Almost 15 years ago, right-wing political commentator Dinesh D’Souza wrote a controversial book suggesting that the cultural left in America had provoked the radical Islamists who executed the 9/11 attacks. Today, similar concerns about the left are provoking a different type of radical—a homegrown one.
I spent this weekend re-reading Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al Qaeda, The Looming Tower, which opens with the origin story of the influential radical Islamist Sayyid Qutb. With one eye on Qutb, and the other on news about white nationalist Nick Fuentes (who dined with Donald Trump last week), it became clear that the two revolutionaries have a lot in common—and not just regarding their obvious shared antisemitism, either.
According to Wright, Qutb believed capitalism “attended only to the material needs of humanity, leaving the spirit unsatisfied.” Meanwhile, he thought Christianity operated only in the spiritual realm. In contrast, Qutb believed that Islam is “‘a complete system’ with laws, social codes, economic rules, and its own method of government.”
Wright sums up Qutb’s theory thusly: “Only Islam offered a formula for creating a just and godly society.”
A new breed of right-wing American Christian (at least by name) might differ with Qutb on that point, even as they embrace his general take on America’s decadence.
Consider how Fuentes celebrated after Afghanistan fell: “The Taliban is a conservative, religious force, the US is godless and liberal. The defeat of the US government in Afghanistan is unequivocally a positive development.”
Why in the world would a white nationalist—who has made Islamaphobic comments in the past—also root for the Taliban? “This shared narrative of victimhood,” Sara Kamali, author of the book Homegrown Hate, told BuzzFeed News, “sanctions the war many White nationalists view themselves as fighting against the US government… to be holy, righteous, and necessary.”
Fuentes, for the uninitiated, is a 24-year-old vlogger, a white supremacist, and a Jan. 6 cheerleader (he thinks Trump should have issued a blanket pardon for the Capitol rioters) who floated the idea of killing legislators who certified Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. He’s also a Hitler fan who is also a Holocaust denier. Even though Fuentes has railed against Muslims, his views are not that dissimilar from those of Qutb.
“What are we really trying to achieve here, 1999? We want to go back to 1099. We want to go back to the Middle Ages.”
— Nick Fuentes
Like Qutb, Fuentes is obsessed with women and sex—specifically, not having sex with women.
Qutb, according to Wright, saw “sex as the main enemy of salvation.” According to Wright’s book, Qutb was radicalized by what he saw during a visit to America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. No, there were no Drag Queen Story Hours to demonstrate America’s moral degradation. Instead, the proliferation of (what he saw as) promiscuous college coeds and dances in church basements were enough to send him off the deep end (like so many “cancel culture” jihadists, he even voiced particular disgust for the holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”).
Meanwhile, according to The Daily Dot, “Even among incels, Fuentes is extreme. He seems to believe that having or desiring sex would destroy him.”
In his videos, Fuentes doesn’t just rail against gay marriage or trans athletes—issues that mainstream conservatives might oppose. Nor does he just go after birth control, contraceptives, and internet pornography. His vision of a good society looks like one where “women don’t have the right to vote,” “women wearing veils at church,” and “women [aren’t] in the workforce.”
Fuentes adds, “It’s not enough to say, ‘We’re against Trannies,’ you’ve got to be against women’s rights, too…or else, what are we really trying to achieve here, 1999? We want to go back to 1099. We want to go back to the Middle Ages.”
Remember all those Republicans who worried that Sharia law was coming to America?
Well, it turns out, they were right! Sort of.
In another video, Fuentes says, “I want this country to have Catholic media, Catholic Hollywood, Catholic government. I want this to be a Catholic-occupied government, not a Jewish-occupied government.”
It would be easy to dismiss the Fuenteses of the world as being delusional young men (it’s always delusional young men), but the same could be said for almost any small extremist movement of insurgents, including that of radical Islamists.
While I don’t want to torture this comparison (the radical Islamists obviously resorted to global terrorism), the point is not to suggest that the two groups—radical Islamists and Fuentes’ Groyper Army—will use similar tactics to achieve their means, but instead to identify the similarities between their goals and motivations.
As a very flawed but committed Christian and ostensible member of “the religious right,” I have previously found comparisons to radical Islamists—the term “Christianist” always struck me as a cheap attack on believers—to be overwrought and offensive.
“Like Qutb, Fuentes is obsessed with women and sex—specifically, not having sex with women.”
To people on the left, Fuentes is the logical endpoint to the Christian right. In my opinion, however, there is a hard dividing line between what drives Christian conservatives (which includes “winning souls,” helping the poor and oppressed, preserving religious liberty, and persuading people to share our values) and what extremists like Fuentes want (in his words, “the Middle Ages”).
On the other hand, prior to 2016, the notion that someone like Fuentes would be a prominent political voice in America, much less someone who dined with the former Republican president, also seemed outlandish.
Donald Trump’s election inspired and mainstreamed many radical and foreign ideas that were not really represented in American political thought. We can only imagine what will happen if he gets another four years in the White House.
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