This culture of death which extinguishes the instinct that normally unites all human beings – the survival instinct – is something beyond imagination. It is something George Orwell was not able to write about. The shocking malice of such messages leads people who wish to keep a firm hold on normal patterns of reason to suppress them or block them out. “We instinctively look away, as we do whenever we are confronted with monstrous deformity,” writes David Gelernter. “Nothing is harder or more frightening to look at than a fellow human who is bent out of shape.” But while this may to some extent excuse the attitude of the ordinary citizen, it cannot justify the way the media, the academia and the politicians have been behaving. Our task is to do the opposite. We must not look away, but instead look inside the fantasy world of the perpetrators and seek to grasp the immanent logic behind their actions. If one wants to combat and repel the Islamist ideology, one must first take it seriously as a specific outlook with its own principles and history.
And indeed, contemporary Islamism can only be explained in the context of its 80-year old history.
This is shown by the example of Shehzad Tenweer. With his “We love death the way you love life” he was placing himself in the direct tradition of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. Ten years later, in 1938, Hassan al-Banna published his concept of jihad in an article entitled “The Industry of Death” which was to become famous. Here, the term “Industry of Death” denotes not something horrible but an ideal. Al-Banna wrote: “Only to a nation that perfects the industry of death and which knows how to die nobly, God gives proud life in this world and eternal grace in the life to come.” This slogan was enthusiastically taken up by the “Troops of God,” as the Muslim Brothers called themselves. As their battalions marched down Cairo’s boulevards in semi-fascist formation they would burst into song: “We are not afraid of death, we desire it. . . . Let us die to redeem the Muslims!”
The approach I intend to take today is a historical one. My talk centres on three excursions into history. The first takes us in greater detail back to the roots of Islamism in the Muslim Brotherhood.