Blues for Sayyid Qutb

The defense of the free world against jihad and Islamic supremacism is a war for joy, a war for happiness, against regimentation that stomps on the human spirit -- just as unmistakably as was the war against National Socialist Germany. That makes it also a war for music.

Take it from none other than the Ayatollah Khomeini, who once declared:

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.

This kind of attitude, not unexpectedly, leads Islamic supremacists to take a dim view of music, and particularly joyful music. The renowned Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb shared the disdain for jazz that was brutally manifested by the Nazis with whom so many Islamic supremacists collaborated. That disdain was wonderfully satirized in the Schickelgruber Lambeth Walk, a wartime-era film short (made during the days when one could still mock the enemy) that provoked in Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels a towering rage. The devil, as Thomas More noted, cannot endure to be mocked.

Qutb spent two years in the U.S. (1948-1950), and he did not like what he saw – or what he heard:

The American is primitive in his artistic taste, both in what he enjoys as art and in his own artistic works. "Jazz" music is his music of choice. 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. The American’s intoxication in "jazz" music does not reach its full completion until the music is accompanied by singing that is just as coarse and obnoxious as the music itself. Meanwhile, the noise of the instruments and the voices mounts, and it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree. ... The agitation of the multitude increases, and the voices of approval mount, and their palms ring out in vehement, continuous applause that all but deafens the ears.”

Qutb’s racist critique sounds as if it were written by a delicate aesthete who preferred string quartets to ones featuring tenor saxophones, but the Muslim Brotherhood thinker was nothing if not consistent and, given Islam’s rejection of music, would have disdained John Dowland and Bach and Mozart as much as he did jazz.

Yet his critique betrays more than a hint of sour grapes. Qutb’s account of his sojourn in America many times gives a hint of frustrated longing, as when he writes contemptuously about American women in terms that indicate he has observed them very, very closely:

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.

I expect that while he was in America this dedicated Muslim Brotherhood ideologue more often than not had the blues. He was indefatigably committed to a system of life devoid of joy, devoid of humor, devoid of music. He is a vivid example of the fact that exposure to Western pop culture will not turn jihadists and Islamic supremacists from their ways, as many have naively asserted to me over the years: “As soon as they see Beyonce (or Britney, or Madonna, or whoever) singing, they’ll unstrap their suicide vests.” No such luck. Nonetheless, it is likely that Qutb hated and feared jazz music so much because he knew that its joyful exuberance hinted at a life beyond the one of grim determination that Islamic supremacists were propagating.

Jazz is the sound of people enjoying existence, showing the hollowness (and worse) of the ideology that leads Islamic supremacists to repeat that they proudly love death. A Muslim child preacher recently taunted those he has been taught to hate most: “Oh Zionists, we love death for the sake of Allah, just as much as you love life for the sake of Satan.” Jihad mass murderer Mohamed Merah said that he “loved death more than they loved life.” Nigerian jihadist Abubakar Shekau said: “I’m even longing for death, you vagabond.” Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wife advised Muslim women: “I advise you to raise your children in the cult of jihad and martyrdom and to instil in them a love for religion and death.” And as one jihadist put it, “We love death. You love your life!” And Afghan jihadist Maulana Inyadullah: “The Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death.” Of course, this idea comes from the Qur’an itself: “Say (O Muhammad): O ye who are Jews! If ye claim that ye are favoured of Allah apart from (all) mankind, then long for death if ye are truthful” (Qur’an 62:6).

Some jazz blues may have helped Sayyid Qutb get over his case of the blues. Here, in any case, are five choice selections of Qutb’s despised “Negro jazz,” with emphasis on the blues, celebrating the life and joy that he and all Islamic supremacists so hate – Blues for Sayyid Qutb:

1. Louis Armstrong, “Potato Head Blues”

There is no joy in Islam, Khomeini said. Here, then, is the distilled essence of what is not in Islam.

2. Billie Holiday, “Lady Sings the Blues”

Music “accompanied by singing that is just as coarse and obnoxious as the music itself”? You be the judge.

3. Thelonious Monk, “Blue Monk”

In Monk’s advice to his ardent musical admirer, the premier soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, he wrote: “Lift the bandstand.” Here it is lifted. He also wrote to Lacy, who was white: “They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.” And here indeed is music of a great, loving heart.

4. John Coltrane, “Bessie’s Blues”

How could anyone long for death when there is this in the world?

5. Charles Mingus, “So Long, Eric”

A twelve-bar blues with all the toppings (including anchovies), “So Long, Eric” was Mingus’s farewell tribute to alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, who was leaving his band to stay in Europe (where he died tragically just months later). This piece is a wild exercise in time- and genre-shifting, all based on the blues and Mingus’s mad, extravagant, extraordinary vision.

If he had given it a chance, it would have lifted even Sayyid Qutb’s heart.


Image courtesy shutterstock / O Driscoll Imaging