The Egyptian Islamist theoretician Sayyid Qutb believed the West — in particular the United States — posed an existential threat to Islam. He feared that globalization, spearheaded by the American colossus, might eventually destroy Islam by tempting pious Muslims with freewheeling capitalism, the separation of religion from government and the unleashing of decadent “animalistic desires.” Qutb, in word and in deed, took up the sword against Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular government. Nasser hanged him in 1966, but Qutb’s ideas transformed the world by inspiring Osama bin Laden’s Qaeda theology.
Vali Nasr, in his outstanding new book Forces of Fortune, shows that Qutb was at least half wrong. Globalization, free trade and market economics aren’t a threat to Islam per se. What they are a threat to is the totalitarian vision of Islam that Qutb’s followers hope to impose.