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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Commentary: Al-Qaida-ism and communism

UPI Editor at Large

WASHINGTON, June 14 (UPI) -- Communism had Karl Marx. Al-Qaidaism has Sayyid Qutb. "Who is he?" most people would ask. The ideology that nurtured modern Islamic extremism, and spawned every violent movement from Hezbollah to al-Qaida, was born in 1952 when Qutb, an Egyptian writer, returned from studying American literature at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Montana.

The tipping point from detached observer to extremist ideologue took place at a Church dance in Greeley when, as Qutb recalled in "The America I Saw," the pastor dimmed the lights and put on the come-hither number "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a hit tune from the MGM movie "Neptune's Daughter" -- a guy, girl and bathing suit lemon -- with Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban.

"The room," Qutb wrote, "became a confusion of feet and legs; arms twisted around hips; lips met lips; chests pressed together." That was the scene that turned him off American culture in particular and Western culture in general -- and onto Islamic fundamentalism.

"American girls," Qutb said, "know perfectly well the seductive power of their bodies... that it resides in their face, expressive eyes and hungry lips. They know that seduction resides in firm round breasts and hungry lips, full buttocks and well shaped legs -- and they show all this without trying to conceal it."

As Doug Saunders wisecracked in Canada's Globe and Mail, "if he had stuck around a couple of years to hear the racier Louis Armstrong-Ella Fitzgerald version of the same song, jihad might have begun much sooner."

More seriously, President Bush says, "They hate us for our freedoms and for our democracy." The equation is not a simple one. They don't see themselves as irrational fanatics, but rather as rational actors with a different agenda.

Neither Manichean rhetoric nor Michael Moore's paranoia captures it. Qutb's hatred of the United States was similar to the ingredients that bred self-hating Americans. He viewed the world, as he saw it in 1950, as decadent, corrupt, oppressive and generating endless violence and war because of capitalist greed that was destroying Allah's creations. Many of the same strands were spun to justify the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

Qutb's call to ideological arms came in response to Gamal Abdel Nasser's decision to sideline Islam by cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Brothers ("Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying on the way to Allah is our highest hope"). Qutb's prolific writings made him the theoretician of the Brotherhood -- and a hero of every extreme Islamist movement since then. The late Iranian dictator Ayatollah Khomeini, a Shiite, venerated Qutb, a Sunni, as a martyred giant of Islam and ordered a stamp issued with his effigy. Qutb was compulsory reading in Taliban schools. Osama bin Laden once studied under Mohammed Qutb, Sayyid's brother, who was also his editor.

Founded in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna, a 22-year-old elementary school teacher, the Brotherhood stepped into the vacuum created by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent ban of the caliphate system of government that had kept Muslims united for hundreds of years.

Historians have compared Qutb's pamphlet "Milestones" to Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?". It deals with tactics and strategy that lead to the dismantling of the nation-state, and regrouping the ummah under the laws of Sharia, which were those proscribed by Allah himself. Qutb was to Osama bin Laden what Marx was to Lenin, or justification for dictatorship of the proletariat.

Nasser jailed Qutb and other leading Brothers in 1954 only to pardon them all ten years later. But this led to three more attempts on Nasser's life and this time the pan-Arab dictator had Qutb, then 60, and his cohorts executed in 1966. Nasser's successor, Anwar al-Sadat, pledged to the Brothers Sharia would become the law of the land, and allowed them to publish a monthly magazine to denounce the four enemies of Islam -- Crusaders (Western Christians), communists, secularists and Zionists. But the Brothers turned against Sadat for his overtures to Israel and four Brothers assassinated him in 1981.

Sadat's successor, President Hosni Mubarak, allowed the Brothers to resurface politically and run for parliament as independents. They captured 20 percent of the seats. They also hold the chairs of key professional organizations.

Qutb is a Muslim fundamentalist's equivalent of a patron saint. "In the Shadow of the Koran," the 4,000-page Islamist counterpoint to "Das Kapital," he never advocated terrorism or assassination to liquidate the infidels. But he did foresee a "total war" as a "cosmic conflict, both political and mystical" that would bring about a new world that would worship only God. The main enemy is "jahiliyya," or ignorance. Men believe they can decide in God's name, he says, and that's why "materialism dominates and manners and mores are bestial."

The Jews -- you guessed it -- "are the ones who back most malevolent theories that aim to destroy all values and everything that is sacred for humanity." Religious coexistence, therefore, is "inconceivable, except as a temporary tactic... in order install a global Islamic state where Sharia will reign over the planet."

For jihadis and their Islamist fundamentalist supporters, the clash of civilizations is well underway. Next to this one, the Cold War with the Soviet empire was short-lived.
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