December 11, 2006

Qutb's bad hair day.

Qutb in America (Via A&L Daily):
With the global rise of political Islamism, many pundits have recently begun paying closer attention to the writings of Egyptian scholar and Muslim Brotherhood publicist Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), whose radical Milestones and 30-volume In the Shade of the Koran are said to be masterpieces of jihadist thought and persuasion....

In these classic jihadist works, Qutb is never all that specific about how and where he went about assembling his presumed expertise on American culture, but biographers note that he spent a majority of his 1948-50 U.S. sojourn as a scholarship student at Colorado State College of Education, in the high-plains town of Greeley. Moreover, not long after his return to Egypt from the United States, Qutb attempted to sum up his expatriate experience in "The America I Have Seen," a short travel memoir that appeared in the November 1951 issue of Egypt's Al-Risala magazine.

As travel reportage, "The America I Have Seen" doesn't exactly provide the reader with a vicarious window into living in the United States. Structured as a series of short, thematic arguments, Qutb's essay primarily attempts to prove that America -- despite its great wealth and scientific genius -- suffers from a corrosive moral and spiritual primitiveness. This thesis might have carried some rhetorical weight had Qutb backed it up with evidence from his own experiences, but -- oddly -- the Egyptian traveler didn't have many direct encounters worth sharing. Of the 54 brief sections in "The America I Have Seen," only seven allude to specific real-life observations; the other sections consist of broad generalizations and secondhand anecdotes. Perhaps his most memorable direct recollection is described as follows:
In summary, anything that requires a touch of elegance is not for the American, even haircuts! For there was not one instance in which I had a haircut when I did not return home to even with my own hands what the barber had wrought, and fix what the barber had ruined with his awful taste.
Qutb's exasperation with American barbers humanizes him in an unexpected way: In spite of his relentless didacticism, we realize that our skeptical Egyptian exchange student was really just a querulous sojourner in an unfamiliar land, compulsively judging everything he saw through the rosy, idealized lens of his home culture.
"Humanizes"... meaning you can see in him a certain recognizable character type... that of a person you wouldn't like at all.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

meaning you can see in him a certain recognizable character type... that of a person you wouldn't like at all.

My sentiments exactly.

It has been my experience that most people tend to see what they want or expect to see. Qutb surely did.

ice160 said...

Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb was aghast when he heard this song while attending a dance at a church in Greeley, Colorado.[1] In The America I Have Seen (1951), he writes: "The room convulsed with the feverish music from the gramophone. Dancing naked legs filled the hall, arms draped around the waists, chests met chests, lips met lips..." http://tinyurl.com/sd6gp

And what was the song? Baby, It's Cold Outside.

I love the Leon Redbone and Zoey Deschanal's version.

Cedarford said...

In his writings, Qutb was a little clear than the review intimates about his conclusion that American culture was completely incompatible with Muslim culture. Living in the West was described by Qutb as "a horrible schizophrenia" endured.
Among the specific instances he cites was his revulsion at a social dance where young men and women, without family's permissions freely mingled.

That was in the early 50s. A dance in the early 50s!

His impact was that he put his revulsion into coherent Islamic theory, explaining WHY he was revolted by his encounter with non-Muslims and WHY Islam was far preferable, and why Jihad was the means to stop the terrible infiltration of Western beliefs into the Ummah. Qutb became one of the most influential theoreticians of the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing their organizing pronciples to be refined. Worse, his writings gathered him ardent disciples, who in turn directly taught fellows like Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden their theories about Islam and Jihad.

It is a great mistake and conceit that liberals make, that IF ONLY Muslims could live here and understand us and our splendid laws and Constitution they would all love us. Many don't. Many become FURTHER radicalized from being in the West. They think our culture is evil, laws are outside the moral basis and Allah's commands of Islam, and our Constitutional rights are crap for fools and weaklings that make American culture decadent and perverse.

Qutb was remembered by his American contemporaries as a quiet, decent guy..none suspected the hate for all they believed in boiling under the surface.

At North Carolina State 35 years later, a Muslim learned engineering over 4 years. A charming, active man with many American friends. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed went on to conceive the Boijinko Plot, then 9/11 and 6 more unhatched plots. He is also one who also advocated using the "Jewish lawyers" as AQ's unwitting allies - in turning America's laws and "constitutional rights" of foreigners visiting there against the country. Like Qutb, he left America with greater hatred than when he arrived. Unlike Qutb, he gained great insight in physical and legal mechanisms useful in how to damage America by actual Jihad.

Balfegor said...

through the rosy, idealized lens of his home culture.

I'm not sure I see where the "rosiness" and "idealisation" of his home culture are coming in -- it's his home culture, after all, so he's probably not "idealising" it, the way, say, an American might idealise foreign cultures of which he has limited experience. Qutb just prefers his home culture to American culture. And this is not, frankly, particularly unusual among foreigners visiting the US. One encounters it regularly among Europeans, for example (although I usually hear Europeans going on about uptight and repressed Americans are, rather than, as Qutb apparently does, how lascivious and decadent they are). On the other hand, though, Europeans I know have not generally rounded off their criticisms of American culture with calls for America to be erased from the Earth.

Balfegor said...

Re: Cedarford:

It is a great mistake and conceit that liberals make, that IF ONLY Muslims could live here and understand us and our splendid laws and Constitution they would all love us. Many don't. Many become FURTHER radicalized from being in the West. They think our culture is evil, laws are outside the moral basis and Allah's commands of Islam, and our Constitutional rights are crap for fools and weaklings that make American culture decadent and perverse.

Yes, but . . . I don't think it's only liberals who make this mistake -- it's more widespread throughout American society in general, I think, the notion that American culture is universally attractive. "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy," and all that. For a lot of people, around the world, though, I think American culture is attractive more the way pornography is attractive. As in, one feels dirty after indulging.

The Constitution/Law issue seems more academic, though, less founded on gut revulsion.

tjl said...

"Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), whose radical Milestones and 30-volume In the Shade of the Koran are said to be masterpieces of jihadist thought and persuasion."

30 volume "In the Shade of the Koran" -- now that's truly alarming. Its length is as crazed as its content.

If attending a church social in Greeley, Colorado, was enough to send Qutb into frenzies of religious mania and anti-western hatred, one wonders what would have happened if Qutb had spent an evening in any big-city gay dance club.

Kirby Olson said...

There was a neat profile on National Geographic a couple weeks ago that said that most of the terrorists are people who are far from their homeland and feel alienated. They are more likely to be second generation people living in Holland, Germany, the US, etc., and feeling that their cultural roots are shaken. This was a novel theory at least to me. Q-tip's outburst against western dancing in Colorado makes more sense in that context.

It's interesting that he's for elegance.

I think Osama B's kinda elegant. I'll give him that. He always looks good even when he's in fatigues.

Kirk Parker said...

Belfegor,

What you say makes some sense, but I would remind you that "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy" is a quote from an Iraqi, not an American.

Balfegor said...

What you say makes some sense, but I would remind you that "Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy" is a quote from an Iraqi, not an American.

Oh indeed -- but it's Americans who took that and have promoted it as representative of foreign attitudes towards our culture.

PatCA said...

He also developed a real problem with American women, those shameless hussies,after one allegedly tried to seduce him.

Seven Machos said...

My hunch on the seducing is that Qutb got talked to by a polite education major, probably someone who felt sorry for him or, I imagine, who wanted him to go to her church. He was probably a lot like the guy Jugdish in the first scene of Animal House.

What a great movie his time in Greeley would make with the right director.

PatCA said...

"What a great movie his time in Greeley would make with the right director."

Oh, Seven, I long for the day. :)

I completely agree on the alleged seduction as well.

Seven Machos said...

I'm thinking Wes Anderson. Of course, I always think Wes Anderson.

Harry Eagar said...

Two points:

1. Qutb was born in 1906. At that time, it was unislamic to live in a country that did not have a Muslim majority and was not run on sharia law. (It was sorta OK, as I understand it, to stay where you were born if somehow your country got taken over by infidels.)

Anyhow, I propose that Qutb was conflicted and guilty about moving to Infidelland, even temporarily for education, and that his reaction was a form of atonement.

2. The above and everything else about Q. doesn't mean a damn thing. He was not, as he is portrayed, some kind of innovator. He was just a logorrhreaic diarist. The 'lessons' he taught were pure, conventional Islam. We'd be where we are now if he had either a) never left Egypt; or b) gone native in Greeley, put on chaps and a fringed shirt and starting writing country songs.

Zach said...

I believe Greeley was a dry county at the time.

Qutb also wrote home that "The small city of Greeley, in which I am staying, is so beautiful that one may easily imagine that he is in paradise."

Qutb's story is depressing, because the hate is so defocused from concrete causes.

Reading "The Looming Tower" I actually thought the old saw about "They hate our freedom" had some validity. It's more like, Qutb was inclined to view great success as the product of great virtue or great vice. He didn't see the virtue, so...