The Afterlife of Sayyid Qutb


Marc Lynch recently praised John Calvert’s Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism, calling it one of the best books of the year in The Atlantic and Foreign Policy.

John Calvert himself recently contributed an essay to the Foreign Policy site, The afterlife of Sayyid Qutb. In it, Calvert discusses the way that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to invoke the example of Qutb, who is considered a pivotal figure in the evolution of radical Islamism. However, conservatives and reformers within the movement see Qutb’s legacy and implications in very different ways. Calvert writes, “Muslim Brothers will continue to evoke Qutb, either as a model to be followed, or as an avatar of dangerous and outmoded thinking.”

The current conservative leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have “evoked Qutb’s legacy in order to shore up the spiritual, intellectual and organizational strength of the movement.” Calvert asks:

Why has the Muslim Brotherhood’s new leadership made a point of bringing to the fore aspects of Qutb’s ideology? What aspects of Sayyid Qutb’s discourse do they find appealing and/or politically useful? It seems that the conservatives are interested in Qutb’s emphasis on shoring up the spiritual, intellectual and organizational strength of Muslims. Reviewing the recent history of the Brotherhood, they see that the reformers’ efforts to work within the system, contest elections and move Brotherhood thought in a more liberal direction has only led to crackdowns by the state. The time is ripe, conservatives say, to affect a tactical withdrawal. Not a hijra — or migration — to remote places, but a strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood’s core values, which the reformers have compromised though their accommodations.

Toward the end of the piece Calvert speculates on Qutb’s possible view of 9/11:

Almost certainly, Qutb would not have sanctioned the extreme violence that the hijackers employed. As Qutb pointed out in his writings, the killing of innocents finds no justification in the Quran. In fact, it’s a moot point whether he would have sanctioned violence, preemptive or otherwise, against state or military targets. Nor would Qutb have understood Al Qaeda’s desire to attack Western targets. In his mind, the jihad against the purported idolatry at home was always paramount. Yet Qutb would have appreciated Al Qaeda’s view of itself as knights under the Prophet’s banner; in other words, as comprising a vanguard striving to change society from outside. And although he would have disagreed with the hijackers’ purpose, he would have understood the substratum of their ideology: that the world, as it stands, constitutes a conceptual realm of irreligion, vice and exploitation that ought to be resisted in the name of God.

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