The Economist Reviews Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism

Sayyid Qutb

The Economist reviewed John Calvert’s new book Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism, calling it a “rich and carefully researched biography [that] sets Qutb for the first time in his Egyptian context, rescuing him from caricature without whitewashing his radicalism.”

Qutb is regarded by many as one of the key figures, who inspired today’s global jihad. However, as the review points out, Calvert’s book shows other sides to Qutb’s life and thought without denying his role in the development of radical political Islam.

The biography traces Qutb’s journey from his Egyptian roots and his time spent in the United States to his involvement in the Muslim Brotherhood and his subsequent imprisonment. The experience in jail and the torture he endured made Qutb into an embittered and impassioned revolutionary. However, as The Economist writes,

Mr Calvert does not disguise the crudely Manichean character of Qutb’s worldview. He believed in an all-out global struggle between a noble vanguard of true Muslims and the massed ranks of jahiliyya. He depicted Islam’s external enemies as an insidious alliance of “Crusaders and Jews”—the same phrase that is used by al-Qaeda and the global jihadists of today.

But he was not, as has been suggested, an “Islamo-fascist” or an advocate of indiscriminate violence. Qutb opposed the killing of innocents and would have been appalled by what his followers, from the Egyptian radicals of the 1970s and 1980s to the current jihadist groups, have carried out in his name.

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