intelligence agent during the war in any serious capacity, and that
he had never been wounded.

GROSS: So is this where we stand now, that Scientology has a set of L.
Ron Hubbard's military records that say one thing, you have a set that
says another, and you believe the records you have, and they believe the
records they have? Is that where we are?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it's more than that, Terry. The notice of separation
they gave us was signed by an individual named Howard Thompson, a
lieutenant commander who apparently never existed. They gave us a
photograph of the medals that Mr. Hubbard supposedly had won. Two of
them weren't even commissioned until after he left active service. On
there, it says that he graduated after four years of college and got a
civil engineering degree, which is not accurate.

There were a number of different discrepancies on there that make it
pretty clear that it's not an actual record.

GROSS: How do you know that the person who signed this record doesn't

Mr. WRIGHT: In the 900-some-odd pages of Hubbard's war records, there
were numerous letters from other researchers from over the years. And
one of them had inquired about Howard D. Thompson, this lieutenant
commander that supposedly signed this notice of separation. And the
archivist at the time said they had thoroughly researched the roles of
Navy officers at the time, and there was no such person.

GROSS: So at this meeting, Tommy Davis said that if it was true that L.
Ron Hubbard didn't have - wasn't blind, wasn't sick and didn't heal
himself, then that would mean that "Dianetics" was a lie and that
Scientology was a lie. Am I getting that right?

Mr. WRIGHT: That's correct.

GROSS: So you're presenting him with what you say is evidence that
Hubbard lied. So what has Tommy Davis said in response?

Mr. WRIGHT: They say they have an expert, whose name he didn't give us,
who says that these records are authentic.

GROSS: So here's where we stand now, that Tommy Davis, the spokesperson
of Scientology, is maintaining that the record that he has, that
Scientology has, of L. Ron Hubbard's notice of separation from the
military - basically, the document when he left the military - is true,
is authentic. And you're saying no, that's a forgery, the document that
you got is the authentic one?

Mr. WRIGHT: I do say that. I mean, there's 900-some-odd pages in
Hubbard's military records that authenticate the accuracy of the notice
of separation that is in the military archives in St. Louis, and none of
that authenticates the many wounds or valor that the Church of
Scientology maintains they have in their records.

GROSS: Scientology is usually described as a fairly secretive
organization, at least secretive at the top.

Mr. WRIGHT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to fact-check a
piece about Scientology? And I should mention here that Scientology does
have a reputation of suing when it feels it's been misrepresented.

Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. They're an aggressive and litigious organization, at
least they have been so in the past. And so we've tried to be extremely
careful with this.

We've had five fact-checkers involved in this story. Even the head of
the fact-checking department weighed in. And one of the checkers was on
the story almost full-time since August.

So, you know, I don't think, in the magazine's history, I can't imagine
that we've ever devoted that kind of scrupulousness to one single story.
And this is a magazine that prides itself on its checking. But this
story in particular had to be very, very carefully vetted, and it has

GROSS: Now, I should say that I think nearly everything that the
defectors maintain happened within Scientology, Scientology, the
Scientology organization, claims this was not true, just to represent
their point of view here.

Mr. WRIGHT: That's correct. They - that's right. The church, they
maintain that Mr. Hubbard was a war hero and did have the injuries that
he claimed to have. And essentially, on all of these factual matters,
they issued a - largely, a blanket denial.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Lawrence Wright. His article, "The
Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology," is published in
the current edition of the New Yorker. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is journalist Lawrence Wright. We're talking about his
article "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology," which
is published in the current edition of the New Yorker.

When we left off, we were talking about a document Haggis got access to
from the military records of the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. One
document appears to contradict one of Hubbard's claims about his service
in World War II and call into question the basis of Hubbard's book,

So the document that you have, L. Ron Hubbard's notice of separation,
what impact do you think that is going to have on Scientology?

Mr. WRIGHT: It's hard to measure, because we're dealing with a religion,
and people are drawn to it because of faith. And if it were simply a
matter of reason, then one could put this document down in front of you
and say: Here is conclusive proof that the founder of Scientology lied
about his military record and lied about his injuries and lied about the
very fundamental principles out of which he created the Church of

But that may not matter to people who are involved in it, who may feel
that they are gaining something from their experience, either because
they feel like the truths of Scientology enhance their lives or because
the community of Scientologists that they live among is something like
their family. So they intentionally shield themselves against knowing
these types of things.

GROSS: So your article about Paul Haggis leaving Scientology challenges
one of the basic premises of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard's teachings.
So how has your article, the investigation you've done and the reading
that Paul Haggis has done, changed Paul Haggis?

Mr. WRIGHT: Oh, it's interesting, because I was privy to a lot of those
changes just by asking him questions that he had never really asked
himself about things that the church engaged in in the past. Some of the
controversies that have haunted the church for decades, he never really
looked at.

And in the process of interviewing him, he would sometimes stop and say:
You know, I think of myself as being a very skeptical and independent
person, but I don't know why I didn't ask myself these very questions at
the time. It was between a lack of interest and a fear of finding out
the truth.

GROSS: Lawrence Wright's article, "The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the
Church of Scientology," is published in the current edition of the New

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Explaining Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

One of the questions facing Egypt is what role the Islamist group the
Muslim Brotherhood will play in the future. The group supports an
Islamic state. The brotherhood has been officially banned since 1954,
but members of the group have served in Egypt's parliament. As the
Washington Post points out today, the group has a split image here, as a
hostile Islamic organization whose fundamentalist wing could be
dangerous for the United States if it took control, and as a band of
aging revolutionaries who would play a vital, but minority role in any
coalition government.

Lawrence Wright describes the history of the group in his Pulitzer
Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."
Lawrence Wright taught English at the American University in Cairo and
has made many reporting trips to Egypt.

Now, the Muslim Brotherhood participated in the meeting on Sunday with
other leaders of the opposition in talks with Omar Suleiman, the vice
president, the new vice president of Egypt. And after that, they said
they are uncertain if they'll continue to participate in these talks or
if they'll withdraw. So there's been so much speculation about what the
Muslim Brotherhood stands for now and what their participation in the
creation of a new government would mean. What is the Muslim
Brotherhood's philosophy now?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, you can't say that it's just one philosophy, because
the brotherhood itself is fractured. And there are different factions
within it, that some are - you know, the Brotherhood in Egypt has made a
decision that, in general, they agree with Democratic politics. But
originally, that was not the case. And so there are, let's say, hard-
liners. There are moderates, and there are progressives who want to be
much more a part of the modern world. So it's difficult for that
organization, although it's certainly the most coherent political
opposition party in Egypt. Even within that organization, there are
factions, and no doubt right now, they're really churning about how
they're going to react to the situation in Egypt.

GROSS: The group has officially denounced violence. And they're not on
good terms with al-Qaida, even though bin Laden and his number two,
Ayman al-Zawahiri, were once members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. WRIGHT: Yeah. In fact, Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote a book called "Bitter
Harvest," in which he attacked the Muslim Brotherhood because of its
willingness to engage in politics. And he never misses an opportunity to
lambaste the Muslim Brotherhood and even his offshoot, Hamas, in Gaza.

GROSS: Let's go back to the early history of the Muslim Brotherhood. The
group was founded in 1928. Who founded it, and why did he create it?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, Hassan al-Banna was the founder. And it was a period
of time when Egypt was still under British colonial rule, although there
was a King Farouk who was, you know, the nominal ruler of the country.
And many Egyptians were looking for a way to establish their own
identity. And Hassan al-Banna was a very religious man, and he created,
really, the first Islamist organization.

Until that point, Islam had not really been engaged in politics. It
wasn't a political force. Most Muslims saw Islam as being separate from
political affairs. It was the religion. And what's significant about the
Muslim Brotherhood is that they took the religion and combined it with
politics. This was a force that had never really appeared in the Islamic
world before then, and Islamism is what we call it. But that force was
transfigurative of politics - not just in Egypt, but in the entire

GROSS: And by Islamism, you mean that the state should be an Islamic
state, under Islamic law.

Mr. WRIGHT: That's correct.

GROSS: So was his goal to have Egypt under Islamic law, or to have that
kind of spread through the Arab world?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, Hassan al-Banna was a nationalist, and his focus was
very much on Egypt, although I'm sure he cast his eye over the horizon.
But Egyptians believe that Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab
world, at least, and that, you know, even Gamal Abdel Nasser - you know,
who took control of Egypt in the 1952 revolution - had the same feeling,
that where Egypt went, the rest of the Arab world would follow.

GROSS: Now, one of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, early on, who
became their kind of ideological and spiritual leader in a lot of ways,
was Sayyid Qutb, who also helped inspire al-Qaida. Tell us a little
about him and his role in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. WRIGHT: Actually, you know, he was a kind of rival - or at least in
his mind - to Hassan al-Banna early on. Sayyid Qutb came to America in
1948. He was more or less run out of Egypt at the time. He was writing
articles against the king and against the British, and it became
politically inconvenient for him to be in Egypt. So he left Egypt and
came to America for couple of years and hated America, hated his
experience here. But when he returned to Egypt, Hassan al-Banna had been
assassinated by Egyptian security forces, and there was a vacuum inside
the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sayyid Qutb filled. He became, you know,
very powerful ideologue, and he also was allied with the very violent
faction within the Muslim Brotherhood.

GROSS: So how did that change the Muslim Brotherhood?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, that faction that Sayyid Qutb was engaged with, they
tried to assassinate Gamal Nasser in 1954. And in result, Nasser rounded
them up and threw them all in prison and eventually hanged Sayyid Qutb -
became a martyr to the cause. But for many years, the leadership of the
Muslim Brothers were in the prisons in Egypt, and that was very
formative. It's in those prisons that they spent a lot of time working
out their ideology and their dogma. I was living in Egypt, as a matter
of fact, when Nasser died. His successor, Anwar Sadat - a very pious man
himself - decided to release the Muslim Brothers from prison and,
ironically, it was that decision, in many respects, that led to his

GROSS: How so?

Mr. WRIGHT: Many of the radical elements of that organization were so
opposed to Sadat's decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel, and also
other things that they objected to - for instance, his view about
women's rights and the need for women to dress in the hijab, the head
covering, of which he - Sadat ridiculed as a tent. They were furious
with him. And so, when they had the opportunity, they killed him.

GROSS: So when did the Muslim Brotherhood renounce violence?

Mr. WRIGHT: After the death of Sayyid Qutb, a new leader, Hassan al-
Hudaybi, became the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he wrote a
refutation, or let's say, a counter-argument to the ideology that Sayyid
Qutb had propagated, arguing for a much more moderate place in the
society. And that dynamic between Sayyid Qutb and Hudaybi continues to
this day. The tension in that relationship is reflected not only in the
Muslim Brotherhood, but in other Islamist groups around the Muslim
world. And it wasn't until the mid-80s that the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt made the decisive step of actually running for office, and that
has defined modern Muslim brotherhoods to this day.

GROSS: And when you say running for office, there isn't a Muslim
Brotherhood party because the Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned,
but members of the Muslim Brotherhood have served in parliament.

Mr. WRIGHT: That's correct. The voters know who they're voting for, but
the party has been banned.

GROSS: So was Mubarak president at the time that the Muslim Brotherhood
renounced violence?

Mr. WRIGHT: Yes. And since then, they really haven't engaged in the kind
of violence that they had in the past. You know, this is an organization
that's been around a long time, you know, over 80 years old now, which
is unusual for any of those kind of political parties in Egypt.

It's certainly the oldest and now the most established party in the
country. It has a long history of civil service. It has learned and
evolved in many of its political views. When I was living there, the -
really, the only political idea the Muslim Brotherhood had was to put
headscarves on women. And now, you know, Islam-as-the-solution was the
only thing that they had to say. But now they've been in politics for a
long time, and they've had to cope with a lot of real problems -
education, illiteracy and those kinds of things - that - were simple
statements don't really satisfy. And so answering to the voters, I
think, has been an educative process for those people.

GROSS: What do you think they represent now?

Mr. WRIGHT: It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out,
Terry, because, you know, they've said that they are not going to field
a candidate for president. And to me, that was one of the most
remarkable things that's come out of this very tumultuous and
interesting period in Egypt. They have an opportunity to put forward
their own candidate, but they recognize that the West is terrified of
seeing Egypt turned into an Islamist state. They also recognize that the
Mubarak administration has for years used the Muslim Brotherhood as a
kind of scapegoat in giving credence to the fears that the Islamists
will take over if Mubarak and his henchmen leave office.

So I think, very wisely, they declared they're not going to run a
candidate, which vitiates that whole argument that they are - after
Mubarak, comes the deluge. I think it's that decision alone could really
be the turning point in what happens in these next several days.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer
Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."

We'll talk more about the Muslim Brotherhood after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're talking about the banned Egyptian group the Muslim
Brotherhood and the role it may play in Egypt's future. My guest
Lawrence Wright wrote about the book in his Pulitzer Prize-winning – he
wrote about the group in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Looming
Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."

If the Muslim Brotherhood plays a part in the new government but doesn't
run a candidate, and if the Muslim Brotherhood participates in the
government and doesn't try to, like, overthrow it or undermine it or
create a theocracy, what significance would that have in the larger
Islamist movement?

Mr. WRIGHT: It's going to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to find its
proper place, its proper size inside Egyptian civil society. We don't
really know what size of a constituency they have, but I suspect that it
wouldn't be over 30 percent at the maximum.

The reason they seem so outsized is that other organized opposition has
been so crippled by the Mubarak administration, it simply hasn't been
allowed to function and organize. So other parties more secular or even
more radical simply haven't had a chance to get their roots out among
the people. And if the Mubarak regime comes down - it seems likely -
it's pretty clear that there needs to be a period of time where people
actually have the opportunity to organize new parties with new
candidates. One of the real problems in Egypt is that there just aren't
very many democrats. They haven't had that experience, and they're going
to have to have it in an extremely compressed period of time.

GROSS: Why has the Muslim Brotherhood been able to function, even though
it has been banned for decades?

Mr. WRIGHT: They have terrific discipline in a country where that's
unusual among political organizations, tremendous amount of commitment.
It's one of the very few organizations that people trust as not being
corrupt, and that gives them credibility among a population that may not
entirely agree with their religious perspectives. But they realize that
they can count on them to be much more honest and much more helpful in
an emergency than the government has been.

GROSS: Does the Muslim Brotherhood still stand for creating an Islamic
state in Egypt?

Mr. WRIGHT: I think that there's no doubt that that's their ultimate
goal. But I think they also recognize that they're going to be a long
way from getting there. A large portion of the Muslim Brotherhood agenda
is what they call Dawa, which is spreading the word and trying to
convince people to come over to their side. And I think that what
they're engaging in now is, you know, they're going to work in ordinary
politics. They're going to participate, but they're going to carry out
Dawa and see if they can persuade the country to become more Islamist in
the future. Whether they can do that will be a matter of how people
respond to their message.

GROSS: Where do they stand? Where does the Muslim Brotherhood stand on
Israel now?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood has made many different
statements about Israel. There are members of the Muslim Brotherhood who
absolutely believe that Israel has to be eliminated. And remember, that
Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and their views
are powerfully reflected in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

On the other hand, there are members of the Muslim Brotherhood who say
that the treaties will be honored. So I think once again, we see a
division within that organization.

GROSS: Do you know where the Muslim Brotherhood stands on Coptic
Christians in Egypt and other religious minorities there?

Mr. WRIGHT: There are several different crises that the Brotherhood is
going to be facing in terms of trying to exert its power in Egypt. One
is the role of women and - which it's still not clear that it's willing
to accept a kind of modern terms that most Egyptians want where women
are concerned.

Another is the role of minorities, and especially the Coptic Christians.
In the past, many Islamists in Egypt have said that they would not
accept, for instance, a Christian to be president of the country. It's -
one of the parts of Islamist dogma is that in an Islamist state, that
minorities will pay a tax for the privilege of living in an Islamic
country. It's going to be difficult for the brothers to renounce that as
- impossible for them to rule in a majoritarian way in a democratic
country if they don't accept the participation other religious

And then the third thing will be its stance on the existence of Israel.
Those three things are going to be facing the brothers in a very short
space of time, I think, and it'll define whether that organization will
be an active and vital part of Egypt's future, or if they will be
relegated to some sort of crank religious party that will gradually
become less and less relevant.

GROSS: So there's a lot of people in America now who are really afraid
of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they have been, by some people, made into
a bogeyman. And certainly Mubarak made them into a bogeyman. I mean,
Mubarak basically has said that if there is a democracy, the Muslim
Brotherhood is going to take over. It will become an Islamic extremist
state and, you know, America won't like the outcome. A lot of Egyptians
wouldn't like the outcome, and it would change the whole Middle East. So
what do you think of the fear of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in
the United States?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, fear is never the best principle to organize around.
And Saad Eddin Ibrahim, for instance, was a very distinguished sociology
professor at the American University in Cairo, where I taught. And he
did a study back in the '70s, I think, about Muslim Brothers and, you
know, how - what percentage of the population they actually represented.
And - which was a very small one at the time, and the Mubarak government
put him in prison - for other reasons, they claim. But I think it was
the findings of that study that showed that there really wasn't such an
Islamist threat in Egypt.

The Egyptian government has kept this alive for a long time, and the
Muslim Brothers provide a very convenient scapegoat for them. That's why
the decision on the part of the brotherhood not to run a candidate for
president I think is so astute, because it removes that scapegoat from
this discussion, at least at the present time.

My guest is journalist Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize-
winning book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."

We'll talk more about the Muslim Brotherhood after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're talking about the banned Egyptian group the Muslim
Brotherhood and the role it may play in Egypt's future. My guest
Lawrence Wright wrote about the group in his Pulitzer Prize-winning
book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."

What do you think about, though, the fear that some people have that the
Muslim Brotherhood is going to work hard to turn Egypt into an Islamist
state and set a tone for other countries to become Islamist states?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, I think they will, Terry. There's no doubt that that's
their goal. And in a democratic society, they would have the freedom to
do that. It would be up to other parties who differ with them to work
equally hard to prove themselves.

GROSS: So that's what you think is ahead?

Mr. WRIGHT: I think that it's a contest, and I think the Islamists have
an advantage in that they have a long history. They're well organized.
They're committed to their goals. What we have is a kind of vacancy in
the opposition that has yet to be filled by leaders.

We just - you know, those people out on the streets of Tahrir, most of
them are not Islamists, but they don't have proper leaders at this
point. They may come forward. They may materialize. Sometimes you see,
in great revolutionary movements, extraordinary figures make themselves
known. That hasn't happened yet in Egypt. We're waiting for those
figures to come into view.

And until that happens, the Muslim Brothers will have an outsized
advantage that's much, much greater than their actual numbers. But if
the opposition parties can find their leaders and organize around their
principles and make their statements known to other Egyptians, then I
think that we will see an actual democracy in Egypt in which the Muslim
Brothers play a part, but not a decisive one.

GROSS: Now, because you wrote a book about al-Qaida, you're probably
very aware of Egypt's role in supplying a lot of intelligence to the
United States. And it's one of the real bases of the alliance...

Mr. WRIGHT: Right.

GROSS: ...for America. So you probably understand that part of the
relationship. Can you explain a little bit about the nature of Egypt's
cooperation in helping the United States keep tabs on terrorists?

Mr. WRIGHT: Egypt has been extremely helpful to the United States during
the war on terror, and it has very, very close alliance with our
intelligence agencies. So they work extremely closely together, and they
work frequently on cases together. So one would have to say that, you
know, that these - it's been hand-in-glove between U.S. intelligence and
Egyptian intelligence.

GROSS: And how much of that part of the relationship between the United
States and Egypt is at risk now?

Mr. WRIGHT: I don't know if that's going to change anything. The
Egyptians themselves have been traumatized, if anything, more than
Americans by terrorism. During the '90s, there was a terrorist war on
the state of Egypt, and more than a thousand Egyptians were killed. The
battles between the state security agencies and the terrorists was
unbelievably bloody and savage on both sides. And so I don't think the
Egyptians have much tolerance right now for terrorists in their midst.
We have a common interest in subduing the terrorist elements in both our
societies. So I don't see that changing very much, regardless of who
comes to power in Egypt.

GROSS: Finally, are you amazed at what's going on in Egypt? You've spent
a lot of time there over the years. You taught English in Cairo.

Mr. WRIGHT: Terry, this is - it's thrilling to me. I just hope so much
that it comes out all right. You know, this is a country that has long
been ready for democracy, but many of those civil institutions - you
know, back when the king was there in the '40s and '50s, it was, in many
respects, more of a democracy than it ever has been before or since. So
it has a tradition of democratic participation in politics. It's just
been so crippled by such a long period of semi-military rule and

Now there's finally a chance for the people to exorcise their voice. And
what happens in Egypt is going to ripple out all over not just the Arab
world, but the entire Muslim world, I'm convinced. People are waiting to
see what's going to happen in Egypt. And, you know, there are many
examples in the world of revolutions that have gone poorly, and this
could be one of them. Certainly, in that neighborhood, there are many -
you know, typically - we're in the Middle East, and typically things
don't turn out well.

But this is the most promising moment in the long time that I've known
Egypt, and I'm just praying that the principles of non-violence and
justice and democratic freedom take root in that country and are allowed
to prosper. And in that case, I think Egypt will become one of the great
countries of the world, as it should be.

GROSS: Lawrence Wright, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. WRIGHT: It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Lawrence Wright is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book
"The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." He's also a staff
writer for The New Yorker. In the current edition, he writes about the
Church of Scientology. You can find links to the article and to primary
source documents obtained by The New Yorker about Scientology's founder,
L. Ron Hubbard, on our website:

I'm Terry Gross, and this is NPR.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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