The U.S. Roots Of Islamic Terrorism
Wednesday - February 07, 2007
It’s been said that Americans learn their geography by fighting wars. Otherwise we remain oblivious to most of the rest of the world. The same could be said of our education in the world’s religions.
Thus the importance of Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95), a scrupulously researched and well-written account of the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East. It is the story of a movement; but it is also the story of men,Arab and American, and bureaucracies, the CIA and the FBI, that could not communicate with one another.
It begins, brilliantly, with an official of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, who would become much, much more.
“In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb (pronounced kuh-tub) experienced a crisis of faith. ‘Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?’ he wondered. ‘Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?’”
Qutb chose the former. He lived and studied in the United States from November 1948 to August 1950, and everything he saw drove him deeper into his Islamic faith. His graduate scholarship took him to New York, Washington, D.C., the college town of Greeley, Colo., and California.
He was lonely - and appalled by the spiritual emptiness of this the world’s richest nation.
“What I need most here is someone to talk to,” he wrote home, “to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars - a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul.”
Qutb was particularly bothered by the easy mixing of the sexes in America. Indiana University’s Alfred Kinsey had just published his Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and it helped to convince Qutb that Americans were “a reckless, deluded herd that only knows lust and money.”
An official in Egypt’s educational bureaucracy, Qutb attended classes at the Colorado State College of Education in Greeley. “At the time, the college enjoyed a reputation of being one of the most progressive teaching institutions in America,” writes Wright. “The international students at the college occupied an uneasy place in this charged racial environment. Students from Africa, Latin America and Asia, as well as a number of Hawaiians, formed the core of the International Club, which Qutb joined.”
Qutb never completed his graduate program at Greeley. Not only did the materialism and shallowness of American life disturb him, so too did its university system. “The soul has no value to Americans,” he wrote. “There has been a Ph.D. dissertation about the best way to clean dishes, which seems more important to them than the Bible or religion.”
He left the United States convinced that racism was its undoing and that Egyptian education should pay no deference to the West: “The white man in Europe or America is our number-one enemy. The white man crushes us underfoot while we teach our children his civilization, his universal principles and noble objectives ...
“We are endowing our children with amazement and respect for the master who tramples our honor and enslaves us. Let us instead plant the seeds of hatred, disgust, and revenge in the souls of these children. Let us teach these children from the time their nails are soft that the white man is the enemy of humanity, and that they should destroy him at the first opportunity.”
Qutb returned to Egypt intent on doing just that and on “restoring Islam to the center of ( Muslims’ ) lives.” He joined an organization called the Muslim Brothers, a fundamentalist Islamic organization intent on overthrowing the Egyptian government, and became the editor of its magazine. After an attempt on Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s life by a member of the brotherhood, Qutb would be rounded up with thousands of others and imprisoned. He would remain there for the next 10 years.
Within a year after his release, Qutb was accused of plotting yet another attempt to overthrow Nasser’s government. He was tried and convicted. On Aug. 2, 1966, Qutb was hanged.
In death Qutb became a martyr to the cause of Islamic fundamentalism that would spawn legions of followers, including Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden and the 23 men who - on 9/11 - plowed hijacked airliners into targets in the United States and launched us into war.
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