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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening
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on 29 September 2014
This is a formidable book, commanding deep respect. It tells the autobiographical story of the author, once a member of the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) who has turned his entire life around and is now an advocate for democracy and human rights around the world. If that, in itself, doesn't make you want to read it (which it should), the book is also very well written, with the pace of a thriller. Be in no doubt, this is not an easy read in places. Maajid Nawaz spares nothing in his description of what it was like being tortured in an Egyptian prison; even the horrors closer to home as he relates his early teenage years make for a harrowing read. But what marks this book out is its pervading sense of optimism. Maajid demonstrates that it is possible to change, that even someone who has been radicalised can come back. And Maajid doesn't just come back, he has since co-founded the Quilliam Foundation (the world's first counter-extremism group) whose work focuses on helping to de-radicalise Islamists in the UK and beyond. He was also responsible for helping Tommy Robinson leave the English Defence League (EDL) and he continues to this day in championing freedom, democracy and human rights. A truly inspirational figure, this book leaves you with a sense of hope; that in spite of all that is wrong in the world, change is possible.

(As a side note, you may notice that the book has received several very negative reviews on Amazon. These reviews were part of a concerted effort by his former colleagues in HT to discredit Maajid. Ignore them: this book is phenomenal and deserves your attention.)
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on 9 October 2014
I could not put the book down once I started reading. Just had to know what would happen to him next. Here was a young angry unhappy lad, who found he could find release with `hip hop' music & be tough. One has to read the book to see how it all escalates into him joining an extreme Islamist group which finally leads him ending up five years in a brutal Egyptian jail. It is the most dangerous time especially for school kids & students to be brainwashed with all the wrong information so I admire Maajid for seeking to now rectify all this.
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on 30 June 2017
Amazon blocked my initial review, here is a second attempt:

Maajid seems like an interesting character and I wanted to hear his story. This book is reabable but I would however classify it as fiction rather than fact.

While initially optimistic and hoping for something of value, I have come to the view that Maajid and Quilliam are dangerous charlatans distracting attention and resources away from the real terror that lurks in the shadows, while smearing anyone who questions their self promotion as far-right extremists.
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on 17 July 2017
An extraordinary journey. I first knew of Mr Nawaz when I heard him on LBC radio. He is a man of immense knowledge and understanding of the Islamic world but also British street-life. He has to be listened to. He is also I think very courageous.
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on 5 October 2014
A must-read for anyone wanting to understand the rise of Islamist extremism, the soil from which violent jihadism can grow. A compelling memoir by an insider with the honesty to confess the calculating energy with which he spread Islamism ( partly inspired by Omar Bakri and even at one point legally supported by the now reviled Anjem Choudary), and the courage to turn his back on and challenge that very ideology. Nawaz admits he was ‘never one to do anything by halves.’ ‘Radical’ is therefore the perfect title for a story that gets to the root of how he became an extremist, and later began to discover a more authentic, intellectually and morally honest set of values to live by.

I was chilled by his account of how he worked with almost military precision to radicalise university students, laughing behind the backs of liberal authorities that stood by passively, thinking they were only encouraging multiculturalism. In the very pacy narrative of this middle section, Nawaz captures the thrill of power and self-importance he felt at so energetically spreading his poisonous HT ideology. I felt sickened to discover that his messianic fervour had propelled him as far as Pakistan, where he tried to persuade the Taliban that his country of origin (and mine) was ‘kufr’, or unislamic –but was so extreme even the Taliban ‘politely refused to co-operate with HT’. Some reviewers have said that Nawaz puts himself at the centre of events and takes too much ‘credit’ for the success of HT. Well, that’s natural in a personal memoir; to me that part felt more like a man magnifying his guilt and wanting desperately to atone for the damage he had done. However, I agree that in the rather frantic final section outlining his global attempts to undo all his wrongs, it did feel a bit like he alone was doing all the work for Quilliam in Britain and Khudi in Pakistan. I also agree that the rucksack incident seems anachronistic and implausible - perhaps a case of ‘mis-remembering’…..?

The opening section provides the best insights into how Nawaz could shift so radically – not from one extreme to another – but more bravely – from extremism to liberal pluralism. In my view, the unsung heroine of the story is actually his mother. Nawaz describes how after prison in Egypt, he began to ‘reconnect with life, and with humanity. This is not something you can teach, it is something you must live and feel.’ He could only do that because he had lived it and felt it as a child, because his mother showed by example that there is a better way to live than bigotry. I loved hearing her reaction to 'The Satanic Verses' - how her ‘fiercely independent spirit’ led her to read it for herself and tell her son: ‘If you don’t like it, go and write your own book against him.’ He did – but a far better book than even she imagined. 'The Islamist', his friend Ed Husain’s account of his time with Nawaz in HT, begins with him describing a similar moral guide in his early childhood – his grandfather. He instilled in the young boy a love of the gentler values of Sufi Islam, giving him an inner moral core that remained inviolate, and returned to after rejecting Islamism. Read that too - they make very good companion pieces (though both would benefit from an index/glossary explaining Islamist names and terms).

The tolerance shown by Nawaz’s mother is mirrored by two further examples of forgiveness and magnanimity: John Cornwell from Amnesty, and Mr Moth, the gay teacher. In seeing him as a human being even when he would deny that to them, they offered a moral counterweight to the dehumanisation of non-Muslims by Islamism, which only sees the world as a binary opposition between the Caliphate and the ‘kufr’, or the other. But now as a secular Muslim pluralist, and Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, I've heard Nawaz more often articulating nuanced points of view that put humanity and democratic values first. I was also heartened by his description of the humanising effect of literature. Again, the seeds were sown in childhood, through the love of reading instilled in him by his mother. Although we should be cautious about the redemptive powers of literature, his reading in prison did seem to genuinely expand his imaginative capacity to feel for others, and I enjoyed his realisation at the end of 'Lord of the Rings', when the evil Gollum saves the day, that life is more morally complex than he thought.

I was initially put off the book by the (suspiciously) high number of 1 star reviews- until I read them and realised how personal in nature and infantile they were - then listened to him on-line debating with a whole host of extremists, and that decided it. The book did not disappoint. Nawaz has clearly learned from his models and is himself now setting an example of maturity, dignity and courage under immense provocation. Their reactions show he’s paid a very high price for breaking free; for me the most compelling part of the story was not his physical suffering in prison but the break he had to make with his HT past and crucially, with the lies in his head. I was very moved by his account - sometimes in direct letters to those he has hurt - of how difficult that was, and then having to leave behind family and friends. In particular, he is brutally honest about his inability to take responsibility for his wife and child, which I must admit made for uncomfortable reading.

Other liberal Muslim writers attract similarly vitriolic reviews – why? Because it’s easier to ignore and dismiss criticism from outsiders, but when a family member turns on you and tells the world with greater eloquence and authority than you are capable of that there’s a better way, that’s a real threat - hence orthodox Muslims’ attempts to discredit him as a government stooge. But reading 'Radical', I was, above all, struck by the man’s independence of mind: Nawaz seems to be servant to none, but master of himself. In fact, I think he writes and speaks out of love for Muslims, not hate; at the end of this book, he could have rejected religion entirely in favour of another off-the-peg identity as an atheist. But billions of Muslims are hardly going to reject their own families and cultures; arguably therefore, it was more radical for Nawaz to stay within the fold and fight to reclaim the tolerant Islam of his youth, and perhaps even reshape it for a new century – for everyone’s sakes.

Naturally, since Nawaz is a flawed human being like the rest of us, his memoir will typically contain omissions and reflect his own perspective. Sometimes his charismatic energy can seem overwhelming, and it is true that we never leave our past selves behind entirely; I once had a vivid illustration of that during a book reading at Waterstones, where the one-time child evangelist Jeanette Winterson bizarrely stood on a coffee table to read from her latest book. However, when she spoke, her words rang out true. Like her, Nawaz is now turning his proselytising talents to better account by working for a more humane world. When you read 'Radical', focus not on the man, but on what he says. I am fed up of hearing extremist voices in the media that claim to speak for me and millions of others from Muslim backgrounds who are just getting on with our lives, alongside our friends and work colleagues of all backgrounds; in this book, I heard an important new voice that for once chimes with our reality and values.
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on 20 June 2017
In today's context, this autobiography offers an alternative and unique testimony which cannot be ignored. To do so would be socially irresponsible
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on 29 September 2017
Love him on LBC and was gripped by this til the end. Am buying a copy for everyone I can think of for Christmas!
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on 19 June 2017
Written with clarity, humanity and honesty an essential guide to the vulnerability and exploitation of young people racially abused and excluded within our society.
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on 15 June 2017
A fascinating read .......
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on 19 July 2017
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