May 12, 2004

2 Qutb 8D

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


I apologize if you felt my criticism was too harshly personal.

I realize it is hard for any of us to be called prejudiced, especially when we feel we consciously try not to be.

Some of the phrasing of your original post especially the 'passing strange' comment, was difficult for me to understand. I've never heard that term used before and so I apologize if I misintrepreted it or took it wrong.

I specified clearly that my charge was not prejudice against all Muslims, but prejudice against those whom you identify as "Islamists."

I honestly don't know how someone, being charitable or not, would conclude that Sayyid Qutb believed either the later Khulafaa (after the Rashidoon) were perfect or think that somehow he did not recognize the capacity of humans, including Muslims for evil.

In fact, throughout his writings he spoke of the ways in which Muslims went off the correct path as a general community over the centuries since the time of the Prophet (saw). Also, as I've tried to mention before, Qutb himself was imprisoned and tortured by those who claimed to be Muslims, so the charge that somehow he had an unreasonably optimistic view about the ability of people in general or Muslims in particular to be perfect.

You are of course free to believe to argue that Qutb's prescriptions are wrong. I am interested in that discussion, which is why I visit your site so often and try to add another perspective to the discussion.

Unfortunately what I have found, especially with your analysis of Qutb, is an unrelentingly negative and condescending analysis which seems to read Qutb's thought as the most evil force still drawing followers in today's world. It would be silly of me to argue against the easily observable fact that this assessment of a person I believe to have struggled greatly in life and in writing to bring justice and good to all people (though of course still a human being capable of error) is deeply offensive and hurtful to me and so sometimes I may strike back with a little bit of perhaps unwarranted spice in my responses.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at May 13, 2004 01:42 PM


I don't see reference to mutilation of the Israeli occupation soldiers in many of the articles I have read about this incident.

Are you referring to the display of body parts?

Are you assuming that the bodies were chopped up or in some way mutilated, rather than that they were just blown into many pieces as a result of the original explosion?

I am just seeking clarification.

I think your focusing on the lack of condemnation for this mutilation by IslamOnline is a bit unfair since it does not seem to be the main aspect of the story in any of the reports I have read.

More generally, though, if your point is that IslamOnline editorially has an anti-occupation viewpoint and would very rarely criticize Palestinian resistance against the occupation than this is true. I find most of the media is biased in favor of the Israelis and gives much much more attention to Israeli deaths than Palestinian deaths. Does IslamOnline have to specifically condemn everything it finds objectionable in the news reports it carries?

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at May 13, 2004 02:18 PM

There was a story I saw that described the "displaying of body parts" rather graphically as men grabbing handfuls of guts and holding them aloft. Desecration might have been a better term than mutilation.

Posted by: Bill at May 16, 2004 11:22 PM