[ExI] "Faithfully honing the killer instinct"

Damien Broderick 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 
pool table.

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 
Australia, $24.95).

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