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The Islamist
Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left
By Ed Husain
Penguin
PB, 320 pgs. US$16
ISBN: 0-1431-1598-7

Back from the darkness

By Steven Martinovich
web posted June 1, 2009

The IslamistWithin the past few years the face of Islam has changed from what was a deeply spiritual pursuit of a relationship with God to a politically charged ideology whose core mission is the establishment of a God-centered government. A rain of books and policy papers written by western pundits and eastern Islamists around the world agree that argue that a clash of civilizations is inevitable as an expansionist Islam has dedicated itself to the destruction of the West – chiefly the United States and Israel. It would appear that Christianity and Judaism cannot coexist with Islam. Is this apocalypse, however, really that inevitable?

Few are better placed to answer that question that Ed Husain, who as a British teenager of Bangladeshi extract joined the Islamist movement based in London during the mid-1990s. In The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left Husain recounts the five years he spent in various Islamist groups, why so many young Muslims find them attractive and the threat they pose to western society. Though the Islamist threat is playing out on the global stage, Husain’s story brings it down to the personal level and illustrates why the movement truly is a threat to us all regardless of which faith we practice.

Husain’s initial attraction to Islamism is one that most would recognize, or at least understand. Though Britain billed itself as a tolerant society – it has been relatively friendly to immigrants for a century – Husain was a brown face with a different religion in a white Protestant world. Though raised by parents who held Islam as a spiritual path to God, Husain’s teenage years saw him rebel against them and society itself by turning to a politicized Islam. He proved a natural talent and quickly recruited others to the Islamist cause. His was a war against traditional British society and its perceived hostility to Islam – or at least Husain’s version of it.

Eventually his agenda expanded from recruiting Muslims at his school and neighbourhood to a more global view. His ultimate goal was the creation of a new caliphate in the Middle East to battle the west on a more equal footing. This Islamic state would be guided only by the Qu’ran and all policy – domestic and foreign – would be formulated with that in mind. Other nations, be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise, would acknowledge the caliphate and submit or be destroyed. It is a nothing less than a violent perversion of Islam reminiscent of the death cult that Germany fell prey to during the 1920s and 30s, Islamist superiority the goal instead of a genetic master race.

The murder of an African Christian at school, however, shakes Husain to his core. With the figurative veil lifted from his eyes, Husain begins to question many of his beliefs. He begins to withdraw from Islamist circles – though many of his assumptions remain intact for a period of time – eventually rejoining mainstream society. For a time he works in a prominent bank but is repelled by the rampant materialism and hedonism he sees. He and his wife travel to the Middle East where he begins to reconnect with a more spiritual Islam, the same his parents taught him. With another former Islamist Husain launches a center dedicated to combating extremism.

Husain ends his account with a warning for Americans: the Islamist threat isn’t contained to Islam’s traditional region of influence and Europe. Many of the same trends that Husain observed growing up in London are now making their presence felt in cities all across America. The next Islamist terrorist attack to target America could see its participants all home grown rather than from abroad. The arrest on May 20 of four men – three born Americans and one Haitian immigrant, most converted to Islam in jail – of plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and shoot an airplane out of the sky may be a harbinger of things to come.

It’s difficult to think of The Islamist as an inspirational story given what Husain reports about the Islamist movement. Their numbers are growing and the West seems unwilling to combat them, whether due to apathy or liberal sensitivities. They use our civil institutions, laws and governments against us to score their gradual victories. Yet, reading the story of Ed Husain one can hope that they too are able to rediscover the traditional Islam which preaches acceptance and humility. Given the current political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, it may be western society’s only hope. ESR

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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