Thursday, April 28, 2011

Islamic death cult

"The Children are the Holy Martyrs of Tomorrow."

[Hamas kindergarten motto]

Paul Berman's account of the Islamist movement and of the failure of Western intellectuals to come to terms with it [The flight of the intellectuals (Melville House, 2010)] makes depressing reading. The movement, which began as an attempt to rejuvenate Islam by returning to its early sources, developed mainly in Egypt in the 19th and early 20th century and crystallized in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and related groups in other countries.

Hassan al-Banna, founder (in 1928) of the Muslim Brotherhood, created "the original institutional model for what has come to be known as 'Islamism' - with the suffix 'ism' trailing after Islam to distinguish al-Banna's political and more-than-political twentieth century renewal movement from the ancient religion itself." (Berman, p. 33) Tariq Ramadan, al-Banna's Swiss-born grandson, has often defended the reform movement and Hassan al-Banna from accusations of indulging in or promoting violence. He has claimed that his grandfather was philosophically opposed to violence, and any violence perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood or its offshoots represented aberrations.

For example, Ramadan has admitted that al-Qaeda's history does trace back to the Muslim Brotherhood, but he has insisted that the violent elements within the Brotherhood from which al-Qaeda and other such groups derived were rogue elements associated with Sayyid Qubt rather than Hassan al-Banna.

It turns out, however, that Qubt was mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, and had close links with Tariq Ramadan's father, Said Ramadan, who - like Tariq - was a devoted follower of Hassan al-Banna.

Qubt was profoundly influenced in his youth by the Romantic movement, and wrote, in Berman's words, "strikingly original" commentaries on the Koran which were "drawn from the heart." The commentaries were published in a magazine edited by Said Ramadan, and formed the core of Qubt's "gigantic ... masterwork, In the Shade of the Qur'an - this mega-exegesis which, having emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, has gone on to influence Islamist movements around the world, not just organizations like the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood but the Iranian revolution (in a Persian translation by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic) and the Afghani Islamists (in a Dari translation by Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan), even apart from al Qaeda." (Berman, p. 141)

What is particularly ironic is that this tradition of Islamic thought and action draws not just on Islamic, Arab and Middle Eastern roots, but also on Western notions such as fascism and socialism (Qubt in his youth had been a secular socialist) - and Romanticism.

The Romantic cult of death found a receptive audience in these 'reformers' of Islam. Qubt "pictured the entire world hurtling toward a catastrophic crisis, which he interpreted along paranoid and apocalyptic lines... [H]is vision of an Islamic vanguard establishing a revolutionary Islamic state somewhere on earth and using that one lonely outpost to export Islamic revolution to the rest of the Muslim world and then to everywhere else, his vision of the Koranic utopia to come, the resurrected Caliphate, and his dedication, meanwhile, to martyrdom - all of this was visibly extreme. His whole instinct was to take al-Banna's already pop-eyed Mussolinian idea about resurrecting the Islamic Empire and give it a desperado extra twist." (Berman, p.147)

Even without that extra twist, al-Banna's original ideas are quite bad enough. "Degradation and dishonor," wrote the revered founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, "are the results of the love of this world and the fear of death. Therefore prepare for jihad and be the lovers of death." (Cited Berman, p. 33)


  1. Weird, isn't it?

    A great world religion dedicated to a God of justice and mercy, a descendant from Judaism and Christianity, with hospitality to strangers as a main tenet, somehow becomes a politicised death cult.

    Berman's earlier book, A Tale of Two Utopias, is terrific, I think. I'll look out for his new one.

  2. Alan, it is sometimes hard to know who to trust on issues one doesn't know a lot about. I am reassured by your comment that my trust in Berman's judgment and scholarship is not misplaced.

  3. This may be appropriate reading right now:

  4. Yes, Alan, a fascinating piece. How does one deal with these people?

  5. At least from a safe distance, we can laugh at them. "I wanted to teach them the tradition of how Muhammad let the beard grow, with some clipping of the moustache, how one should wash one’s elbow joint, the armpits and the pubic hair". How does one wash one's elbow joint?