December 15, 2003

2 Qutb i

As Spongebob Squarepants once remarked to his pet Gary (a mollusk of some sort), curiosity salted the snail. Unable to help myself, I looked at the introduction of Milestones, by Sayyid Qutb, the mid-20th Century Islamist radical who has been described as the brains of bin Laden. A few quick impressions:

First, towards the end of his introduction, which once again is a call for Islamic renewal, he sort of gives the game away:

Without doubt, we possess this new thing which is perfect to the highest degree, a thing which mankind does not know about and is not capable of 'producing'.

But as we have stated before, the beauty of this new system cannot be appreciated unless it takes a concrete form. Hence it is essential that a community arrange its affairs according to it and show it to the world. In order to bring this about, we need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country. Only such a revivalist movement will eventually attain to the status of world leadership, whether the distance is near or far.

That "new thing" is Qutb's Islamist vision, and I found his choice of words telling. He is not offering something traditional, but rather "a new thing," his "revival," which must be accomplished in one state. Incidentally, the closest thing to a Qutbian Utopia was Afghanistan under the Taliban, ruled by the "vanguard" of Muslims he anticipated would carry out his revival:

It is necessary that there should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path, marching through the vast ocean of Jahiliyyah which has encompassed the entire world. During its course, it should keep itself somewhat aloof from this all-encompassing Jahiliyyah and should also keep some ties with it.

Yawn. Same old Lenin in brand new drag comes screaming into view (sorry, but the indispensible iTunes just kicked up the Bowie track from Scary Monsters). So Milestones, then, is not so much a Mein Kampf as it is a What is to be done?. I think this is a fairly significant point; as Paul Berman argued in Terror and Liberalism, there is a fairly direct line running from the black hand through Lenin and his Bolshevik terrorists through the thought of Qutb. I tend to agree with that assessment: Qutb's vision of the Islamist state isn't particularly different from the communist state, except that instead paying lipservice to materialist Marxism, it would pay lipservice to transcendant Islam, all the while being organized with the same police state sort of order. Qutb also implied, in Social Justice in Islam, that the realization of his project would lead to a new Islamic man. From my cursory reading of the introduction, it appears that Milestones is the operators manual for achieving that.

So the vanguard he addresses is to implement this new thing -- and what has prompted the need for this vanguard? Qutb offers his usual wrong diagnosis:

The leadership of mankind by Western man is now on the decline, not because Western culture has become poor materially or because its economic and military power has become weak. The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values which enabled it to be the leader of mankind.

It is necessary for the new leadership to preserve and develop the material fruits of the creative genius of Europe, and also to provide mankind with such high ideals and values as have so far remained undiscovered by mankind, and which will also acquaint humanity with a way of life which is harmonious with human nature, which is positive and constructive, and which is practicable.

Islam is the only System which possesses these values and this way of life.

The aforementioned Social Justice in Islam is Qutb's attempt to back up that last statement; in the process of doing so, he has to argue that virtually all of Islamic history, from the death of Ali (the fourth Caliph) to the present, isn't Islamic (or Islamist, as the case may be) to advance his thesis. I wrote about all this ages ago on paleo Ideofact; Zack of Procrastination was kind enough to offer an index to those posts. For Qutb, the "life giving values" do not include freedom of conscience, thought, or speech; they do not include popular representation and sovereignty; they do not include life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

I haven't decided whether or not to read or, if I do read it, to blog the rest, but in just in case I started numbering ...

Posted by Ideofact at December 15, 2003 11:59 PM
Comments

Very interesting. Hope you blog about it a bit more. I found "Milestones" online in my initial searches on Qutb, but haven't read it.

He is not offering something traditional, but rather "a new thing," his "revival,"

That is why it makes sense to classify modern religious scholars (in Islam and probably in some other religions as well) as traditionalist, neorevivalist and modernist instead of conservative and liberal. The traditionalists are definitely losing ground. The neorevivalists and modernists both agree about a new interpretation, but disagree on where that would go. There are some revivalist scholars who could be considered somehat close to modernism.

Berman's book definitely had an essential point to make and I do think that Qutb and others of his ilk have borrowed a quite a bit of intellectual baggage from communists and even fascists, but Berman did not do a good enough job of convincing skeptics in his book.

Posted by: Zack at December 16, 2003 03:07 PM

you need GodJsus Crist verysoonin your heart efore jesus comes again for his people so wont stay with thew loser that belief in such riddicalus beliefs that are not in the Holy Bible. rebemberr ala couldtdone the univers by hitself, most islamic are arabic people and they forget that ismael was abram son and that just like ismael was abram son so is issac both so jews and arabic people have the same blood, idont understnd way are so many conflic. all because the islamic religion which is falls

Posted by: lisa at January 25, 2004 04:39 PM

you need GodJesus Crist verysoonin your heart efore jesus comes again for his people so wont stay with thew loser that belief in such riddicalus beliefs that are not in the Holy Bible. rebemberr ala couldtdone the univers by hitself, most islamic are arabic people and they forget that ismael was abram son and that just like ismael was abram son so is issac both so jews and arabic people have the same blood, idont understnd way are so many conflic. all because the islamic religion which is falls

Posted by: lisa at January 25, 2004 04:40 PM

Lisa, your reply stinks of religious bigotry and ignorance. It's clear you don't know anything about Islam or other religions. Do you really think you can understand other religions with Christian goggles on? I'd suggest you put off your faith and think about Islam, or other religions for that matter, and see what you think. Then turn back to your faith and let that guide you. I'm not saying faith or belief in something is a bad thing, but ignorance surely is the evil of the world. Ignorance caused religious wars and will continue to desecrate any of man's attempts at spirituality. I hope you take my comment with a bit of salt because I mean no disrespect. Rather I abhor religious zealots who post replies based solely on viewing the world through tainted eyes.

Posted by: Jesse at February 17, 2004 12:36 PM

Indeed, especially outspoken religious zealots who cannot speak, or in this case type.

Regarding Sayyid Qutb, I look forward to reading the on-going reflection. In one graduate seminar in the 1990s, I spent time reading Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Shariati, Ayatollah Mutahhari, Hassan Turabi and Sheikh Fadlallah. Considering events and trends since that initial reading, it would helpful to reconsider the thought of these men.

Troy

Posted by: Troy at March 1, 2004 03:01 PM