How Bad Gardening Contributes to Terrorism


Gardeners, we have superblogger Andrew Sullivan to thank for digging up some amazing history.  Here he’s quoting Sayyib Qutd, the Egyptian scholar considered by many to be the intellectual father of Al Qaeda.  It’s a description of the gardening practices he observed in the town of Greeley, Colorado, where he lived for 6 months in the late ’40s.

This small city of Greeley, in which I am staying, is
so beautiful that one may easily imagine that he is in paradise. Each
house appears as a flowering plant and the streets are like garden
pathways. As one observes, the owners of these houses spend their
leisure time in toil, watering their private yards and trimming their
gardens. This is all they appear to do.

stayed there six months and never did I see a person or a family
actually enjoying themselves, even on summer nights when breezes waft
over the city as if in a dream. The most important thing for these
people is the tending of their gardens, much in the same way a merchant
spends time organizing his store or a factory owner his factory. There
is nothing behind this activity in the way of beauty or artistic taste.
It is the machinery of organization and arrangement, devoid of
spirituality and aesthetic enjoyment.

Here’s the link.  Or go directly to another interesting link, the Denver magazine story "Al Qaeda’s Greeley Roots."

At this point in my original post I noted that I’ve sometimes felt the same criticism about sterile, turf-centric yards, and am now freaked out by my seeming agreement with such a monster.  Subsequent comments proved that my humor hadn’t been adequately conveyed.  Would an emoticon have helped? To continue…

So while I’m processing this development, let’s breeze on over to Maui and check in with fellow blogger Christopher C, who alerted me to this fascinating story. 

A Note from Christopher C. at Tropical Embellishments:
The same day I am watching people
get all worked up about matching the color of lawn furniture to the flowers I
read that some Egyptian intellectual has gone completely over the edge to help
start radical Islam because of a lack of aesthetics in suburban yards in
Greeley, Colorado in 1948. Holy Crap! Can we stop this horror if we all just
garden with more beauty and taste?

Was it just the bad taste or was it because women might have been gardening right out in their front yards and not caged behind courtyard walls? Was Tony Avent’s Gardening Jihad right on
target? Does this mean it’s up to us gardeners to save the world?


  1. Susan: Can you explain further? How can you agree with someone who sees women as lesser human beings-to the point of not letting them get and education or even drive for that matter…or, are you just referring to the gardening comments? I know that this man would not even look you in the eye, let along, listen to your, or my, opinion. His opinion on gardening ‘devoid of spirituality and aesthetic enjoyment’ comes from his perspective which is colored by his religious and social upbringing and is, after all, just his opinion. I think he misjudged these gardeners!

  2. Hmmm. This guy (Qutd) sounds like an asshole to me. And, after my recent chastening experince, far be it from me to define what bad gardening is.

    Seriously, given his perspective and agenda, I question whether anything the good citizens of Greeley did could have pleased Qutd.

    Of course, I have no use for the whole “dry” town thing, or for anyone claiming to have “high morals.” However, this is very typical of American utopias founded in the nineteenth century.

    Interesting. Excellent article in 5280—I’d be proud if the magazine I edit could do as well.

  3. This reminds me of yesterday’s post, “Still Clueless After Six Years,” at “No Quarter” by Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst:

    ” … what does Bin Laden want? God’s rule on earth. He sees the United States as a godless nation, full of pedophiles, drug addicts, and prostitutes. He sees a nation that tramples on the rights of other people in order to suck their natural resources from the ground. For Osama it is about faith and obedience. It has zippo to do with “freedom”.

    “Now, if you paid attention to the Bin Laden check list it probably reminded you a bit of the agenda of our own American religious extremists. What rich irony. A President waiting for the rapture complaining about Islamic extremists who want to destroy us because we are sinners.”

    Sullivan and his ilk are full of it. Let’s not forget that evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, and neoconservatives are just as plugged into faith and obedience, just as repressive toward women and gays, and equally inclined to go to war for stupid things. They care zippo about freedom too.

    It’s not about the gardening. It’s all about whose Guy in the Sky gets to call the shots.

  4. “There is nothing behind this activity in the way of beauty or artistic taste. It is the machinery of organization and arrangement, devoid of spirituality and aesthetic enjoyment.”

    This just cracks me up. Not a single garden held anything of beauty to him? Not one? Liar.

  5. Yes, I was thinking the same thing. It’s ironic that Qutd is so appalled by a rigid, ideologically-driven way of life. And, yeah, for my money, all these various extremisms, wherever they prosper–in or out of America–are all mumbo-jumbo and they all suck.

  6. I have to wonder how we would view the art of bonsai or Japanese gardening if we did not understand what was behind it. They look so rigid and cold. Beautiful, but cold none the less.

    Joy in gardening can come in many forms. Just because I think it looks boring the way they are doing it does not mean there is not pleasure gotten from it by the other party. Heck, I know people who truely enjoy keeping their lawn looking its finest. It is not a mindless task but a true joy.

    How sad the Qutd chose to see only that he found it to be boring. That does not seem very intellectual or enlightened to me.

  7. But there are a lot of people who do find “turfcentric” gardens beautiful. I don’t happen to be one of them, but you know what? It’s their yard!!! What was that thing about beauty being in the eye of the beholder?

    Sorry, but between this and the post the other day about painting furniture, I’m getting a little worried. Are the Garden Ranters turning into “Rules” gardeners? (Or would “Fundamentalist Gardeners” be a better way to put it?)

  8. “Fundamentalist Gardeners”

    A ha ha that’s funny.

    We may already have sects of them. The strict organic, strict native plant, strictly turf, their no lawn at all opponents, rosarians, orchid freaks, houseplants only, the better growing through chemistry crowd and the xeriscapers to name a few.

    This was just playing with a quote out of its full context. The Denver 5280 article is an excellent piece and well worth reading.

  9. “There is nothing behind this activity in the way of beauty or artistic taste. It is the machinery of organization and arrangement, devoid of spirituality and aesthetic enjoyment.”

    This is HIS bias and interpretation. He is bringing his own outside judgements to vewing these people and their gardens. You may agree with him. I personally try not to judge other people’s spiritual and inner experiences — especially when I do not KNOW them! For all he or we know, inside their minds and hearts that are communing with God in their puttering.

  10. firefly, do you read Sullivan? He’s been plugging that very point you raised; that there is a connection between fundamentalists who would use their version of Islam or Christianity as a political tool to wield power over those who disagree with them.

    As for the gardening end of this story, 20 years ago I was close to a group of Chinese professors living in a small midwestern town. It was their first time out of China, and it was fun to see America through their eyes. One of them assumed that Americans loved mowing their lawns, based on his observation that American homeowners mowed so often and encouraged the growth of their lawns.

  11. What if Quyd had observed the good gardeners of Greeley relishing their garden experiences — seen them lifted to aesthetic ecstasy by the blooms and driven to gustatory madness by the intense flavors of their harvests. Would he have declared it a sign of the decadence and hedonism running rampant in the western world?

    I first became aware of Quyd in a 9/11 documentary that traced the roots of al Queda to Quyd’s Egyption Muslim Brotherhood via Ayman Zawahiri (a protege of Quyd’s brother who fled from Egypt to Saudi Arabia) who later mentored of Osama bin Laden.

    But one of the key points of the documentary (the title escapes me) was the parallel between Quyd and Leo Strauss, the American philosopher and founder of neoconservatism. Despite coming from different cultures, they had similar worldviews.

    Gardening — no matter how you do it — is a political act. I don’t feel my gardening is threatened by mainstream Muslims. Heck, some of the most spiritual gardens in the world were conceived and tended by Muslims. I worry a lot more about that woodchuck moving back in under the shed next spring. Now there’s a threat.

    My question is, do neoconservatives feel the same way about gardening as Quyd? I have a hard time respecting any sect or political philosophy that doesn’t revere gardening and gardeners.

    Note to NSA: Did I squeeze in enough keywords to get on the watch list? I’m planning a trip to visit my son in Florida this spring and want to know how early I should arrive at the airport to get through security.

  12. 1. People interested in Sayyid Qutb should read Lawrence Wright’s New Yorker profile:

    2. To be precise, there is nothing “ironic” about the similar beliefs of different fundamentalists.

    3. The commenter who called Qutb a liar needs to read a little more carefully. His point was was that 1. the gardens are beautiful; 2. no one enjoys them, they just work on them.

    The latter point is of course unverifiable, and seems to me at least to be irrelevant to a consideration of whether American society deserves to be destroyed. But that is the logic of fundamentalism for you.

  13. Max: If I gave the impression that I find the similarities of fundamentalists ironic, I apologize. It’s not ironic. It’s scary.

    Maybe Quyd didn’t understand that some gardeners get maximum enjoyment out of their gardens by working their asses off in them. It’s the whole road/destination thing.

Comments are closed.