February 04, 2004

Other voices

I'm going to take a break from Qutb for at least one night, to try to get caught up on comments, but I thought I'd point out a few posts well worth reading.

Both Meryl Yourish and Lynn B. of In Context both offer rebukes to writers questioning the uniqueness of the Holocaust. They have both written so well, I have little to add, beyond recommending the posts.

Some time ago, I readi an interview with the great historian Robert Conquest, who did as much as any Westerner to document the horrors of Soviet totalitarianism, including the Ukrainian terror-famine and the terror proper. Conquest, who'd engaged in a number of battles with apologists for Stalin by pointing out that he was a mass murderer, was asked who represented the greater evil in the 20th century: Hitler or Stalin. He answered Hitler; I seem to recall that he said he had thought about the question a great deal, that he didn't mean to diminish Stalin's barbarity, but Hitler's evil was in a class of its own.

I'd been meaning to mention it for a while, but Zack of Procrastination offered an interesting review of A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. One quibble with Zack -- I do think there was a significant moral difference between the Allied powers and their enemies. I think Michael Howard's brief work, The First World War, explains this rather well, including why, by the time Wilson got to Versailles, he himself was no longer much interested in the terms for peace he had offered in the famous Fourteen Points.

I'm reading The Trouble with Islam, the book by Irshad Manji, the Uganda-born, Canada-raised, Pakistani gay Muslim Muslim-Refusenik. (She gives Andrew Sullivan a run for his money in apparent contradictions; Sullivan, incidentally, reviewed her book. I'm only a few dozen pages into it, but I have to say I'm enjoying it -- she writes with verve, and while I suspect some passages were written with the intent to offend her co-religionists' sensibilities, I think that, compared to say Bernard Shaw's preface to Androcles and the Lion, this is pretty timid stuff. In any case, I may offer a fuller account when I get through it.

Finally, while googling the other day, I came across this piece on the Muslim Brotherhood, in al-Ahram. It's an interesting article, but I'd take a lot of it with a grain of salt. I found this paragraph of interest:

The MB maintained its organisational cohesiveness and political influence because it was ready to change as needed. When its aim was to rally broad support during the 1930s, the MB developed a discourse of piety and charity that appealed to the public mood. When it wanted to benefit from the political openness of the 1980s, the MB abandoned the violent discourse of Sayyid Qutb, their leading doctrinaire. Eventually, the group was able to turn its organisational structure into a peaceful one, adopting a discourse that mixes politics with a serving of the divine. Now, the violent discourse of the 1930s is but a faded memory.

Again, I'd take all this with a grain of salt -- al Ahram is the product of a country with no freedom of the press, and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Qutb, were and are opponents of the regime. Still, the characterization of the discourse as violent is interesting. Elsewhere, the story discusses the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, which various levels of initiation (perhaps it was modeled after the diabolical Freemasons...)

The MB founders had a fourth type of membership separate from the above: jihad membership. Membership was reserved for active members hand-picked by the Guidance Bureau (Maglis al-irshad). Jihad brothers -- in addition to the aforementioned commitments -- are required to follow the Prophet's traditions, perform extra nighttime prayers, lead austere lives, avoid anything un-Islamic in worship and business, make financial contributions to the Guidance Bureau and the Call Fund, bequeath part of their estate to the MB, exhort pious behaviour and discourage sinful behaviour, carry a copy of the Qur'an at all times and undergo extra education sponsored by the Guidance Bureau. While the overall differentiation in recruitment levels was significant, jihad, "associate" and "active" members all might have professed loyalty to the MB's peaceful agenda.


These two levels of organisational structure -- a peaceful one including the majority of the MB, and a militant one preparing a minority of members for armed conflict, without openly inciting them -- were at the basis of the MB's dualist embrace of general as well as special cadres. An "invisible" and "parallel" outfit thus evolved after 1940 in conjunction with the main MB apparatus. While MB insiders referred to the former as the special outfit (al-tanzim al-khas), outsiders preferred to call it simply the secret outfit (al- tanzim al-sirri).

According to Mahmoud Abdel-Halim, a co- founder of the special outfit, the MB managed to stay in full control of the special outfit for about eight years after its founding. Reaction to the domestic social and political scene as well as regional events surrounding the 1948 Palestine War eventually led to divisions between the special outfit and the rest of the organisation.

The training programme of the special outfit involved the following:

1. Members were divided into groups, with a clear chain of command, and ordered to participate in all aspects of MB public activities.

2. Members were instructed to engage in careful study of jihad in Islam, focussing on Qur'anic passages, Sayings of the Prophet and Classical Islamic history. They were also ordered to follow a strict regimen of worship and prayers.

3. Members were trained to perform strenuous manual labour, distribute propaganda leaflets, use coded messages and weapons.

4. Members were trained to unquestioningly obey orders and keep secrets.

Members of the special outfit were unleashed during the 1948 Palestine War. Domestically they placed bombs in Cairo, occasionally targeting Egyptian Jews and Jewish- owned shops. In an operation that drew much local attention, two members of the special outfit assassinated Ahmed El-Khazendar, a prominent judge who had sent to prison a fellow member for attacking British soldiers at a nightclub. State backlash was relatively mild compared to what would become the norm during the republican years. The two were sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. El-Banna was detained briefly but released for lack of evidence.

I found the whole thing of interest...

Posted by Ideofact at February 4, 2004 11:53 PM

I do think there was a significant moral difference between the Allied powers and their enemies

Not least because one of Central powers (Ottoman Turkey) was engaged in genocide during the course of the war.

Posted by: C.Bloggerfeller at February 5, 2004 04:12 AM