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A Post-Modern jahiliyya

A Post-Modern jahiliyya

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Published by Pete Willows
Biography on Sayyid Qutb; this edit ran in the October 25, 2011 print edition of the Egyptian Mail, whcih is the weekly edition of The Egyptian Gazette;
Biography on Sayyid Qutb; this edit ran in the October 25, 2011 print edition of the Egyptian Mail, whcih is the weekly edition of The Egyptian Gazette;

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Published by: Pete Willows on Oct 08, 2011
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Pete WillowsOctober 8, 2011Word count: about 1300 
A Post-Modern
John Calvert.
Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islam
. The American University in CairoPress 2011. 256 pps. 120 LE. ISBN 978 977 416 1 0. Dar el Kutub No. 24548/10.Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser hanged Sayyid Qutb for sedition in 1966. Thiswas because of Qutb's activity in the Muslim Brotherhood, and his Islamist hard-line publications, in which Qutb identified the state as reprehensible in what Qutb viewed as acontemporary crisis in Islam. Qutb likened what he saw—a modern world of godlessness—to thetime of ignorance, or 
, which existed before Islam was revealed. If this sounds familiar,it's because an entire school of thought, Qutbism, emerged in the years following Qutb's death,an ideology embraced and disseminated by radical global jihadists Osama bin Laden and AymanZawahiri, among others—to advocate the violent over-throw of the modern state in favour of anIslamic caliphate.Author John Calvert tells us Qutb seemed to view everything through the narrow prism of Good and Evil. Specifically, a time of 
(ignorance) and
(God's justice).Modern
can seem abstract and vague, Qutb warned, a strange unstable world wherenothing is true and everything is permitted. It reads like a dystopian novel by George Orwell or William Burroughs.But Sayyid Qutb did not start out a hard-line Islamist. Qutb grew up in the rural, dustysun-baked Asyut province of Upper Egypt as a young man with tremendous literary and
intellectual promise. After the 1919 Revolution, the young Qutb was sent off to Cairo for study,at his family's expense, in order to join the new social class of effendis—the educated civilservants, given to wearing the tarbush (fez hats), neckties and three-piece suits. He took a placein the Ministry of Education, published widely as a literary critic and poet, alongside other 
(sons of the countryside), like Taha Hussein, who had risen out of the dust of the distant provinces to join Cairo's administration and café literati. He was friends with Naguib Mahfouz.Calvert translated one of Qutb's memoirs, which chronicles Qutb's youth in Asyut,
 AChild From the Village
[1946, English translation 2005 AUC Press, reviewed in
, October 21, 2010]. Qutb wrote it in third-person, referring to himself as 'our child'. Andin Qutb’s charming memoir, the reader sees no indication of future radical Islamist leanings.Rather, we see Qutb as a precocious young boy willing to leave behind the superstitions of hisfellow villagers, an inquisitive young man with an intense interest in religion and literature. Qutbsaw the peasants from his rural childhood—captives of poverty and ignorance—as toiling in thefields
, and as people who have no expectations that their lives would ever improve.Calvert studied at the American University in Cairo in the late 1980s before doing hisPhD in Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. His current research, at CreightonUniversity, in Nebraska, is on the Muslim Brotherhood and with a concentration in Qutbism.Calvert spent several years methodically researching this book, having gone to primary sources,offering etymologies where relevant, and providing analysis of Qutb's psychology, philosophyand environs—this, in order to help his reader understand this frequently misunderstood man.Calvert asserts there is ambiguity in Qutb's thought when it comes to advocating a violentover-throw of governments, and too, the ex-communication of Muslim apostates. He also feels
Qutb would've disagreed with bin Laden's tactics, as Qutb thought that it was important toaddress the
that was at home before confronting the wider scope of an international jihad.But it's impossible to proffer a guess as to what Qutb would've thought today, as hisviews changed so much over time, and especially so, while languishing in Egypt's notorious ToraPrison. Were Qutb's ideas on hard-line Islamism situational—a product of his lengthyincarceration—or were they a philosophical inevitability? Qutb was far from robust. Tubercular,arthritic and prone to angina, Qutb, was said to have aged considerably, while enduring hisdecade in the Egyptian prison. Torture, poor diet, sensory deprivation and humiliation, wereabrupt changes in lifestyle for this man of letters. It was while in Tora Prison that Qutb wrote
], in which he saw himself as marking the path of righteousnessfor future members of the Islamist movement—not expecting to see jihad occur in his lifetime.But how did Qutb arrive at his conclusions? According to Calvert, Qutb led his reader to believe that everything in the
punishments of Islam's sharia law—amputations for thievery—are binding and non-negotiable, and there is an unequivocally basic explanation for this: theft = greed, and greed is that which comes from bad moral character. Any doubts on thesematters involve intellect and reason, and intellect and reason fall short of the Divine. Islam is nota theory based on assumptions, he writes. A third-year undergraduate philosophy student wouldsee the glaring paradox in all this.Before Nasser's revolution, and his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb wassent to America in 1948, as a member of the Egyptian monarchy's Ministry of Education, tostudy progressive methods in Western pedagogy. He was 42. Even though by this time Qutb had

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