John Gray

The Pathology of Faith

The Islamist


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 288pp £8.99 order from our bookshop

Ed Husain begins one of the chapters of The Islamist with a quotation from Syed Qutb, the chief intellectual founder of Islamism, outlining the purpose of Qutb’s most influential book: ‘I have written Milestones for this vanguard of Islamists which I consider to be a waiting reality about to be realised.’ Qutb’s use of the concept of the vanguard reveals one of the paradoxes of political Islam: a movement that is avowedly anti-secular, anti-modern and anti-Western, it has been profoundly shaped by modern Western secular ideologies. The idea of a revolutionary elite dedicated to leading the deluded masses to a perfect society is a borrowing from Lenin and the Jacobins rather than anything derived from Islamic theology, and – though the fact is rarely noted – the type of terrorism with which Islamist movements are most often identified originates not in the twelfth-century Assassins but with a present-day Leninist party. Suicide bombing is a technique that was pioneered and developed by the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist organisation that until the Iraq war had committed more such attacks than any other single group. For all its talk of reviving a mediaeval caliphate, Islamism owes large debts to the European revolutionary tradition, and despite its tabloid description as Islamo-fascism radical Islam is better described as Islamo-Leninism.

Nearly all media commentary accepts Islamism at face value and endorses its self-image as the mortal enemy of the modern West. In contrast, Ed Husain, who has the penetrating insight of a former insider, is clear that this is the opposite of the truth.

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