Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


September 17, 2002
9:44 PM   Subscribe

The "merger" of the Egyptian Zawahiri's Islamic Jihad and the Saudi Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda in 2001, based on the foundation of Qutb's book "Milestones", provide outlet for those who have no other way of expressing their objections to the authoritarian regimes of the countries they live in, and the reach of American power in the Middle East.
posted by semmi (19 comments total)

 
FPP is a misquote. He's saying that Islam is an outlet, not terrorism. Here's the actual quote, note the difference:
I think that political Islam is a kind of bubble that has been created by the lack of democratic outlets in the Middle East. Islamism encompasses many people with various agendas who have no other way of expressing their objections to the authoritarian regimes of the countries they live in, other than by taking refuge under the banner of Islam. I believe that if they had more alternative routes of expression Islamism would diminish to a more modest size.
I agree with this statement, but not the garbled FPP version.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:01 PM on September 17, 2002


To really nitpick: he's saying Islamism (cf Wahhabism) is that outlet, not Islam. Two very different things.

I agree with this statement, not pmurrays. ;)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:51 PM on September 17, 2002


smarty-pantses, both of you :)
posted by donkeyschlong at 11:08 PM on September 17, 2002


As to why this should be the case, I think that political Islam is a kind of bubble that has been created by the lack of democratic outlets in the Middle East. Islamism encompasses many people with various agendas who have no other way of expressing their objections to the authoritarian regimes of the countries they live in, other than by taking refuge under the banner of Islam. I believe that if they had more alternative routes of expression Islamism would diminish to a more modest size.

To really nitpick: I don't agree with the statement at all - no matter how its interpreted. "Political Islam" (as he puts it) is, if anything, more repressive than the regimes that it is alledgedly a reaction to. It certainly is not considered an outlet where people may find greater freedom.
posted by MidasMulligan at 11:12 PM on September 17, 2002


But you do not contradict the (factual) statement! Islamism attracts some people who have:

> no other way of expressing their objections to the
> authoritarian regimes of the countries they live in

This does not assert they gain freedom. Just that they can use Islam to fight their government. And that they think they have no other way. You may disagree with them and know some better ways, but surely you don't deny this goes a good way towards explaining all this crazy Koran-thumping.

Marxism has traditionally served the same purpose all over the Third World. And similarly in Poland, the Catholic Church helped fight the dictatorship. When the dictatorship went, so soon did a lot of the church-going.
posted by Turtle at 4:10 AM on September 18, 2002


I think I'm intellectually outclassed here, but I'll put in my two cents anyway.

Islamism/Wahhabism isn't the only outlet available to express political discontent in these countries. Couldn't these people try using civil disobedience and non-violent resistance (like Gandhi in India, etc.), before they resorted to blowing up people and things with explosives?
posted by eyebeam at 4:15 AM on September 18, 2002


Islamism/Wahhabism isn't the only outlet available to express political discontent in these countries. Couldn't these people try using civil disobedience and non-violent resistance (like Gandhi in India, etc.), before they resorted to blowing up people and things with explosives?

Excuse me, as the coffee kicks in, I realize that in the above post I sound like I'm equating Islamism or Wahhabism with terrorism. I certainly didn't intend to do that.

I just wanted to suggest that maybe people might give peace a chance, before resorting to something else.
posted by eyebeam at 4:25 AM on September 18, 2002


It certainly is not considered an outlet where people may find greater freedom.
Try reading the article. Zawahiri spent his early career wanting to overthrow the Egyptian government. Not surprisingly, said government was less than enthusiastic. He sought freedoms which were not available in the time and place. No one has said that the motion is inevitably toward a greater range of freedoms - just to a different range more in keeping with those people's beliefs and desires.

I was impressed by this interview - an unusually calm and informed take on something we would all do well to understand better. Especially illuminating, perhaps, is this:
...Qutb's book "Milestones." He wrote that book while he was in prison during the Nasser era. The torture that he allegedly endured in prison seems to have helped to harden his views into a much more bitter and militant stance. Bits of his book were smuggled out of prison while he was still alive, and they created a sensation in Egypt. He talked about how even nominally Islamic countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia had gone against the Koran, and how they had no legitimacy and needed to be purified. So suddenly these governments could be attacked by their own citizens for being insufficiently Islamic. Nasser had him hanged in 1966. And that same year, a fifteen-year-old, Ayman al-Zawahiri, established a cell in his high school to overthrow the government, and to carry on Qutb's legacy.

Now, that's what understanding these movements requires. Read the source literature. I know I will. Here's a link to a .txt file of the introduction.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 5:47 AM on September 18, 2002


Whoops. Now I feel bad for slamming MidasMuligan. He's over here complimenting me, and I'm accusing him of not reading the article. Oh, well, it will probably balance out.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 5:56 AM on September 18, 2002


Funny you mention Marxism, Turtle, because Islamists arguably have been heavily influenced by Marxist thought. Having had the misfortune to argue with both sorts of people, I'd say the resemblance is eerie. Just substitute "Khilafa" for "Worker's Paradise" and you get the picture.
posted by BinGregory at 5:57 AM on September 18, 2002


robert wright had a bit on zawahiri and bin laden in his series, "the real war on terrorism" and comes to many of the same conclusions, such as broadening the scope of terrorism beyond the immediate war, which assumes a finite number of people and cells:
"the real danger we are facing in the war on terror lies in being unsophisticated and unsympathetic toward the political aspirations of people who are really struggling in countries that have shut down democratic outlets."
and it's interesting about qutb's book "milestones," cuz it fits in with wright's conception that terrorism is fundamentally a "meme."

in a way, i'm sort of beginning to think that terrorism as formulated by wright -- that "smaller and smaller groups of intensely motivated people will have the ability to kill larger and larger numbers of people" -- is sort of the dark (or at least flip) side of the democratization process that thomas friedman outlines in "the lexus and the olive tree." cuz in essence the "democratization of WMD" is a natural follow on to "the democratization of technology," "the democratization of finance," and "the democratization of information" that provides the basis for globalization. wright's just sort of like writing the unwritten chapter now!

also i don't get where 'islamism' comes from, cuz isn't that like saying 'christianism'? wahhabism's fine tho, and i guess judaism :)
posted by kliuless at 6:13 AM on September 18, 2002


eyebeam -
why do you regret equating wahhabism with political violence? The two things should be equated.

In any case, the thesis about violent wahhabism as an outlet for political violence makes sense. As far as I know, no major portion of al-Qaeda comes from nations with (relatively) non-repressive regimes, such as Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Turkey and Morocco, despite large muslim populations.
posted by Kevs at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2002


Funny you mention Marxism, Turtle, because Islamists arguably have been heavily influenced by Marxist thought. Having had the misfortune to argue with both sorts of people, I'd say the resemblance is eerie. Just substitute "Khilafa" for "Worker's Paradise" and you get the picture.

This is certainly my experience in the middle east. Have been to a half dozen nations there on business, and some of the rhetoric is eerily similar. Strange, because at the conceptual level, marxism is as close to evil as it is possible to come to one who believes in the Koran (talk about "unbelievers"!)

The article, and this discussion, is quite confusing however, because many of the statement are too general. "I think that political Islam is a kind of bubble that has been created by the lack of democratic outlets in the Middle East." lacks any context. While I know the "middle east" sometimes appears monolithic in the western world, the nations there are really quite different, the reasons for adopting "political Islamism" vary greatly country by country, and in at least some instances the situation is almost diametrically opposed to this guy's thesis (for instance, in Iraq, Iran, and even most recently in Afghanistan, it is political Islamism that is (or in the case of Afghanistan, was) the oppressive force that people need an outlet from.

He does have some valid points, but I don't think he nails to whole picture.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:32 AM on September 18, 2002


He does have some valid points, but I don't think he nails to whole picture.

That might be because this is a somewhat off-the-cuff interview, not a properly assembled argument.

For the complete picture, I highly recommend Wright's mammoth report "The Man Behind Bin Laden" in the current New Yorker. Extremely well-researched look at the rise and fall of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and its connections to Al Qaeda. To my mind, it very clearly illustrated that the portrait of Bin Laden's organization as a highly efficient, logically structured pseudo-army (which is the way it always comes across when CNN's yammering about "mid-level operatives" arrested in Pakistan and such) is pretty far off the mark.
posted by gompa at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2002


Thanks, gompa. "The Man Behind Bin Laden" isn't online, but a related interview is.
posted by languagehat at 7:59 AM on September 18, 2002


now you've done it, you've crossed the streams :) the circle is complete!
posted by kliuless at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2002


I think my point was that hair-splitting about his "argument" in the interview is kind of like deciding what you think about a movie based on what the director says on Entertainment Tonight. He's not making an argument in the piece itself; he's telling a story.

Still, I'm glad it came to this. There's not enough tautology in the world. Because we're lacking in circular arguments. Which don't fold back on themselves often enough. Because . . .

*dry cough from audience*

Okay. G'night folks! You've been great!
posted by gompa at 8:20 AM on September 18, 2002


kliuless: Islamism has long been the term of choice in the Islamic world for a political philosophy which, at its most mild, insists on shari'a law; more virulent formulations seek to overturn secular leadership (elected presidents, dictators, and monarchs alike) with theocratic or theocratically-selected leadership, and at its most extreme, merges with jihadism which sees holy war as a constant state to be maintained with the non-Islamic world, and even sees the entire Muslim ummah (world of believers) united under a single, restored Caliph, which hasn't existed in any form since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Wahabbism is an austere form of Islam originally from the Arabian peninsula, which the Saudi government has endeavored to spread throughout Islam. (Some 80% of the clerics in US mosques are Saudi-educated Wahabbis, and over half of Europe's.) It is more correct to call this Islamic fundamentalism rather than what is termed in the quote "political Islam". Fortunately, the media are abandoning this slightly misleading term. Wahabbi Islam can coexist, or not, with Islamism.

Marxist-related thought, of course, has wormed its way into many different parts of the world under many adaptations. Just because Marx said "religion is the opiate of the people" doesn't mean that all of his ideas must be implemented in an atheist petri dish. Marxism, though, is much more obviously present in Ba'athism and other descendants of Nasirism (after the Egyptian leader Nasser, who first tried to create a pan-Arab political alliance), than it is in Islamism. Qutb was unquestionably influenced by Marx in certain ways, but the ideas he proposed started a new separate line of thought that found classical Marxism, as implemented by figures in the Arab world, to be a blood enemy.
posted by dhartung at 4:08 PM on September 18, 2002


Well, since Dan has spoiled the beautiful finality of gompa's final comment, let me just say:
D'oh!!
Reminder to self: always, always click on initial link before adding 2 cents...
posted by languagehat at 10:44 AM on September 20, 2002


« Older Mars Austrailia creates fake band and single to ad...  |  It's The Way You Quote Them:... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments