I have just finished reading a fine, if worrying book. The Islamist by Ed Husain is an autobiographical account of the author’s time as a radical Islamist and his subsequent rejection of political Islam. A quick Google search has brought to my attention some fairly hostile reviews and an attempt to discredit the author by noting the fact the Melanie Philips and other baddies have praised his book. For what it’s worth I regard his account as credible and worth investigation.
I do not tend to find myself in agreement with Melanie Phillips very often but I more or less agree with this part of her assessment of The Islamist;
“‘The Islamist’ should be sent to every politician at Westminster, put on the desk of every counter-intelligence officer and thrust under the supercilious nose of every journalist who maunders on about ‘Islamophobia’.”
Whilst it should be remembered that this is a personal account of the author’s experiences and as such treated with a degree of caution, it is a book worth reading. Ed Husain is clearly an intelligent, sensitive, spiritual and well brought up young man. The biggest religious influence on his life as a child is his grandfather, a tolerant,wise, spiritual and well respected man in the Muslim community. His primary school is racially mixed and with one or two exceptions the staff do a good job of creating an inclusive and productive atmosphere for their young charges.
Upon reaching secondary age the author is sent to a single sex school where his parents believe he will be less distracted and more focused on his studies and this is where things start to go wrong. Like many of us in our teens he feels alienated by his surroundings, curious about the world and looking for answers.
A rather serious young man, he has little time for his Bollywood obsessed classmates and is something of a loner until he befriends a fellow observant Muslim. Together they volunteer for extra religious education to the shock of the entire R.E department at this unprecedented event. At the time and at present the core textbook given to pupils studying Islam in schools was ‘Islam: Beliefs and Teachings’ by Gulam Sarwar. For those that don’t know Sarwar is not a religious scholar but an activist for the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamat-e-Islami. I must confess my jaw hit the floor at this point.
Is there any particular reason that U.K taxpayers are funding the provision of pro-Islamist propaganda in the nations schools? There is worse to come later but for me this is the first sign of the extent to which the British state, no doubt through ignorance rather than anything more sinister has underestimated the danger posed by Islamist ideology (as opposed to Islam).
There may well be a time and place for such thought but I would suggest that this is identity politics hiding behind faith and as such it has no place being presented uncritically in the study of religion. Furthermore I do not claim that this is the cause of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism but I do suspect it is a very minor contributory factor. In any case it is somewhat unwise for any society to assist the spread of ideas which advocate it’s destruction.
After a time the author’s new friend introduces him to the East London Mosque. His parents to say the least took a dim view of the East London Mosque which they regarded as a front for the political ambitions of Jamaat-e-Islami members. It is also where the author was introduced to radical, political Islam in the form of the Maududi influenced Young Muslim Organisation of which he became a prominent member.
The East London mosque has been a platform for Abdullah el-Faisal (now doing time for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder), according to the author it’s bookshop contains copies of works by Qutb and Maududi and one can purchase ‘full colour videos of Jamaat-e-Islami cadres engaged in pitched battles’. All fair enough, we do have free speech in this country. However I am at a total loss as to why state funds have been provided to expand this mosque. Unless a religious building is of some historical or architectural interest I see no reason why the tax payer should be expected to fund what should be a private matter. It should be noted that the East London Mosque deny the author’s allegations.
Later at college the author joins the thuggish Hizb -ut Tahir, an organisation he leaves following the murder of a black Christian student. An act he holds himself and other college Hizb ut-Tahir members responsible for. The latter part of the book details his time in the Middle East, his rejection of political Islam and is worth reading simply because it is a well written and fascinating account of a personal spiritual journey regardless of any wider significance it may or may not have.
Where I think the author is incorrect is in his failure to acknowledge the effect of foreign policy particularly in Iraq and Palestine. I do not for a second believe that the situation in these nations has caused the spread of hostile Islamist ideology or terrorism but I am convinced they have added fuel to the fire. The author neatly shows how Hizb ut-Tahir can link a dispute over the provision of a college prayer room to the position of Muslims in Bosnia and the need for Jihad. So why be dismissive of the notion that Iraq and Palestine do not have a similar effect when used to justify terrorism?
My own view having it read this book is that ignorance coupled with well-intentioned multiculturalism have brought about a situation where some pretty unpleasant groups are allowed to flourish unchecked in ways that would be unthinkable if it were far-right organisations as opposed to Islamist groups.
Whilst I am supportive of free-speech, allowing incitement to violence, whoever is responsible ends up creating an oppressive atmosphere for someone. It is not censorship for the state to refuse to fund the spread of these ideas. It is not censorship for college authorities to deny certain groups to virtually take over on campus.
The unofficial segregation of communities has helped create at atmosphere of mutual suspicion which is bound to lead to violence in some individuals, whether in the form of gang fights or terrorism. That Tony Blair can advocate more faith schools in the current climate beggars belief.
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Filed in: Current affairs,Religion