As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have been reading the recent book by Ed (Mahbub) Husain entitled The Islamist. I have finished reading it now. Mahbub and I both attended HT activities in London back in the early 1990s. I had intended to write a detailed piece on my thoughts about the book, but as there have been so many reviews I thought I would just make the following observations:
- Although the book has received wide acclaim amongst non-Muslim commentators, the reception amongst the Muslim community has been very frosty. The book was obviously written for the non-Muslim audience (hence the pen name ‘Ed’). The most positive review (although a lot of negative points are made) is the lengthy one by Yahya Birt. Other Muslim writers including Inayat Bunglawala, Andrew Booso and Yusuf Smith are much more critical of him. There are some newspaper journalists including Brian Whitaker, Riazat Butt and Madeleine Bunting who have also been critical.
- On DeenPort, Mahbub asked whether Muslims should wash their dirty linen in public. He has received a great deal of criticism from members of the DeenPort discussion forum and although he initially responded to it, he has failed to respond to much of the recent criticism. I agree with Yusuf Smith who asks “How can we take anyone seriously when he tells us not to air dirty linen in public while writing a book which does precisely that, on a much larger scale?”
- I don’t want to question Mahbub’s sincerity, but there are a huge number of opportunities for ‘kiss and tell’ style accounts from former ‘Islamists’. It is easy in this day and age to make a quick buck by bad mouthing the Muslim community. Brother Mahbub should reflect on the rightwing racists and Islamophobes who are feasting on his testimony.
- When the book neatly fits the Government’s narrative it is not surprising that it gets such wide acclaim from the broadsheets. The government’s narrative is that there are ‘ordinary decent Muslims’ who are completely detached from concerns about foreign policy or the notion of Islam being at the centre of state and society in the Muslim world. Every one else is an ‘Islamist’ who are accused of exploiting the faith of their fellow Muslims for political ends. This explains the Government’s recent support for the Sufi Muslim Council and the British Muslim Forum.
- I don’t think Mahbub’s account adds anything about the Islamic ‘scene’ in the UK. This is not surprising as he has not been part of it for over a decade. By his own admission, in the mid-1990s he ended his association with HT, before briefly moving on to associate with MB linked groups like ISB. He was never a ‘jihadi’ and never a ‘terrorist’, even though some in the media have described him as a former ‘jihadi’.
- Although many of us may have had bad experiences with some people from HT, Yusuf Smith hits the nail on the head when he says, “In calling for HT to be banned now, he ignores the reason why they are not: because the troublemakers left ten years ago. HT now are a quiet intellectual group, at least in the UK, and we do not ban parties in this country simply because we dislike their ideology.”
- There are some major errors in the book – I am not sure whether these are intentional or accidental – I know they are errors because I was with HT during the same period Mahbub was – for example there is the claim that HT never spoke out against Saddam Hussain. His suggestion that he parted company with HT for ideological reasons is also not true – it was more to do with his close personal relationship with Omar Bakri [he left when Bakri was kicked out], pressure from his father and other personal reasons which I don’t want to mention.
- Mahbub does not answer some very important questions. What tips someone over from being a ‘radical’ to becoming violent? After all, he was a radical and never became violent and the overwhelming majority of radicals do not become violent. Why is it that ‘Islamists’ linked to HT and the MB have existed in the UK for decades, yet we have never seen violence on the streets of the UK until after the Iraq war? Mahbub dismisses the foreign policy angle as a cause for alienation and radicalisation, but I think the evidence is stacked up against him. If this is a battle of ideas between “traditional Islam” and “Islamism” then how can it be won by banning groups or silencing voices? Does Mahbub believe that ISB, JIMAS, etc, etc. must all be banned? Should East London Mosque and Regent’s Park Mosque and all the other mosques linked to MB and the Wahabbis be closed down? Surely, what is needed is more debate and argument between the groups in accordance with the Islamic etiquettes? We can’t just sweep the views of many Muslims under the carpet. Does Mahbub really believe that anyone who wants the caliphate or an Islamic state must believe in violence? After all, a recent poll by the University of Maryland found that over 70 per cent of the population in the Muslim world wanted Shariah and the caliphate but were opposed to violence.