not in my hood

"To anyone who has looked closely enough, Al Qaeda and its sister organizations plainly enjoy yet another strength, arguably the greatest strength of all, something truly imposing -- though in the Western press this final strength has received very little attention. Bin Laden is a Saudi plutocrat with Yemeni ancestors, and most of the suicide warriors of Sept. 11 were likewise Saudis, and the provenance of those people has focused everyone's attention on the Arabian peninsula. But Al Qaeda has broader roots. The organization was created in the late 1980's by an affiliation of three armed factions -- bin Laden's circle of ''Afghan'' Arabs, together with two factions from Egypt, the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the latter led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's top theoretician. The Egyptian factions emerged from an older current, a school of thought from within Egypt's fundamentalist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the 1950's and 60's. And at the heart of that single school of thought stood, until his execution in 1966, a philosopher named Sayyid Qutb -- the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda, their Karl Marx (to put it that way), their guide."

- dave 3-24-2003 10:53 am

Everyone should read this article! This despite my usual boycott of promoting the Times. Here's the lowest graphics version of the text. This should be required reading in America.

Here's another Berman article from 10.22.01.

I was quizing Andrew last night about Berman's history. I don't have a full understanding yet. Anyone? Apparently he is on the left to right tragectory - having been fairly radical at one point on the left, he's now more than across to the other side (ahead of, say, Hitchens, who's making the same arc.)
- jim 3-24-2003 5:31 pm [add a comment]

Oh yeah, fmhreader will work as both name and password at the Times if you have to sign in (thanks to Follow Me Here.)
- jim 3-24-2003 5:32 pm [add a comment]

Well, I already gave my impression of Berman, but I'm curious why you like this article so much. It's interesting as a history of Islamofascist "intellectual roots" but it doesn't convince me this particular, deceased thinker (Qutb) has the potential to weld all Moslems into the Nazi-like power Berman seems so afraid of. I just think Berman's helping the Right find its new cold war threat to justify constant military expenditure.
- tom moody 3-24-2003 5:53 pm [add a comment]

I don't know enough to be convinced of anything one way or another. I'm just starving for any sort of depth about the "enemy". I think it's laughable that we are at "war" with a group most American's know absolutely nothing about! Berman may not be correct, but at least he's at the right depth.

And, I must admit, I love the parts slamming Bush for not being able to respond to the threat on any sort of philosophical level. I think he really needs to be called on that. "President George W. Bush, in his speech to Congress a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, announced that he was going to wage a war of ideas. He has done no such thing. He is not the man for that."

But, on the other hand, we need to be suspicious of this (Pollock-esque?) liberal society that must be forcibly defended against it's enemy argument. I'm not buying that entirely (and so I'm not "agreeing" with Berman really.) He is painting us into a corner - just like Bush, but not as dramatically - where we'd have to force our ideas on a lot of unwilling people. Either convert the world or lose.

This is rambling, I know. My thoughts aren't together. I just think this article is a good place to start the discussion.

Tom, sorry about forgeting you're Berman piece. Reading it now. Always appreciate you're thoughts, of course. Hopefully I can learn something.
- jim 3-24-2003 6:04 pm [add a comment]

I'm guilty of not knowing much about Islam myself. But I feel that the "spiritual centeredness" Berman praises is skewed by its unfair treatment of women, simplistic punishments for crimes, and failure to separate church and state. We should know more about Muslims as trading partners and fellow inhabitants of the globe, yes. Unfortunately Bush & Co have made it necessary for us to understand them as enemies.

But I think Berman is preachy. I don't personally feel that I or my friends or the way we do things are "out of balance," at least not in a way that can't be fixed (through increased consciousness of our place in the ecosystem etc). Maybe Berman should become a rabbi. Anyway, I'm just struck by the contradiction between his pleas to understand the Moslem world and calls to go in and "fix" it militarily.
- tom moody 3-24-2003 6:37 pm [add a comment]

this is a good look at islamic ideologies and peoples. Naipaul traveled through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia after the Shah was overthrown.
- linda 3-24-2003 8:35 pm [add a comment]

Whatever Berman's faults, don't shoot the messenger. Qutb's writings lay out the groundwork for waging violent struggle against secular society. For him, the tolerance advocated in the Quran can only come after the political victory of the faithful and the establishment of the Muslim state. He was obsessed with purity (both spiritual and physical) and with the decadence not just of the West but also of Pan-Arab Nationalists like Nasser. That he was tortured and executed in Egyptian prisons doesn't (or shouldn't) make one sentimentalize or marginalize him.

Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History (Modern Liberary, 2000) has a short section on Al-Qutb. "He's the real founder of modern fundamentalism" "Every modern Sunni fundamentalist movement has been influenced by Qutb," especially Egypt Islamic Brotherhood. Agreed that Berman's parallels with Fascism and Nazism are a bit overstated and he exaggerates the unity between such groups, but much of the Islamic Brotherhood rhetoric leaves little room for compromise with any secular society (capitalist or not).
- bruno 3-24-2003 9:00 pm [add a comment]

Still, Berman's message, much as he tries to avoid stating it clearly, is "Invade Iraq." I can't get behind it, and I think "Islamofascism," however scary, is a neoconservative canard. That rift between pan-Arabs and Islamists is huge, and ought to keep them fighting among themselves for years, without our direct involvement. I'll be posting more later on why I think liberal hawks are so creepy.
- tom moody 3-24-2003 9:10 pm [add a comment]

I'll even go so far as to say that our meddling in the Middle East, which Berman craves, is doing more to unite the two factions than the slow assimilation of al-Qutb's teachings.
- tom moody 3-24-2003 9:15 pm [add a comment]

Agreed. Facts on the ground like Iraqi Freedom will usually trump ideas. But there is a real question as to how Islam will accomodate, compromise or reconcile with the secular world. On what terms? For that discussion, Al-Qutb was in some ways closer to Nihilists like Nechayev than to "fascist" intellectuals.
- bruno 3-24-2003 10:15 pm [add a comment]

I don't know Nechayev, but I'll google him (OK, now I'm an expert). I can't resist a joke here. One of my favorite lines from The Big Lebowski was John Goodman's: "Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."

- tom moody 3-24-2003 10:21 pm [add a comment]

I disagree with Big Jimmy that there is no "third way" between Islamic fundamentalism and military elites. Turkey, Iran, and to a much lesser extent Pakistan all have democratic elements in their systems. These are big countries. Young Iranians have made great strides to scale back the influence of the mullahs, and Ataturk, back in the day, was smart enough to follow the US model and keep religion the hell out of goverment. The gains made are fragile, though, and are not served by US attempts to remake the region through military force. As I've said, we're uniting not just pan-Arabists and Islamists but ancient tribal rivalries that would otherwise keep the region in chaos.

Ellen Willis reviews Berman's book in Salon today, and also says he's wrongheaded to support Bush's war--she calls him "naive." Berman treats Bush as a mere instrument to bring Enlightenment to spiritual-but-ignorant Arabs, but Willis reminds us that Bush has a fundamentalist agenda of his own. Berman is doing Bush's intellectual spadework: in his research and exegesis on Qutb, he's trying to forge a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that Bush has so far been unable to prove. Berman says the antiwar movement is making fascism abroad possible, but by giving Bush philosophical legitimacy, I'd say he's abetting its spread here at home.
- tom moody 3-25-2003 11:23 am [add a comment]

Tom, thanks for your notes on Berman. This feels like it's getting into the heart of the matter now. Very good post above.
- jim 3-25-2003 5:05 pm [add a comment]

Yes. The possibility of a "third way" (or multiple ways) for Islam cope with modernization is a real philosophical and political issue and al-Qutb isn't the answer. Iran and Turkey (and don't forget Indonesia) face this issue today, domestically and in foreign policy. Maybe the discussion deserves its own thread...

Frankly, it's more interesting than parsing Mr Berman's private agenda. Ba'athist Iraq is not allied with al-Qaeda and never has been, whatever the current White House line. But if Berman really claims that "the antiwar movement at home is making [Islamic?] fascism abroad possible," he would not be taken seriously anywhere in the world outside this country (excepting perhaps among Likudniks or India's BJP?].

- bruno 3-25-2003 7:16 pm [add a comment]

The New York Times magazine has featured Berman twice, as some kind of important theorist of the left. If he thinks the antiwar movement is a bunch of appeasers, that's interesting. I've excerpted a big chunk of his Salon Premium interview here (in which he completely mischaracterizes Chomsky, BTW). Here are a couple of lines I have problems with:

There really is a long history of excellent people with the best of hearts and the best of intentions ending up inadvertently collaborating with the worst of totalitarians.


The simplest history is of the fellow travelers of Stalin. But there's even more grotesque examples of it -- that of the French socialists in the 1930s. They wanted to avoid a new outbreak of the First World War; they refused to believe that millions of people in Germany had gone out of their minds and supported the Nazi movement.


We do see some of the same things [today]. With the French socialists of the 1930s, there was even a slippage into outright anti-Semitism, and no one can doubt that some of that has been occurring in the antiwar movement in the United States and above all in Europe. Of course most people in the antiwar movement are against that. But signs of it exist and it would be foolish to close your eyes to that.


Have you been watching the war coverage on the news?

A little bit. I can say that there was something truly pathetic in seeing antiwar demonstrations denounce the war at one moment and then in another moment seeing grateful Iraqis welcome their British and American liberators. If I were a member of the antiwar movement, I would have felt a moral shudder at that experience.

- tom moody 3-27-2003 7:02 pm [add a comment]

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