I have been reading Ed Husain’s The Islamist, whose rather lengthy subtitle is “Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left.” It is a testimony to first a conversion to ever-deepening circles of politicized Islam, and away from the traditional spiritual faith of his parents, and then, another conversion, as he moves much more slowly back to both a spiritual Muslim faith, and a wide ranging grasp of both historical and political realities, and the benefits and problems of a political and cultural democracy.
I approached the book with a certain amount of caution. Testimony from someone you do not know and have not met is quite a tricky thing to assess. I know next to nothing about the world in which Husain moved, the world from which his testimony comes. I have little to measure his veracity against. At the same time, it is doubtful if there is any other way of entering this world except through testimony. The first-hand experience reveals things that the best exterior journalism cannot. The book’s matter-of-factness and the lack of self-aggrandizing persuade me of its overall trustworthiness. It fits what little I know from the media and very limited first-hand experience.
The picture he paints is a very disturbing one. On the one hand it highlights the problems the Muslim community face in being both British and Muslim in the face of an aggressive, well-funded and profoundly politicized sectarian interpretation of Islam. On the other it highlights both the inadequacies of the British response to this, and the ways in which strongly left-wing socialists and would be well-meaning liberal critics of Bush and Blair have become dangerously like fellow-travellers of a profoundly destructive politicized religion. The alien political nature of modern Islam for traditional Muslims is well illustrated in what Husain’s father says to him in his teenage years: “If you’re interested in politics, join the Labour party!”
The techniques he describes radical Islam using are a strange cross between those of the Trotskyite entrists to the Labour party, and those of rabid Christian fundamentalist. I had not appreciated how alien to traditional Islam the appeal direct from the Koran to the present world, unmediated by the living traditions of teachers, holy men and mystics actually was – and how reminiscent of Protestant fundamentalism in its reaction to modernity.
As he describes it the biggest trigger of Islamic radicalization on the campuses and in the streets of Britain was neither Israel/Palestine, nor the Gulf War, but Bosnia, and miserable failure of the UN and British and other governments to address it. Even then, radical Islam is less the consequence of British foreign policy, than of domestic policy, allowing revolutionary sectarians, who have substituted political narrow-mindedness for spiritual vision, who have been banned in their own countries for sedition and the preaching of violence, to bring that message of subversion to the mosques of Britain. In this endeavour the liberal intelligentsia, with their failure to understand religion, and the asleep-at-the-wheel security services have been effectively colluding in work designed to bring their cherished society and its values crashing down as rubble around them.
Bush’s ”War on Terror” may have made things worse, but radical Islam was well ensconced in Britain ten years before 9/11, and getting steadily stronger, despite its naturally fissiparous tendencies rooted in sectarian and political divisions between Egyptian and Saudi, Wahhabi and other political (Marxist and Hegelian) forms of Islam. Not only has Saudi money helped promote an aggressive Wahhabi evangelism that has infiltrated nearly every Muslim community, but it has major influence in the main representative bodies for British Islam like the Muslim Council of Britain. Despite appearances, Husain is very clear that this speaks for neither the majority of Muslims in Britain, nor for the mainstream of Muslim tradition. The voices we usually hear in the media are the “acceptable face” of Islamic extremism, not mainstream Islam. Knighting Iqbal Sacranie for services to the Muslim community was not just a lie, but appeasement.
The close parallels of Trotskyite entryism with the patterns of Islamic extremists infiltrating mosques find an ironic marriage in the forming of Galloway’s Respect party. The mobilization of racism, ethnic protectionism and Islamic anti-Western and anti-semitic sentiment become the backbone of this party, and the means by which it pursues electoral victory. It is radical Islam disguised as an ego-trip.
Husain hopes to find a better way, a new political engagement with democracy and liberal tolerance, and a renewal of the spiritual aspects of Islam freed from a simple clinging to the ways of first and second generation immigrants. But he is not sanguine about achieving it. This book should act as both a clarion call to politicians to take their heads out of the sand, and a powerful rebuke to all those well-meaning souls who blame everything on Israel and British-American foreign policy. If you care about the future of our society, this is a book well worth reading.