Is Egypt the source of jihadism?

One writer in a forum about the excellent webcomic Doc Rat asked “Is Egypt the source of jihadism, though? I was under the impression that the Wa’habi sect in Saudi was the main cause…”

I think he’s sort of right both ways. Egypt is the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the “double-nucleus” pieces that form the core of jihadism in the past century. Al Qaida is a Muslim Brotherhood franchise, and is currently run by a Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian. But the Brotherhood itself is a splinter from the Salafi brotherhood in Saudi Arabia, and huge amounts of Wahhabi money have been used to leverage the spread of Brotherhood ideas for decades.

A bit of history

The Arabian rulership is divided among the more secular Saud ruling family and the religious Wahhabi rulers of faith issues (which is almost everything, in their view). This produces odd conflicts, sometimes in the same individual. (More on that in a moment.)

The Sauds contribute money to the Wahhabi pet projects — in the tens of billions of dollars — and it happens that the spread of the radical Muslim Brotherhood is their favorite pet project. Both MB and Wahhab clerics adhere to the same Salafist radical interpretation of Qur’an, al Hadith and Sunnah, so the Sauds pay to have literally tons of the stuff printed and distributed.

The Flashpoint?

Perhaps the modern flashpoint of jihadism arose from two individuals: the rise to prominence of Hassan al Banna in Egypt in the early 20th century (who founded the MB from factions leaving Arabia), and then a very intellectual convert Sayyid Qutb traveling to the US in 1948 and coming back to write about it, deciding ultimately that the US (and the West in general) must be destroyed and the Caliphate re-established. Qutb was hugely influential — and in fact that man’s brother became Usama bin Ladin’s instructor and mentor at a Saudi university. Qutb himself is perhaps the most popular writer in Islam after Muhammad himself. And he is called “the most influential Muslim author of the 20th century” — a little disturbing when you think of him as being the source of the jihadist movement. Especially so when you consider who the runners-up are (excluding royalty): al Banna, Imam Hussain the Nazi of Jerusalem, Yusuf al Quradawi … jihadists all. There are, of course, non-jihadist Muslims, but most of them have learned to keep quiet to avoid being killed. (Many moderate clerics have been killed in the last couple of decades.)

Other Famous Muslims

Just looking around after writing the above, I see that these famous jihadists have Facebook pages now. Here’s some details on Qutb’s history, though his brother’s role teaching Usama bin Ladin is not mentioned:

Oho! One of the Saudis, and in fact the preeminent spreader of MB doctrine (and the individual I was thinking of when I wrote the “conflicts” statement above, as he likes, supports, profits from, and despises the West all at the same time) has published this interesting list of the 500 most influential Muslims as of 2009.

Only Twelve Radicals

Note that the current jihadist leaders are all on the list. In fact, many of the top folks are advocators of jihad, and/or of wiping out Israel and the West — but only twelve of the 500 are identified as “radicals.” The rest are simply influential Muslims, and as I know something about some of the individuals involved, I found their write-ups fascinating (if not exactly impartial).

The document itself is a useful resource to learn more about Islam from a philosophical and theological point of view, from the Twelvers to the Seveners to the Fivers (who are not related to this Fiver). Certainly it’s somewhat sanitized, but there are limits because of who he had to keep happy.

Modern Islam *snicker*

For example, the leading schools of thought are Sunni and Salafi/Wahhabism, but modernist Islam gets a mention — only for the Prince to note that everyone from radicals to traditionalists laughs at the idea of a modern Islam compatible with the West. Here’s how he put it on page 17:

Islamic modernism is a reform movement started by politically-minded urbanites with scant knowledge of traditional Islam. These people had witnessed and studied Western technology and socio-political ideas, and realized that the Islamic world was being left behind technologically by the West and had become too weak to stand up to it. They blamed this weakness on what they saw as ‘traditional Islam,’ which they thought held them back and was not ‘progressive’ enough. They thus called for a complete overhaul of Islam, including—or rather in particular—Islamic law (sharia) and doctrine (aqida). Islamic modernism remains popularly an object of derision and ridicule, and is scorned by traditional Muslims and fundamentalists alike.

It doesn’t hold out much hope, does it? Especially in a document that uncritically accepts the legitimacy of Salafism on the same page.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle