An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
WELL, THIS is bothersome -- it appears that ideofact is down again. Unfortunately, I don't have access to the backup of the latest Qutb post here at work, so I guess readers will have to wait until whenever the site magically comes back...
Monday, January 10, 2005
Note: First, I'm still at this address, but was unable to post most of the weekend becasue of the attack on the exceptional Hosting Matters (incidentally, I think the folks at Hosting Matters are great -- and this certainly isn't their fault). So what follows is 5 Qutb II., which hopefully will appear on the real ideofact shortly...
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.
In the post immediately below, Sayyid Qutb showed us in his own words why he and his project are beyond the pale. In his essay Our Struggle with the Jews, Qutb casts Jews everywhere as being, as it were, sort of eternal Judases, the constant treacherous characters or collective, the malignant force behind every misfortune faced by Muslims. Whether it was the assassination of 'Uthman, the third of the rightly guided Caliphs, or the end of the Caliphate in 1924 (actually, the second end of the Caliphate, but to Islamists like Qutb such niceties are mere details), or the establishment of the state of Israel -- the same eternal Judas, the same evil Jews, were behind it. Qutb, whom a frequent commenter on ideofact insists is quite exceptional in his Qur'anic exegesis, opens his essay by telling us that, despite suffering "from the same Jewish machinations and double-dealing which discomfited the Early Muslims," today's Muslims do not "utilize those Qur'anic directives and this Divine Guidance" that allowed its ancestors to overcome "Jewish conspiracy and double dealing" -- "thus did the Religion [Islam] arise; and thus was the Muslim Community born." Near the end of the essay, he tells us that, as punishment for their evil, "Allah brought Hitler to rule over the Jews" and that, in response to the foundation of Israel, Allah would "bring down upon the Jews people who will mete out to them the worst kind of punishment," those people being true (Qutb) believing Muslims, of course.
Now, a few prefatory remarks are in order: I meant what I said about Qutb -- calling Hitler a gift of Allah, wishing that your co-religionists will be Allah's instrument for the worst punishment -- a punishment worse than that of Hilter -- is the sort of thing which language is inadequate to condemn. Just as the autobahn or the Volkswagen do not compensate us for the six million Hitler killed, there is nothing in all of Qutb's schemes or intentions -- whatever their dubious merits -- that can mitigate his advocacy of slaughtering Jews. Full stop. There is no need to write another word.
But I will go on, because there is something else of interest in all this about Qutb, something that is certainly of secondary importance as far as I'm concerned, but that poses an intellectual question worth pondering nonetheless, and that is asking what was the reasoning behind Qutb's insistence -- his blasphemy -- that the Qur'an is a manual for slaughtering Jews.
Regrettably, as Ronald Nettler points out in Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist's View of the Jews, Qutb's notion of the Jew as the eternal, eschatological enemy of Islam was the gold standard of the theology of terror and has had a fair amount of influence:
Now, by the best estimate, Qutb's essay was written in Egypt, some time after 1950 but before he was imprisoned in 1954. That period roughly corresponds with the peak moment of enthusiasm for a movement that promised to revitalize Arab states, to shake off the corruption and ill effects of colonialism, and to restore the honor lost in 1948. That movement -- totalitarian in its methods, fascist in its propaganda, utterly incompetent (more Mussolini than Hitler) in its results -- was Arab Nationalism:
Emphasis added to a passage from Adeed Dawisha's excellent Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair. It is certainly not my intention here to rehash the history of the founding of Israel, the 1948 war, or the vicissitudes of Nasser's regime and the pan-Arabist movement (although I once fooled around with a series of posts dealing with the subject as one element in a broader theme, revolving around the notion that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 continues to have repercussions around the world, and we are now fighting some of the last battles of World War I). I only wanted to point out the date of Nasser's ascension (July 24, 1952), that Qutb at first enthusiastically embraced the Free Officers' coup (he wrote an ecstatic letter to General Mohammed Neguib, the coup's nominal leader, begging for a dictatorship that would reform the country), and only later turned against it. If Our Struggle with the Jews were written before Qutb was tossed into jail, it must have been 1953 or 1954, at the nadir of the appeal of fundamentalists relative to Arab nationalists.
Though this will sound counterintuitive in the extreme, I believe (contra the erudite Ronald L. Nettler) that the real enemy Qutb addressed in his essay was Nasser. To attack Nasser, Qutb needed to take what was already a robust anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in the Arab world circa 1950, and, drawing in part on European anti-Semites and in part through his own twisted Qur'anic exegesis, inflame it further by casting Jews as an existential enemy whose evil was such that they would destroy Islam and Muslims, and faulting Nasser for not attacking such a dire threat immediately.
Further, although such a conclusion does not mitigate the horror of Sayyid Qutb one iota, I tend to think that while his Jew hatred was genuine, he was completely aware of his own lies in furthering his hatred.
Of which I will tell more, in the next post in this series...
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Note: I'm still posting at Ideofact.com. I reposted three old posts (immediately below) from the Sayyid Qutb series that seem to have disappeared from the archives.
Note: I'm still posting at Ideofact.com. I reposted three old posts (immediately below) from the Sayyid Qutb series that seem to have disappeared from the archives.
I first read Social Justice in Islam, by Sayyid Qutb, in February 2002. I have to admit I read it the first time carelessly; it wasn't until I got to the eighth chapter, translated as "Present State & Prospects of Islam," that I began to think of blogging it. Like the other chapters, I started breezing through it, but slowed down and began taking notes on it, none of which are useful for my purposes here, but nevertheless helped me begin to get my bearings. I've reread it now five or six times, and each time I can't help thinking two things: 1) that Qutb has a very low opinion of humanity; and 2) that this is matched, or exceeded, only by the low opinion he has of Islam itself, which for Qutb is apparently a delicate flower whose petals will wilt from the slightest breeze from non-Islamic culture generally and the West specifically. Even Muslims themselves can do grievous damage to Islam. (Actually, reading this sentence, it occurs to me that someone could argue that I don't necessarily disagree with Qutb on this point -- that I merely disagree with Qutb on which Muslims do damage to Islam. However, I would tend to argue that Islam itself cannot be damaged by anything that, say, Islamist terrorists do in Islam's name, any more than, say, the Gospels can be damaged by Ku Klux Klan members burning crosses. Perhaps that's the subject for another post...)
Qutb begins by saying that his mission is to call for a renewal of Islamic life, and noting that it is not enough that Islam was a force in the past. Given that his program has not been adopted, one can reasonably conclude that Qutb would argue that, for the more than one billion Muslims in the world today, Islam is not a living force. He goes on to make two points:
1. That Islamic society today is not Islamic in any sense of the word. ...It is worth recalling that for Qutb, the date at which Muslim society ceased adhering to Islam was roughly 680 C.E., and what followed was a series of disastrous political leaders (and there is more on this subject later in the eighth chapter). To clarify his position, Qutb also notes that he is speaking strictly of politics; that while the polity of Muslims of ceased to be Islamic in any real sense quite early on, the religion itself thrived in individuals, and that it was solely the Umayyads, who introduced rule by hereditary succession (rather than by acclamation of the faithful), who were responsible for the political disaster.
I began this series of posts by making the following conjecture (I'm grateful, as always, to Aziz Poonawalla, who's quoted the words with which I began this series, thus saving me the bother if fishing through my archives for them, and indexed the whole series as well):
...I tend to think the main problem of the Middle East is tyranny. ...A moment ago, I mentioned acclamation -- the process by which Muslims in the 7th Century C.E. chose their first political leaders (the first four Caliphs). It is somewhat analogous to an election (and analogy is one of the means by which Islamic religious scholars and jurists adapt the past to the present). Qutb himself describes the ascension of Ali, the nephew of Mohammad and the last of the four rightly guided Caliphs. After having been chosen by the faithful, Ali said, according to Qutb:
O people, I am only a man like yourselves, with the same rights and obligations; I will lead you in the path of your Prophet and will enforce upon you what has been enjoined on me. ...in justice there is an ampleness of life, and whoever feels that he is constrained by right, let him remember that he would be more so by tyranny.This is not quite Jeffersonian (Jefferson wrote that one of his proudest achievements was the Virginia bill establishing religious freedom, which, he noted, protected the beliefs of "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."), but nevertheless is suggestive of concepts we hold dear under our democratic/republican system (both with small letters): the accountability of a ruler chosen by the people to the rule of law. If Qutb is interested in the political failings of Islamic culture, then one would assume he offers some system, derived from Islamic sources and using analogy, to suggest a mechanism by which Islamic society could ensure it was ruled by those who respected right rather than tyranny. Instead, Qutb writes:
As for the suggestion that the Islamic system does not provide by nature adequate safeguards against disruption, for one thing we must bear in mind that that this system was assailed by disruption before it had properly struck roots; and for another thing we must remember that in practice no system has any real such safeguards. Where, for example, are the safeguards of democracy in Europe? This is a strongly entrenched system, which has achieved a definite form, and which has had time to establish itself and to spread its influence over a long period into every quarter of life. Yet where were its safegaurds at the time of the Nazi coup d'etat, or the Fascist, or the Spanish?I will leave aside the dubious assertion that democracy was "strongly entrenched" in Italy, Germany, or Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, and also the fact that, rather than rely on Islamic sources for analogies to further his arguments, Qutb chooses to draw on (for him) recent European history. What he seems to be saying is that the best Muslims can hope for is a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Franco, or a system fragile enough to allow their ascension to power.
Note: The previous post in this series can be found here, which provides links back to the others.
Hammer and crescent
Actually, I suppose I should be a bit more tentative in discussing Qutb's economic ideas, which are scattered over several chapters. It's difficult to sort them out, not least because Qutb fairly consistently contradicts himself. After a lengthy passage explaining that Islam strives to take into account man's nature, and thus recognizes the right to private property, he'll then turn around and say that that right is not absolute, but subject to the control of the community; he'll go further and say that the individual is merely the steward of his property, implying that the community can strip him of it if he does not exercise his ownership in accord with the needs of the community. Who is determine those needs is something Qutb glosses over. He'll write at length of the dignity of labor, that Allah expects the individual to work for recompense as the only honorable way to live, and then obliquely suggest that the public treasury to provide support to all Muslims. Sometimes his economics seem to borrow a page from National Socialism, sometimes from communism, and sometimes even from capitalism (although, generally speaking, if he begins with a capitalist idea, like private property, he quickly subverts it). One of the odd things about his economic writing is his lack of specifics -- he does not, for example, specify when it is that an individual has become such a bad steward of his property that the "community" must manage it in his stead. Qutb rather consistently attacks excessive wealth and luxury (although he recognizes that what passes for excessive wealth in, say, Africa would be fairly average -- and thus not excessive -- in America), but beyond that, he doesn't explain himself. I am vaguely reminded, not so much of Marx (yes, I once doped my way through not only Das Kapital, but also Die Grundrisse -- we have a fondness here at Ideofact for fat books), but of the later attempts to figure out what Marx's utopia would look like. Perhaps the most absurd thing I read was something in Sartre, in which he wrote that in the paradise of the workers, the subconscious mind (which elsewhere he said did not exist) would merge with the conscious mind. I could never figure out what Sartre had in mind, but I didn't lose too much sleep over it.
One of the tropes of communist intellectuals and apologists was that a new "Soviet man" was being created. Qutb, in chapter 8 (sorry to skip ahead, but I think I should reference this here) similarly believes that there should be a new Islamic man:
No renaissance of Islamic life can be effected purely by law or statute, or by the establishment of a social system on the basis of Islamic philosophy. Such a step is only one of the two pillars on which Islam must always stand in its construction of life. The other is the production of a state of mind imbued with Islamic theory of life, to act as an inner motivation for establishing this form of life and to give coherence to all the social, religious, and civil legislation. Social justice is an integral part of this Islamic life; it cannot be realized unless this form of life is first realized, and it cannot have any guaranteed permanence unless this form of life is built up on solid foundations. It is in this similar to all other social systems; it must have the support of public belief and confidence in its merits. Failing this, it will lose its spiritual foundations, and its establishment will depend on the force of religious and social legislation; this is a force that obtains only so long as evastion is impossible.We have heard, from various sources, that there are roughly one billion Muslims in the world, give or take, and that somewhere between 250 million and 300 million of them are Arab (note: in a later chapter, it appears that Qutb, who argues that Islam solves the problem of racism, argues that the conversion of Persians, Turks, Chechens, Mongols, Circassians and Bosnians was an unmitigated disaster for Islam -- stay tuned for that installment). Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that in the 1950s, when Qutb was writing, there were roughly 700 million Muslims in the world, of whom 220 million were Arab. According to Qutb, they must produce (must have produced in them) a state of mind imbued with the Islamic theory of life. This is a prerequisite to his utopia. I imagine that the 220 million Arab Muslims and the 700 million Muslims worldwide would have been surprised to hear that they lacked this.
I point all this out because, at the end of the seventh chapter of Social Justice in Islam, Qutb enumerates ten economic principles. Among them is, "To each according to his needs..." which was a rallying cry of Marxists. I certainly don't know the Qur'an well enough to definitively say that the formula doesn't appear there, but from what little I know of Islam, I'm pretty sure it doesn't. Perhaps my good friend Aziz -- if I haven't offended him too much with my carping -- can enlighten us on this point.
In any case, the other principles are as follows: 1. The poor have a better right to welfare than recent converts to Islam (although Qutb doesn't say whether poor recent converts have the same rights as poor longtime followers of the faith); 2. that Islam opposes excessive wealth and excessive poverty; 3. that Islam endorses the graduated income tax -- at least for nonbelievers; 4. tax collectors should not deprive taxpayers of "staples," nor should they resort to force; 5. To each according to his needs...: 6. Islam endorses universal social security and the something that looks very much like the Swedish welfare state (amazing, considering that Qutb is still writing abut the 7th century); 7. What Qutb delightfully calls the "principle of where did you get this?" which is supposed to prevent corruption among public officials; 8. Paying the zakat, a religious tax; 9. The principle of mutual responsibility -- i.e., it's not so great if your next door neighbor starves to death; 10. Usury is forbidden.
Interestingly, in the next chapter, Qutb contradicts himself -- or at least seems to -- on this point, but I'll get to that later.
Sorry if this post is short on examples and specifics, but I do the best I can with the book.
A short post. Here is Qutb's view of Western civilization:
...it is a civilization founded on pure materialism, a civilization of murder and war, of conquest and of subjugation.
Monday, July 14, 2003
The new ideofact
Okay, I lied (in the post immediately below). That was the penultimate post on the blogspot incarnation of Ideofact; the new version is available here. The site is still a work in progress, but feel free to stop by.
Thursday, July 10, 2003
Not quite the penultimate post
I'm taking tonight off to work on the new site; I'll be back here over the weekend with some updates and perhaps the odd item or two, then it's off to the new, improved (well, except for the quality of the writer himself) ideofact.
Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Reflections on Friends of the Iranian Revolution
This is a rather grandiose title for the mundane thoughts that will folllow -- my apologies to Burke, and Burkeans.
I did not have a great deal of time to read blogs today, but I did my best to check in on a few as the day progressed; apparently the revolution did not occur as scheduled. That was to be expected.
In the wake of Sept. 11, we rallied, first, around ourselves -- around the victims, around the selfless firefighters who responded to the call, around those airline passengers of Flight 93, who struck the first blow against tyranny. It seems to me to be particularly meaningful that the first blow against the Islamicists was struck not by our government, but by people not that different from us.
In the first weeks, we read of the ideology -- if barbarism can be graced by such a word -- of the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is a hackneyed phrase, but people did ask, "Why do they hate us?" -- at least, after a fashion. Not to find fault with ourselves (we do that 365 days a year), but rather to stare into the petri dish and discern what kind of scum was growing there. There followed the rallying around the troops -- the men and women who liberated first Afghanistan and then Iraq. I know a little bit about military history; I suspect both campaigns will be studied, for different reasons, for years.
In the smiling faces greeting U.S. troops in Kabul, in the Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy of Iraq, we began to recognize something else -- the common aspiration for liberty that the great mass of humanity shares. Today I read a fair number of posts in which people approvingly quoted the words of Iranians, expressed their hopes for a people distant from us, separated by oceans and centuries of circumstance and, from most of us, by religious creed -- and rallied around them. I think this is a healthy thing.
A few caveats are in order. The number of revolutions that, ten years out, led to liberalization are but a small percentage of the total. The plans for a Committee of Public Safety, for a new terror, may already be hatching in someone's mind. An Iranian Robespierre or a Bonaparte might already be waiting in the wings. Revolutions tend to become more radical as they go on--witness France and Russia--and end in some form of dictatorship. Obviously, I have no special insight into conditions in Iran, and perhaps my worries are misplaced. I certainly hope so.
One final note: I'm saddened that Glenn Frazier isn't around blogging this (don't bother clicking on the link). He maintained an excellent Iranian Liberty Index (I think that was the name) that was worth checking on a daily basis. Here, incidentally, is the Tehran Times story on the cancellation of the protests (apparently, not everyone got the word). It's interesting that the Tehran Times does not note what the students were demonstrating against...
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Sayyid Qutb's work, Social Justice in Islam, ends with a brief chapter translated as Parting of the Ways. Qutb begins by saying that the struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States is in fact not a struggle at all, since the United States (and Western Europe) will inevitably turn to communism:
No essential difference is to be found between the American and Russian philosophies, though some differences do exist in the economic and social circumstances. What keeps the ordinary American from becoming a communist is not a philosophy of life that rejects any materialistic explanation of the universe, of life, and of history; rather it is the fact that the now has the opportunity of becoming rich and the fact that worker's wages are high. But when American capitalism reaches the end of its tether, when the restraints of monopolies are tightened, when the ordinary man sees that he has no longer the opportunity of himself becoming a capitalist, when wages drop becaue of the tightening of monopoly control or for any other reason, then the American worker is going to turn right over to communism. For, he will not have the support of any stronger philosophy of life than the materialistic, nor will he have the support of any spiritual faith or moral objective.Obviously, Qutb wasn't alone in believing the crackpot economics of Marx would inevitably triumph over the real economics of Adam Smith; that the political system forged by thugs like Lenin and Stalin would outlast that produced by Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton; that slavery was a better bet than freedom.
For Qutb, then, the only question is, who will lead the vast, global prisonhouse of humanity: a Marxist jailer or an Islamicist jailer?