January 18, 2005

5 Qutb IV.

Note: Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) was an Egyptian author, literary critic, bureaucrat, and one time American student 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.

Now, ideofact continues its exploration of the Sayyid Qutb essay, Our Struggle with the Jews, this time in the light of Qutb's other works.

In the other works of his I have read, Qutb exhibits clear anti-Semitism, yet it is of a different magnitude than the sort he unleashed in Our Struggle with the Jews. In Social Justice in Islam, for example, Qutb writes,

Similarly, we find the medicine markets monopolized by Jews and others; so the sick undergo suffering or are left to die, while the monopolists make their scandalous profits and thereby amass their unlawful wealth.

Later, he writes,

There are those who hold that it is the financial influence of the Jews in the United States and elsewhere that has governed the policy of the West. There are those who say it is English ambition and Anglo-Saxon guile that are responsible for the present position. And there are those who believe that it is the antipathy between the Eastern and Western blocs that is responsible. All these opinions overlook one vital element in the question, which must be added to all other elements, the Crusader spirit that runs in the blood of all Occidentals....

We do not forget the role of international Zionism in plotting against Islam and in the pooling against it of the forces of the Crusader imperialists and the communist materialists alike. This is nothing other than a continuation of the role played by the Jews since the migration of the Prophet to Medina and the rise of the Islamic state.

Pretty vile stuff; the last paragraph directly foreshadows Our Struggle with the Jews. Clearly, Qutb was a horrible little hater, and beyond that one need not say much more. What I found interesting, however, was the contrast in Qutb's treatment of the death of 'Uthman ibn Affan, the third of the rightly guided caliphs. 'Uthman was a particular favorite of Qutb, who seems to have respected him for his piety and personal virtues but not for his rule as Caliph. It is clear that Qutb prefers 'Uthman's political philosophy to the Shari'ah; in Social Justice in Islam, Qutb approvingly quotes this line: "As 'Uthman ibn Affan said: 'Allah restrains man more by means of the ruler than by means of the Qur'an.'"

In The Islamic Concept and Its Character, which I'll return to blogging on soon, Qutb describes the aftermath of the assassination of 'Uthman this way:

[A]fter the murder of 'Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him), the Islamic world faced many practical problems. People began to interpret the verses of the Qur'an to suit their own purposes, giving them far-fetched meanings. Moreover, arguments were put forward for and against various sectarian views, each seeking support for its opinions from philosophy and scholastic theology. Most such arguments were biased. Consequently, such sources, biased as they are, cannot be relied upon to present the pure Islamic thought. Its characteristics and constituents must be derived from the fixed text of the Qur'an and must be free of such pollutants as the legacy fo history. Indeed, it is better to set aside this entire legacy.

Qutb clearly isn't writing about the murder itself, but its aftermath; in Social Justice in Islam, he writes in more detail of the unhappy reign of 'Uthman, who put his fellow Umayyads in positions of power, angered the faithful by bending to his own johnny-come-lately corrupt advisors, etc. etc. Qutb thinks that 'Uthman was just too old when he came to power, and writes,

I am certain that, if the life of 'Umar had lasted several years longer, or if 'Ali had been the third Caliph, or even if 'Uthman had become Caliph when he was twenty years younger, then the course of Islamic history would have been very considerably changed.

Right, and I'm fairly certain that if Dewey had in fact beaten Truman, or if my father had never met my mother...

But what of the assassination of 'Uthman? Qutb writes:

The truth is that any suspicion that the Islamic system does not afford safeguards against its own overthrow is due to ignorance of what is practically feasible in any system. It betratys also an ignorance of the true facts of Islamic history; we have the evidence of the great rebellion against 'Uthman; we have the rebellion of the Hejaz against the Yazid; we have the evidence of the Qarmatian rebellion, and of many others, all of which were directed against exploitation, arbritrary power, and class distinctions. The spirit of Islam has continually struggled against all such things, in spite of the grievous injuries that it has suffered throughout thirteen hundred years.

Perhaps I'm misreading this, but it appears that Qutb has chosen the side of 'Uthman's killers, or at least is arguing that, even if they were wrong to kill 'Uthman, they did so to fight against "exploitation, arbitrary power, and class distinctions," all things with which Qutb agrees.

Here is how Qutb writes of the death of 'Uthman in Our Struggle with the Jews:

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

So a Jew let loose the catastrophe described in The Islamic Concept and welcomed in Social Justice in Islam.

So which is it? Was the death of 'Uthman--tragic as it was--ultimately an attempt to achieve social justice, or a catastrophe that acted as prism, splintering the pure light of Islam into a spectrum of mutually exclusive interpretations? Was it the work of a Jew?

In Social Justice in Islam, Qutb writes,

...the revolt against 'Uthman came to a head; it contained elements both of right and of wrong, of good and of evil. Yet to one who views matters through the eyes of Islam and who seeks to interpret events by the spirit of that faith it must be apparent that the revolt was more akin to the spirt and purposes of Islam than was the position of 'Uthman...

I leave it to the (all too patient) reader, for now, to ponder what all this means, but I'll offer further thoughts soon...

Posted by Ideofact at January 18, 2005 12:26 AM