Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sayyid Qutb and Jihad

Earlier this week, the Washington Post ran an article by Lorenzo Vidino on "Five myths about the Muslim Brotherhood." Here's an unpublished letter to the editor I wrote in response:

In “Five myths about the Muslim Brotherhood” (3/4/11), Lorenzo Vidino contends Sayyid Qutb “opted for violence” and has “inspired jihadists worldwide.” While true, these observations require some context.

After years of torture in Egyptian prison, Qutb published his political and religious treatise Milestones. While he vigorously defends the Islamic obligation of “jihad of the sword,” Qutb also argues a true Islamic society must fulfill that obligation. Importantly, Qutb laments that no such society exists. Thus as a first step, a “vanguard” of true believers must leave unbelieving society in order to study the Qur’an and determine how such a society can be formed.

In short, Qutb believed the times call for religious introspection, not violence. Yet there is no question his argument has been misconstrued by countless violent extremists, cherry picking Qutb’s arguments just as they cherry pick the Qur’an itself.

Some of the blame for this confusion lies with Qutb himself. Not long after he published Milestones, he was implicated in a conspiracy to overthrow the Egyptian regime. While his exact role is not clear, the Egyptian court misinterpreted Milestones just as modern violent extremists do today – twisting Qutb’s arguments as an immediate call for jihad.

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