Ed Husain: You Ask The Questions
The author of 'The Islamist' and co-director of the Quilliam Foundation answers your questions, such as 'Did you ever consider becoming a suicide bomber?' and 'Who is your political hero?'
Monday 14 April 2008
Is Islam innately violent?
I would not remain a Muslim if Islam was innately violent. The Prophet Mohamed called for the spreading of peace and serenity, but at the same time was not a pacifist. After years of torture and persecution, he fought back. Muslims believe in just wars. Indian Muslims fought against Nazi Germany in a legitimate jihad. We fight against injustice.
Why has it taken so long for Muslims to tackle the problem of extremism?
Most Muslims are still in denial about this cancer of extremism in our midst. Unless we Muslims accept we have a serious extremism problem, then we cannot turn to rejecting it. Whenever the BNP hits our streets, or the far right gathers in mainland Europe, there is always a counter response. Where is the Muslim uprising against extremists? Most Muslims, sadly, cannot distinguish an extremist from a pious believer. Matters are made worse by Arab dictators quelling any dissent. Speaking out against extremists is often interpreted as supporting Middle Eastern despots. For as long as there is an absence of transparent governance in the Muslim world, political extremists will flourish as voices of opposition.
Is Islamofascism an acceptable term?
No, Islamofascism is a contradiction in terms. But Islamist-fascism is an acceptable term. Those who seek to gain total power by force, impose their rigid Islamism on people, kill Muslims who oppose the Islamist state, destroy Israel, and conquer independent Muslim countries are fascists in waiting. We need to be honest and admit that people who espouse the above aims operate within Muslim communities. And they are protected from external criticism by Muslim leaders in the name of "Muslim unity" and Islamophobia. Islam is not Islamism. And Muslims must not buffer Islamists from condemnation. And nor should the liberal left.
Why is Islam so resilient in our godless age?
As a Muslim, I find spiritual solace in recitation of the Koran and warmth in the company of Muslim saints. I draw inspiration from the life of the Prophet and try to be humane, truthful, just, and forgiving. In a secular country, without role models and a sense of truth, Islam provides most believers with serenity and a moral compass. Islamis an experience, a taste, a flavour – godless atheism cannot compete with the transcendental nature of faith.
Did you ever consider becoming a suicide bomber, or do you know why people do?
My generation of Islamists certainly held suicide bombers in awe. I remember during my involvement with Islamist groups in East London Mosque that we regularly collected funds for "martyrs". To this day, most Islamists refuse to condemn Palestinian suicide bombers as murderers, and venerate them as martyrs. I knew Asif Hanif from Hounslow, west London, who blew himself up in Tel Aviv in 2003. Yes, suicide bombers have perceived grievances, but they are also motivated by vacuous, literalist readings of scripture that promises a better afterlife. As long as sections of the Muslim community (mainly Islamists) provide social honour for suicide bombers' families, merge political grievances with religion, and promise a one-way ticket to Heaven then we will continue to see mass murderers being respected as martyrs.
What did you find appealing about extreme forms of Islam?
Elite, exclusive, purpose-filled, contrarian, regimental, confrontational.
The London bombers all came from middle-class backgrounds, rather than oppressed poverty. How can this be explained?
Easily. Contrary to popular opinion, poverty is not connected to the Islamist cult of suicide bombings. If there were a connection, then Muslims in Bangladesh and Darfur would have become suicide bombers en masse. They have their fair share of poverty and political grievances. Middle-class Muslims, disconnected from traditional Islam, often have a "born-again" experience of extreme Wahhabism or Islamism. And those educated at modern, secular universities see Islam as a textbook, much like an engineering manual. Centuries-old wisdom, nuance, history, scholarly consensus are all lost on the born-again, middle-class Muslim who joins Islam as a "political activist". There are parallels with US Evangelicals.
Hizb ut-Tahrir say you were never a member. Who should we believe?
Their understanding of membership is idiosyncratic and involves swearing cultish oaths to Arab control-freaks. I was part of their secret cell structures for two years, and their deputy leader, Farid Kasem, was my cell instructor. Their current leader, Dr Nasim Ghani from Southend-on-Sea, recruited me. Will he deny this?
Should Hizb ut-Tahrir be banned?
In the past, I've called for them to be banned. However, in recent months, several leading former members of HT have come forward and formed a network that now is able to challenge and easily defeat HT's arguments using scripture and theology. This is unprecedented in Britain. Most prominent among these former members is Maajid Nawaz, who spent four years in an Egyptian prison for his membership of HT. Now, as director of the soon-to-be-launched Quilliam Foundation, he has openly challenged HT to a public debate. To date, they have shied away and their supporters have resorted to character assassination. When as Muslim democrats we can defeat HT with arguments, why should we resort to a ban? I am convinced Maajid's method of open debate is better than driving them underground. It remains for HT to respond.
Is the media biased against Muslims?
Certain right-wing publications, yes. That said, they did not create stories about Muslim cabbies refusing guide dogs into their cabs, or Muslim female teachers not removing face covers, or Muslim nurses rejecting standard NHS uniforms. I could go on. These so-called "practising Muslims" risk becoming their own worst enemies. The practice of Islam must be in harmony with its spirit of compassion – otherwise there's something wrong. By and large, "the media" is not a monolithic institute – it is varied, competitive, open to new ideas, reflects broadly principles of free speech, transparency, and chases after salacious headlines. More journalists could do a better job of informing themselves about the plurality within Islam and Muslims, rather than turn to the usual suspects every time a Muslim-related news story breaks.
Isn't it just a fact that Islam is not compatible with democracy?
Don Ratcliff, UK
Islamism is not compatible with democracy as it calls for "God's law" and claims political sovereignty belongs to God alone. Islam, on the other hand, has no specific prescriptions for modes of governance. From the earliest of times, Muslim history across the globe has illustrated a plethora of approaches to government. Early Muslim rulers (Imam Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law, for example) fought those who claimed "rule is for God". Muslim scholarly giants such as Ibn al-Qayyim (d 1350) condemned those who claimed to rule in God's name. Unlike Christianity, Muslim history did not battle for church and state separation since the clerics were almost always a separate entity from the rulers.
Is the problem with Islam that it never had a Western-style renaissance?
Islam and Muslim scholars such as Averroes and Avicenna gave birth to the Western renaissance. They introduced Europe to Hellenistic thought. When Europe was in the Dark Ages, Muslims preserved the legacy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Now, we Muslims need reminding of this history and creation of a renaissance of the Muslim pluralist past.
Is foreign policy to blame for terrorism in Britain?
There's more than foreign policy at work here. Undoubtedly, foreign policy has some role to play but let's not forget that countries such as Indonesia (Bali), Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and others have also suffered terrorism. Islamist terrorism started long before foreign policy blunders of Western government. The terrorists' targeting of nightclubs last year and talk of killing "slags" while they dance indicates a medieval mindset that cannot tolerate social freedoms.
Why do you think different ethnic communities in the UK seem to lead more or less separate lives?
Because the white English mainstream is ridden with class snobbery, soft racism, patronising multiculturalism, imperial hangovers, binge drinking, and an inability to rid itself of "English reserve" – the Rudyard Kipling variety. That said, the English are still far less racist than most immigrant communities or, for that matter, the French or Germans. Most English people, for example, would accept a black son/daughter-in-law. Most Asians or Poles would not. In the name of multiculturalism, we have created monocultural ghettoes. There is no expectation from new arrivals to sign up to anything in Britain. We let them be. As a country, we can all do better and actively push for greater cohesion.
Should Islamic faith schools be encouraged?
I am increasingly finding it difficult to understand what is "Islamic" about these schools other than having a Muslim-majority student base. But if there are Jewish and Christian schools then why not Muslim schools? It's a question we have to answer as a country.
Who's been a worse president – Bush or Ahmadinejad?
Surely, you know the answer to that!
Who is your political hero?
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