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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
Intellectual Fathers of Fundamentalism
Lindeborg, Dagens Nyheter (liberal), Stockholm, Sweden,
Oct. 25, 2001
In a TV interview
this week, we could see Osama bin Laden in front of his bookshelves.
Maalim fi al-tariq (Milestones) is probably
among the titles. This best seller by Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual
father of Islamic fundamentalism, is said to have been published
in close to 2,000 editions.
What Sayyid Qutb has to say makes Samuel P. Huntingtons
controversial The Clash of Civilizations appear relatively
tame. After the complete breakdown of democracy, Western
civilization has nothing else to give humanity....The dominance
of Western man has reached its end. The time has come for Islam
to take the lead, writes Qutb.
Most of Qutbs books can no longer be ordered at bookstores.
Just recently, they were banned by Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak. But millions of pirate copies are being distributed.
In Germany, copies are available from Islamic religious associations.
The common theme in Qutbs writings is his prognosis that
the Western, secularized world, which is deeply inferior to
Islam, must be replaced by an Islamic world order.
Qutb made this assessment upon his return to Egypt after completing
his academic education in the United States in 1950. But for
former Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, such trains of thought
were all too subversive, and in 1966 he had Qutb executed.
This is explained by Bassam Tibi, a professor of political science
at Göttingen, Germany, and at Harvard. Tibi is one of the
worlds leading authorities on Islamic fundamentalism.
As a Muslim born and raised in Syria, and as a student of Max
Horkheimer at Frankfurt on the Main, he had the early advantage
of living and working in two civilizations. In a large number
of books, he analyzes the development of Islamic fundamentalism
in relationship to other movements within the Muslim world.
He also points to the political implications this development
brings with it for the worlds 55 Islamic nations, for
Europe with its 23 million Muslim immigrants, and for global
development. In book after book, Tibi repeatedly stresses the
importance of distinguishing between Islam and Islamic fundamentalism
or Islamism. The latter is a new phenomenon with ideological
roots in Egypts Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928.
The humiliation of the Six-Day War in 1967 [against Israel]
gave rise to a repoliticization of Islam with revolt against
the West as the leading train of thought. But according
to the Islamists, the West isnt only found in the West.
Since a considerable portion of the Muslim world adopted elements
of modernity, Islamists are directing their fight equally as
much against the Westernization of their own civilizationa
type of Muslim civil war. This war against their fellow believersalbeit
apostateis being waged with terror, especially in Algeria,
where approximately 100,000 people have been murdered.
The explicit goal is to spread Islamism across the entire Muslim
world. According to Tibi, after the election victory of the
fundamentalists in Algeria in 1991, a strategy was drawn up
for the complete Islamization of the Mediterranean region, complete
Yet, even if most of modernity is rejected as ungodly, an exception
is made for technology and science, such as weapons technology.
Our goal is to learn how to handle modern weapons, how
to produce and develop them further, so that we can conquer
our enemies, proclaims the Egyptian Islamist Hasan al-Sharqawi
in another best seller al-Muslimun ulama wa-hukama
(Muslims and Scientists) from 1987.
In his books and interviews, Tibi goes straight to the heart
of the matter: The goal of the Islamic fundamentalists
is to abolish the Western, secular world order and replace it
with a new Islamist divine order....The goal of the Islamists
is a new imperial, absolutist Islamic world power.
One of the Muslim worlds most widely read social theorists,
Tibi points out, is Pakistani Abu al Ala al-Maududi (1903-79),
a follower of Sayyid Qutb. One of the central themes for al-Maududi
is his plea for Hakimiyyat Allah, in other words, the
supremacy of Godin contrast to democracy. But democracy,
a dreadful system, according to al-Maududi, is incompatible
with Islam. That people should govern themselves instead of
God and his representatives is a heretical idea. Democracy is
therefore a symptom of kufr (lack of faith), writes al-Maududi
in his best seller al-islam wa al-madaniyya al-haditha
(Islam and Modern Civilization).
The same trains of thought are presented by Yusuf al-Qaradawi,
a sheik from Egypt, who is considered to be Islams foremost
contemporary ideologue. In three comprehensive volumes, Hatmiyyat
al-hallal-Islami, al-Quaradawi presents an Islamic
solution in contrast to imported solutions.
In addition to abolishing democracy, he also contends that the
rise of nation-states has contributed to the decline of Islam.
Instead, a return should be made to the Islamic community, the
Since they seldom find support for their ideology in the Quran,
the Islamists have created new interpretations of well-known
and accepted terms. Besides new interpretations of jihad,
or holy war, Tibi points to the term imam, which
in addition to its usual meaning of a priest for a mosque congregation,
also refers to a spiritual and worldly leader with the task
of holding the worlds Muslims together.
The Islamists, explains Tibi, have now expanded the term imam.
For them an imam is a leader who has gone underground, such
as Bin Laden. By calling him imam, the fundamentalists
implicitly grant him the highest status within the Islamic public.
A common theme for Islamists is their desire to close off their
world from the Western world. This is behind the demand of Bin
Laden and other prominent figures to exclude non-Muslims from
the Muslim world. The same self-chosen ghettoization can be
found among Islamists in the Muslim-European diaspora, a deeply
disturbing trend, observes Tibi.
Under the cover of religious congregations, the Islamists are
invisible to the outside world. In this way active Islamists
are abusing the right to asylum and religious freedom in Europe
for their own interests. The logistical center of militant fundamentalists
is not in the Middle East or Central Asia, but in Western Europe,
For example, German security police were able to stop an Islamist
terrorist group in Frankfurt on the Main from blowing up a Christmas
market in Strasbourg in December 2000. In 1998, another group
led by Metin Kaplan, the Caliph from Cologne, planned
a terrorist attack in Ankara during the 75th anniversary of
the Turkish republic. If Turkish security police had not suspected
mischief, the Caliphwho met with Bin Laden in Afghanistan
in 1997could have turned the celebrations into a bloodbath.
Kaplan is currently sitting in prison, but the group, with approximately
8,000 members, is still active.
Even larger than the Kaplan group is Milli Görrüs,
with 30,000 members. Tibi estimates the number of fundamentalists
at roughly 100,000 in Germany alone, in a Muslim population
of 3.5 million.
But how many of these people are terrorists, so-called sleepers,
no one knows. They hide themselves in the above-named organizations,
in certain mosque congregations, and in charitable organizations.
Despite the fact that the German Office of Constitutional Protection
warned of these activities for many years, politicians are only
now reacting. After Germany, Tibi claims that Sweden, Holland,
and Belgium have the most sleepers in Europe.
How widespread is Islamic militancy? According to Tibi, a distinction
must be made between worldview fundamentalists,
who may embrace the hope for Islams future supremacy,
while rejecting terrorand militant activists or terrorists.
In Pakistan for example, Tibi estimates the number of fundamentalists
at half the population, but the percentage of those ready to
resort to violence is roughly 3-5 percent.
Tibi himself commutes between West and East as a sort of messenger
of peace and is among a handful of prominent Muslim intellectuals
who are demanding the separation of religion and politics. He
views the events in September as a considerable setback. Today,
I must admit that the fundamentalists warup until
now a war of valueshas taken on a military dimension that
has manifested itself in the jihad-soldiers terrorism.