One of the many contradictions of Islamic State, as exposed in Robert Manne’s latest work, is that a mob seemingly dedicated to deeds rather than words is in fact logocratic. For all of their murderous antipathy towards the People of the Book, Islamic State has relied not on speeches or policy platforms, but on a succession of books.
While some trace the genealogy of Islamic State to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (from whom, Wahhabism) or the 1928 formation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and others insist it must be measured as commencing with the Qur’an in the seventh century, Manne argues for a more recent foundation: the writings of Sayyid Qutb. The quixotic Egyptian claimed that the world had fallen into jahiliyya (spiritual darkness). His remedy was violent struggle, which he commended as ‘an act of highest compassion’. A similar black-is-white contortion was Qutb’s decree that armed force was required to give people the freedom to choose Islam.