Paths to radicalization Part 1.

I will lay out the paths of two different journeys on the road to radicalization. Vera Finger, in addition to Sayyid Qutb, are the two paths I will explore.

What motivates an individual to feel that society needs to be radically changed?  Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and political Violence (ICSR) says that “Radicalization is born of a multiplicity of factors that are inextricably intertwined.”  Just as identity is one of the central issues on the path radicalization, similarly grievance, as well as, individual issues of belonging, can lead to being radicalized.  At the same time, righteous indignation, persecution and a refusal to conform can lead one down the road to radicalization.


Vera Finger grew up the daughter of a wealthy forester and part of the Russian nobility. The primary child rearing duties in the Finger household fell to the nanny, Natalie Makarevna.  Natallie would read fairy tales and folklore to the young Vera Finger, in which she gained insight into elements of Russian peasant culture. Here Vera gained a psychological affection and appreciation of Russian peasantry.

“On a late winter morning in 1861, Russian Orthodox priests read an official proclamation from the imperial capital Saint Petersburg, that Tsar Alexander II stated that all Russian serfs were emancipated from their noble overlords.”  (Hartnett, Lynn Anne (2014).  The Defiant life of Vera Finger, p.1.  Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana University Press).  When the Emancipation manifesto was read Vera was only eight years old, hardly old enough to understand the historical significance of such an event.  As Vera grew older she would discover the world beyond her family’s estate.  As Vera would come to learn, with “mounting disgust” that emancipation would do little to rectify the seemingly endless impoverishment and powerlessness of the Russian peasantry.  Vera would become disillusioned with the regime of Tsar Alexander the second and the institutions that would bring her and her family material and social advantages.  Along with these advantages would come a measure of guilt for her family’s complicity in the corrupt and illegitimate political and social system.  This would “ultimately lead Vera down a long, winding road from the privileges of her station to the radical underground and the mortal challenges posed by a vengeful tsarist prison system.”  (Hartnett, Lynn Ann (2014) The Defiant Life of Vera Figner, p. 4. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press).

Unlike Vera, Sayyid Qutb was born in the small village of Musha in Asyut province in the shadows of Asyut city, 250 miles (375 km’s) south of Cairo, Egypt.  James Toth’s 2013 biography of Sayyid Qutb says that Qutb’s father was “a prominent, but moderate landowner and a member of the (ayyan) or local village elite.”  However, Qutb’s 1946 quasi-autobiographical novel, (Tifl min al-Qarya) A Child from the Village Qutb spoke of a “tense unsteady balance between modern and traditional schooling which seems to have influenced Qutb’s later unease over the triumphs of modernity on the one hand and the defeats of the Islamic challenges to its hegemony on the other.” The Madras won out in the debate between Qutb’s parents “to send their son to a modern recently established government school the (Madrasa) or to the traditional private religious (Kuttab),” according to Qutb’s autobiographical novel A Child from the Village  mentioned above.  While Qutb was at the Madrasa by the age of ten he had memorized the entire Qur’an which help Qutb immensely when he began writing on religious subjects.  A short time after Qutb started lessons at the Kuttab he rejected the Kuttab because of squalid conditions and chose modernity (the Madrasa) over (the Kuttab).  Qutb chose al-Azhar (a modern university) over Dar al-Ulum (a traditional university).  After graduating Sayyid went to work at the Ministry of Education immediately.  By the end of the 1930’s Qutb found himself questioning his liberal politics and secular principles.  In October of 1938 Qutb wrote a significant poem entitled (Bloody Palestinian) ”
condemning the savagery of the west and to proclaim Egypt’s support for Palestinian’s continuing  armed struggle for Independence.” (Toth James (2013) Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy Of a Radical Islamic Intellectual p.36 Note 2 p.298 Musallam, From Secularism To Jihad p.42).   The year 1939 was a turning point for Qutb.  Qutb, after “conscious and purposeful reflection” started to turn his back on modernity and started to embrace Islamism.  A number of events at this time influenced Qutb’s path down the road to radicalization.  With the world-wide depression ending there were sings of war coming to Europe which would a

ffect the Middle East.  The rebellion in Palestine (1936-1939) along with the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty with all its “disappointment frustration,” as well as, the Montreux convention of 1937 that circumvented Egyptian national aspirations.