Monday, 21 January 2008

Book Review: The Islamist by Ed Husain

The Islamist is neatly summed up by its own subtitle: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left.

Ed Husain was born in the East End of London into a family of Indo-Bangladeshi origin and raised in the traditional spiritual Islam of the Indian subcontinent. As an intelligent, idealistic but naive teenager he joined a succession of increasingly extreme Islamist organisations until at around the age of twenty he was a leading student agitator for Hizb-ut-Tahrir, whose aim was (and probably still is) to establish a worldwide fundamentalist Islamic state, by force if necessary.

Gradually he became disillusioned with Hizb-ut-Tahrir's emphasis on a political rather than a spiritual form of Islam (his colleagues would routinely speak of popping into the mosque to "drop" their prayers, as if relieving themselves of a tiresome burden), and with its wilful misreadings of the Quran to justify its racist policies and advocacy of terrorist acts against non-Muslims. He was also dismayed at the inability of Islamist ideologues to explain without resorting to the rhetoric of terror how they would bring about an Islamist state. But the turning point came when a Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporter stabbed a black Christian youth to death outside his college. Husain withdrew from Islamism and set about rediscovering the spiritual Islam of his youth.

In his journey into Islamist fundamentalism, Ed Husain describes the classic brainwashing techniques and bully-boy tactics of religious and political cults the world over, whilst his retreat from it brings to mind accounts like those in The God That Failed which chart the disillusionment of various European intellectuals with Communism after World War II.

Ed Husain also provides a cogent explanation for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the United Kingdom: "the multiculturalism fostered by the Labour government [which] had created mono-cultural outposts in which the politics of race and religion were now being played out before my eyes"; the same government's mistaken inclination to regard the Muslim Council of Britain as the voice of the moderate Muslim majority; and the (understandable) failure of the real moderate Muslim majority to distance itself from the fanatics: "if British policy makers and elected officials are content to tolerate intolerance and give a platform to those who are committed to destroying democracy and advocate religion-based separatism, why should a minority Muslim population turn on its own?" And on top of all this, let's not forget the insidious influence of Wahhabi fundamentalism propagated by foreign imams in British mosques funded by Saudi Arabia (which Husain, from firsthand experience, shows as the horrific epitome of our worst nightmare: an Islamist state of the type that Hizb-ut-Tahrir would force us all to live in, a totalitarian theocracy devoid of democracy and freedom of expression, rife with religious and racial intolerance, sexual repression, barbaric punishments, oppression of women and homosexuals - you get the picture.)

And yet the book finishes on a note of hope: "...all is not lost, for there are signs of a resurgence of interest in spiritual rather than political Islam...a more tolerant, inclusive, flexible approach both to scripture and to life. Without doubt, a British Islam is emerging. It remains to be seen whether it will be in harmony with the world in which it finds itself, or if it rejects and repels it."

The lucid, well-reasoned and heartfelt argument presented in The Islamist makes it a must-read for everyone concerned for the future of Islam and for the peace and security of our world.

1 comment:

Carla said...

This sounds like a fascinating and disturbing book. Thanks for the review!