In this piece in today’s FrontPage, I discuss a particularly egregious article about Sayyid Qutb and the causes of jihad: “Terror’s Greatest Recruitment Tool” by Naomi Klein, which appeared in The Nation.
The Left has for quite some time indulged its fantasy that jihad terrorism is somehow all the fault of the United States, but the blame is usually placed upon Iraq, or Abu Ghraib, or Israel, or (for those with more esoteric tastes) the toppling of Mossadegh by the CIA in Iran in 1953, or some other alleged foreign policy enormity. Now, however, Naomi Klein has done something new, something bold, something downright innovative: she has suggested in The Nation that what drives today”s global jihad is not so much rage at American and British foreign, but domestic policies. Specifically, she grounds the whole jihad imperative in that ever-handy bogeyman, American racism.
It all started, you see, with Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood theorist whose writings are so popular among jihadists today that some (principally Wahhabis trying to take the heat off their own jihadist movement) have even labeled Osama bin Laden a “Qutbist.” According to Klein, “by coincidence, Qutb arrived in the United States in 1948, the year of the creation of the State of Israel. He witnessed an America blind to the thousands of Palestinians being made permanent refugees by the Zionist project. For Qutb, it wasn’t politics, it was an assault on his identity: Clearly Americans believed that Arab lives were worth far less than those of European Jews. According to Yvonne Haddad, a professor of history at Georgetown University, this experience “˜left Qutb with a bitterness he was never able to shake.–
Klein makes no mention of the role that the Arab states around Israel played in the artificial and politically motivated perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem — and indeed, that craven maneuver doesn’t seem to have troubled Qutb himself. She does recount that Qutb had bad experiences in Colorado in the late 1940s and, later, back home in Egypt; and these, she posits, are the cause of the modern-day international jihad movement: “So-called Islamist terrorism,” she claims, “was “˜home grown” in the West long before the July 7 attacks–from its inception it was the quintessentially modern progeny of Colorado’s casual racism and Cairo’s concentration camps.” How Cairo rates as part of the West Klein does not bother to explain, but in any case her focus is on Colorado: as far as she is concerned, it’s really all about racism: “The twin sparks that ignited Qutb’s world-changing rage are currently being doused with gasoline: Arabs and Muslims are being debased in torture chambers around the world and their deaths are being discounted in simultaneous colonial wars, at the same time that graphic digital evidence of these losses and humiliations is available to anyone with a computer. And once again, this lethal cocktail of racism and torture is burning through the veins of angry young men.”
“Qutb’s world-changing rage?” Is that rage really Qutb’s? Can modern-day Islamic terrorism really be attributed to him, and to his experience of racism in Colorado? One would expect that if that were so, there would be no evidence of political or violent Islam dating from before 1948. But in fact the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Qutb was part, was founded not in 1948 but in 1928, and not by Qutb, but by Hasan Al-Banna. It was Al-Banna, not Qutb, who wrote: “In [Muslim] Tradition, there is a clear indication of the obligation to fight the People of the Book [that is, Jews and Christians], and of the fact that God doubles the reward of those who fight them. Jihad is not against polytheists alone, but against all who do not embrace Islam.” Does he mean a military jihad? Most certainly: “Know then that death is inevitable, and that it can only happen once. If you suffer it in the way of God, it will be your profit in this world, and your reward in the next.” Al-Banna is not on record saying that Islamic Tradition mandated warfare against Jews and Christians as a response to American racism “” or, for that matter, as a response to any alleged enormities of American foreign policy. Fourteen years before Israel was founded and Qutb arrived in Colorado, Al-Banna wrote: “It is a duty incumbent on every Muslim to struggle towards the aim of making every people Muslim and the whole world Islamic, so that the banner of Islam can flutter over the earth and the call of the Muezzin can resound in all the corners of the world: God is greatest [Allahu akbar]!”
According to Brynjar Lia, the historian of the Muslim Brotherhood movement: “Quoting the Qur’anic verse “˜And fight them till sedition is no more, and the faith is God’s” [2:193], the Muslim Brothers urged their fellow Muslims to restore the bygone greatness of Islam and to re-establish an Islamic empire. Sometimes they even called for the restoration of “˜former Islamic colonies” in Andalus (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands.” Why? Was racism rampant in Spain, southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands? Whether it was or not, it is absurd to see this as a reaction to anything “” anything “” that the West had done. Al-Banna was extrapolating from deeply rooted Islamic traditions, going all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad. The founder of Islam was quite clear that Muslims must offer non-Muslims only conversion to Islam, subjugation as inferiors under Islamic rule, or war:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war”¦When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these, you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them”¦.If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya [the tax on non-Muslims specified in Qur’an 9:29]. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them. (Sahih Muslim 4294)
Islamic tradition does not record, as the possible cause of these instructions, any complaints by the Prophet against Western racism.
Klein is also wrong about Qutb himself. He certainly did write venomously about his experiences in Colorado, but he was not radicalized there: he arrived in the United States already fully convinced that Muslims must wage the jihad against non-Muslims of which Al-Banna spoke. Before his trip to America, he wrote in Social Justice in Islam that “Islam represents the eternal system for the world throughout the future of the human race.” How is that system to be established in the world? Islam, he says, “prescribes fighting in the way of Allah as a responsibility incumbent on every one who is able for it.” But at the same time did he nourish a secret admiration for American democracy, only to have it disappointed by Colorado racists? Again, no. Social Justice in Islam contains critiques of democracy (as well as Communism) from an Islamic standpoint, and Qutb maintains that Islam needs no such extraneous elements to thrive: “Islam is a comprehensive philosophy and an homogeneous unity, and to introduce into it any foreign element would mean ruining it. It is like a delicate and perfect piece of machinery that may be completely ruined by the presence of an alien component.”
Klein, on the other hand, has no such taste for homogeneity. “The real problem,” she concludes, “is not too much multiculturalism but too little. If the diversity now ghettoized on the margins of Western societies–geographically and psychologically–were truly allowed to migrate to the centers, it might infuse public life in the West with a powerful new humanism. If we had deeply multi-ethnic societies, rather than shallow multicultural ones, it would be much more difficult for politicians to sign deportation orders sending Algerian asylum-seekers to torture, or to wage wars in which only the invaders” dead are counted. A society that truly lived its values of equality and human rights, at home and abroad, would have another benefit too. It would rob terrorists of what has always been their greatest recruitment tool: our racism.”
It is ironic that she can see a “powerful new humanism” evidenced by increasing the influence of Muslims in the West. After all, there would certainly be, among those who would take advantage of the new platforms and power Klein would like to see offered to Muslims, some who would be intent on pressing forward the political program of Al-Banna and Qutb — with its ultimate goal of imposing Islamic law over Western societies, and denying equality of rights to non-Muslims and women. In that event the Western notions of “equality and human rights” — on the basis of which Klein is advocating this — would be wounded more definitively than they have ever been by Tony Blair or George Bush.
It would be interesting, if the warriors of jihad continue to take advantage of Western multiculturalism and actually succeed in the West, to revisit Naomi Klein (who would by that time be swathed in mandatory hijab and have to obtain permission from a male guardian before venturing outside) and see if she still thinks it was all about racism.
 Hasan al-Banna, “On Jihad,” in Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna, translated by Charles Wendell, Berkeley, 1978, pp. 142, 150, 154.
 Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, Ithaca Press, 1998. P. 79.
 Lia, p. 80.
 Sayyid Qutb, Social Justice in Islam, John Hardie, translator, Hamid Algar, translator of revised edition, Islamic Publications International, 2000. P. 117.
 Qutb, Social Justice in Islam, p. 110.
 Qutb, Social Justice in Islam, p. 117.