It’s possible that Al Qaeda has its roots in, of all places, the University of Northern Colorado.
Wait, wait, before you have me committed to an asylum, let me explain.
While doing research recently for the editorial of the newspaper I work for, I stumbled across a link between the establishment of al Qaeda during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and my alma mater. It is a tenuous one, to be sure, but it changed my thinking just a bit on the whole “why they did it” question.
As you probably know, al Qaeda was formed around the leadership of Osama bin Laden. According to an article by Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker in 2008, al Qaeda was formed during an August 11, 1988, meeting between “several senior leaders” of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abdullah Azzam, and bin Laden, where it was agreed to join bin Laden’s money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and take up the jihadist cause elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.
Egyptian Islamic Jihad and bin Laden’s own twisted version of Islam were heavily influenced by the writings of Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged by the Egyptian government in 1966 for allegedly plotting to assassinate Egyptian dictator Gemal Abdul Nasser. Qutb had a passion for teaching and education and, in pursuit of a better grasp of educational administration, visited the United States in the late 1940s. His studies took him to, among other places, Colorado State College for Education in Greeley which is now the University of Northern Colorado and my beloved alma mater (go Bears!) He also took some time to visit major cities in the U.S. and Europe.
What Qutb found here disgusted him, and when he returned home to Egypt he wrote at length about Americans’ obsession with material wealth, sex, pleasure, and individual liberty.
He was offended by jazz, writing: “This is that music that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations, as well as their desire to be noisy on the one hand and to excite bestial tendencies on the other.” For a man who felt oppressed because of his religious fervor, Qutb obviously had little tolerance for the musical exhortations of others who’d experienced a far more evil oppression. He also hated American art which, at that time would have focused on abstract impressionism and an emerging cadre of women artists. He was especially disgusted with our secularism – the very secularism, by the way, that is the foundation of our American style of freedom.
The importance of this point cannot be overstated. Sayyid Qutb came to hate America and Europe because of what we are, and because of the principles on which our societies are founded and the cultures we have created. My wife recently asked, “Why do they attack the French so much?” The answer is pretty simple: It’s because of the militant secularism of the French way of life.
It explains even more clearly the ISIS-inspired attack on the Christmas party in San Bernadino last December. What better represents American-style consumerism than “the holidays?”
Scholars of al Qaeda say that the organization wouldn’t have existed if not for the writings of Sayyid Qutb after his return from the U.S. Al Qaeda and ISIS today are waging a war against us because we are what Qutb hated.
All of this has led me to re-think something that was said during the George W. Bush administration. Remember the whole, “they hate us because of our freedoms” thing? Yeah, I laughed at it, too.
Well … maybe I shouldn’t have laughed. Maybe I should have done what my grad school professors tried to teach me to do – dig deeper.
So the next time somebody tries to tell you that the World Trade Center bombings, the 9/11 attacks, and ISIS are all our fault, tell them to Google Sayyid Qutb and Greeley, and then come back and talk about it.
It turns out, despite the exhortations of my fellow liberals, that al Qaeda and Islamic State and all of their iterations do not hate us because of some long-ago politically expedient divvying up of the Middle East. Yes, the formation of Israel was ham-fisted and crude in its displacement of the Palestinians. But that’s not why they hate us.
They hate us because of jazz.
Oh, yeah, and that freedom thing.