Roots of Jihadist Theology

Check out these two talks on NPR.

The first is with Peter Bergen. Also his homepage. In this interview he discusses his new book The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda’s Leader.

Bergen is one of the few Westerners, in fact the first, to have interviewed bin Laden (he did so in the 90s). The book is a series of interviews with family, friends, associates, etc. of bin Laden, probing his psychological-biographical portrait.

The talk is very interesting, particularly in terms of how the 9/11 attacks for al-Qaeda were a tactical victory but a strategic catastrophe. [Though Bergen also thinks, correctly in my view, that the Iraq War has helped revive the fortunes of Jihadist ideology].


The second is from religion scholar Karen Armstrong, one of the foremost scholars of the modern phenomena of religious fundamentalism. In this interview she discusses Sayid Qutb, the so-called godfather of jihadist ideology–he was killed by Abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1966.

Qutb was the first to declare that so-called Muslim rulers (like Nasser in Egypt) were actually jahili (from jahiliyah, the age of ignorance). The jahiliyah is the time of pagan pre-Muslim Arabian ignorance–ignorance of God, of morality, of trans-tribal community. By saying modern Muslim rulers were not Muslim at all but pagan jahili, Qutb then outlined a plan for jihad based on his reading of the Quran and the history of the early ummah (Muslim community)—a very selective reading not suprisingly.

Qutb believed the Quran outlined a blueprint for the overthrow of the jahili, and ipso facto was therefore to be read in the modern day as a blueprint for destryoing the neo-jahili (i.e. Arab/Muslim authoritarian regimes, particulary in the Middle East.

Qutb’s ideas have profoundly influenced bin Laden, Zarqawi, and the entire trans-national terrorist-Salafi jihadist movement.

The last p0int I’ll mention, referenced by both Bergen and Armstrong is that radical jihadist and larger Islamist (like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Ayatollahs of Iran as opposed to al-Qaeda) movements were born in the wake of the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Israelis in the 1967 War. The Israeli defeat signified the loss of legitimacy for secular, nationalist, pan-Arab, socialist regimes—typified by Nasser.

There is no “third way” in the Middle East—there are either the authoritarian regimes of people like Mubarak and the Saudi family or there are the Islamist groups like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. What Bush has done with the Iraq War is accelerated the pace towards the assumption of power by the Islamists, which though it will have serious reprecussions–many negative–I believe in the end is better than the status quo which is only creating more rage, more despair, more joblessness, more degradation, and more jihadist ideologues/suicide bombers.

That the Bush administration screwed absolutely everything (and I mean basically everything) else relating to his radical re-visioning of American foreign policy—Unitary Executive Theory; no postwar planning; no winning the peace; no Sunni plan in Iraq; Abu Ghraib; and on and on–is simply abysmal.

Published in: on March 1, 2006 at 11:00 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Well put.

    I knew as soon as heard him declare “War on Terror” that it would go wrong. 60 years on, and Israel still thinks it can win its “war on terror”

    I’m not sure that Islamist regimes replacing corrupt authoritarian ones is even a molecule better… The Christians in Palestine cannot be terribly comfortable right now. And many of them left Iraq after the first Gulf war.

    For a government that understands karma! (Not to mention dharma!)


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