[ExI] "Faithfully honing the killer instinct"
thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Jul 8 21:14:57 UTC 2007
Faithfully honing the killer instinct
* Two years ago, Britons were horrified to discover that
terrorist attacks in London were the work of home-grown fanatics. Now
Ed Husain reveals his experience of how Islamism motivates violence
* June 30, 2007
FOR children like me, growing up in Britain in the 1980s was not
easy. The National Front was at its peak. I can still see a gang of
shaven-headed, tattooed thugs standing tall above us, hurling abuse
as we walked to the local library to return our books. Our head
teacher, Susie Powlesland, and the other teachers raced to us, held
our hands firmly and roared at the hate-filled bigots.
"Go away! Leave us alone!" they would bellow to taunts of "Paki
lovers" from the thugs. Little did I know then that one day I, too,
would be filled with abhorrence of others.
The colour-blind humanity of most of my teachers at Sir William
Burrough primary school at Limehouse in east London, their strength
in the face of tyranny, taught us lessons for the rest of our lives.
Britain was our home, we were children of this soil and no amount of
intimidation would change that; we belonged here. And yet, lurking in
the background were forces that were preparing to seize the hearts
and minds of Britain's Muslim children.
I was the eldest of four, with a younger brother and twin sisters. My
father was born in British India, my mother in East Pakistan (now
Bangladesh), and we children in Mile End in London. In ethnic terms I
consider myself Indian. Somewhere in my family line there is also
Arab ancestry. This mixed heritage of being British by birth, Asian
by descent and Muslim by conviction was set to tear me apart in later life.
After joining Tower Hamlets College in east London in my late teens,
I became active in the institution's Islamic Society, managed by
members of Young Muslim Organisation (UK), a youth wing of
Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party that has its headquarters in
Pakistan. (Islamism refers to the belief Islam is a political
ideology as well as a religion.) By secret ballot I was elected president.
The college had a majority Muslim population and the Islamic Society
had an extremely high profile. The events I organised attracted
crowds of more than 200 students. In essence, I was running an
Islamist front organisation operating on campus to recruit for the
wider movement and maintain a strong Islamist presence. With the help
of my members I was successful on both counts.
Many students at college found the literalist approach of Wahhabism
(Saudi fundamentalism) attractive and I soon saw several of my fellow
students heading to jihad training in Afghanistan in response to
Koranic verses urging Muslims to rise up against violence. That the
violence in question was of pagans in Mecca in the seventh century
might not offer obvious justification for a so-called jihad in the
modern world, but who was I to argue with my literalist members?
Through YMO, we had introduced many of them to 20th century Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood intellectual Sayyid Qutb's Milestones; had Qutb
not called for a jihad against Muslim rulers on the grounds that they
were non-believers? Qutb's Milestones, combined with Wahhabi
literalism, made a potent and dangerous cocktail.
In the multicultural Britain of the '80s and '90s, we were free to
practise our religion and develop our culture as we wanted. Our
teachers left us alone, so long as we didn't engage in public
expressions of homophobia or intimidation of non-Muslims. But
Britishness and the British values of democracy, tolerance, respect,
compromise and pluralism had no meaning for us. Like me, most of the
students at college had no real bond with mainstream Britain.
Yes, we attended a British educational institution in London, but
there was nothing particularly British about it. It might as well
have been in Cairo or Karachi. Cut off from Britain, isolated from
the Eastern culture of our parents, Islamism provided us with a
purpose and a place in life. More significantly, we felt as though we
were the pioneers, at the cutting edge of this new global development
of confronting the West in its own backyard.
My interest in Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Liberation Party, www.hizb.org.uk)
came at a critical time. At college there were others who were also
coming under its influence. There were seven of us, all members of
YMO or sympathisers, who wanted to know what the Hizb was really
about. Wahhabis had put out information that the group was deviant in
creedal matters. Many in the East London Mosque believed Hizb members
were Shia, and Sunni Islamists believed them to be infidels. Arab
Islamists familiar with the Hizb from the Middle East suggested the
group members were American agents. Who were they really?
From its literature and by asking members of the Hizb I learned that
in 1952 Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, founder of the Hizb, had applied to
the Jordanian interior ministry to establish a political party with
Islam as its ideology. The Hizb was, from its inception, committed to
establishing an Islamic state dedicated to propagating its ideology.
The Jordanian monarchy rejected the application on the grounds that
the Hizb was committed to overthrowing the king. Uncowed, it gained
momentum in neighbouring Arab countries and was eventually outlawed
in every country in which it operated. Its aims were considered
seditious, its plans destructive and its politics iconoclastic. And
yet the Hizb survived and thrived in the prisons of the Arab world,
filled with political detainees of various Islamist groups.
Two men, Farid Kasim and Jamal Harwood, were central figures inside
the Hizb in Britain. Farid was a Sheffield University-trained town
planner and worked for Islington Borough Council. Jamal was a
Canadian who had converted to Islam and worked as an accountant with
J.P. Morgan in London. Along with Salim Fredericks, another long-time
member, these were the men who introduced the Hizb to British
Muslims. Under their leadership and the guidance of Hizb's
charismatic pugnacious leader at the time, the Syrian-born cleric
Omar Bakri Mohammed (who had been expelled from Saudi Arabia), the
Hizb targeted the Tower Hamlets borough with determination. For the
Hizb, Tower Hamlets was Britain's most densely populated Muslim area.
I would spend hours in discussion with members of the Hizb,
questioning them on matters ranging from the dialectical materialism
of Marxists to abstruse points in Muslim jurisprudence. Whatever
questions I asked, Hizb members always had answers.
Although its members had addressed the students at Tower Hamlets
College before, their reception had been lukewarm until I, as Islamic
Society president, offered them direct access to the Islamised youth
on campus: a fact that escaped me at the time. Sensing a fertile
recruiting ground, the Hizb moved key members into a flat in
Chicksand House, a two-minute walk from Brick Lane.
Within weeks the flat became the Hizb's headquarters in Tower
Hamlets, housing members such as the Kenyan radical Abdullah Hameed,
who studied at Brunel University, and the undergraduate Burhan Haneef
as well as others from Greenwich University. Burhan, whom we called
Bernie, was studying politics at the University of London's School of
Oriental and African Studies. Originally from Slough in Berkshire, he
was an exceptionally warm, witty, and wayward member of the Hizb. His
door was always open to us. Following long sessions with Bernie and
another Hizb member, Patrick Ghani, who was studying at the
Whitechapel-based London Hospital Medical College, I and seven
members of the Islamic Society had created a separate Hizb faction at
college. No longer was I just the president of the Islamic Society: I
was also the local leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The concept of the Muslim nation, as opposed to disparate ethnic
communities, was key. To the Hizb, Indians, Malaysians, Turks,
Indonesians, Arabs and Africans were all part of a single, global
Muslim nation, an ummah. We were weak because we were divided. Muslim
lands (not countries) were poor because the Muslims of Sudan,
Somalia, Bangladesh and Kashmir did not share in the oil wealth of
the Gulf countries. Oil, we argued, was a gift from God to Muslims:
all Muslims, and not just Gulf Arabs. Muslims were one nation under one God.
Nabhani argued for the complete destruction of the existing political
order, particularly in Muslim countries, so that it could be replaced
by a caliphate. If we had such an Islamic state, then the caliph
would send the Islamic army to slaughter the Serbs: this was was our
answer to the Balkan conflict. The international community said it
refused to arm Bosnian Muslims to prevent an escalation of the
conflict. But we knew there was a conspiracy to reduce the number of
Muslims in Europe.
Bosnia acted as a catalyst for extremism among large numbers of young
Muslims in Britain. It was a serious political wake-up call for
hundreds of us, semi-radicalised by the emotional Islamism of
Jamaat-e-Islami but given a clear, radical outlook on life by Hizb.
On university campuses across the country our shabab or party
activists were creating a storm. In 1992-93, BBC television's
Newsnight program covered our rise. Local newspapers in Britain,
including the Evening Standard, wrote about the Hizb's activities.
The Jewish Chronicle campaigned against the Hizb. We circulated
newspaper cuttings among the shabab and celebrated our prominence.
All other Islamist groups looked on bemused. How had the Hizb raised
its profile so quickly and so successfully?
Boosted by the intense media interest, we went from strength to
strength. Nothing gave us greater motivation than to hear our ideas
being amplified in the national media, reaching new audiences of
millions. To us it did not matter whether the coverage was favourable
or otherwise. We were resigned to biased reporting, but we knew that
there was a crucial constituency of Muslims who would look on us as
their leaders, their spokesmen against the attacks of the infidels.
It was this recognition we needed more than anything else.
The British media provided us with it and more: Arab dictators were
increasingly worried about the rising profile of a group they had
banned four decades ago. Britain breathed new life into the Hizb.
When Yasser Arafat and king Hussein of Jordan visited London, our
shabab were there in large numbers, calling for the removal from
office of these and other Arab leaders.
We were concerned about Omar's application for political asylum. I
worried that the Hizb's high profile in Britain might jeopardise the
chances of him staying in Britain. I raised this with Bernie, too.
"Oh no," he said. "On the contrary. The British are like snakes; they
manoeuvre carefully. They need Omar in Britain. Most likely Omar will
be the ambassador for the khilafah (caliphate) here or leave to
reside in the Islamic state. The kuffar (infidels) know that:
allowing Omar to stay in Britain will give them a good start, a
diplomatic advantage, when they have to deal with the Islamic state.
"Having Omar serves them well for the future. Britain's domestic
security agency MI5 knows exactly what we're doing, what we're about,
and yet it has, in effect, given us the green light to operate in Britain."
Bernie's words about the intelligence service proved to be correct.
It was not until the events of July 7, 2005 (the day of the London
suicide bombings by home-grown Islamic terrorists), that British
intelligence admitted it had been a mistake to allow Islamists of all
shades to put down serious ideological roots among Britain's Muslims.
On a personal level, my relationship with God had deteriorated. If we
were working to establish God's rule on earth, as we claimed, then
Hizb activists were the most unlikely candidates God could have
chosen. My comrades were heady and headstrong young people. We were
ecstatic at the thought that soon a real Islamic state would emerge
in the Middle East, reverse history, and allow a return to the glory
days of Islam.
Yet as I had become more active in the Hizb, my inner consciousness
of God had hit an all-time low. Externally I portrayed signs of piety
to maintain a standing among my target audience, but I was no longer
an observant Muslim. We sermonised about the need for Muslims to
return to Islam, but many of the shabab did not know how to pray. I
witnessed at least four new converts to Islam at different university
campuses, convinced of the superiority of the Islamic political
ideology as an alternative to capitalism but lacking basic knowledge
of worship. Within three weeks of their conversion they were
lecturing others about the need for a khilafah, the role of the
future Muslim army and the duties of citizens in the future Islamic
state. But when it came to reciting the Koran or maintaining basic
Muslim etiquette, they were clueless.
When Patrick and Bernie came to ask me about basic verses of the
Koran for recital in prayers after they had delivered sermons at
prayer rooms in universities, I began to realise how little these
people knew about the Koran. I was getting older and the Hizb seemed
suddenly like pretentious, counterfeit intellectualism. Despite huge
political success, I despised myself for appearing pious and upright
in Muslim eyes when all the while I knew that there was a vacuum in
my soul where God should be.
At home, I no longer knew I had a family. By day I was active on
campus and in the evenings I kept myself away from my parents and
siblings. I could not bear discussions with my parents any longer.
All subjects returned to what my father called my "going astray to
the enemies of Islam". Those words angered me. My life was consumed
by fury, inner confusion, a desire to dominate everything and my
abject failure to be a good Muslim. I had started out on this journey
wanting more Islam and ended up losing its essence.
Nevertheless, in public I was still the mighty leader of the Hizb on
campus, the challenger of kuffar in the name of Islam, the leader of
Muslims. I went around college with my Hizb friend Majid Nawaz (who
would later be tortured in the notorious jails of Cairo after
advocating Hizb's extremist ideas in Egypt during his Arabic language
placement year) and many of our new recruits, maintaining a visible
presence and making ourselves available to the ummah.
Of the many faces I encountered on a daily basis, there was one
belonging to a girl called Faye that did what mine used to do a lot:
smile. As an Islamist I had lost my ability to smile. Slowly, we
became very good friends.
Faye was no ordinary girl: her genuine and illuminating smile, caring
eyes, her endearing face with its olive complexion and her warm ways
drew me to her. I discovered that we had identical ancestral and
social backgrounds, and a common interest in learning Arabic. We also
shared a desire to travel. The new threshold of our relationship was
to mark a milestone in many ways.
We would write to each other and Faye's letters and verses spoke of a
God that was close, loving, caring, facilitating, forgiving and
merciful. Faye was close to God: she prayed regularly. I, by
contrast, believed in a God who was full of vengeance, a legislator,
a controller, a punisher.
I could not envisage a future without Faye. I marshalled sufficient
courage to write and ask if she would consider me for her husband.
She paused for thought for a week and eventually said yes, but on
condition that we both complete our studies and pursue careers. Love
illuminated beyond all expectations.
I now started to spend more time studying with her in the town hall
library across the road from the college building. One afternoon a
new recruit to the Hizb rushed over to ask me to go to the college
immediately. Some black Christian boys had been hogging the pool
table and were refusing to let a group of Muslims play. Things could
get nasty. I rushed over to find a stand-off involving a dozen pool
cues and a roomful of injured pride. How dare the inferior Christians
refuse Muslims a game?
We spoke about jihad but we never anticipated real violence. Not yet,
anyway. It was not party policy to engage in violence before the
caliphate came about. We believed that fighting as individuals was
futile: our aims were greater. An army would fight entire nations
with the military force of the Islamic state, not by vigilante gang warfare.
One afternoon as I sat in the library, buried in my books, I heard
voices outside. On the other side of the street a small crowd had
gathered and Dave Gomer, the student affairs manager, was pushing
people away. Within minutes an ambulance arrived and from where I
stood, I could see a boy lying on the ground next to a pool of blood:
one of the Christian boys who had been involved in the row over the
Majid and I left the scene with heavy hearts. We both knew that
whatever had happened at college, as Hizb activists we were
responsible. It was we who had encouraged Muslim fervour, a sense of
separation from others, a belief that Muslims were worthier than
other humans. And those ideas had been inculcated in us by Hizb.
Majid had seen the whole thing. Apparently the boy, a Christian
student of Nigerian extraction, had been throwing his weight around
and being offensive towards Muslims and about their attitudes.
Someone had phoned Saeed, a local black Muslim and Hizb supporter,
who turned up within 15 minutes. The pair confronted each other
outside. The black boy drew a knife. Saeed remained calm, looked the
boy in the eye and said, "Put that knife away or I will have to kill you."
The boy did not respond. Perhaps he thought Saeed was bluffing. Saeed
walked closer and warned him again. Exactly what happened next is
unclear, but within seconds Saeed had pulled out a dagger and thrust
it into the boy's chest. This was murder. And had I not been with
Faye in the library, I would probably have somehow been involved. It
was a narrow escape.
Dismayed, Majid went to see Omar Bakri and gave him a full
explanation of what had happened, explaining that Saeed had acted in
self-defence and asking Omar to stand beside the college's Muslims.
Instead the Hizb leadership issued a condemnation of what had
happened, saying that it was a non-violent party. This myth was
swallowed by investigators who never really understood the
seriousness of the Hizb's form of violence. Even today, this is a
primary reason for Western failure in the war on terror: an innate
inability to understand the Islamist psyche.
That murder, the direct result of Hizb's ideas, served as a wake-up
call for me. Now, every time I saw a leaflet with Hizb's flag and
masthead posted above images of the globe, I felt nauseous. Soon
Saeed was arrested, charged, and convicted of murder.
Just as I had become a member of the Hizb over a period of time, my
departure from the organisation did not occur on a specific date. My
first move away was to dissociate myself from the halaqah or local
branch, a move prompted by the taking of an innocent life, Omar
Bakri's subsequent deceit and my horror when I realised how poisonous
was the atmosphere I had helped create. Most important of these was
the murder: the Hizb's ideas had led to the belief that the life of a
kafir, or unbeliever, was of little consequence in achieving Muslim dominance.
I could not bear to be associated with such ideas any longer. I was
frightened of where they might lead. I had advocated the ideas of
Muslim domination, confrontation and jihad, never for one moment
thinking that their catastrophic consequences would reach my
doorstep. I had completely confused Islamism with Islam.
Copyright Ed Husain, 2007
This is an edited extract from The Islamist by Ed Husain (Penguin
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