The roots of “Islamism”

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Aly Salem is an Egyptian writer living in New York. He believes his fellow Egyptian, Sayed Qutb (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) is to Islamism what Karl Marx was to communism. If so this is a root of the ideology driving extreme political Islamist groups today.

What inspires young western Muslims to abandon suburbia to join a ‘holy war’? Why aren’t grisly videos of beheadings and crucifixions a sufficient deterrent? The answer may lie in Qutb’s writing, which still has a powerful influence, even on ordinary Muslims. This is now dragging the Middle East back towards the Stone Age.

Qutb provides the intellectual impetus behind Islamist groups; disciples include Osama bin Ladenand Ayman Zawahiri of al Qaeda.

It is no exaggeration to say Sayed Qutb is to “Islamism” what Karl Marx is to Communism.                     

Qutb applied western-style literary criticism to the Qur’an. He concluded that the reason for the Muslim world’s decline was the western influence, which dilutes Islamic values. So the only way to Islamic renaissance is to “cleanse” Muslim societies of such contaminants and restore Islam to its seventh-century “purity” – hence the rise in veiling for women; calls for the death penalty for apostasy (i.e. leaving Islam); stoning of adulterers; and even rabid anti-Semitism.

Today, Qutb’s ‘Islamism’ is the dominant political ideology in most Muslim-majority countries, often taking root in vacuums where secular politics has not yet developed. Countries with a long history of militant secularism such as Turkey or former communist states such as Tajikistan, Bosnia and Albania are resistant to Islamism because religion has effectively been wiped out of the public sphere.

Aly Salem is one of many Muslims who are trying to reform Islam from within. However,  their voices are often smothered in the West by Islamist apologists who Aly says: ‘Label you an Islamophobe when you draw attention to the stark correlation between the rise of Islamic religiosity and regressive attitudes toward women’.

Criticism of Islam—even in abstraction—is conflated with bigotry toward Muslims.

Salem continues: ‘There is no public discourse allowed; much less an ideological response to Islamism, in academia or government. This is creating an intellectual vacuum where poisonous ideas are allowed to propagate unchecked’.

In the U.S., we Muslims are handled like exotic flowers that will crumble if our faith is criticized—even if we do it ourselves. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats alike would apparently prefer to drop bombs on Muslims.

Killing Muslims is somehow less offensive than criticizing their religion.

Aly Salem is clear: ‘You can’t kill an idea with a bomb, and so Islamism will continue to propagate. Muslims must tolerate civilized public debate of the texts and scripture that inform Islamism. To demand any less of us is to engage in the soft bigotry of low expectations’.

Mr. Salem is an Egyptian writer based in New York.


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