Monday, April 23, 2007

Political Islam is for Boys!

How a British jihadi saw the light:
Ed Hussain, once a proponent of radical Islam in London, tells how his time as a teacher in Saudi Arabia led him to turn against extremism.
I had never expected to see such naked poverty in Saudi Arabia.

At that moment it dawned on me that Britain, my home, had given refuge to thousands of black Africans from Somalia and Sudan: I had seen them in their droves in Whitechapel. They prayed, had their own mosques, were free and were given government housing.

Many Muslims enjoyed a better lifestyle in non-Muslim Britain than they did in Muslim Saudi Arabia. At that moment I longed to be home again.

All my talk of ummah seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal.
The students to whom I described life in modern multi-ethnic Britain could not comprehend that such a world of freedom, away from “normal” Saudi racism, could exist.

Racism was an integral part of Saudi society. My students often used the word “nigger” to describe black people. Even dark-skinned Arabs were considered inferior to their lighter-skinned cousins. I was living in the world’s most avowedly Muslim country, yet I found it anything but. I was appalled by the imposition of Wahhabism in the public realm, something I had implicitly sought as an Islamist.
I was repeatedly astounded at the stares Faye got from Saudi men and I from Saudi women.

Faye was not immodest in her dress. Out of respect for local custom, she wore the long black abaya and covered her hair in a black scarf. In all the years I had known my wife, never had I seen her appear so dull. Yet on two occasions she was accosted by passing Saudi youths from their cars. On another occasion a man pulled up beside our car and offered her his phone number.
We had heard stories of the abduction of women from taxis by sex-deprived Saudi youths. At a Saudi friend’s wedding at a luxurious hotel in Jeddah, women dared not step out of their hotel rooms and walk to the banqueting hall for fear of abduction by the bodyguards of a Saudi prince who also happened to be staying there.
Segregation of the sexes, made worse by the veil, had spawned a culture of pent-up sexual frustration that expressed itself in the unhealthiest ways.

Using Bluetooth technology on mobile phones, strangers sent pornographic clips to one another. Many of the clips were recordings of homosexual acts between Saudis and many featured young Saudis in orgies in Lebanon and Egypt. The obsession with sex in Saudi Arabia had reached worrying levels: rape and abuse of both sexes occurred frequently, some cases even reaching the usually censored national press.
My students told me about the day in March 2002 when the Muttawa [the religious police] had forbidden firefighters in Mecca from entering a blazing school building because the girls inside were not wearing veils. Consequently 15 young women burnt to death, but Wahhabism held its head high, claiming that God’s law had been maintained.

As a young Islamist, I organised events at college and in the local community that were strictly segregated and I believed in it. Living in Saudi Arabia, I could see the logical outcome of such segregation.
In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah I met young men with angry faces from Europe, students at various Wahhabi seminaries. They reminded me of my extremist days.

They were candid in discussing their frustrations with Saudi Arabia. The country was not sufficiently Islamic; it had strayed from the teachings of Wahhabism. They were firmly on the side of the monarchy and the clerics who supported it. Soon they were to return to the West, well versed in Arabic, fully indoctrinated by Wahhabism, to become imams in British mosques.
Sultan spoke fondly of his time in London, particularly his placement at Coutts as a trainee banker. We then moved on to the subject uppermost in my mind, the terrorist attacks on London. My host did not really seem to care. He expressed no real sympathy or shock, despite speaking so warmly of his time in London.

“I suppose they will say Bin Laden was behind the attacks. They blamed us for 9/11,” he said.

Keen to take him up on his comment, I asked him: “Based on your education in Saudi Arabian schools, do you think there is a connection between the form of Islam children are taught here and the action of 15 Saudi men on September 11?”

Without thinking, his immediate response was, ‘No. No, because Saudis were not behind 9/11. The plane hijackers were not Saudi men. One thousand two hundred and forty-six Jews were absent from work on that day and there is the proof that they, the Jews, were behind the killings. Not Saudis.”
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in London another Saudi student raised his hand and asked: “Teacher, how can I go to London?”

“Much depends on your reason for going to Britain. Do you want to study or just be a tourist?”

“Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!”

“What?” I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: “Me too! Me too!”

Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking. I was incandescent. In protest I walked out of the classroom to a chorus of jeering and catcalls.

My time in Saudi Arabia bolstered my conviction that an austere form of Islam (Wahhabism) married to a politicised Islam (Islamism) is wreaking havoc in the world. This anger-ridden ideology, an ideology I once advocated, is not only a threat to Islam and Muslims, but to the entire civilised world.
Still, that's no argument or alternative vision to contradict the widespread assumption that a politicised Islam is in fact orthodox Islam, i.e. that a political and violent Jihad constitutes the most obvious interpretation of the Islamic holy texts and the life of Mohammed, not to mention the later history of Islam, Sharia, etc. I would welcome a radical re-interpretation of Islam, as something non-political, but so far it does not seem to exist in any well-developed sense, and Ed Husain seems to be among a decided minority of converts from orthodox Islam who would define their "religion" in Western terms, in light of Christ's separation of church and state.

Now if only Ed Hussain can learn to see that Britain is, or was, a free society because it has been a particular kind of Judeo-Christian society and not just home to some vague ode to freedom and multi-ethnic accommodation.

Little Olde Englande, in which it was surely not uncommon to hear used the "n" word, often defined itself as a society of free men in contrast to the benighted masses of the "coloured" world. Among other things, this was arguably first a way of keeping their own big people in line, suggesting to would-be tyrants at home that they might be compared unfavorably with an Oriental Despot if they didn't recognize the Englishman's rights. And it has been just this legacy of an English society with a relatively large number of degrees of freedom, won as part of a contest to build a powerful nation (powerful because free) that could compete with and dominate other peoples, that has led to the Britain in which Ed Hussains can live in relative peace and freedom. Any chance he can come to appreciate the paradox and help displace Britain's present, self-immolating, fascination with White Guilt?

Now that the Brits have let in millions of "people of colour" and, more to the point, millions of people of the crescent, and other foreign beliefs, will they destroy their freedom in policing "multiculturalism" and the disorder that unassimilated populations, with quite different understandings of what is sacred, bring to the country? Or will the Ed Husains become a multitude that make the leap and embrace the freedom of the Englishman, defining themselves in contrast to the benighted masses of the non-free world who must either become more free and enter into productive competition in the global economy; or become dominated by those who can produce; or be simply left to prey on each other and cause periodic sacrificial conflict with the outside world?

Rejecting "political Islam" should lead one not only to a rejection of a utopian politics that dreams of the rise of some united Umma under a renascent Caliphate and Sharia. It should also lead to a new appreciation for the global order of nation-states maintaining their differences while competing in a single economic system. It should engender the lesson that only a nation that can respect its own particular cultural tradition for building covenants that unite the people, with all their various domestic minorities, against some external Other, can hope to expand the degrees of freedom that are possible within a national life. And only a society that is free and disciplined, internally, will become sufficiently transparent for outsiders to find reasonably predictable the means by which a society defines its foreign policies. We can only hope to survive the nuclear age if all societies that can make a bomb, and soon that will be everyone, become suitably free, transparent, and predictable, that we may mediate international conflicts (which always entail some domestic conflict over how the nation should present itself to Others) in a pragmatic, rational, fashion. Thus we must hope for many more Ed Husains teaching that political Islam is for overly excited, immature, boys. Either that, or we must continually bomb the barbarians back into the stone age, that they never get the big bomb. Which course is likely to keep us united and strong at home?


Charles Henry said...

Your post prompts me to reflect yet again of the mystery of evil in our world, how indecipherable it can be; why is it that some are able to free themselves from the seductive grip of its magnetic attraction, while others not only fail to resist its lure, they actually choose to deepen their embrace of it.
The mystery of the latter is exemplified by the clerical students that M. Husain meets, who, instead of being revolted by what they discover in Saudi Arabia, as he was, arrive at the opposite conclusion:
“The country was not sufficiently Islamic; it had strayed from the teachings of Wahhabism. They were firmly on the side of the monarchy and the clerics who supported it. Soon they were to return to the West, well versed in Arabic, fully indoctrinated by Wahhabism, to become imams in British mosques.”

Same evidence, opposite conclusions.

The Ed Husains of the west are going to need deep resolves of strength, as they will be fighting two enemies, both determined to erase their very existence: on the one hand, their fellow muslims, such as the imams-to-be he mentions in the article, who believe in their version of koranic teachings and are committed to acting upon those beliefs, acts that demand the eradication of alternatives rather than the tolerance of other approaches to interpreting their faith (not to mention other faiths in general!).
Husain’s other opponent is the political left: they are besotted by a determination to deny the humanity of muslims by denying them the capability of the choice of good or evil. The constant finger pointing at Bush and Blair’s various foreign policies for being the cause of all the terrorist violence exploding across our world is so condescending in its sweeping generalizations, it is the very epitomy of racism: the left seems to sincerely believe that a billion people of muslim faith can not be expected, as Ed Husain now expects of himself, to possess the freedom of will to choose between good and evil. To continue to hold this view, the left must view muslims as animals, genetically wired to stay what they are, incapable of adaptation to new circumstances as is not only possible but expected of the human race… we take it for granted that children will grow up and embrace the challenges, compromises and disappointments of adulthood, learning to leave behind childish visions of absolutism and self-centeredness.
Bush and Blair believe that the human souls inhabiting the muslim world are capable of the same choices between good and evil that we expect of ourselves.. that there is a shared humanity that needs protecting, and nurturing, so that they can share in the glorious bounty we have increasingly enjoyed in the anglosphere. Not instantaneously, with the expectations of immediacy that a child lives by, but the gradual incrementalism through which any adult arrives at their goals, looking to manage and massage original objectives as new revelations materialize themselves along the way.

On this issue, I think the right ponders the mystery of evil and can only shrug its shoulders with the humble admission that while we can’t fathom the ethereal plague that is causing the illness, we think we know what might alleviate the desease: we try to create a system that will make it easier for muslim souls to choose good over evil, to adopt a view of shared humanity over a tribalist compartmentalization of that humanity.
The left presumes in their diagnosis that there is a material, physically demonstrable cause, but no cure: they declare that Bush makes muslims attack each other, and that, unlike the ennobled left who "refuse to support Bush's war", muslims are powerless to resist this siren song to savagery.
Will the left defend mr. Husain’s choice to pass judgement upon muslims embracing a violent form of political islam when they themselves refuse to make the same judgement?

Charles Henry said...

whoops, that comment ended up much longer than I intended... sorry.

truepeers said...

It's not too long, Charles!

On the question of evil, I think the problem is that we cannot live in this world without some minimum of necessary evil, when all our choices entail some degree of less-than-perfect consequences for someone. Consequently, some people are all too keen to make a virtue of necessity, not the necessity that leads to freedom to strive for Godliness, but the necessity and vain freedom that allows one to take pleasure in doing evil and to pursue this pleasure beyond necessity or Godliness; because people can see that no one in this world can completely avoid doing some evil, somewhere, somehow, they take a nasty pleasure in trying to convince others that we must learn to overcome our inhibitions and worship our violent or Dionysiac side - see, e.g., the modernist esthetic, its veneration of the bloody sacrificial, and its will to power. The left being still modernist, if only drearily so in postmodern, safe-sex, times, finds common cause with the imperious Islamists at some basic esthetic level and avoid ironing out all the ethical consequences of this esthetic bond.