You are probably not in a position to know, Doctor…that we are at a crossroads, both in New York and in the country as a whole. This city is changing. Dramatically. Ph, I don’t simply mean the population, with the influx of immigrants. I mean the city itself. Twenty years ago, New York was still primarily a port — the harbor was our chief source of business. Today, with other ports challenging our preeminence, shipping and receiving have been eclipsed by both manufacture and banking. Manufacture, as you know, requires workers, and other, less fortunate, nations in the world have provided them. The leaders of organized labor claim that such workers are treated unfairly here. But fairly or no, they continue to come, because it is better than what they have left behind…We are not obligated to provide everyone who comes to this country with a good life…We are obligated to provide them with a chance to attain that life, through discipline and hard work. That chance is more than they have anywhere else. That is why they keep coming…We shall not be able to offer such a chance, in future, should our national economic development — which is currently in a state of deep crisis — be retarded by foolish political ideas born in the ghettos of Europe…Any events which can be prostituted to serve the purposes of those ideas must be suppressed.

A hundred times I have thought: New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: it is a beautiful catastrophe.

I was privileged to consider him a friend and I am grateful that I had a few more times to be with him, on Tuesday and again last night, before he finally left New York for someplace better – although he’d probably argue that’s not possible.

The essence of civilization is that you can walk down the street without having to look over your shoulder.

Manhattan at night

[Photo by Toki ITA licensed under Creative Commons.]

In Qutb’s passionate analysis, there was little difference between the communist and capitalist systems; both, he believed, attended only to the material needs ot humanity, leaving the spirit unsatisfied. He predicted that once the average worker lost his dreamy expectations of becoming rich, America would inevitably turn toward communism. Christianity would be powerless to block this trend because it exists only in the realm of the spirit – “like a vision in a pure ideal world.” Islam, on the other hand, is “a complete system” with laws, social codes, economic rules, and its own method of government. Only Islam offered a formula for creating a just and godly society. Thus the real struggle would eventually show itself: It was not a battle between capitalism and communism; it was between Islam and materialism. And inevitably, Islam would prevail.

No doubt this clash between Islam and the West was remote in the minds of most New Yorkers during the holiday season of 1948. But, despite the new wealth that was flooding into the city, and the self-confidence that victory naturally brought, there was a generalized sense of anxiety about the future. “The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible,” the essayist E. B. White had observed that summer. “A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions.” White was writing about the dawn of the nuclear age, and the feeling of vulnerability was quite new. “In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning,” he observed, “New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”