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Monday, July 11, 2005

We Asked For It

From a letter in today's Independent:

From the 1950s to the 1990s Britain consistently derided and sneered at Arab nationalism, a reasonable patriotism that was secular, accepted the nation state, and was inclusive of non-Muslims. Right-wing politicians and professors ganged up to oppose Arab nationalism, hoping that thereby the ragged remnants of the British Empire would be given a further lease of life. They compared Nasser to Hitler.

Their amazing short-sightedness opened the way for the devout puritanical terror we see today. Their derision encouraged the shift of allegiance to the fundamentalists. They played a part in the blown-apart bus in Woburn Place. I bet they never apologise.

Now Karen Armstrong in the Guardian:

Bin Laden was not inspired by Wahhabism but by the writings of the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Nasser in 1966. Almost every fundamentalist movement in Sunni Islam has been strongly influenced by Qutb, so there is a good case for calling the violence that some of his followers commit "Qutbian terrorism." Qutb urged his followers to withdraw from the moral and spiritual barbarism of modern society and fight it to the death.

Western people should learn more about such thinkers as Qutb, and become aware of the many dramatically different shades of opinion in the Muslim world. There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam, which tends to be regarded as an amorphous, monolithic entity. Remarks such as "They hate our freedom" may give some a righteous glow, but they are not useful, because they are rarely accompanied by a rigorous analysis of who exactly "they" are.

The story of Qutb is also instructive as a reminder that militant religiosity is often the product of social, economic and political factors. Qutb was imprisoned for 15 years in one of Nasser's vile concentration camps, where he and thousands of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to physical and mental torture. He entered the camp as a moderate, but the prison made him a fundamentalist. Modern secularism, as he had experienced it under Nasser, seemed a great evil and a lethal assault on faith.

And we did nothing to stop the fascist bastard - er, progressive nationalist statesman, er... OK, I'm a bit hazy about the details, but I do appreciate that it's all my fault. And I'm really, really sorry.

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