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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 25, 2003

SAYYID QUTB

If you want to begin to understand the motives of our enemy, then you have to begin to understand Sayyid Qutb, a founding father of radical, totalitarian and violent Neo-Islamism.

It seems that Qutb (pronounced KUH-tahb) authored a rather lengthy interpretation/companion to the Koran while rotting in an Egyptian prison in the 50's and 60's, that essentially calls for violent jihad in the struggle to re-establish Islam over the defective European Christian, and corrupt Jewish controlled world.

Writer PAUL BERMAN has a new article, "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror", that profiles some of Sayyid Qutb's life, and draws a direct connection from this original Neo-Islamist to Osama Bomb Ladin. The article is 10 pages long and is on the New York Times web site, so if you are not registered you will need to. It's worth it for this extremely enlightening article.

For those that don't have the time or inclination to register at the NYT web site, or read a 10 page article, I will provide a very remedial outline of its major points.


Background
[H]e committed the Koran to memory by the age of 10 -- yet he went on, at a college in Cairo, to receive a modern, secular education. He was born in 1906, and in the 1920's and 30's he took up socialism and literature. He wrote novels, poems and a book that is still said to be well regarded called ''Literary Criticism: Its Principles and Methodology.'' His writings reflected -- here I quote one of his admirers and translators, Hamid Algar of the University of California at Berkeley -- a ''Western-tinged outlook on cultural and literary questions.'' Qutb displayed ''traces of individualism and existentialism.'' He even traveled to the United States in the late 1940's, enrolled at the Colorado State College of Education and earned a master's degree.

His book from the 1940's, ''Social Justice and Islam,'' shows that, even before his voyage to America, he was pretty well set in his Islamic fundamentalism. [A]fter his return to Egypt, he veered into ever more radical directions. But in the early 1950's, everyone in Egypt was veering in radical directions. Gamal Abdel Nasser and a group of nationalist army officers overthrew the old king in 1952 and launched a nationalist revolution on Pan-Arabist grounds. And, as the Pan-Arabists went about promoting their revolution, Sayyid Qutb went about promoting his own, somewhat different revolution. His idea was ''Islamist.'' He wanted to turn Islam into a political movement to create a new society, to be based on ancient Koranic principles. Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood, became the editor of its journal and established himself right away as Islamism's principal theoretician in the Arab world.

In 1952, in the days before staging his coup d'etat, Colonel Nasser is said to have paid a visit to Qutb at his home, presumably to get his backing. Some people expected that, after taking power, Nasser would appoint Qutb to be the new revolutionary minister of education. But once the Pan-Arabists had thrown out the old king, the differences between the two movements began to overwhelm the similarities, and Qutb was not appointed. Instead, Nasser cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, and after someone tried to assassinate him, he blamed the Brotherhood and cracked down even harder. Some of the Muslim Brotherhood's most distinguished intellectuals and theologians escaped into exile. Sayyid Qutb's brother, Muhammad Qutb, was one of those people. He fled to Saudi Arabia and ended up as a distinguished Saudi professor of Islamic Studies. Many years later, Osama bin Laden would be one of Muhammad Qutb's students.


Philosophy
Qutb didn't hate Western Judeo-Christianity because of it's success, rather he hated it for what he perceived as its failures.
Qutb looked on the teachings of Judaism as being divinely revealed by God to Moses and the other prophets. Judaism instructed man to worship one God and to forswear all others. Judaism instructed man on how to behave in every sphere of life -- how to live a worldly existence that was also a life at one with God. This could be done by obeying a system of divinely mandated laws, the code of Moses. In Qutb's view, however, Judaism withered into what he called ''a system of rigid and lifeless ritual.''

God sent another prophet, though. That prophet, in Qutb's Muslim way of thinking, was Jesus, who proposed a few useful reforms -- lifting some no-longer necessary restrictions in the Jewish dietary code, for example -- and also an admirable new spirituality. But something terrible occurred. The relation between Jesus' followers and the Jews took, in Qutb's view, ''a deplorable course.'' Jesus' followers squabbled with the old-line Jews, and amid the mutual recriminations, Jesus' message ended up being diluted and even perverted. Jesus' disciples and followers were persecuted, which meant that, in their sufferings, the disciples were never able to provide an adequate or systematic exposition of Jesus' message.

In the fourth century of the Christian era, Emperor Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. But Constantine, in Qutb's interpretation, did this in a spirit of pagan hypocrisy, dominated by scenes of wantonness, half-naked girls, gems and precious metals. Christianity, having abandoned the Mosaic code, could put up no defense. And so, in their horror at Roman morals, the Christians did as best they could and countered the imperial debaucheries with a cult of monastic asceticism.

Qutb's story now shifts to Arabia. In the seventh century, God delivered a new revelation to his prophet Muhammad, who established the correct, nondistorted relation to human nature that had always eluded the Christians. Muhammad dictated a strict new legal code, which put religion once more at ease in the physical world, except in a better way than ever before. Muhammad's prophecies, in the Koran, instructed man to be God's ''vice regent'' on earth -- to take charge of the physical world, and not simply to see it as something alien to spirituality or as a way station on the road to a Christian afterlife. Muslim scientists in the Middle Ages took this instruction seriously and went about inquiring into the nature of physical reality. And, in the Islamic universities of Andalusia and the East, the Muslim scientists, deepening their inquiry, hit upon the inductive or scientific method -- which opened the door to all further scientific and technological progress. In this and many other ways, Islam seized the leadership of mankind. Unfortunately, the Muslims came under attack from Crusaders, Mongols and other enemies. And, because the Muslims proved not faithful enough to Muhammad's revelations, they were unable to fend off these attacks. They were unable to capitalize on their brilliant discovery of the scientific method.

The Muslim discoveries were exported instead into Christian Europe. And there, in Europe in the 16th century, Islam's scientific method began to generate results, and modern science emerged. But Christianity, with its insistence on putting the physical world and the spiritual world in different corners, could not cope with scientific progress. And so Christianity's inability to acknowledge or respect the physical quality of daily life spread into the realm of culture and shaped society's attitude toward science.

As Qutb saw it, Europeans, under Christianity's influence, began to picture God on one side and science on the other. Religion over here; intellectual inquiry over there. On one side, the natural human yearning for God and for a divinely ordered life; on the other side, the natural human desire for knowledge of the physical universe. The church against science; the scientists against the church. Everything that Islam knew to be one, the Christian Church divided into two. And, under these terrible pressures, the European mind split finally asunder. The break became total. Christianity, over here; atheism, over there. It was the fateful divorce between the sacred and the secular.


Therefore
Qutb's vanguard was going to reinstate shariah, the Muslim code, as the legal code for all of society. Shariah implied some fairly severe rules. Qutb cited the Koran on the punishments for killing or wounding: ''a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear.'' Fornication, too, was a serious crime because, in his words, ''it involves an attack on honor and a contempt for sanctity and an encouragement of profligacy in society.'' Shariah specified the punishments here as well. ''The penalty for this must be severe; for married men and women it is stoning to death; for unmarried men and women it is flogging, a hundred lashes, which in cases is fatal.'' False accusations were likewise serious. ''A punishment of 80 lashes is fixed for those who falsely accuse chaste women.'' As for those who threaten the general security of society, their punishment is to be put to death, to be crucified, to have their hands and feet cut off, or to be banished from the country.''

He wanted the true Muslims to engage in a lifelong study of the Koran -- the lifelong study that his own gigantic commentary was designed to enhance. But most of all, he wanted his vanguard to accept the obligations of ''jihad,'' which is to say, the struggle for Islam.

Martyrdom was among his themes. He discusses passages in the Koran's sura ''The Cow,'' and he explains that death as a martyr is nothing to fear. Yes, some people will have to be sacrificed. ''Those who risk their lives and go out to fight, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honorable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states.''


The article concludes that these aren't poor 3rd worlders that hate us because we are rich. They are wealthy and "middle class" Muslims that base their xenophobic bigotry on a complex philosophy of world domination in the name of restoring the connection of Church and State for Allah, (they define "State" as everything and everyone everywhere).The author argues that to deal with this philosophically rooted force, we need to explore a more philosophical approach to how we deal with this conflict.

There is a lot more info in the article that fleshes out some of the finer points of Qutb's vision of Islam's global conquest. If you have read this much, then you are obviously dedicated to informing yourself as to matters of your own survival, so you must read the whole piece.

Cross-posted at idiotarian.com