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This is perhaps the best newspaper article I’ve ever read on the phenomenon of radical Islamists in Europe, written from the point of view of those who have left the movement and now discuss how they felt and what they did. Well worth reading. It is by Johann Hari and entitled, “Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again.”
The two key points are:
First, how some–in this case imprisoned leaders of the Egyptian jihad–developed an alternative Muslim perspective:
“After more than 20 years in prison, they had reconsidered their views. They told him he was false to believe there was one definitive, literal way to read the Koran. As they told it, in traditional Islam there were many differing interpretations of sharia, from conservative to liberal – yet there had been consensus around one principle: it was never to be enforced by a central authority. Sharia was a voluntary code, not a state law. `It was always left for people to decide for themselves which interpretation they wanted to follow,’ he says.
“These one-time assassins taught Maajid that the idea of using state power to force your interpretation of sharia on everyone was a new and un-Islamic idea, smelted by the Wahabis only a century ago. They had made the mistake of muddling up the enduringly relevant decisions Mohamed made as a spiritual leader with those he made as a political ruler, which he intended to be specific to their time and place.”
I would call this the rediscovery of conservative traditional Islam, with a bit of a liberal modernist twist. That was the view of Islam which dominated the religion for many centuries between its early era and the recent rise of Islamism.
Second, and particularly fascinating and important is how Western Political Correctness and multiculturalism has disastrously encouraged and legitimized radical Islamism:
“From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of `Go back where you came from!’ But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn’t want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as `the funny foreign child,’ and told to `explain their customs’ to the class. It patronised them into alienation.
“`Nobody ever said–you’re equal to us, you’re one of us, and we’ll hold you to the same standards,’ says [Ed] Husain. `Nobody had the courage to stand up for liberal democracy without qualms. When people like us at [Newham] College were holding events against women and against gay people, where were our college principals and teachers, challenging us?”’
What a devastating indictment of leftist Political Correctness and multi-culturalism that is! Those two paragraphs should be read all over the West and in classrooms. Western behavior encourages radical Islamism by failing to champion Western intellectual, cultural, and political values. The same effect results by turning off the assimilation process.
But also responsible is the behavior of most Muslim leaders in the West who spend their time criticizing Western policies and societies while complaining about how Muslims are treated but never seeming to wage the war against extremism in their own communities.
Incidentally, please note that the word “Israel” is not mentioned in this article, which shows how small a part that issue plays in this movement. It is a revolutionary movement seeking state power and the transformation of Muslim-majority societies, or even of the whole world.
On one point I differ a bit but the differences can be easily reconciled. I am willing to accept the idea that actions like the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq heated up this movement in Europe by seeming to prove that the West was trying to destroy Muslims. But it is equally valid to point out that the Afghan–though not the Iraq–action was necessary to defend against September 11. This is a choice that the Jihadists force against the United States–and regarding Hamas and Hizballah against Israel. In effect, they say: we will attack you. If you don’t respond we will become stronger and win; if you do respond we will use that against you by making propaganda. The latter is ultimately less damaging than the former.
Another point of interest in the article is that the British-born radicals were disillusioned by: actual contact with the Jihad, seeing the kinds of societies it created, and coming to understand how different real Muslim-majority societies were from their own vision of the only proper style of Islam. This is important to understand but of course the majority are not persuaded away by such experiences.
At a time when the reality of radical Islamism as an international and internal threat is being explained away or silenced in Western countries–even when Jihadists shouting “Allahu Akbar” gun down their citizens, this article is an important corrective.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.