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The Revelations of Ed Husain
on 26 September 2007
As my only source of information about Islam was the news media, I was keen to hear the voice of someone who had direct experience of Islam. I did not know quite what to expect so I approached the book with an open mind trying desperately to put aside the influence of the news media. However, I must say that my journey through the book and the outcome was of no surprise.
First, Husain's book is well structured and his story is told with great clarity. Right from the outset one gets a sense of the direction Husain's life was going to take. In primary school, he was immersed in the multiculturalism of Sir William Burrough primary school and guided by the liberal hand of his head teacher Ms Susie Powlesland. Incidenly, from this period onwards there would turn out to be many hands willing to guide Husain.
It seemed to me that Husain's text had to address a number of questions. One, the path his radicalism took, two the different approaches to the Muslim faith, for example the differences between him and his parents. Husain's narrative outlines, develops and addresses these two issues very well. However, a third issue: how radical Islam attracts and retain young people was more problematic but nonetheless interesting.
One of the surprises of reading this book was the way in which Husain was initially drawn into radical Islam. The initial method was through a close friend, Falik, rather than the stereotype many of us hold of the proselytizing radical standing outside Mosques trying to convert moderates into radical Islam. If this is the means many who become radical take then we all have a huge task in trying to curtail the radicalization of young Muslims.
But as one reads on it soon becomes clear that the mere capturing of individuals such as Husain was only a very minor part of the grand scheme of the various groups that he was to Join. The grand scheme appears quite simply to be the Islamization of the whole world. The initial steps to achieve this scheme that those various groups took were to target, on campuses; Christians, Jews, Hindus, Seeks, non-believers and even moderate Muslims. Their methods were to: agitate, incite, organize events, create pseudo global links and prey on the soft minds of liberals whom Husain and Hibt ut - Tahrir saw as having: "an innate inability to understand the Islamists Psyche."
Husain's text indicates that he was a confused young man because there is irony and contradiction in his position and understanding. At the peak of his membership of the Young Muslim Organization (YMO), it was rather ironic and to some extent contradictory that Husain should have thought that one of Muslim activist groups, JIMAS, was literalist in its stance. At the same time it seems to me that the YMO was itself literalist. For example, in respect of the values and concepts that opposes literalism, concepts such as: "tolerance, respect, compromise, and pluralism" Husain tells us that they had no meaning for the YMO.
One message that came across clearly to me was how important it is for so called liberals to shed their liberalism in the face of radicalism, from whatever source it might might come, and stand up to it. I take a strong stance for the following reason. In one passage Husain outlines his experience of negotiations with Tower Hamlet college management for a large room for Friday prayers. This is how Husain describes the outcome of negatiations: "Exultant at how easily we had cowed the sensitive, liberal establishment of the college we grew from strength to strength." Such appeasement of radical groups must not be allowed.
An outstanding issue that is revealed by husain is that he outlines the experiences of fairly intelligent young people. Although one must be careful here of the use of the word intelligent because in this context, where many contradictions prevail, it has the ring of an oxymoron. Arguably, despite Husain's flirtation with the idea that he and the various groups displayed intellectual acumen, it could be said that there was a lack of rigour, honesty and integrity among him and the various groups. Their lack of intellectual ability was further shown by the fact that they had simply succumbed to what is known as accepting truth by authority.
A major problem with Husain's book is that he spends little time analyzing and explaining why he became an Islamic fundamentalist and why young Muslims might be attracted to it. Instead, the book is broadly a description of things that happended. A little more analysis would have enabled the reader to understand in more depth the appeal of this kind of radicalism.
Nonetheless, Husain manages to point out that there are a number of groups and individuals competing for hearts and minds, if I could use this hackneyed phrase. In this broadly descriptive text, what Husain is good at is to show and make clear how these various groups and individuals connected to the notion of radical Islam and influenced his experience of it.
It was inevitable that Husain's long drawn out departure from radical Islam would lead to a kind of redemtion. On his departure, Husain's road to Demascus is filled with humility and pathos. But is was not a simple straight forward pathos because with a sense of anger I had to ask what took you so long to depart.
Whatever I think about radical Islam, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of Husain's book it certainly opened my eyes to some of the finer points of radical Islam I would not have seen through the news media. On this basis it is well worth investing the time to read the book.