Radical Islam's Architect and Hamas

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

Radical Islam's Architect and Hamas


Byline: Joshua Sinai, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The study of Middle East issues is highly politicized and often, unfortunately, is burdened by distortion and bias, as demonstrated by these recently published books.

John Calvert's Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism is a biography of one of the architects of modern-day Islamic extremism. Qutb (1906-66) was born in Egypt at the height of Britain's domination of that country. He emerged as a literary figure in the 1930s, but by the late 1940s turned to a virulent form of Islamic nationalism that he continued to expound throughout his life. Attesting to his lasting importance, among his most ardent modern-day adherents have been al Qaeda's leaders Ayman al-Zawahri and Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Calvert, associate professor of history at Creighton University in Nebraska, specializes in Middle Eastern Islamic movements. This book reflects Mr. Calvert's extensive archival research in Egypt and elsewhere on Qutb's life and writings, but also, unfortunately, his bias in portraying his subject in an overly uncritical light. Throughout the book, Qutb's condemnations of modernity, Westernization and early 1950s America seem to be adopted practically wholeheartedly by the author - the substance of which is marred by inaccuracies. Moreover, few of Qutb's virulent commentaries are quoted, making it appear as though he's actually moderate and reasonable.

A religiously conservative aesthete, Qutb never married nor had intimate relations with women. He was hugely disturbed when he spent some 15 months in America from mid-1948 to late 1949, misunderstanding Americans' dating practices and sexual relations as a purely biological matter. Moreover, even though most social historians would have characterized America at that time as quite conservative and religious, Qutb portrayed it in his writings as a hellish vision of a country alienated from God's truth. Mr. Calvert then joins Qutb's misguided criticism, noting that Qutb's writings signal the moment in modern history when the United States' glossy image began to tarnish. Others, of course, might take issue with this point.

Much of the book is devoted to the development of Qutb's Islamist thinking within the context of political developments in 1950s Egypt. Qutb's writings greatly influenced the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's leading Islamic opposition group, which was outlawed for much of this period because of its terrorist activities against the state.

As discussed by Mr. Calvert, Qutb's most famous book, Milestones, argues that Islam stands as the salvation not only of Muslims, but also of humanity as a whole. What made Qutb so important to radical Islamists is his message that it is up to a determined vanguard of true Muslims to confront the vast ocean of al-jahiliyya [state of ignorance] which encompasses the entire world. This directive was later adopted by Islamist insurgent groups such as al Qaeda and Hamas.

Qutb's political involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood led to several arrests and imprisonment by the Egyptian government, with the last years of his life spent in prison, where he was executed in 1996. …

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