In last night's post, I apparently used some intemperate language -- "passing strange" and "hooey" are two examples -- that led one longtime commenter here on ideofact to accuse me of prejudice (presumably against Muslims) and of ranting. I also stand accused of regarding Islamists as being "powerhungry hypocritical ignorant nonthinking beings." I certainly regret the lack of precision in my words -- reading over the post, it's hard to see whether I had a point or not.
To clarify a few points, I don't consider Islamists to be hypocritical, ignorant or nonthinking -- or at least, not their leaders. Qutb is certainly the architect of a complicated system of thought requiring a good deal of artistry to make it appear compelling; it's not that I think it's characterized by ignorance or hypocrisy or a lack of thought, rather, that his prescriptions are profoundly wrong. Bakhunin, a Russian anarchist (and if the phrase "Russian anarchist" brings to mind a wild-eyed radical in baggy black clothes clutching a bomb with a lit fuse -- well, that actually was Bakhunin) once told Karl Marx that if his system ever got off the ground, monopolizing both force and economic power in the hands of the state, it would end as the cruelest regime in the history of man. He wasn't too far off.
I'm still in the process of putting books on shelves; the other night, I came across The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, the father of historiography and a great historian in his own right. One could draw a superficial comparison between Ibn Khaldun's attitude toward Greek philosophy (he faulted Avicenna and al-Farabi for incorporating metaphysical notions derived from Greek philosophers -- primarily Aristotle, although Ibn Khaldun's characterization seems to incorporate a bit of Plato -- into their theological speculations) and the passage from Qutb I quoted at the end of last night's post. Ibn Khaldun was certainly a believer; he objected to the idea that the source of evil was ignorance, or that man through education and enlightenment could arrive at a just society or a moral code. For the 14th century historiographer, revealed religion was the sole source of moral authority, and absent that, one was fishing around in the dark with no hope of finding the truth.
That's a religious opinion -- entirely respectable. And while holding that view, he was simultaneously able to astutely describe the politics, the foibles, and the human weaknesses of the Caliphs. He did not confuse the transcendant or the divine with the all too human believers who tried, and failed, to rule. Ibn Khaldun recognized the distance between mere mortals and the revealed religion he cherished.
One could be charitable, and suggest that Qutb was merely a utopian dreamer, who believed in an Islamic millenium, the coming of an ideal society in which people simply would not want to sin, but given his fondness for the quote of Uthman, that men are better guided more by the whip than the Qur'an, I think that's a too charitable assumption.
I should probably end this here, but since I'm not writing what I originally intended to write -- on Islamists and culture -- I thought I'd give a brief preview here. One of the major themes of Reading Lolita in Tehran is the universality of great literature, because it speaks across cultures to the human condition. F. Scott Fitzgerald is every bit as relevant in Tehran, Azar Nafisi argues, as he is here in his native United States. Contrast that with Qutb, who wrote in the eighth chapter of Milestones:
...a Muslim can study all the opinions and thoughts of jahili writers, not from the point of view of constructing his own beliefs and concepts, but for the purpose of knowing the deviations adopted by Jahiliyyah, so that he may know how to correct these man-made deviations in the light of the true Islamic belief and rebut them according to the sound principles of the Islamic teachings.
I don't think I'd be particularly interested in a critique of Gatsby that concluded that if only Daisy had worn an abaya, none of the rest would have been necessary.Posted by Ideofact at May 12, 2004 11:59 PM