January 07, 2005

5 Qutb I.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and sometime nudism enthusiast who went on to become the most prominent of the radical fundamentalist thinkers of the post-Colonial period; his political thinking has become the platform of some of the more radical terrorist groups; numerous articles note that both Osama bin Laden and Ayam al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number one and two, have been influenced by Qutb. In a number of prior posts, ideofact has explored the writings of Qutb.

I haven't come close to getting through 4 Qutb, on the subject of Sayyid Qutb's work The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics, but tonight I finished reading Our Struggle with the Jews, an essay Sayyid Qutb wrote some time after 1950 (the exact date is undetermined), which was published as part of Ronald L. Nettler's 1987 work, Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist's View of the Jews. This latter book was published in 1987, and appears to be out of print; when I searched Amazon.com, there were no used copies of it available; nor did Alibris.com seem to have a copy.

About 70 pages of the book are given over to Nettler's commentary; the last dozen are the translation of Qutb's essay from a text which was republished in Saudi Arabia in 1970, complete with the Saudi editor's helpful notes showing where Qutb's text paralleled the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Qutb does not mention the Protocols; the passages in question do resemble one another -- I'm not sure whether it's more exculpatory to suggest that Qutb's fantasies were inspired by the warped minds that produced the Protocols or were entirely the products of his own imagination.)

For a Muslim perspective on Nettler's introduction, one can read this; for my part, I was less interested in Nettler's views than in what Qutb had to say, although I will say that the review seems off point; for example, the reviewer faults Nettler for not making any distinction between Jews, Zionism and Israel, yet Nettler's analysis is devoted to Qutb's essay, and Qutb makes no such distinctions.

Nettler does, I think, address this point indirectly, but what in fact is most striking to me in Qutb's discourse on the Jews is that the Jews form not just a malevolent monolith in his own day, but rather, "Jew" is a hostile, collective identity spanning from the days of Moses and the golden calf to the present of Marx, Freud, Durkheim and Israel. (At least Qutb leaves out Jean Paul Sartre, whom, oddly enough, the Saudi editor identifies as yet another godless Jew in a footnote.):

...The Jews also conspired against Islam by inciting its enemies against it throughout the world...This has brought the Jews of the latest era to being the chiefs of the struggle with Islam, on every foot of the face of the earth...The Jews are (also) the ones who utilize Christianity and idolatry in this comprehensive war ...... And they attack every foundation of this religion (Islam), in a Crusader-Zionist war!! How right was Allah, the most Mighty, in saying: "You will surely find the worst enemies of the Muslims to be the Jews and the polytheists."

The ones who incited the various parties against the emerging Muslim state in Medina, and brought together the Jews of Banu Qurayzah and others with the Quraysh of Mecca and the other (Arab) tribes in the Peninsula...was a Jew.

The one who incited the poeples, brought together the small groups, and set loose the sectarian movements in eht assassination of Uthman--may Allah be pleased with him--and all the catastrophes that followed this assassination...was a Jew.

Those who conducted a campaign of disparagement and lies against the sacred narratives of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), and other sacred transmissions (about the Messenger), and against the biographical traditions concerning him...was a Jew.

And a Jew was behind the incitement of various kinds of tribal arrogance in the last Caliphate; the (fomenting) of revolutions which began with the removal of the Shari'ah from the legislation and substituting for it "The Constitution" during the period of the Sultan, 'Abd al-Hamid; and the "hero" Ataturk's ending of the Caliphate. Then behind the subsequent war declared against the first signs of Islamic revival, from every place on the face of the earth...stood the Jews.

Behind the doctrine of atheistic materialism was a "Jew"; behind the doctrine of animalistic sexuality was a Jew; and behind the destruction of the family and the shattering of sacred relationships in society...was a Jew.

I am unhappy enough to have this much of Qutb's anti-Semitic bile on my blog; I'm not going to add any more (although it's not for lack of other examples; the penultimate section of essay concludes with Qutb's vision of the divine hand of justice in Hitler and the Holocaust, and his promise that soon enough the Arabs would mete out still more glorious punishment to the Jews). Needless to say, this kind of thought is irredeemable; what interests me is not so much what Qutb wrote about Jews, but rather, the question of why he chose to wrote about Jews, and, once he had made that decision, what his intentions were. In this vein, it is fascinating that he concluded his essay not with the the horrifying promise of the Muslims embarking on a second Holocaust, but rather with several paragraphs explaining that, just as the Qur'an says, in combat the Jews would only fight from behind fortified walls. Absent such protection, they run like rats. The implication of the whole is that, militarily, the Jews will be quite easy to beat, if only Muslims return to the pure tenets of the Qur'an, which of course Allah left to a 20th century nudism enthusiast and anti-Semite to impart to the world....

Posted by Ideofact at January 7, 2005 12:22 AM

The more I see of Qutb's thought, the less impressive it appears.

His arguments run rampant with praise of embryonic Islam, and with condemnation of the modern form of Islam. But they have little logical consistency, and run rife with reflexive hatreds. (Hatred of Jews, the culture of scientific advancement, and non-Muslims, for example.)

Like you, I have to wonder why Qutb thought so highly of himself, or of the "true Islam" that he lauded.

Posted by: steve h at January 7, 2005 06:20 PM

The wad of nonsense that Qutb spews here is a direct consequence of the monolithic mindset which as you noted does not acknowledge the divisions of the category "Jew" into Zionist, Israeli, etc. As a result there is a "correlation" in Qutb's mind with someone being a Jew and them being against Islam. That correlation disturbingly reminds me of the "correlations" made by people I respect highly with respect to race and intelligence, or the ones levied against my own kind at Yourish/LGF/Pipes etc.

Even more disturbing is that I often acknowledge in debates with the h-bd crowd that yes, race is a useful (in certain contexts) category and yes, the correlations with intelligence do have some statistical significance. The lesson here however is that the slippery slope is very, very steep.

As an excercise I considered taking the anti-semitic extract above and modifying it slightly, replacing "Jew" with muslim, and posting it to LGF. But what purpose this would serve is unclear, besides depressing my optimism about human nature.

Posted by: Aziz at January 8, 2005 06:26 PM


It's almost silly to say it, given that you've suffered through most of my ramblings on Qutb (I think I'm a semi-senile blogger) but stick with me as I go through this one.

Let me add that if I have sometimes reacted sharply to Abu Noor, it is in part because I've been aware of something monstrous in Qutb which, until recently, I hadn't had the opportunity to read for myself.

Two things which I think are important in all this are context -- when was Qutb writing and what was he competing against (and did he think he had any chance of winning, and, had the bulk of his works been written after 1967, might he have had a slightly different Qur'anic exegisis vis a vis the Jews?).

In the next few posts, I'll explain how Qutb blasphemes against the Qur'an, and what, as far as I can tell, his rather mean and small motives for doing so were.

But I do think it's fair to say that, if Qutb's exegesis in "Our Struggle with the Jews" represented the one true Islam, then a great deal of what the nastiest LGF commenters say would be justified. But oddly enough, I don't think Qutb believed what he was writing, meaning that for political advantage he was willing to confer on the Holocaust the approval of Islam.

The harm Qutb has done by writing that essay -- to both Muslims and Jews -- is incalculable.

Steve --

You no doubt are picking up on the "nudism enthusiast" bit. I am not surprised that Qutb thought highly of himself, but what shocks me is that otherwise intelligent people think highly of him.

Posted by: Bill at January 9, 2005 02:46 AM

well, I'm already setting up a bookmark for City of Brass Best Post nominees :)

Posted by: Aziz at January 9, 2005 10:38 AM

"And a Jew was behind the incitement of various kinds of tribal arrogance in the last Caliphate; the (fomenting) of revolutions which began with the removal of the Shari'ah from the legislation and substituting for it "The Constitution" during the period of the Sultan, 'Abd al-Hamid; and the "hero" Ataturk's ending of the Caliphate."

An interesting take on late Ottoman affairs. Does Qutb ever explain this -let's call it unique- view of history, or does he just make up this kind of baloney as he goes along?

Posted by: J.Cassian at January 10, 2005 10:55 AM


Just to clarify -- you state that a commenter (I assume it is me, but I could be wrong) has stated that Qutb's exegesis of the Qur'an is exceptional.

Of course it depends what you mean by that, if one means exceptional in terms of being better than average, being of high quality, than that is true. However, I have also argued explicitly that Qutb's basic understanding of what the Qur'an says is not exceptional, it is consistent with the classically accepted understandings of the verses. It is exceptional only in its literary quality, in the attempts it makes to apply the Qur'anic principles to his own situation, and in terms of being viewed against the backdrop of his extraordinary biography.

With regard to the essay you are discussing, I had never heard of it until you began this series.

The essay itself is not well known or well circulated at least in the Western world. If I haven't heard of it, one can assume that very few Muslims living in the West have. I can't speak for the Arab world, but I have not heard it referred to much by Arabic speaking Muslims either.

That is offered by way of giving some context and questioning your statement that the harm that Qutb has done by way of this essay to Jews and Muslims has been so immense. To the extent any ideas expressed are vile and reprehensible, Qutb has done damage to his own self, one would have to show that his ideas were influential to carry an argument that he had done harm against Muslims and Jews. If you think that Hamas has anti-Jewish views because of what Sayyid Qutb wrote rather than decades of war and occupation against Palestians by an entity claiming to represent all Jews around the world, then I have to disagree completely with you.

Without having the text in front of me, I will not attempt to address it, I have already disavowed some of Qutb's anti-Jewish comments in Milestones.

In most of his commentary that is read and influential, there are passages that you and your readers would probably find anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish but the whole discussion is problematic since there are parts of the Qur'an you would probably find anti-Semitic. I, of course, do not agree that the Qur'an is anti-Semitic.

One has to understand, and if Qutb doesn't understand this in his writing, he is clearly wrong, that the Children of Israel prior to the coming of Muhammad (saw) were Muslims in the Qur'anic view. So, while one could read the Qur'anic criticism of their shortcomings as anti-Jewish, it would then also have to be anti-Muslim as well. Obviously the Qur'an also criticizes those persons who did not accept Jesus as a Prophet or those that did not accept Muhammad as a prophet. In the Qur'anic view, such persons are either doing so based out of ignorance or, they are doing it based on knowledge, they are committing the worst type of transgression against God, to deny his Messengers and Revelation.

There is a recognition that Qutb's (or any other Islamic scholars) specific political or historical references are often a product of their own time and place and experiences as well as their own weaknesses and limitations. This is why it is not Qutb's specific political suggestions that are interesting to Muslim readers today.

The only real question on which Qutb has a position on an issue of great controversy amongst scholars which has been influential is on the issue of when it becomes legitimate to disavow allegiance to and potentially take up arms against a nominally Muslim government which is not applying Islam. It is on that question which is he said to have influenced extremist groups which took up arms first against the Egyptian govt and later against Western powers. Both of these decisions though were not advocated by Qutb and were conscious steps of moving beyond what Qutb had advocated by certain individuals like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Ladin.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 10, 2005 06:38 PM

J. Cassian --

Regrettably, Qutb offers no elaboration for the claims about the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Abu Noor --

Sure, Hamas would most likely be Hamas with our without Qutb, but I don't think there's any question of a relationship between Hamas' doctrines and Qutb's via the former's spiritual leader:

In 1965, Yassin's skills in public speeches drew the attention of the Egyptian intelligence in the Strip, so he was arrested in a campaign of arrests against the members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and was put in a solitary confinement cell for a month, until he was released after he was proved not to be involved with the Brotherhood. His detention period affected him significantly, and "rooted the hate of injustice" in his soul, as he said in an interview.

Sure, maybe it's a coincidence that various portions of Hamas' charter and ideology match those of the theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood -- maybe Yassin never heard of Our Struggle with the Jews or any of Qutb's other writings and came up with a remarkably similar ideology all on his own.

Hey, you know it all so much better than I do, you must be right!

Posted by: Bill at January 10, 2005 10:04 PM


I apologize for whatever way in which I offended you so that you felt you had to resort to sarcasm in our discussion.

It is not a coincidence that anything in Hamas' charter may resemble Qutb's thought: Hamas is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. This is well known.

However, Hamas is also a political party and it responds to and is influenced by the circumstances in which it operates. This is true both of its actions and rhetoric. So it has evolved a considerable degree over the years of its existence and the thought of the Muslim brotherhood at its founding had evolved a good deal since Qutb's execution. Based on my understanding of the situation, the rhetoric and strategies of Hamas are much more influenced by the particular realities of recent Palestinian society and history than by anything written by Sayyid Qutb.

I'm sorry if there is something wrong with making that point.


Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 11, 2005 09:59 PM

Well, the point you seemed to be making earlier (among others) is that there was no connection between Hamas and Qutb, and that this essay was not influential at all. I think I showed that both of those propositions are bogus, and I took a little offense at your condescending assumption that I almost never know what I'm talking about. I'm perfectly happy to concede I'm not a Muslim, and not an expert, and that ideofact is entirely a hobby (a bizarre one at that) -- so why is it that you waste so much of your time here when I'm such a blockhead that I don't understand that the word "sunna" magically washes away any notion that there's anything even vaguely objectionable about regarding Hilter as God's just punishment for Jews or that there's no connection between Hamas and Qutb except for the really obvious one that everyone knows about?

Gee, I wonder why little things like that might end up annoying me?

Posted by: Bill at January 12, 2005 01:44 AM


I didn't mean to suggest anything of the above. I tried to explain what I did mean, so I hope its better understood now. Please forgive me for the offense.

I do think some of what I try to provide here is a Muslim perspective on the issues you are discussing. I do think I am better positioned than yourself to know whether a particular work is widely known or influential among Muslims. The fact that I am better positioned to know doesn't mean that I am always right or that you don't know anything.

Have you ever heard this work of Qutb's discussed outside of this one Orientalist work that is apparently not even in print currently?

All I am trying to get across to you or any of your other readers is that if a Muslim here in America says that they really respect the work of Sayyid Qutb, one should NOT assume they are talking about this particular work. In fact, the more likely correct assumption would be that they had never heard of this work. I am not trying to say anything more than that.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 12, 2005 10:06 AM

I'm glad you're better able to determine than I am what Muslims know and don't know -- you'll have to teach me that trick. In this case, it's entirely irrelevant. Of course most Muslims haven't read this essay--most Muslims would see this tract of garbage for exactly what it is. But then, most Muslims are not enthusiastic followers of the politics of Sayyid Qutb. Except to the likes of the bin Ladens and the Yassins and other assorted mass murderers, Qutb's political ideas have been roundly rejected. I wouldn't waste my time reading Lyndon Larouche literature, and a Muslim would have no reason to waste his time with this garbage.

Still, Qutb wrote this thing, and obviously it influenced some people, and certainly among them was Hamas.

Posted by: Bill at January 12, 2005 12:32 PM