Tuesday, July 12, 2005


There was a typically fine piece by the writer and academic Karen Armstrong in The Guardian newspaper yesterday, looking at the complexities of Islam and the religious ideology behind what, as she points out, we might more accurately describe as 'Qutr terrorism' -- rather than attaching easly labels like 'Muslim' to it. This is not to underestimate the problem, but to name it rightly. Armstrong says:

"Western people should learn more about such thinkers as [the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid] Qutb [who inspired Bin Laden], and become aware of the many dramatically different shades of opinion in the Muslim world. There are too many lazy, unexamined assumptions about Islam, which tends to be regarded as an amorphous, monolithic entity. Remarks such as 'They hate our freedom' may give some a righteous glow, but they are not useful, because they are rarely accompanied by a rigorous analysis of who exactly 'they' are.

"The story of Qutb is also instructive as a reminder that militant religiosity is often the product of social, economic and political factors. Qutb was imprisoned for 15 years in one of Nasser's vile concentration camps, where he and thousands of other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were subjected to physical and mental torture. He entered the camp as a moderate, but the prison made him a fundamentalist. Modern secularism, as he had experienced it under Nasser, seemed a great evil and a lethal assault on faith.

"Precise intelligence is essential in any conflict. It is important to know who our enemies are, but equally crucial to know who they are not. It is even more vital to avoid turning potential friends into foes. By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the seemingly intractable and increasingly perilous problems of our divided world."

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