Update: "If you could splice a couple of relevant cat photos into the text, it would enhance your message," writes our imail correspondent after working her way through this post. Her wish is our command. Above, Tiny stares out the window this morning, with intermittent "chattering," at an adorable bluejay couple who seem to be nesting in the area.
"In the university town in which I work and live, there are bar and pub hangouts that are little meccas for the mid-east Muslim students. I think we can really win this war simply by mass exposure to decadence," quips reader Brad in comments to our previous post. We savored the image till we thought of the American experience of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian that Osama's right-hand man Ayman Zawahiri called "the most prominent theoretician of the fundamentalist movements." We blogged about the old boy's America problem in "The woman made me do it, Lord" a couple of years back.
His hatred of all things Western apparently crystalized during six months at Colorado State Teachers College in the conservative ranching town of Greeley during 1949. An excerpt from his book, The America I Have Seen -- quoted by NPR's Robert Siegel in the excellent "Sayyid Qutb's America," produced in 2003 -- suggests Qutb's projection of his own unwelcome sexual feelings onto the All-American Greeley co-eds:
The American girl is well acquainted with her body's seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs -- and she shows all this and does not hide it.
Update II: Paw meets egg in the aftermath of Easter Sunday.
It wasn't just gynophobia, of course. "He felt a deep sense of anger and humiliation over the fact that Egyptians and other Muslims were unable to forge their own identity free of Western controls," says historian John Calvert in the NPR piece, noting that Qutb's discourse on the West "sort of mimics the Orientalist discourse on the Middle East." A mutual disadmiration society of willful misunderstanding and disinformation. More from Calvert in a Worldpress interview last year:
It’s impossible that Qutb had nothing but bad experiences in the nearly two years that he spent in the United States. I think his letters to colleagues were foils directed against the Western culture seeping into Egypt; he was already an Islamist before going to the United States.
I think he was a little bit afraid of women. He projected a lot of stuff on to women. He regarded women as a potential source of fitna, or social discord . . . Qutb was very afraid of the effects of sexuality as something that would compromise his identity as a God-fearing Muslim.
If you look at his book Thorns, at the episodes he says that he experienced in the United States, women are always there in the background as temptresses. I don’t think that this pathology is common to Islamic culture, but I think Qutb certainly had a troubled relationship with women.
Not common to Islamic culture? That's debatable. [Check out our Bahrainian blogfriend Mahmood's witty take on "Those unmentionable beings: Women."] But the larger point about "Western culture seeping into Egypt," while understandable, resonates with irony in light of the influence of Western thinking on Qutb's own ideas, as referenced by Patrick Poole of Existential Space last year:
One of the fascinating themes I've been studying this week is how Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian thinker that synthesized many of these Western themes and made them accessible to the Islamic world (his brother was one of bin Laden's mentors and university professors), pinched the cultural idea of the West as "barbarism" from a French Social Darwinist, Alexis Carrel, to create his seminal idea of the non-Islamic world as "jahiliyyah" (paganism).
Update III: Tiny goes for the jugular of one of the colored eggs from the Easter centerpiece. Notice how shattered the shell is after several episodes of being batted off the table down onto the floor.
As Robert Irwin, Middle East editor of the [London] Times Literary Supplement wrote in November of 2001, this is the idea that legitimized "violent Muslim resistance to regimes that claim to be Muslim," the idea that keeps Saudi princes up at night.
One more thought that came to mind. The totalitarian impulse runs deep and dark in our species. The dustbin of history is filled with fiery-eyed idealists who saw the one true way and, rationalizing that ends justify the means, took it upon themselves to give thumbs up or down to mere mortals like ourselves. Robespierre was "the prototype of a particularly odious kind of evildoer: the ideologue who believes that reason and morality are on the side of his butcheries," according to a most persuasive essay by John Kekes [via Milt's File] in the spring issue of City Journal, the Father of All Modern/Postmodern totalitarians. Then there are the latest [via Arnold Cling at TCS Daily via Dr. Joy Bliss of Maggie's Farm], watered-down reiterations of "we know what's best for you poor fools" [no, not Hillary this time], economists Daniel Kahneman and Alan Krueger, who posit that "those interested in maximizing society's welfare should shift their attention from an emphasis on increasing consumption opportunities to an emphasis on increasing social contacts":
Alan Krueger and Daniel Kahneman hail the progress that has been made in measuring subjective well-being, or happiness. They say that researchers in this field, which is on the boundary between economics and psychology, have developed reliable methods to measure how well a person is feeling. This in turn enables them to make reliable assessments of how happiness is affected by income (both in absolute terms and relative to that of others), marital status, and how people allocate time among various activities, from socializing (good) to commuting alone (bad).
When will the dregs of Rousseau's Utopianists finally realize that -- as the French say -- tout est relative, and it's all about "The importance of being noticed" by your chosen peers? Not to mention Adam Smith's "invisible hand." As we've blogged a zillion times, there is no honor -- and no really feeling good -- in being handed something you didn't earn.
Update: For mysterious workings of the invisible paw, check out the Friday Ark at Modulator, not to mention the 108th Carnival of the Cats, "Let My People Meow Edition" at Begin Each Day as if It Were on Purpose.