by Hakim Bey
June 5, 2004
In the mid-'90s I was invited to a big philosophy conference in
Libya. I wrote a little paper on the influence of "Neo-Sufism" on
Col. Qaddafi and his Green Book. I wondered if the Libyans would
even allow me to read it. After all, Q came to power in 1969 by
overthrowing a king who was also a Sufi master. Perhaps he had
repudiated the influence of Sufism on his own life and thought?
Turned out the Libyans loved the paper and told me I was correct: in a
sense the Libyan Revolution had been directed against corrupt Sufism on
behalf of reformed Sufism. Unfortunately, Q himself never showed up at
the conference to confirm or deny this, but I'm sure they were right.
Neo-Sufism arose in the 19th century in response to the corrupt
authoritarian Sufism of colonial times and partly in response to
colonialism itself. Anti-French resistance in Algeria was spearheaded
by the great Emir Abdel Kader, guerilla chief and brilliant Sufi
shaykh in the school of Ibn Arabi.
Neo-Sufis broke with the medieval concept of the all-powerful
"master." Instead, they sought initiation in dreams and visions. In
North Africa, the Sanussi Order and the Tijani Order, amongst others,
were founded by seekers who'd been empowered in dreams by the Prophet
The Neo-Sufi orders were also conceived and shaped to some extent
as reform movements within Islam, in competition with modernism &
secularism on one hand and Salafist/Wahhabi neo-puritan "Islamism" on
the other. Education & health and economic alternatives to colonialism
were stressed in the Sanussi Order in Libya. And when armed struggle
against Italian rule erupted, Sanussi fuqara (dervishes) led the
After independence, the head of the Order became King Idris I. Young
Moammar Qaddafi, born in a Sanussi village to Sanussi parents,
attended a Sanussi elementary school and high school. In England for
military training in the '60s, the young officer read Colin Wilson's
The Outsider and absorbed some New Left ideas, including "council
communism" and the notion of the Spectacle. (See The Green Book,
esp. the section on sports.)
Libyan Islam is not "fundamentalist," as so many Americans seem
to believe. In fact it's anti-fundamentalist. The Islamists hate Q
as a heretic, innovator & crypto-sufi. The Libyan ulema (religious
authorities) declared the Ahadith (the Prophetic traditions) to be
non-canonical, an extremely "liberal" position. There is still a
Council of Sufi Orders in Libya, and the Sanussi Order still exists
("Just not the royal branch of it," as a Libyan delegate told me).
Elsewhere in the Islamic world, however, Neo-Sufism largely
failed to provide a paradigm for contemporary spirituality or
politics. "Westernization" and its reactionary double "Islamism"
have swept the field. The old Sufi ideals of tolerance, difference,
cultural depth, the arts of peace--as the Tunisian poet Abdelwahab
Meddeb asserts in The Malady of Islam (Basic Books, 2003)--are despised
by both secular modernists and rabid neo-puritans.
Mebbed also points out that the Islamists by no means adhere to
"anti-materialist values." They adore technology and Capital as
fervently as Westerners--provided it's "Islamic" tech and "Islamic"
money, of course.
The synthesis of mysticism and socialism, envisioned by
anti-Capitalist/anti-Soviet thinkers of the '60s and '70s like Ali
Shariati of Iran, or Col. Q himself, appears to be a lost cause--along
with "third world socialism" in general, and "third world neutralism"
as well. The very terms indicate their historical emptiness: how
can there be a third world when the "second world" has imploded
The conference in Tripoli turned out to be a curious circus of "lost
causes," including two anarchists from New York (we were cheered as
heroes for defying the "travel ban"), countless African liberation
fronts, the interesting French "New Right" philospher Alain de
Benoist and some Australian Red/Brown types, two charming Turkish
Greens, a Slovenian anarchist, a clique of Parisian Maoists, etc.,
and a phalanx of hospitable Libyans, all fuelled by excessive coffee
intake. A German doctor gave a paper on depleted uranium in Iraq,
the first time most of us had heard of such a thing. A New Zealand
delegate told horror stories about privatization of water; ditto.
At one point I overheard one of the Parisian Maoists say that the real
objectively-existsing enemy of humanity was not neo-liberal/Global
Capital, but the USA. At the time I considered this view misguided,
in part because of my enthusiasm for Zapatismo, in part because the
Maoist line sounded so old-fashioned. At that time neo-liberalism was
on the ascendent and a nuanced global response seemed more vital than
any Vietnam-era anti-Americanism.
In a collection of essays, Millennium (Autonomedia, 1996), I
speculated on the need for new ways to express anti-Capitalist
strategies in a post-Spectacular situation. If Zapatismo could
draw on Mayan spirituality as well as anarchist influences, perhaps
something similar could happen with Sufism. Islam contains a potential
for socialism in its strictures against usury and its communitarian
idealism (according to Ali Shariati, for example). "Lawless" (bishahr)
Sufism and some types of Islamic heresy have anarchistic aspects. At
the time, I thought Islamism was on the wane.
Sufism itself is sometimes defined as the "greater jihad," while holy
war is called the "lesser jihad." The struggle to "become who you are"
takes precedence over even the most righteous cause. But esotericism
is not always quietistic in Islam. Sufis have launched revolutions,
including 19th and early 20th century anti-colonialist/imperialist
struggles. Perhaps, I fantasized, it's now time for a kind of Islamic
Zapatismo to emerge. I actually proposed this in a preface for the
recent Turkish translation of my now-quite-elderly book, TAZ: The
Temporary Autonomous Zone (Autonomedia, 1985).
Since 1996, two changes seem to have occured within the so-called
End of History. First appeared neo-conservative neo-liberalism,
a.k.a. the USA as sole superpower and hegemon of Global Capital's
final triumph--a.k.a. the Empire.
Second, it turned out that puritanical Islamism was given new
life during the Soviet gotterdamerung in Afghanistan. American
Intelligence discovered a magic lamp and rubbed it--once, twice,
thrice--and then the genie escaped and became the Old Man of the
Mountains. The US then invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and committed
itself to the Israeli Right. Islamism somehow became the new Evil
Empire of Pure Terror. It also became anti-Americanism.
A few people have misguidedly complimented me on "predicting" this New
Jihad. Anyone who ever wrote a word on Islamism before 9/11/01 is now
burdened with this dreary mantle. In fact the jihad I "predicted" (or
rather imagined) has not come to pass. By now it's probably too late.
>>From the US Empire's p.o.v., Islamism makes the perfect enemy
because it's not really anti-Capitalist or anti-technocratic. It can
be subsumed into the one great image of Capital as Law of Nature,
and also simultaneously used as a bogeyman to discipline the masses
at home with fear-of-terror, and to explain away the miseries of
neo-liberal readjustment. In this sense Islamism is a false ideology or
"Simulation" as Baudrillard put it.
America makes a perfect enemy for the Islamists because Americanism
isn't a real ideology either. Brute force, McDisney-kultur, an
Orwellian "Free Market" and a frothy "post-industrial" economy
based on out-sourcing the entire misery of production to the former
third world--all of this fails to achieve even the tarnished and
untrustworthy status of "ideology''--it's all simulation. "Money
talks," as the popular wisdom has it. Money is the only master of
speech here and money speaks only to itself. "Democracy" is now
a codeword for coca-colonization by cluster-bomb--"Islam" for the
emotional plague. It's the wrong jihad.
At present (May '04), the Empire seems to be choking on an overdose
of its own image addiction, stupid lies, suffocating mass media,
politics as snuff porn. Staying in Iraq or "pulling out" of Iraq:
both seem equally impossible to imagine--the Vietnam Syndrome,
complete with atrocity photos.
If the current US regime is changed, presumably the best we can expect
is a return to the neo-liberal Globalism of the '90s. But this may
prove impossible and it's not clear that the Democrats intend any
such retreat. How do you step down gracefully from imperialism?
That Parisian Maoist: was he correct after all? The USA seems to
have positioned itself quite deliberately by alienating Europe and
horrifying the Islamic world. It has rushed to embrace the role of
enemy-of-humanity and thrown away the last of its diminished popularity
as defender of freedom.
But Islamism will never provide the dialectic negation of this Empire
because Islamism itself is nothing but an empire of negation, of
resentment and reaction. Islamism has nothing to offer the struggle
against Globalism except dessicated theofascist spasms of violence.
Americanism & Islamism: a plague on both their houses. As for true
jihad, there's more going on in South America and Mexico now than
anywhere else. Maybe while President Tweedledee and the Imam ibn
Tweedledum bite each other's throats out on CNN, something interesting
might have a chance to emerge from the barrios of Argentina or
Venezuela, or the jungles of Chiapas.
Hakim Bey is an anarcho-Sufi mystic and political theorist. His writings are on-line at:
Emir Abdel Kader: http://www.fact-index.com/a/ab/abdel_kadir.html
Ibn Arabi: http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/IbnArabi.html
Sanussi Order: http://www.4dw.net/royalark/Libya/libya.htm
Tijani Order: http://www.nuradeen.com/Reflections/ElementsOfSufism3.htm
Salafist/Wahhabi movement: http://www.thewahhabimyth.com/
Sanussi armed struggle against Italian rule: http://reference.allrefer.com/country-guide-study/libya/libya26.html
Muammar Qaddafi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moammar_Al_Qadhafi
Colin Wilson: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jbmorgan/cwintro.html
The Outsider: http://users.lycaeum.org/~maverick/cwil-int.htm
Council commuism: http://www.informationgenius.com/encyclopedia/c/co/council_communism.html
The Spectacle: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/
The Green Book: http://www.qadhafi.org/the_green_book.html
Abdelwahab Meddeb: http://www.limag.refer.org/Volumes/Meddeb.htm
The Malady of Islam: http://www.semcoop.com/detail/0465044352
Ali Shariati: http://www.shariati.com/index2.html
Alain de Benoist: http://www.alphalink.com.au/~radnat/debenoist/
Greater jihad: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/features/jihad/jihad2.shtml
Lesser jihad: http://www.islam.org.au/articles/26/jihad.htm
TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone: http://www.hermetic.com/bey/taz_cont.html
The Old Man of the Mountains: http://www.phinnweb.com/neuro/assassins.html
The emotional plague: http://www.goodvibes.com/cgi-bin/sgdynamo.exe?HTNAME=magazine/features/sex_and_c ulture/2001072.html