Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sayyid Qutb

Sayyid Qutb.
Public domain.
Ours is a war not against a religion, not against the Muslim faith. But ours is a war against individuals who absolutely hate what America stands for, and hate the freedom of the Czech Republic. And therefore, we must work together to defend ourselves. And by remaining strong and united and tough, we'll prevail. —George W Bush. Press Conference by President Bush and President Havel of Czech Republic. Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic. November 20, 2002. Source: The White House.
In US culture it would be uncouth to attack Islam directly, and only dunderheads—that plurality to the left of the bell curve's mean—and their demagogues do so directly. But there are subtle circumventions that amount to the same thing and that have been around at least since the George W Bush administration. The disclaimer that "Islam is a beautiful religion" enables an official American to speak freely about an enemy that is predominantly Muslim, and that enemy makes itself an enemy because it is Muslim. American leaders would be more honest to say, "Islam is a beautiful religion, but we need their oil." For that reason they kow-tow and observe a slow-motion social protocol seemingly calculated to assure the Mideast that Westerners take them seriously. What they don't get is that the West will never be capable of perceiving the leaders of the Mideast as credible leaders on a world stage: in the Western mind to do so would be as absurd as falling in love with a prostitute.

Gamal Abdel Nasser with Nikita Kruschev. Notice Anwar Sadat on the left edge of the picture.
Public domain.
Then there is a more complex, historically based formula of the "Islamicist" vs. the "Muslim." Up through the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, the anti-colonialists relied upon Marxism as their doctrine of liberation from the West's subjugation and economic exploitation, but when Nasser became the president of Egypt he proved to be a lap dog of the West, curled up in their laps, and fell asleep. Nasser had numerous bitter arguments with Sayyid Qutb, a fellow anti-colonialist, whose job, as Nasser's lifelong best friend, was to remind the president of their agenda of freedom for Egypt and the Mideast.

I'm reminded of the complex relationship between Henry VIII and Thomas More because Nasser imprisoned and eventually killed Qutb. While imprisoned, Qutb rejected Marxism as just more Western cant and embraced Islamic doctrine as a populist approach to organize people against colonial powers. Qutb's book, Milestones, became the central text around which Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood coalesced. Because Qutb and his ideological descendants embrace Islam as a utilitarian populist doctrine rather than as true believers in the Quran, God, and Muhammad as his messenger, the rhetoric distinguishes them from Muslims by calling them Islamicists.

How much of that story is true, how much contrived for propaganda purposes, I know not. But I do know that the US maintains low-level fires of hatred against certain groups, and Muslims compose one of those groups. (Another hate group comprises migrant Latin American laborers, upon whom the US economy depends, and who, to save money and effective reëstablish slavery, have been declared illegal, which denies them minimum wage, due process of law, and employment benefits.) The demagogue Trump is shrewd enough of a politician to exploit these prejudices that have been built into the people, especially those people left of the curve.

The US, especially in its dealings with the Mideast and Latin America, has never lost an opportunity to make itself feel superior by demeaning other peoples and to make sure that business and banking deals both enrich the coffers of rich Americans and preserve the poverty of the client country. Latin America, for example, is full of countries with abundant natural and human resources that should be at least as wealthy as some Western European nations, but instead the economic dominance of the US has preserved poverty throughout the world. Had the US sailed an honest course of win-win in all of its dealings with foreign nations, it might not be as obscenely rich as it is today—that wealth so concentrated in the hands of so few that Americans at large enjoy virtually no benefit from its presence in their country, which in terms of indices of quality of life is fast sinking to that of a Third World Nation—the US could have enjoyed a world of allies. Instead the US exists in a world of slave nations in which history is occasionally punctuated by people who just can't take the status quo any longer, so they rise up to rebel and attack. Nobody deserves the consequences of these sorts of rebellions and attacks, yet it is naïve to think they won't happen or that organizations like Homeland Security—which does far more to humiliate innocent American citizens than to counter insurgency in the American Empire—has the will to ward off the passions of a world of people oppressed by the US.

It would be nice to end on some simple-minded platitude like, If the United States is tired of being hated, it could stop being so hateful. Yet if the US were to withdraw from the world into a Fortress America within the confines of its own borders, maybe go cold turkey on its oil addiction and replace cars with sane alternatives like mass transportation, and most of all leave the world alone, leave it to solve its own problems (as opposed to putting out the fires of Empire as its compelled to do now), it would take a century to live down the anger burning throughout the world.