Saturday, August 13, 2005

The real roots of Al Qaida

I have just read a powerful article in the Guardian that has left me stunned. It is entitled, "Racism is the terrorists' greatest recruitment tool", and is subtitled, "The problem in Britain is not too much multiculturalism but too little". So I thought it was going to be mainly about what's going on in Britain (and by extension, America) today. And indeed that reality is addressed. What I did not expect was an outline of the intellectual foundations of Al Qaida and the inescapable conclusion that we have, indeed, reaped what we have sown. The article starts out like this:

Hussein Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London's failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they prepared for the attacks by watching "films on the war in Iraq", La Repubblica reported. "Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers ... of widows, mothers and daughters that cry."

But then the story of Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual architect of Al Qaida, was told.

[Sayyid Qutb] had his ideological epiphany while studying in the United States. The puritanical scholar was shocked by Colorado's licentious women, it's true, but more significant was Qutb's encounter with what he later described as America's "evil and fanatic racial discrimination".

By coincidence, Qutb arrived in the United States in 1948, the year of the creation of the state of Israel. He witnessed an America blind to the thousands of Palestinians being made permanent refugees by the Zionist project. For Qutb, it wasn't politics, it was an assault on his core identity: clearly Americans believed that Arab lives were worth far less than those of European Jews.

According to Yvonne Haddad, a professor of history at Georgetown University, this experience "left Qutb with a bitterness he was never able to shake". When Qutb returned to Egypt he joined the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to his next life-changing event: he was arrested, severely tortured and convicted of anti-government conspiracy in a show trial.

Qutb's political theory was profoundly shaped by torture. Not only did he conclude that his torturers were subhuman infidels, he stretched that categorisation to include the entire state that ordered this brutality, including the Muslim civilians who passively lent their support to Nasser's regime.

Qutb's vast category of subhumans allowed his disciples to justify the killing of "infidels" - now practically everyone - as long as it was done in the name of Islam. A political movement for an Islamic state was transformed into a violent ideology that would lay the intellectual groundwork for al-Qaida. In other words, so-called Islamist terrorism was "home-grown" in the west long before the July 7 attacks - from its inception it was the quintessentially modern progeny of Colorado's casual racism and Cairo's concentration camps.

How might things have been different had not Sayyid Qutb not encountered an "evil and fanatic racial discrimination" in America? How might things have been different had justice for the Palestinians been a priority for Western nations from the beginning of the state of Israel? It is simply chilling to read an article like Klein's. And what future leaders of terrorism are in their formative years right now? We are undoubtedly sowing the seeds of our own future calamity.

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