Monday, July 20, 2009

The Islamist - a complex web unraveled

When Islamist terrorism is being discussed the world over, more as a reaction to cruel and barbaric acts, this book written after the July 7 London bombings is a revelation. It seeks to dispel several myths which we, as consumers of popular media stories, take for granted and often use to perpetuate several other myths amidst our friends in cycles.

This particular book written by Ed Husain and the cover of which says “Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left”, is a narration that will have few parallels in the publishing world for its sincerity and honesty. It is not easy to examine one’s past critically, come to terms with it and move on to a better existence that is not misguided.

Ed Husain writes about a sweet childhood spent in the company of understanding and loving teachers, English countryside and caring and religious parents. He moves on to describe a turbulent adolescence that leads to self doubts and isolation. Evident throughout the book is the nature of British society, tolerance and freedom of speech that was exploited by wide ranging elements who seek to recruit young adults into their myriad organizations often under the guise of a “better Muslim way of life” .

The cocktail of politics with religion that some organizations espouse by interpreting the works of Abul Ala Mawdudi, the founder of Jamat-e-Islami and Syed Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist ideologue is laid bare through the author’s personal involvement during his teenage years (in the 90s) with YMO and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The allusions to the blatant intolerance and vocabulary of hate preached with abandon across college campuses by charismatic and brainwashed speakers sends a chill down the spine.

The hate propagating agendas these groups stand for is at odds with moderate and traditional Muslims to whom religion is a private entity, writes Ed Husain. In writing about the threads that separate such groups and gives each its own space, there is a complexity involved. The funding for these groups particularly those that have roots in Wahhabi literalism is shocking. In striving to bring out the differences between the lifestyle of Muslims in Damascus and Jeddah – two places where the author spends considerable time – the book scores heavily. The irony is nowhere lost when one reads how Syria is part of the ‘axis of evil’ and Saudi Arabia, considered to be an ‘ally’ in the fight against terrorism.

Racism and subjugation of women, rampant in Saudi Arabia combined with the Wahhabi literalist rigidity makes the kingdom more than just an exporter of oil as the author suggests. “Al-queda is a hybrid beast, a marriage of convenience between Islamism and Wahhabism whose offspring is terrorism”. In contrasting such hate with the practices of Sufism to which the author gets exposed in Turkey, the author makes a strong case for Islam as a religion of peace.

While it is the contemporary relevance of such revelations that is striking in the beginning (events of 9/11 run parallel to the narrative), the more important aspects of the book are those that shed light on how nearly two generations of British Muslims are led astray by bigotry. To be persuaded by the simplicity that the media so assiduously strives hard to impose and to brand every Muslim a terrorist is a crime. Once we as a people realize and confront the prejudices we harbor, there is hope for a better tomorrow. The sooner we dare do it, the more peaceful our atmosphere will be.

Read this book to know about the experiences of a man who has been through the good and the bad and confronted his mistakes in the past most sincerely. It is indeed a complete eye-opener (The Times describes is aptly here).

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