Saturday, October 24, 2009

German unification: Thatcher was wrong

German unification: Thatcher was wrong
By Timothy Garton Ash, For The Straits Times

HISTORY has come back to haunt Britain. Just over 20 years ago, the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher told the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: 'Britain and Western Europe are not interested in the unification of Germany. The words written in the Nato communique may sound different, but disregard them. We do not want the unification of Germany.'

She went on to say, inaccurately: 'I can tell you that this is also the position of the US president.'

That's according to the Russian record, made by one of Mr Gorbachev's closest aides. A British note of the conversation, just published in a volume prepared by Foreign Office historians, conveys the same ideas in more elusive Whitehall wording.

This was an act of spectacular disloyalty to a faithful and important Nato ally. It showed a lack of respect for the aspirations of the East Germans, who would soon say clearly that their hopes of freedom - the political value Mrs Thatcher was most closely identified with - would best be realised by unification with an already free German state. And it was very short-sighted.

She was not just expressing her worries in private to a Western ally; she was putting them before the man who had the power to stop German unification. The British note goes on: 'Mr Gorbachev said that he could see what the Prime Minister was driving at. The Soviet Union understood the problem very well and she could be reassured. They did not want German reunification any more than Britain did.'

Things are made no better by the fact that then French president Francois Mitterrand was conveying much the same message to Moscow. Mr Gorbachev's close adviser Anatoly Chernyaev, who made the record of the Thatcher conversation, notes in his diary on Oct 9, 1989, that president Mitterrand's aide Jacques Attali 'talked with us about a revival of a solid Franco-Soviet alliance, including military integration - camouflaged as the use of armies in the struggle against natural disasters'.

At a witness seminar in London last week, organised by the Foreign Office historians, Mr Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister at that time, reacted with magnificent condescension. He was aware of Mrs Thatcher's opposition, he said, but he didn't worry too much about it. He knew that so long as the Germans had the Americans behind them, the Brits would always come round in the end. Which, of course, they did - but not without squandering a heap of goodwill in Germany.

The now published records show that the Foreign Office, from the then Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd down, did repeatedly warn (although not without some mandarin trimming along the way) that Mrs Thatcher's vocal opposition was impolitic, misguided and short-sighted. That is doubtless one reason why the Foreign Office is hurrying to publish the documents now, after just 20 years.

It is particularly interesting for me to read the internal pre-history of what became known as 'the Chequers seminar' in March 1990, attended by six historians of Germany, of whom I was one. Since that famous or infamous event is represented only by a vivid but misleading summary by Mrs Thatcher's then private secretary Charles Powell, it is worth saying again what several other participants have already put on record: the overwhelming message of all the historians present was that the Federal Republic must be trusted and supported in carrying through German unification.

I remember one electrifying moment when the veteran, conservative historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who had been in Germany immediately after the end of World War II, interrogating senior Nazis for his classic account of the Last Days Of Hitler, said to the effect: Prime Minister, if anyone had told us in 1945 that there was a chance of a Germany united in freedom, as a solid member of the West, we could not have believed our luck. And so we should welcome it, not resist it.

Twenty years on, we can see clearly how Trevor-Roper was right and Mrs Thatcher, wrong. None of her nightmares has been realised. United Germany is not lording it over Europe. Even a severe economic recession has not driven German voters to the far right. When Mrs Angela Merkel announces her new government, it will be a moderate liberal-conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats: the very model of a modern centrist democracy. And German unification opened the door to European unification, through the eastward enlargement of the European Union.

Yes, even in this success story of united Germany, there are some causes for concern. A political system originally designed to prevent a reversion to dictatorship has developed almost too many checks and balances, so that necessary reform is difficult. Germany's special relationship with an authoritarian Russia is a European problem.

But there are justified concerns about every major European state - not least, about Britain. Europe used to have sleepless nights over something called 'the German question'. Twenty years on, a bigger worry should be the British question.

It's in Britain that the leader of a far-right, nationalist, xenophobic party, the British National Party, controversially appears on the BBC's Question Time, a mainstream television show. It's Britain that has a discredited parliament, a constitutional mess, the erosion of civil liberties and a chronic identity problem. It's Britain that still can't work out where it belongs in the world, and what kind of country it wants to be.

The writer is professor of European Studies at Oxford University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


Twenty years on, we can see clearly how Trevor-Roper was right and Mrs Thatcher wrong. None of her nightmares has been realised. United Germany is not lording it over Europe. Even a severe economic recession has not driven German voters to the far right. When Mrs Angela Merkel announces her new government, it will be a moderate liberal-conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats: the very model of a modern centrist democracy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bactrian Gold

Archaeologist Victor Sarianidi receives highest award of Afghanistan

The prominent Russian archaeologist, Viktor Sarianidi, was honored with the medal of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Ambassador of Afghanistan to Russia, Zalmay Aziz, handed the highest award to the scientist during the celebration of the Independence Day of Afghanistan in Moscow on August 19.

According to information portal "", Zalmay Aziz thanked the legendary archaeologist for the help in exploring the history of Afghanistan and wished him successes in his work to the benefit of the Russian-Afghan relations.

"I am grateful to the great country for high appreciation of my humble work," Victor Sarianidi said in turn.

It should be recalled that in 1978 the Soviet-Afghan expedition under the leadership of Victor Sarianidi found in northern Afghanistan the so-called "gold of Bactria" - about twenty thousand pieces of gold jewelry dated back to 1000 A.C. It is for this discovery that Sarianidi was once named "Shliman of the East". Gold of Afghanistan was exhibited in major museums around the world, and in 2011 the exhibition will come to Russia.

Professor, Doctor of History Victor Sarianidi is heading for over half a century the Turkmen-Russian archeological expedition in Mary province of Turkmenistan where it unearthed a large settlement of Gonur-Depe from the Bronze Age (III-II centuries B.C.), which is presumably an ancient capital of Margush country that scientists believe to be the birthplace of Zoroastrianism and the fifth center of world civilization, along with civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.

Victor Sarianidi is an honorary citizen of Turkmenistan, Honorary Ambassador of Hellenism, winner of the International Prize of Turkmenistan named after Makhtumkuli and the medal of "Civilian Valor" of Greece, as well as numerous awards and commemorative medals of various universities of the world
Tillya tepe, Tillia tepe or Tillā tapa ( Pashto and Persian: طلا تپه) or (literally "Golden Hill" or "Golden Mound") is an archaeological site in northern Afghanistan near Sheberghan, surveyed in 1979 by a Soviet-Afghan mission of archaeologists led by Victor Sarianidi, a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The heavily fortified town of Yemshi-tepe, just five kilometres to the northeast of modern Sheberghan on the road to Akcha, is only half a kilometre from the now-famous necropolis of Tillia-tepe.

The hoard is a collection of about 20,000 gold ornaments that was found in six graves (five women and one man) with extremely rich jewelry, dated to around the 1st century BCE. Altogether several thousand pieces of fine jewelry were recovered, usually made of gold, turquoise and/or lapis-lazuli. The ornaments include coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns. A new museum in Kabul is being planned where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.

Some of the most spectacular finds are presently on display until Sept. 7th, 2008 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. From Oct. 24th, 2008 to Jan. 25th, 2009 the collection will be at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. From there they are due to be displayed from February 22 to May 17, 2009 at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York from June 23 to Sept. 20th, 2009.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize that offer little peace and quiet

At war over Obama's peace prize - ST Oct 11 2009

The gold medallion given to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize does not come with a ribbon, but the award could still end up being a weight around US President Barack Obama's neck.

In much of the avalanche of reactions during the weekend, a key message came through: The award was given too soon, and it now places a greater burden on the 48-year-old President to live up to the high expectations.

Over the weekend, the announcement of Mr Obama's win drew starkly contrasting reactions within the United States and the rest of the world.

It was met with joy in Kenya, which has a special regard for Mr Obama, as he is the son of a Kenyan economist.

Scathing criticism lay at the other extreme. Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that it was absurd to give a peace award to a man who had sent 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan.

Mr Obama 'should have won the 'Nobel Prize for escalating violence and killing civilians',' he said.

Such reactions were likely expected by the five-member Norwegian Nobel committee, which spent seven months winnowing the dossiers on dissident monks, human rights advocates, field surgeons and other nominees - 205 names in all, most of them obscure - before deciding on Mr Obama.

While in recent decades the selection process has produced many winners better known for their suffering or their environmental zeal than for peacemaking, the panel's new chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said the members this year took a more practical approach in their unanimous vote for Mr Obama.

'It's important for the committee to recognise people who are struggling and idealistic,' Mr Jagland said in an interview after the prize was announced, 'but we cannot do that every year. We must from time to time go into the realm of realpolitik.

'It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world.'

The committee is overtly political, as the Swedish dynamite tycoon Alfred Nobel must have intended when, in his will, he instructed the Norwegian Parliament to appoint the selection committee.

Mr Geir Lundestad, who as executive director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute has handled the committee's administrative affairs since 1990, said the panel met six or seven times this year, starting several weeks after the nomination deadline, Feb 1.

Any member of a national legislature, any professor of the social sciences and several other categories of people are free to submit nominations, and someone usually puts forward the name of the American president.

This year the panel did not settle on a winner until Monday, Mr Lundestad said.

The committee took a chance in choosing Mr Obama, who not only is in his freshman year as president, but also is directing two wars. Should his presidency descend into a military quagmire, as former president Lyndon B. Johnson's did during the Vietnam War, the decision could prove an embarrassment.

Some in Oslo said the Nobel committee had put the integrity of the award at stake. But Mr Jagland seemed to savour the risk. He said no one could deny that 'the international climate' had suddenly improved, and that Mr Obama was the main reason.

Of the President's future, he said: 'There is great potential. But it depends on how the other political leaders respond. If they respond negatively, one might have to say he failed. But at least we want to embrace the message that he stands for.'

AP, Reuters, AFP

Controversial Nobel Peace Prize Winners

10. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize—awarded for the “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development”—had from the start wrought controversy that was exacerbated further by politically-tinted statements offered by the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee (seconded and affirmed by Gunnar Staalsett, another member of the 5-member, secretive Nobel Committee).

9. Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai, 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, created controversy by appearing to lend credibility to the theory that HIV was invented by white scientists to destroy black people but later apologized for giving the illusion of being a conspiracy theorist.

8. Al Gore

Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on raising public awareness of Global Warming. There has been some contention on whether the work was related to the stated purpose of the prize or not. In addition, there is much controversy surrounding his work in the area of Global Warming and, in fact, even controversy over whether Global Warming poses a real threat to mankind. Recently a UK High Court judge decreed that the government could only send a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth” to every school if it was accompanied by guidelines to point out “nine scientific errors” and to counter his “one-sided views”. In his film, Al Gore called on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home. In August 2006, Gore’s electricity bills revealed that in one month he burned through 22,619 kilowatts – more than twice what the average family uses in an entire year.

7. Rigoberta Menchú

Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. There has been some evidence pointing to her as a fraud in her purported autobiography of her life in Guatemala in the late 1950s, portrayed in her 1987 book I, Rigoberta Menchu—where some facts regarding her family history and circumstances were specifically altered by her to supposedly better propagandize her leftist-leanings (brought to light through exposé by anthropologist David Stoll’s researches).

6. Henry Kissinger

Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work on the Vietnam Peace Accords, despite having instituted the secret 1969–1975 campaign of bombing against infiltraiting NVA in Cambodia, the alleged U.S. involvement in Operation Condor—a mid-1970s campaign of kidnapping and murder coordinated among the intelligence and security services of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay—as well as the death of French nationals under the Chilean junta. He also supported the invasion of Cyprus resulting in approximately 1/3 of the island being occupied by foreign troops for 33 years. Some peace activists go so far as to suggest that the Nobel Peace Prize has become irrelevant due to Kissinger being a laureate.

Just paying the bills...

5. Yitzhak Rabin

Rabin won the prize jointly with Shimon Peres and Yasser Araft in 1994. Rabin, while in the Israeli military, had ordered the expulsion of Arabs, from areas captured by Israel during the 1948 War. He had also been responsible for the aggressive Israeli crackdown of the First Intifada while Defense Minister. Rabin also continued to authorise the construction of settlements in the occupied territories despite the peace agreement.

4. Shimon Peres

Awarded the prize jointly with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Peres was responsible for developing Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal, and was later blamed for the Qana Massacre. The Qana Massacre occurred in 1996 when the Israeli military shelled a villiage of 800 Lebanese civilians who had gone there to escape the fighting. 106 were killed and around 116 others injured. Four Fijian United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon soldiers were also seriously injured.

3. Yasser Arafat

Arafat won the 1994 prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat was regarded by critics as a terrorist leader for many years. Kåre Kristiansen, a Norwegian member of the Nobel Committee, resigned in 1994 in protest at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat, whom he labeled a “terrorist”.

2. Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1945 in recognition of his efforts for peace and understanding in the Western Hemisphere, his trade agreements, and his work to establish the United Nations. In 1939, the ship SS St Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean carrying over 950 Jewish refugees, mostly wealthy, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II. Roosevelt showed modest willingness to allow the ship in, but Hull, his Secretary of State threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred. Roosevelt denied entry to the ship. The ship was forced to return to Germany and many of the passengers ultimately ended up dying in Concentration Camps.

1. Menachem Begin

Menachem Begin (6th Prime Minister of Israel) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 for his contributions to the successful closure to the Camp David Accords in the same year (the award was jointly given to Begin and Anwar Sadat). Unfortunately, Begin had also previously been head of the militant Zionist group Irgun, which is often regarded as a terrorist organization and had been responsible for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946.

And the list goes on....

President Theodore Roosevelt—the 26th President of the United States—received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 for helping negotiate an end to the Russo-Japanese War. However, he played a role in the suppression of a revolt in the Philippines.

Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt during a war against Israel in 1973, the Yom Kippur War, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Menachem Begin, in 1978 for their contributions to the successful closure to the Camp David Accords in the same year.

Kim De Jung 2002 - Former S Korean President won it for promoting peace and eonciliation with the NOrth but was later accused of secretly snding bribe money to N Korean leader Kim Jong Il

1912 Elihu Root - Former US Secretary of State and War received the priaze for brokering international negotiations but was responsible for the US brul policy in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War

Final Thoughts

While the controversial people listed above enjoy (or enjoyed) their Nobel Peace prizes, Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded one (though he was nominated five times). In addition, in the fields of science, great men such as Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison were not awarded prizes because of their animosity towards each other. If Tesla had won, the money would probably have prevented him from filing for bankruptcy in 1916, and the face of modern society may have been very different.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Wahabi Movement & Muhammad Abdul Al-Wahab

Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab ibn Sulaiman ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rashid Al-Tamimi[1] (1703–1792) (Arabic: محمد بن عبد الوهاب التميمي‎) was an Islamic scholar born in Najd, in present-day Saudi Arabia. Despite never specifically calling for a separate school of Islamic thought, it is from ibn Abd-al Wahhab that the term Wahhabism derives.

[edit] Childhood and Early Life
Some details have been pieced together via the work of numerous historians. Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is generally acknowledged to have been born in 'Uyayna[7][8][9][10] in 1703[11][12] and to have been a member of the Arab tribe of Banu Tamim. He was thought to have started studying Islam at an early age, primarily with his father ('Abd al-Wahhab) early on[13][14][15],[16][17] as he was from a line of scholars of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence.[18] While there is some consensus over these details, there is not a unanimous agreement over the specifics and some minority opinions do exist in regard to his place and date of birth.

[edit] Reforms
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab spent some time studying with Muslim scholars in Basra (in southern Iraq),[19][20] and it is reported that he traveled to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina to perform Hajj and study with the scholars there,[21][22] before returning to his home town of Uyayna in 1740. Official sources on ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's life put his visits to these cities in different chronological order, and the full extent of such travels remains disputed among historians.

Almost all sources agree that his reformist ideas were formulated while living in Basra, where he became somewhat famous for his debates with the Islamic scholars there. Dates are missing in a great many cases, thus it is difficult to reconstruct a chronology of his life up until his return to 'Uyayna.

Like most scholars in Najd at the time, Ibn Abd-al-Wahhab was a follower of Ibn Hanbal's school of jurisprudence but "was opposed to any of the schools (Madh'hab) being taken as an absolute and unquestioned authority," and condemned taqlid.[23]

After his return to 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab began to attract followers there, including the ruler of the town, Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. With Ibn Mu'ammar's support, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab began to implement some of his ideas for reform. First, he persuaded ibn Mu'ammar to level the grave of Zayd ibn al-Khattab, a companion of the Muslim prophet Muhammad whose grave was revered by locals, citing Islamic teachings that forbid grave worship. Secondly, he ordered that an adulteress be stoned to death, a practice that had become uncommon in the area despite having Islamic textual basis. These actions gained the attention of Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr of the tribe of Bani Khalid, the chief of Al-Hasa and Qatif, who held substantial influence in Najd. Ibn Ghurayr threatened Ibn Mu'ammar that he would not allow him to collect a land tax for some properties that he owned in al-Hasa if he did not kill ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. Ibn Mu'ammar declined to do this, but ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was forced to leave.[24]

[edit] Alliance with the House of Saud
Upon his expulsion from 'Uyayna, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was invited to settle in neighboring Dir'iyya by its ruler Muhammad ibn Saud in 1740 (1157 AH). Two of Ibn Saud's brothers had been students of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Uyayna, and are said to have played a role in convincing Ibn Saud to take him in. Ibn Saud's wife is also reported to have been a convert to Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's cause. Upon arriving in Diriyya, a pact was made between Ibn Saud and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, by which Ibn Saud pledged to implement Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings and enforce them on neighboring towns. Beginning in the last years of the 18th century Ibn Saud and his heirs would spend the next 140 years mounting various military campaigns to seize control of Arabia and its outlying regions, finally taking control of the whole of modern day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1922. This provided the movement with a state. Vast wealth from oil discovered in the following decades, coupled with Saudi control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have since provided a base and funding for Salafi missionary activity.

[edit] Criticisms
Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s brother Sulaiman and his father, 'Abd al-Wahhab, had initially repudiated him for his ideas. Later in life, however, the views of both his brother and father changed significantly, with both of them eventually accepting and agreeing with those of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's.[25]

Amongst his modern supporters were the late Shaikh bin Baz and Shaikh Uthaymeen of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Muqbil of Yemen, and Shaikh Albani of Albania.

[edit] Legacy
Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab considered his movement an effort to purify Islam by returning Muslims to what he believed were the original principles of Islam, as typified by the Salaf and rejecting what he regarded as corruptions introduced by Bid'ah and Shirk.

Although all Muslims pray to one God, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab was keen on emphasizing that no intercession with God was possible without His permission, which He only grants to whom He wills and only to benefit those whom He wills, certainly not the ones who invoke anything or anyone except Him, as these would never be forgiven,[26]. Specific practices, such as celebrating the birth of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, were also deemed as innovations. He is hence considered by his followers to be a great revivalist of Islam, and by his opponents as an innovator and heretic. In either case, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's impact on Islam has been considerable and significant.

Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab also revived interest in the works of the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiya.

The followers of this revival (see Salafism) are often called Wahhabis, though most reject the usage of this term on the grounds that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings were the teachings of The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Up on Him), not his own. Thus, most generally refer to themselves as Salafis, while during his lifetime they often referred to themselves muwahhidin ("monotheists").

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's descendents are known today as "Al al-Shaykh" ("House of the Shaykh"). The family of Al al-Shaykh has included several religious scholars, including the former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ibn Ibrahm Al al-Shaykh, who issued the fatwa calling for the abdication of King Saud in 1964. Both the current Saudi minister of justice and the current grand mufti of Saudi Arabia are also descendents of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

[edit] Commentary
Perceptions of ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab are varied. To many Muslims of the Salafi persuasion, ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is a significant luminary in the proud tradition of Islamic scholarship. A great number of lay Sunni Muslims regard him as a pious scholar whose interpretations of the Qur'an and Hadith were nevertheless out of step with the mainstream of Islamic thought, and thus discredited.[27] Some scholars regard him as a pious scholar who called people back to worship of Allah according to the Qur'an and Sunnah. Others, often Sufis, regard him as a one who stopped at nothing to gain power and manipulate others. Natana DeLong-Bas, meanwhile, has recently published a self-described "controversial" book that complicates the idea that ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab contributed to the "militant stance of contemporary jihadism."[28]

Syed Qutb - Muslim Brotherhood origins

Life and public career

Qutb was raised in the Egyptian village of Musha and studied the Qur'an from a young age. He moved to Cairo, where he could receive an education based on the British style of schooling, between 1929 and 1933, before starting his career as a teacher in the Ministry of Public Instruction. During his early career, Qutb devoted himself to literature as an author and critic, writing such novels as Ashwak (Thorns) and even helped to elevate Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz from obscurity. In 1939, he became a functionary in Egypt's Ministry of Education (wizarat al-ma'arif ). From 1948 to 1950, he went to the United States on a scholarship to study its educational system, studying for several months at Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado. Qutb's first major theoretical work of religious social criticism, Al-'adala al-Ijtima'iyya fi-l-Islam (Social Justice in Islam), was published in 1949, during his time in the West.

Though Islam gave him much peace and contentment,[13] he suffered from respiratory and other health problems throughout his life and was known for "his introvertedness, isolation, depression and concern." In appearance, he was "pale with sleepy eyes."[14] Qutb never married, in part because of his steadfast religious convictions. While the urban Egyptian society he lived in was becoming more Westernized, Qutb believed the Quran taught women that `Men are the managers of women's affairs ...' [15] Qutb lamented to his readers that he was never able to find a woman of sufficient "moral purity and discretion" and had to reconcile himself to bachelorhood.[16]

Visit to America

This turning point resulted from Qutb's visit to the United States for higher studies in educational administration. Over a two year period he worked in several different institutions including what was then Wilson Teachers' College in Washington, D.C. and Colorado State College for Education in Greeley, as well as Stanford University[17]. He also travelled extensively visiting the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe on the return journey to Egypt.

Qutb was extremely critical of many things in the United States: its materialism, individual freedoms, economic system, racism, brutal boxing matches, "poor" haircuts,[4] triviality, restrictions on divorce, enthusiasm for sports, "animal-like" mixing of the sexes (which went on even in churches),[18] and lack of support for the Palestinian struggle.[19] In an article published in Egypt after his travels, he noted with disapproval the sexuality of American women:

the American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it. [David Von Drehle, A Lesson In Hate][4]

And what he saw as their taste in music:

Jazz is his preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires...[20]

One of the most popular of his books, Social Justice in Islam (1948), reflects his critical attitude to the West.

Return to Egypt

Qutb concluded that major aspects of American life were primitive and "shocking", a people who were "numb to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether". His experience in the U.S. is believed to have formed in part the impetus for his rejection of Western values and his move towards radicalism upon returning to Egypt. Resigning from the civil service, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1950s[21] and became editor-in-chief of the Brothers' weekly Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, and later head of its propaganda section, as well as an appointed member of the working committee and of its guidance council, the highest branch in the organization.[22]

In June 1952, Egypt's pro-Western government was overthrown by the nationalist Free Officers Movement headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Both Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood welcomed the coup against the monarchist government — which they saw as un-Islamic and subservient to British imperialism — and enjoyed a close relationship with the movement prior to and immediately following the coup. Many members of the Brotherhood expected Nasser to establish an Islamic government. However, the cooperation between the Brotherhood and Free Officers which marked the revolution's success soon soured as it became clear the secular nationalist ideology of Nasserism was incompatible with the Islamism of the Brotherhood. Nasser's regime refused to ban alcohol, or to implement other aspects of Islamic law.

After the attempted assassination of Nasser in 1954, the Egyptian government used the incident to justify a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, imprisoning Qutb and many others for their vocal opposition to various government policies. During his first three years in prison, conditions were bad and Qutb was tortured. In later years he was allowed more mobility, including the opportunity to write.[23]

This period saw the composition of his two most important works: a commentary of the Qur'an Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Qur'an), and a manifesto of political Islam called Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones). These works represent the final form of Qutb's thought, encompassing his radically anti-secular and anti-Western claims based on his interpretations of; the Qur'an, Islamic history, and the social and political problems of Egypt. The school of thought he inspired has become known as Qutbism.

Qutb was let out of prison at the end of 1964 at the behest of the then Prime Minister of Iraq, Abdul Salam Arif, for only 8 months before being rearrested in August 1965. He was accused of plotting to overthrow the state and subjected to what some consider a show trial.[24] Many of the charges placed against Qutb in court were taken directly from Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq and he adamantly supported his written statements. The trial culminated in a death sentence for Qutb and six other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was sentenced to death as the leader of a group planning to assassinate the President and other Egyptian officials and personalities, though he was not the instigator or leader of the actual plot.[25] On 29 August 1966, he was executed by hanging.

Evolution of thought

Different theories have been advanced as to why Qutb, turned from secular reformism in the 1930s to Islamic extremist in the 1950s and 1960s. One common explanation is that the conditions he witnessed in prison from 1954-1964, including the torture and murder of Muslim Brothers, convinced him that only a government bound by Islamic law could prevent such abuses. Another is that Qutb's experiences in America as a darker skinned person and the insufficiently anti-Western policies of Nasser demonstrated to him the powerful and dangerous allure of jahiliyyah — a threat unimaginable, in Qutb's estimation, to the secular mind. However there are indications his feelings about the West had developed before he ever set foot in America. On his boat trip to America in 1948 he wrote:

Should I travel to America, and become flimsy, and ordinary, ... Is there other than Islam that I should be steadfast to in its character and hold on to its instructions, in this life amidst deviant chaos, and the endless means of satisfying animalistic desires, pleasures, and awful sins? [26]

Finally, Qutb offered his own explanation in Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, arguing that anything non-Islamic was evil and corrupt, while following Sharia as a complete system extending into all aspects of life, would bring every kind of benefit to humanity, from personal and social peace, to the "treasures" of the universe.[27]

In general, Qutb's experiences as an Egyptian Muslim — his village childhood, professional career, and activism in the Muslim Brotherhood — left an unmistakable mark on his theoretical and religious works. Even Qutb's early, secular writing shows evidence of his later themes. For example, Qutb's autobiography of his childhood Tifl min al-Qarya (A Child From the Village) makes little mention of Islam or political theory and is typically classified as a secular, literary work. However, it is replete with references to village mysticism, superstition, the Qur'an, and incidences of injustice. Qutb's later work developed along similar themes, dealing with Qur'anic exegesis, social justice, and political Islam.

Qutb's career as a writer also heavily influenced his philosophy. In al-Taswiir al-Fanni fil-Quran (Artistic Representation in the Qur'an), Qutb developed a literary appreciation of the Qur'an and a complementary methodology for interpreting the text. His hermaneutics were applied in his extensive commentary on the Qur'an, Fi zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Quran), which served as the foundation for the declarations of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq.

Late in his life, Qutb synthesized his personal experiences and intellectual development in the famous Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, a religious and political manifesto for what he believed was a true Islamic system. It was also in this text that Qutb condemned Muslim governments, such as Abdul Nasser's regime in Egypt, as secular with their legitimacy based on human (and thus corrupt), rather than divine authority. This work, more than any other, established Qutb as one of, if not the premier Islamists of the 20th century.

Political philosophy

Sayyid Qutb's mature political views always centered on Islam — Islam as a complete system of morality, justice and governance, whose Sharia laws and principles should be the sole basis of governance and everything else in life. His was clearly however, against any type of theocracy, as in his book "Milestones", he writes:

The way to establish God's rule on earth is not that some consecrated people - the priests - be given the authority to rule, as was the case with the rule of the Church, nor that some spokesmen of God become rulers, as is the case in a 'theocracy'.

In an earlier work,[28] Qutb described military jihad as defensive, Islam's campaign to protect itself.[29] On the issue of Islamic governance, Qutb differed with many modernist and reformist Muslims who claimed democracy was Islamic because the Quranic institution of Shura supported elections and democracy. Qutb pointed out that the Shura chapter of the Qur'an was revealed during the Mekkan period, and therefore, it does not deal with the problem of government. It makes no reference to elections and calls only for the ruler to consult some of the ruled, as a particular case of the general rule of Shura.[30] Qutb also opposed the then popular ideology of Arab nationalism, having become disillusioned with the 1952 Nasser Revolution and having been exposed to the regime's practices of arbitrary arrest, torture, and deadly violence during his imprisonment.

Jahiliyyah vs. freedom

This exposure to abuse of power undoubtedly contributed to the ideas in his famous prison-written Islamic manifesto Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), where he advocated a political system the opposite of dictatorship — i.e. one with no government. There Qutb argued:

Jahiliyyah is the worship of some people by others; that is to say, some people become dominant and make laws for others, regardless of whether these laws are against God's injunctions and without caring for the use or misuse of their authority.

The Muslim world had ceased to be and reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah, because of the lack of sharia law. Consequently all states of the Muslim world are not Islamic and thus illegitimate, including that of his native land Egypt.

Rather than support rule by a pious Muslim(s), (either a dictator(s) or democratically elected[31]), Muslims should resist any system where men are in "servitude to other men" — i.e. obey other men — as un-Islamic and a violation of God's sovereignty (Hakamiyya) over all of creation. A truly Islamic polity would have no rulers — not even have theocratic ones — since Muslims would need neither judges nor police to obey divine law. [32][33] It was what one observer has called "a kind of anarcho-Islam."[8]

The way to bring about this freedom was for a revolutionary vanguard [34] to fight jahiliyyah with a twofold approach: preaching, and abolishing the organizations and authorities of the Jahili system by "physical power and Jihad."

The vanguard movement would grow with preaching and jihad until it formed a truly Islamic community, then spread throughout the Islamic homeland and finally throughout the entire world, attaining leadership of humanity. While those who had been "defeated by the attacks of the treacherous Orientalists!" might define jihad "narrowly" as defensive, Islamically-correct Jihad (according to Qutb) was in fact offensive. [35]

Qutb emphasized this struggle would be anything but easy. True Islam would transform every aspect of society, eliminating everything non-Muslim.[36] True Muslims could look forward to lives of "poverty, difficulty, frustration, torment and sacrifice." Jahili ersatz-Muslims, Jews and Westerners would all fight and conspire against Islam and the elimination of jahiliyyah.

Among these enemies Qutb was particularly enraged by Jews, whom he saw as a great menace to Islam despite their small numbers. Qutb repeatedly talked of "the wicked opposition of the Jews to Islam," their "conspiracies" and "scheming against Islam" over the centuries.[1] [2]


Qutb, greatly admired by many,[37][38] also has several critics. Following the publication of Milestones and the aborted plot against the Nasser government, mainstream Muslims took issue with Qutb's contention that "physical power" and jihad had to be used to overthrow governments, and attack societies, "institutions and traditions" of the Muslim — but according to Qutb jahili — world.[39] The ulema of Al-Azhar University school took the unusual step following his death of putting Sayyid Qutb on their index of heresy, declaring him a "deviant" (munharif). [40] Reformist Muslims, on the other hand, questioned his understanding of sharia, i.e. that it is not only perfect and complete, but completely accessible to mortals and thus the solution to any of their problems.[41][42] Also criticized is his dismissal of not only all non-Muslim culture, but many centuries of Muslim learning, culture and beauty following the first four caliphs as un-Islamic and thus worthless.[43] Conservative/puritan criticism went further, condemning Qutb's Islamist/reformist ideas — such as social justice and redistributive economics,[44][45][46] banning of slavery, — as "western" and bid'ah or innovative (innovations to Islam being forbidden ipso facto). They have accused Qutb of amateur scholarship, overuse of ijtihad, innovation in Ijma (which Qutb felt should not be limited to scholars, but should be conducted by all Muslims[47]), declaring unlawful what Allah has made lawful,[48][49] assorted mistakes in aqeedah (belief) and manhaj (methodology)[50], and of lack of respect for Islamic traditions, for prophets and for early Muslims. Supporters have also defended him from at least some of these and other charges.[51][52] And finally, following the 9/11 attacks, Westerners looking for who and what may have inspired Al-Qaeda discovered Qutb and found many of his ideas not too Western, but too anti-Western.[53] Complaints here include that contrary to what Qutb preaches, neither the Jews nor the West are conspiring against Islam; that the West is neither "evil and corrupt" nor a "rubbish heap;" that an offensive jihad to establish Islamic rule (or "the sovereignty of God and His Lordship") "throughout the world," would be aggression, not liberation; and finally that Qutb's call for the destruction of jahili Muslim governments may have roused terrorist jihadis to attack Western countries, thinking that Western support for these "jahili" governments stands in the way of their elimination.[54][55][56]


Alongside notable Islamists like Maulana Mawdudi, Hasan al-Banna, and Ruhollah Khomeini, Qutb is considered one of the most influential Muslim thinkers or activists of the modern era, not only for his ideas but for what many consider his heroic martyr's death.[24][57]

His written works are still widely available and have been translated into many Western languages. Qutb's best known work is Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq (Milestones), but the majority of Qutb's theory can be found in his Qur'anic commentary Fi zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shade of the Quran). This 30-volume work is noteworthy for its innovative method of interpretation, borrowing heavily from the literary analysis of Amin al-Khuli, while retaining some structural features of classical commentaries (for example, the practice of progressing from the first sura to the last).[citation needed]

The influence of his work extends to issues such as Westernization, modernization, and political reform and the theory of inevitable ideological conflict between "Islam and the West" (see Clash of civilizations), the notion of a transnational umma, and the comprehensive application of jihad.[citation needed]

Qutb's theoretical work on Islamic advocacy, social justice and education, has left a significant mark on the Muslim Brotherhood (at least outside of Egypt).

Al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad

Qutb had influence on Islamic insurgent/terror groups in Egypt [39] and elsewhere. His influence on Al Qaeda was felt through his writing, his followers and especially through his brother, Muhammad Qutb, who moved to Saudi Arabia following his release from prison in Egypt and became a professor of Islamic Studies and edited, published and promoted his brother Sayyid's work.[58][59]

One of Muhammad Qutb's students and later an ardent follower was Ayman Zawahiri, who went on to become a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad [60] and later a mentor of Osama bin Laden and a leading member of al-Qaeda.[61] Zawahiri was first introduced to Qutb by his uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, who was very close to Qutb throughout his life. Azzam was Qutb's student, then protégé, then personal lawyer and executor of his estate — one of the last people to see Qutb before his execution. According to Lawrence Wright, who interviewed Azzam, "young Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again from his beloved uncle Mahfouz about the purity of Qutb's character and the torment he had endured in prison."[62] Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet's Banner.[63]

Osama Bin Laden was also acquainted with Sayyid's brother, Muhammad Qutb. A close college friend of bin Laden's, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, told Wright, that bin Laden regularly attended weekly public lectures by Muhammad Qutb, at King Abdulaziz University, and that he and bin Laden both "read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation."[64]