Sunday, June 03, 2007

Qutb and Marx

A week or so ago, Isaac Schrodinger blogged about this excellent Theodore Dalrymple piece. Whenever I read about the Muslims, I have the same thought as that which Isaac excerpted from Dalrymple's article:
During my reading, I found myself swinging like a pendulum between taking Islam as a threat very seriously indeed, and not taking it seriously at all. The reasons for taking it seriously were that a large proportion of humanity was Muslim, that an aggressive and violent minority had emerged within that population with apparently very widespread, if largely passive, approval, and that the leadership of western countries was very weak and vacillating in the face of this, or any other, challenge. The reasons for not taking Islam seriously were that, in the modern world, it was intellectually nugatory, that the disproportion in power between the rest of the world and the Islamic world appeared to be growing rather than contracting, and that behind all the bluster about the certain possession of the unique, universal and divinely ordained truth for man was an anxiety that the whole edifice of Islam, while strong, was extremely brittle, which explained why free enquiry was so limited in Islamic countries. There was a subliminal awareness - and perhaps not always subliminal - that free philosophical and historical debate could quickly and fatally undermine the hold of Islam on various societies. Fundamentalism was therefore a manifestation of weakness and not of strength.
There are also other excellent observations in the article, including the comparison of Islamism with Marxism and the recognition that theocratic and communist governments are both species of totalitarianism -- and therefore both have to rely on force to be implemented.
Curiously, though, Qutb’s thought has many parallels with Marxism. Where Marx has Historical Inevitability, Qutb has God‘s Law. Marx, you remember, envisages a time when the state will wither away and history will end. In Marx’s vision, political power will have dissolved, and the exploitation of man by man will have ceased, to be replaced by the mere administration of things. (How anybody of minimal intelligence could have believed such a thing beats me.) In Qutb’s vision, all political power will have dissolved, replaced by man’s spontaneous obedience to God’s law. Just as the administration of things in Marx’s utopia will not confer power on the administrators, presumably because everything will be so plentiful that no one will be tempted to appropriate more than the next man, so in Qutb’s utopia no one will have to interpret the law and gain power from doing so. God’s law will be as evident as thing will be abundant in Marx’s classless society.

Marx understood that the classless society could not come about by merely preaching socialism, as if it were merely an ethical demand or theory. Violence would be necessary. Similarly, Qutb denies that the world will become Islamic merely by preaching the word of God. He refers to Mohammed’s Meccan period, when the Prophet did not resort to arms. This, he says, was merely tactical; it would have been impossible in practice to impose his rule by force. But when he went to Medina, he had no hesitation in fighting his enemies, including those who simply did not accept his message.

Just as Marx says that a showdown between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable, leading to the triumph of the former and the subsequent establishment of a classless society, so Qutb thinks that a showdown between believers and infidels is inevitable, leading to the victory of Islam, which will eliminate all religious conflict. Is this Marx or Qutb speaking:
[there] is a natural struggle between two systems which cannot co-exist for long.
It is Qutb; but it could have been taken from the writings of thousands of followers of Marx, if not from Marx himself, including Mao Tse-Tung.
Finally, Dalrymple observes that the political form of each doctrine depends on its more fundamental philosophic views:
The violent imposition of a socialist and Islamic society is justified in the same way in Marx and Qutb: if people were really free, that is to say suffering from neither false consciousness not jahilliyah (ignorance of divine guidance), they would accept the socialist or Islamic state not merely without demur, but joyously, as being for their own good freely chosen. True freedom in both Marx and Qutb is the recognition of necessity. Everything that prevents people from seeing the truth of their messages is an enemy of real, as against merely apparent, freedom.
All in all a very worthwhile read.


Blogger BillT said...

The authoritarian impulse can easily thrive in any system where authority is revered more than reason and authority is derived solely from political power. Mob rule becomes entrenched autocracy as the mob shrinks through violence or exile, until no challengers are left to defy the ruling elite.

Only the methods of control differ from one such system to the next.

11:54 AM  

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