A review of the Islamist by Ed Husain.
Ed Husain’s first book, an autobiographical account of his slow radicalisation into Islam and Islamist politics- proselytising for the renowned Hizb ut-Tahrir, and his eventual slow, painful embrace of gentler Sufism and secularism. Islamist politics might be misleading here especially in reference to the Hizb. An organisation considered so dangerous that it is banned in the Middle East states along with conspicuously, Germany. The Hizb like the Jihadists themselves do not believe remotely in anything like politics or civil discourse. All is to be submitted to the caliphate and the ummah and all else is haram-forbidden. Husain’s book is a fascinating journey into British Muslim extremism. At times it is exhilarating and enraging like being driven by a horrendous road side car accident. On others it strikes me as deeply muddled, mystified and incoherent. I found myself growing in bemusement to Husain’s lack of self awareness. It almost becomes a worthy addition to the genre of the unreliable narrator.
There is much praise to be had for Mr Husain personally, and for some of his partial conclusions. There is to be defence of him from both totalitarian Islamist units and from the blinkered self hating, self righteous- left wing literati. There also I believe needs to be ink spilled as to his own shaky conclusions and unjustified assertions. The Islamist is an important book as much for the debate and ire it ignited as for its insight into the problem and phenomena of Muslim rage and Islamic unreason.
Born Mohamed M. Husain in London 1975 to parents of Bangladeshi extraction. Broadly lower middle class parents, a father who took an interest in Politics and encouraged his young son to do the same. A grandfather a spiritual teacher in the Sufi tradition of Islam. Husain describes a idyllic childhood in England and the deep love and respect that his teachers had for him in his primary school. Though of course this was London in the 80’s not exactly a time of tolerance and multicultural civility. Early on he recounts being lead into school with young white skinheads yelling “Paki!” “Paki!” More alarmingly was a story of him being picked on by a school caretaker confusing him asking “Where is your Allah now?”
As Ed was growing up he was taken under his Grandfathers wing, carrying his books around for him and being taught how to recite passages from the Koran in perfect Arabic. It is the books most touching moments but repeatedly I asked myself “Where does it all go wrong?” or more importantly how does it go wrong. Forced to attend a rough inner city school against his primary school teachers advice on account that his family did not want him attending a sexually mixed school as girls would be to “distracting”. There is an un-holy or is it holy irony in this conclusion, for it was this obstinate decision that helped turn their gentle loving son into a teenage Islamist.
Husain begins the chapter Teenage Rebellion with the Eastern proverb “a young boys company determines his destiny”. Indeed it does and this early sections of the book make for some absurdly ironic hilarities. Rather than smuggling in porn past his parents he smuggled in works of Islamist authors such as Mawdudi and Qutb and hides them under his bed. He claims his father would be more forgiving if he was on crack than if he was associated with the Jamat-e-Islami. That the YMO- Young Muslim Organisation were like Bow Massive without the guns, bitches and blades.
I have a somewhat sympathy and understanding of Ed here. I was something of a radical myself when younger and read unusual literature for a boy my age. The crack joke would work equally well here if a son of an Orange man told his father that he was joining Sinn Féin. As for the “hardlad” image of the YMO I doubt they have any equivalent here or anywhere else, Islam is after all the carnivore of Religions.
As the above proverb suggests Ed becomes radicalised through his peers. Lonely and left out his one friend a devoted, serious Muslim invites him to pray at a rival Mosque. And so it begins. A evolving metamorphosis, with Ed getting ever deeper, ever more radical. The apotheosis is reached with the Hizb which be abandons and becomes moderate again. The whole book can be seen as akin to a musical symphony with the crescendo being reached several times over with a “Christian nigger” lying in a pool of blood. The ineffable event of violence against him in a Mosque and being effectively disowned by his family. Only for equilibrium to be restored again with his Sufism and marriage to Faye and his reconciliation with his parents. There is also something else which has been well remarked. People of a spiritual bent might describe Ed as a seeker. Others might uncharitably describe him as a “faith-head” or a “ideo-head” someone searching for the next big conversion kick. Towards the end of the book I did the Eli Kazan thing and predicted what might happen to him in the years to come. I wager either a kind of zealous atheism or perhaps a return to a more radical Muslim fundamentalism.(and I’m not making an equivalence here).
Ed has the habit of swallowing wholesale whatever ideology or faith he believes in. Though his belief now seems to be progressive-Islamic-Sufi-secularism. He has been described as having the same tendencies as his Islamist days. Though that’s only partially true Ed seems not to have learned anything about the pattern of thinking that lead him to being a Islamist. “its not what you think its how” is the important maxim here along with my own if you cannot think for yourself you cannot think at all.
The above lines may sound too harsh or unfair. And Ed has taken considerable heat not only from Muslims (both moderate and Islamist) but from the left. The reasons are clear why this would be so to any objective observer though ill explore them later. Ed Husain is a very brave fellow indeed and its not hyperbole to say that with the writing of this book he has put his life at some risk. Indeed I have a theory that the need to not be called an apostate may well have required him to utter fatuities against “secular fundamentalism” and write white noise statements such as to what is and what isn’t “true” Islam.
This is a fascinating book, well written and lively. Indeed I learned a good deal about such diverse topics as the fractured Muslim identity, the pernicious influence of Saudi/Wahabbi Islam on Muslim discourse. The nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the practice and beliefs of the Sufis. But it is the mindset and the practice of the Islamists that is fascinating. Disrupting debates and lectures. Bullying headmasters into getting Muslim prayer areas. Leafleting, street rallies and pinching young Muslims under their fathers noses in Mosques for fresh recruits. I particularly fell about laughing at the cunning rhetorical device of the Hizb used to cow un-spirited Muslims “Fear Allah Brother”
So what conclusions can be drawn from Ed’s account? Well first start with his own. I believe he calls for a banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Starting afresh with the policy of Multiculturalism, standing up to the Islamist bullies both from secularists but from Muslim as well. And for Muslims to reclaim their religion from the extremists. I suspect he wants the ending of Saudi influence in Muslim schools that was so well uncovered in Channel Four’s brilliant dispatches program. http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=peFQWuk4nuo
I suspect though Husain’s most unpalatable and controversial contention, the truth right in front of everyone is that as Bernard Lewis writes its not the West that needs a enemy it is the Islamists that do. The West is the diametric opposite of the vision of society they wish to build or rather destroy. In essence Husain’s rejects pet liberal theories of imperialism and economic deprivation. Simply put the West deserves all it gets they say. Recently I read a CIF on the Guardian which explores the resurgent Russian interest in Middle Eastern affairs and how some think it will add a useful counterweight to America meddling in the area. The problem with liberals who scourge themselves, their countries and ideas of freedom is that in the very act of attempting to give voice to the “oppressed” they in turn assert the same cultural hegemony they accuse conservatives and others off. In other words, their blaming of Muslim unreason, Palestinian derangement and Russian belligerence on the West conceives of no other discourse that does not have the West at the centre. Everything comes back to us and what we did, we are the prime-movers in everything and no one else is allowed agency. Anyone who breaks with this narrative is either a neo-con or a puppet. When the implicit premises of their argument is exposed like this its left looking for what it is, pompous, self-important, condescending, divisive drivel.
John Gray a philosopher and a clever fellow has been promoting himself as an exposure of “Atheist Fundamentalism”. He falls foul of the rule that when a smart and decent person starts talking positively or apologises for Religion they say the stupidest and most hideous things. As witness
“ Particularly among the new army of evangelical atheists, there will be those who see his story as another proof of the evils of faith schools and of religion in general. Yet Husain did not finally sever his links with Islamism by becoming a militant atheist and converting to an Enlightenment faith in humanity - as secular fundamentalists urge”
John Gray sees no difference between someone like Osama Bin Laden and Richard Dawkins, between Jerry Falwell and Dan Dennett. To him everything is a religion and a faith. Needless to say when you bandy about the term freely its loses any sense of meaning and explanatory power. Read the quoted review and you will find a confirmatory sentence of the Western liberal arrogance I just wrote off “a tradition (Sufism) that had not been deformed by Western political religion” Islam is completely exonerated and the ills dumped on “Western political religion” whatever that is though I guess it’s an attempted pot-shot at atheism though its apolitical so it renders his analysis further moot.
I wanted to reach for the sick bag reading Madeleine Bunting’s review and was very nearly did when I read Seamus Milne’s opinions.
“It is as if, just as Husain once swallowed large chunks of Hizb ut-Tahrir propaganda, he now seems to have swallowed undigested the prevailing critique of British Muslims. He has no truck with the idea of Islamophobia, which he dismisses as the squeal of an Islamist leadership pleading special favours; he criticises Asian racism and castigates Muslims "who go back home to get married" and produce "another generation confused about home". On issues such as segregation, he is confident it is the fault of multiculturalism.”
“A glance at the blog response to a Husain piece in the Telegraph reveals how rightwing racism and anti-Islamic sentiment are feasting on his testimony.”
Bear in mind what I wrote above of liberals arrogance and hubris. Bunting remarks may seem unexceptional but when one is familiar with her writing you see can see her sneer at the suggestion that there is anything wrong with Islam, current strategies of respect towards religion vis-à-vis faith schools and that any criticism of Islam is seen as racist and anti-Islamic. Well it certainly not the former and in my case most definitely is the latter as I am an anti-theist, an anti-anti-Semite, anti-unreason and anti-injustice.
“Rarely a TV debate goes by without Ed Husain, one-time member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and now a British neocon pinup boy, or Hassan Butt, formerly of the banned al-Muhajiroun group, insisting that this is all about people with identity crises who are "hell-bent on destroying the west", denouncing Ken Livingstone for engaging in dialogue with Islamists, or calling for a harsher crackdown on their former fellow enthusiasts for the restoration of the caliphate. They are championed by politicians like the Tory Michael Gove and New Labour's Denis MacShane, who this week argued that all Islamists, from the liberal Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan to al-Qaida terrorists, had to be confronted without exception. It's become eerily reminiscent of the McCarthyite era when communist renegades would be wheeled out to give Americans a state-orchestrated glimpse of the enemy's dark heart.”
Despite the sneering condescension to Husain, Milne is basically saying that the threat of Islamism or Islam is bullshit. Why? I suppose he is trying to make a link between Communism and McCathyite era witch hunts. The analogy fails of course when one considers that in political terms and cultural muscle the communists had very little clout in America unlike Islam in Europe and in Britain. Communist supporters never blew themselves up on trains, or threatened people with death for insulting Stalin say or demanded separate schools to inculcate their children.
“The pro-war Times and Telegraph have led the field, with neoconservative commentators and politicians hammering home the Blair-Bush message that terror is simply the product of an evil ideology. Anyone who dissents or suggests a connection with Britain's violent role in the Muslim world is portrayed as somehow soft on terrorism”
Terrorism is a red-herring indeed terrorism with the possible exception of a chemical bomb attack is largely incidental and the least of our worries and problems when it comes to Islam.
This is a masterpiece of spineless liberal nonsense and Islamist apologia--
“Of course, it's perfectly true that al-Qaida and its "takfiri" fellow travellers have an extreme, violently sectarian and socially conservative ideology. But it is simply delusional - and flies in the face of logic and history - to fail to recognise the central link between the terror threat and Britain's post-9/11 actions in the Muslim world.”
3 points that will put this argument to bed and which also undermines many of Husain’s cloudy assertions.
1. How extreme is Al-Qaeda? Is it honest say to completely sever the link between Islam and Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism? There is a reason well two, why we don’t call the IRA, Christian terrorists. They do not identify themselves as such and second their aims are secular/political. Bin Laden’s problem with the west is theological. It is only ever political in the sense that Islam unlike Christianity was a warrior religion and a political force as well as a spiritual one. The truth is that when Muslims were polled on support for suicide bombing the numbers simply shattered the myth of Muslim moderation and that’s its comfort with violence is a product of British adventures abroad.
The pew poll of 2002 found that 73 percent of Lebanese Muslims think it is justified to use violence and suicide bombing in defence of Islam. Bangladesh, Husain’s ancestral home is 4th with 44 percent. Turkey the only European country and a democracy comes in at a appalling 13 percent. Its important to note that neither Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt were polled so the numbers would have been higher also note that this was in 2002 a year after 9/11 and before the Iraq war. The numbers if anything are more likely to have increased since then. So there is clearly a culture of death worship in Islam and Western imperialism did not put it there. They developed it all by themselves. The liberals would have you believe they are not capable of doing anything without cause or prompt from the west but this data clearly shows that it has nothing-nothing at all to do with Western activity in the region.
How does Britain fare? Here is a passage and polling data from http://www.religionnewsblog.com/21867/one-third-of-british-muslim-students-killing-in-the-name-of-islam-is-acceptable
“Almost one third of British Muslim students think it is acceptable to kill in the name of Islam, results of a poll show.
The findings shed light on the extent of campus radicalism and will raise concerns about extremism across British Universities.
The YouGov poll for the Centre for Social Cohesion also found that two in five Muslims at university support the idea of Islamic sharia codes being enshrined in British law, the Sunday Times has reported.
One of the report authors Hannah Stuart said the study’s findings came as an embarrassing blow to those who play down the threat of extremism within Britain’s campuses.
She said: ‘Significant numbers appear to hold beliefs which contravene democratic values.
‘These results are deeply embarrassing for those who have said there is no extremism in British universities.’”
Speaks for itself. Though I hasten to add this is supposed to be the “educated” among the Muslims. Though I have heard it say that support for terrorism and Sharia goes up as education increases.
2. Remember what we were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. Firstly we were liberating a country smashed to bits by theocratic fascists who indulged in public beheadings, enslaved women and welcomed the orchestrators of 9/11, the USS Cole bombings and the America Embassy bombings in Africa. Indeed Bin Laden launched his war on the West from there. Note, that in the face of history it was America that gave support to Afghanistan in the face of true a example of Imperialism which was the Russian invasion in the 1980’s. Whereas the Soviets were godless heathens attempting to enslave Afghanistan nation the coalition forces were seeking to promote self determination to the downtrodden people of the region.
Much the same can be said for Iraq and its ruler was a true enemy of Islam if ever there was one. The insane war against Iran which cost thousands of young men lives on both side. The genocides enacted against the Kurds and the marsh Arabs. The “imperial” and expansionist invasion of Kuwait. Iraq was also a sponsor of terror and courted Bin Laden. It was America and the UK who put an end to this reeking, pouring abattoir of death and sadism. Indeed from Saddam Hussein you get two words “mad” and “sadism”. He did this while the Muslim world looked on sullenly for decades.
3. The link between the terror threat and Britain’s post 9/11 action. Milne goes on to say that if the Islamists have a gripe with Western debauchery then why not attack Amsterdam or Berlin? The truth is as Husain writes that there was a radical Islamic element in Britain already that posed a threat for several years. Its safe to say that whatever else happened wars or not the UK had an attack coming. The real problem though is that he thinks the wars justify the attacks. They clearly do not and its monstrous to say so and I feel I don’t have to give reason as to why, if you cant think of why yourself they nothing I write is likely to change your mind. Indeed may I say it is a disgrace that he mentions Western debauchery. Need I mention Theo Van Goth stabbed to death in Amsterdam for making a film critical of Islam? Do I need to mention Ayan Hirsi Ali a elected politician forced to flee to America because of death threats? Do I need to mention the failed terror attack on the London nightclub designed to target, kill and maim women? See
Ed Husain is a religious moderate. As such I’m familiar with the line of reasoning he uses from Christian apologists. Its white noise to me when the Religious more or less accuse others of distorting or abusing the “true” faith. The facts of history are clear, Christianity could happily wage war, burn witches and torture heretics. As far as I can tell they have perfect theological justification for doing so. Reading the Koran and the Hadith though no where does it say its fine to don bombs and obliterate adolescents in a disco but it does call for holy war, demonstrates relentless venom and hatred against the infidels, the Jews and the apostates. The problem with supposed holy texts is that they are so muddled, barbarous and contradictory that you can easily square violence and murder and peace and love. There is no definitive foolproof method of interpreting either the Koran or the Bible. Indeed when dewy eyed theologians get set to work on it, a bolus of half digested cant, equivocation and bullshit are the result. If anything nothing beats reading the texts like “fundamentalist protestants.” or rather seeing it for what it is if not read with the eyes of faith- that it is a man made monstrosity.
Husain seems blissfully unaware that his statements that Islam is largely peaceful, non-political and that Sufism is the true way of Islam are laughable. Sufism is largely considered a heresy in the Muslim world and one like moderate Christianity needs to perform gold-standard gymnastics to square the traditions lunacy with the modern world. All this white noise though can be safely unplugged once the ear defenders of Faith are removed. But no where does Husain ever ask himself the question does God Exist? What is the evidence for God? How likely is it that Muhammad really spoke to the Angel Gabriel? More important perhaps what is the probabilities that he would have been a member of the Hizb if he had not been brought up Muslim in the first place? What are the odds if he had not been forced to attend a single sex school? What are the odds if he had been brought up to think for himself that he would have been a follower of Islam in the first place?
The answers seem obvious to me as it would to anyone not inculcated with faith. This is a important piece of evidence in the failure of a society which tolerates Religious bigotry and dogma. The idea of faith schools is simply absurd in light of considering how it contributes to a fractured, mutually exclusive society. Its time we stopped respecting Islam and take it apart the way we are more or less free to do with Christianity. I’m not in favour of banning the Hizb nor am I in favour of sending back preachers of hate or stopping hatred of the West being preached in the Mosques. I am in favour in utterly destroying Islam through words, though ridicule, through reason and science and by championing common human values and rights over the primitive laws it teaches. I am in favour in protecting children, I am in favour of having a full and frank conversation about the real problem with Islam and Islamist unreason which is of course faith. The faith that the Koran is the work of the creator of the universe and that what is contained in that book enjoins murder, intolerance and chauvinism. Until such bonds of derangement are broken we cannot begin to seriously want to coexist with the 1.8 Billion Muslims that populate the world.