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.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.
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.
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?