The Islamist by Ed Husain–Book Review

The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Saw the author on “The Doha Debates” last year.  During the program he was very articulate and dedicated to combating extremism.

This book is Ed Husain’s story of his personal journey into and out of the Islamist movement in the UK.  As Husain depicts it, Islamism is the idea that the Islamic faith requires an Islamic political state–that political power and religion are one.  Husain’s family, from India/Bangladesh, practiced a Sufi Islam which focused on spiritual connection to God and to other humans and he sees this as a more “mainstream” Islam.  Living in Jordan, a moderate Islamic state, I’m not sure that his Sufi brand of Islam would necessarily be accepted–though most of the Muslims I know here do support secular governance.

The first few chapters, relating his time in the islamist movement, including Jamaati-e Islamia and Hizb tTahrir, were distanced, written almost dispassionately.  It is like he can’t even relate to the boy he once was.   This was frustrating for me, as I’d hoped the book would help me grasp the emotional and intellectual pull of such movements for the young people raised in the West.   However, as he related the incidents which brought him out of the movement, including the violence, hypocracy, and time spent, ironically, in Syria and Saudi Arabia, his passion in delivery grew.  By the end, he was writing eloquently and passionately against Islamism.

I learned quite a bit from the book:

1–Husain related how the Islamists gained power in Britain (and similarly in the US) until the British authorities believed them to be speaking for and representing the views of all Muslims.  This gave them legitimacy–whereas most of these groups were outlawed in the Middle East.

2–Husain argues that Islamists must be countered, fought, and challenged.  I realized that in all my studies of Arabic and Islamic culture, we never talk about the extremists: Islamists, Wahabis or others.  I had never heard of most of the groups Husain mentioned tho they are well-known here in Jordan and elsewhere (especially Hisb Tahrir which has many factions and is involved in violence in Palestine, Bagladesh, and I believe India among other places).  Husain implies, and I agree, that the refusal to talk about such groups in mainstream education means that we don’t understand the movement and can’t launch effective opposition to it.   Our courses should not ignore such groups–nor suggest that “all” Muslims belong to them.  Acknowledging and debating their merits would be much more effective.

3–Husain traveled to Saudi Arabia (where I have never been and have NO desire to go) where much of the desires of the Islamist movement are fulfilled and was appalled at what he saw there.  He strongly denounces the Wahabi form of Islam (a very repressive one) which funds a great deal of the Islamist movements and seeks converts around the globe.  Husain reported that it is a country where the more women are wrapped and hidden away (women must wear full-face veils and long, loose black robes in public, must only go out with close male relations, only recently gained the right to drive, etc.) the more Saudi men objectify them.  He said that his wife, dressed appropriately, was often leered at, insulted, and propositioned even while he accompanied her.  Others I know in Jordan who’ve lived in Saudi report conflicting stories–that on the compound everything is fine and there’s no reason to “go out”, that Saudi men are very respectful during the Hajj, etc.   I don’t know from personal experience, but from the public behaviors of Saudi men in Morocco and here, I can’t believe it is a place I would ever want to go.

4–Husain described all the ways the groups in which he participated manipulated the laws, freedoms, and rights of British citizens.  The police seem, from his telling, to be naive in their treatment of Islamist youth groups; universities and other moderates completely incapable of countering their methods.   We need to teach our youth how to think critically about what they see and experience around them, to look beyond what such people say and see clearly what they do, believe, and propagate.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the inside of the Islamist movement, particularly as an introduction for one mostly unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

FYI Ed Husain co-founder and co-director of The Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank devoted to combating Muslim (and I assume other forms of) extremism.

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Swine Flu

Ok, so CNN is making a big deal about Swine flu, but is anyone else?  The answer, for me, is YES!  Many, many of the families, friends, and non-Christian Jordanians I know ask me about it all the time.  Do I know anyone with Swine Flu?  Is there Swine Flu in Michigan? These are the questions I get very frequently.

So here’s my problem:  The ones who ask me also warn me about hanging out with Christians because they eat pork and thus have (or may get) Swine Flu.  Boy am I irritated with whoever decided to call it Swine Flu!  Strangely, while most were very tolerant of my “christian” status last year, Swine Flu seems to be a perfect opportunity for EVERYONE to tell me now that Christianity is wrong, Islam right, and that God told us not to eat pork because it’s bad and now he’s punishing the Christians.

So, in my bad Arabic, I can explain that people don’t get Swine Flu from eating pork, but they don’t believe me.  I can’t imagine what the news is saying over here that everyone (except my Christian friends of course) seems to believe you get it from eating pork.

What’s worse, is that I don’t have the Arabic to engage in a theological discussion with them, so I end up sitting through interminable lecturs on the Quran and Mohammed–usually telling me things I already know (historically) and arguing points of “truth” that I am incapable of rebutting.  Great huh?

My best response (because it seems to stop the discussions and discontinue further ones) is that in the US, we don’t talk about religion openly, that our belief is between us and God.  This is good, because I can then talk about the separation of church and state, and how that is different than in Jordan (which is a Muslim state).

So why am I venting about it here?  Well, I guess because the thing that makes me so irritated is that I, of all people, have to DEFEND Christianity.  In the US, I would hardly even call myself a “Christian” with a capital C: I have serious doubts about the divinity of Christ (tho I really love most of what he might have said–hence I tend to think of myself as a “christian with a small c”), and am even more dubious about religious “Christian” institutions.  Yet, here, I am a Christian ethnically rather than theocratically by virtue of being American, which is highly-influenced by Judeo-Christianity and thus differs from Muslim Jordan.

I thought that some of you might be interested in these musings.  Feel free to comment!