January 20, 2005

5 Qutb V.

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 examining some of the history behind one of Qutb's anti-Semitic claims.

I have before me my copy of the first volume of Marshall G. S. Hodgson's The Venture of Islam, a rather dog-eared copy (a much earlier edition, I'm afraid, than the one linked -- like its owner, age has taken its toll on the book, although only one of us has a badly cracked spine). I don't pay much attention to intellectual fashions; Hodgson may well have a poor reputation as a historian. For our purposes what counts are his skills as an intelligent reader and a historiographer.

Hodgson recounts the manner in which a tenth century histoiran, Ibn-Jarir al-Tabari, recounts the events surrounding the assassination of 'Uthman. You can actually read bits of it using Amason.com's "search inside this book" feature). I don't want to go all through Hodgson's summary; suffice it to say that al-Tabari gives us conflicting accounts: one, based on various sources of varying credibility. explains the shortcomings of 'Uthman's reign, the various issues that divided him and his opponents, the reasons the aggrieved party that ultimately conspired against and assassinated him opposed the caliph -- and suggests, as Hodgson puts it, this moral to the story:

The law must be worked out so that everyone will know what it is: what will make up for the caliphs will be independently developed Shari'ah, upheld by a responsible Muslim population.

In the second version, which comes from a chronologist whose credibility was fairly low, Sayf ibn Umar, there was no rift among the faithful. Rather, it was a Jewish convert to Islam who held heretical ideas that led the conspiracy. It was not a question of the community of believers having to work out the law and make up for the caliphs; the enemy was an outsider.

So in the only instance I've come across in which Qutb mentions the actual assassination of 'Uthman, whom does he blame? Who is at fault? What are Muslims to learn from this incident?

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.

Rather than struggle with the implications of 'Uthman's killing, Qutb prefers to blame the Jew.

Posted by Ideofact at January 20, 2005 12:32 AM

The first two volumes of Hodgson's work are still widely read, though they're getting a bit dated just because so much more research has been done in the past 30 years. However, what you describe above is totally correct. I have to deal with Sayf b. Umar in my own research, and if he's ever resurrected, I'm going to kill him.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich at January 20, 2005 06:50 PM

Bill, take a look at this quote:

"... they are marked, like the Jews, with such a perversity of character, as to constitute, from that circumstance, the natural division of our parties."

Thomas Jefferson, I kid you not. What I find interesting here is that Qutb is in some ways adhering to a patterm that long predates him, of finding in Jews a scapegoat for all evils. Not to defend him, obviously, but it is worth noting that Jefferson was able to articulate a vision of human liberty despite his non-universal cojncept of human, which has scaled upwards in a more inclusive sense. I think that Qutb's ideas are much more firmly wedded to anti-semitism as a raison d'etre than were Jefferson's, but I am forced to admit (and Abu Noor will likely wan to chime in here) that there may yet be a utility to Qutb's ideas that we have not yet discovered. Not about Jews, but something else. What that is, I dont know, but this is why I am hoping to get Abu Noor blogging ;)

Posted by: Aziz at January 21, 2005 01:13 PM

There is one small point of difference between Jefferson and Qutb.

I don't recall Jefferson ever attributing past (or present) calamity to Jews. He might have been working from a reflexive dislike/comtempt for Jews, which was probably very common in England at that time.

For example, did Jefferson name Jews, or Jewish influence, in the acts of George III and his Parliament?

Jefferson's religious ideas differed greatly from historical Christianity--he held that some sects had greatly corrupted Jesus' pure teachings. However, I don't recall him blaming Jews (in particular or general) for this.

I agree, Jefferson's ideas are abhorrent the modern mind. But I don't think Jefferson and Qutb are on the same plane.

Posted by: steve h at January 21, 2005 05:17 PM

*seriously annoyed*

exactly when did I claim that Qutb and Jefferson were on the same plane?

Posted by: Aziz at January 21, 2005 11:58 PM

Crap. I hate comments -- I knew I should have done this as a blog entry (by which I mean that through my own stupidity I lost a long bit of hot foaming blather that was just about ready for posting). In short order:

1) Glad Hodgkins is still appreciated, sorry about Sayf.

2) Aziz, you point to a good question I often ask myself: Why is it always the Jews? "Our inquisitors are seeking Hebrews, never Phoenicians, Numidians, Scythians, Babylonians, Huns, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Ethiopians, Illyrians, Paphlagonians, Sarmatians, Medes, Ottomans, Berbers, Britons, Libyans, Cyclops or Lapthis," Borges wrote. Whence this obsession, and how do we finally put it behind us, and recognize there's nothing incompatible the notion of Jewishness and that of being a fully fledged member of humanity, with full the rights of self-determination?

3) Steve -- agreed on the gulf between Qutb and Jefferson, but 4), in fairness to Aziz, that wasn't his point. And getting back to 2), I'm curious to know, Aziz, what good you think might be lurking in Qutb's prose? Which is not to say that I dismiss the possibility entirely, but it is to say that I put it in the same category with questions like, "Were the pyramids were built by aliens," or "Will the Eagles win the NFC championship game"? Theoretically, both are possible, but, unless provided with compelling evidence to the contrary, it's safe to dismiss both as being within the realm of possibility...

Posted by: Bill at January 22, 2005 01:31 AM

Bill, to answer what I think might belurking there, is more a question of methodology than interpretation. Qutb goes to the Qur'an and does not hesitate to use his a-priori principles (in this case, Jew hatred, but you could do the same thing with liberal democracy) as a filter upon the text. He discards most hadith as corrupted influences, which is something I've touched on myself regarding Bukhari's original intent (not to compile the most authoritative hadith,but rather just to compile the most diverse collection for posterity). He also displays a remarkable sympathy to some western ideas, even as he denounces the West's "contamination" in general.

Were I to engage in a bit of mass social engineering, in order to "convert" muslims to my own little point ofview, I would be well-advised tofollow Qutb's methodology. It is in fact scalable to other faiths as well, I think.

Posted by: Aziz at January 23, 2005 01:04 PM

as for "why always the Jew?" maybe its because they are the only group that has had a cohesive identity for long enough in history. Perhaps there were some other groups around 5,000 years ago that got equal time on the hate spectrum, but lacking both a religious AND an ethnic identity, dissipated. The strength of the Jewish comunity is the dual nature of their comuncal identity (which I shoudl note we Bohras alsoi have the luxury of).

Posted by: Aziz at January 23, 2005 01:06 PM

Aziz--I confess I didn't read much past the Jefferson quote. I agree with you, hatred of Jews was not Jefferson's raison d'etre in the way that it is Qutb's.

It is a very valid place to raise the topic, that Jews have been spurned/hated/slandered by many in history.

Now that I think of it, I can find bad stereotypes of the "evil Jewish moneylender" in the fiction of Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), William Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice), and other authors in the English tradition.

And you're both right--the Jews are one of the few groups of people who have kept cultural/religious consistency for the past 5,000 years. Especially their long sojourn as strangers in foreign lands.

Posted by: steve h at January 23, 2005 05:52 PM

Just the fact that the Jews have existed for so long as a distinguishable group doesn't necessarily explain the persecution (unless one assumes that man is inherently prone to developing conspiracy theories positing weak and by and large defenseless minorities as the wielders of awesome powers or the contraveners of every decency -- both charges have been leveled against Jews since the birth of Christ, and the latter charge long before it).

I don't pretend to know what the answer is.

Posted by: Bill at January 24, 2005 10:26 AM

I think it's because Jews are pretty awesome, and do well despite being a persecuted minority in any environment in which they find themselves.

Posted by: praktike at January 24, 2005 11:26 PM

It must be noted for the record in these comments that days after after Bill wrote his above post comparing the likelihood of Qutb having anything useful to say with the likelihood of the Eagles winning the NFC championship game, the Eagles, led by my fellow Chicagoan Donovan McNabb, did in fact win the NFC championship game.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at January 27, 2005 06:35 PM

It should also be noted that Bill is a longstanding, long suffering Eagles fan, who only started to relax after they went up 27 to 10 in the fourth quarter. Bring on the Patriots!

Posted by: Bill at January 27, 2005 11:09 PM

It should be noted that the Pittsburgh Steelers will return in the fall of 2005 to crush all opposition.

Posted by: praktike at January 27, 2005 11:26 PM