Thomas Jefferson writing his Notes on Virginia in 1782 inscribed “The way to silence religious disputes is to take no notice of them.” Pierce Word noticed those words in 2013 and included them in his recently published book of presidential quotations Wisdom from the Oval Office. Those words, however, would have fallen on deaf ears in 1912 when the Al Ikhwan, religious zealots of the Al- Qaeda perspective, were terrorizing other Muslims who were not comporting themselves to their liking in what is now Saudi Arabia. Running roughshod over people whose garments did not suit them nor whose practices of Islam were not sufficiently rigid, they took the sword to those who did not comply with their insistence. A revival of the Wahabi belief of purification was the driving force of al Ikhwan and their sartorial appearance was a proclamation of belief. Robes were cut to avoid touching the ground, a white round muslin halo-like hat, such as worn by Osama Bin Laden,was the common head ware and free growing racial hair from the chin was the only adornment. For a period of time they brought terror to the Arabian countryside. And only the principle of power reversed their momentum when the ascendant King of Saudi Arabia took action against them.
But ideas do not die with a man. They have a life of their own and can be carried by many men. One man of that time with ideas, who taught them to eager, trusting, young minds was Sayyid Qutb. He taught that the nation- state and secular law were obscenities in the eyes of Allah and attempts to oppose such ideas must be done even with the risk of life. One of his students was Osama Bin Ladin.
Robert Lacey in his fascinating book The Kingdom published in 1981 by Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich should be recommended reading for every member of the State Department and the White House. It brings insight into an area of vital concern to the people of the West who wish to better understand the people who live in the critical area of the middle-east.
That concern caught those in the West by surprise but some saw it coming. James Heaphey, a retired professor of International Relations and a one-time member of the U.S. Air Force’s Security Service brought insight in his memoir Legerdemain, When he was a security service officer, he met in 1960 with Anwar Sadat who was then Egypt’s Minister of Information. Sadat forewarned Heaphey of that which was coming. In his description of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt he questioned Heaphey on his understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood. He then went on to answer the question:
Sadat’s question “Do you know what an Islamist is? Why the Muslim Brotherhood is a deadly threat to everything you believe.”
“The Brotherhood’s goal,” Heaphey said, ”is to keep Egypt and other Islamic countries from becoming Western-style nation states.”
“Yes, you are quite correct.” Sadat said. “Their credo is that God is their leader, struggle is their way, and death for the sake of God is the highest of their aspirations. That’s dangerous thinking for Egypt, for all Muslim countries and for America and the rest of the non-Muslim world.”
Sadat became President of Egypt in 1970, received the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1981 by Muslim fundamentalists. He knew of what he spoke.
It is thought in some quarters in America that Sadat’s statement should be inscribed on every office wall in the State Department. It is also thought in those quarters that Lacey’s book The Kingdom and Heaphey’s Legerdemain should be on the nightstand of every person working in the State Department and read each night before turning out the lights.
On that Thomas Jefferson might well agree…and perhaps rethink his position of religious difference.