In 1948, an Egyptian civil servant, Sayyid Qutb, travelled to the US to study the American education system. After experiencing what he described as the West's materialistic, promiscuous and immoral culture, Qutb returned to Egypt, and joined the radical Islamic group Muslim Brotherhood. After a failed assassination attempt on President Nasser, in 1954 Qutb, along with fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood, was imprisoned and sentenced to death. Before his execution he wrote Milestones, a book widely regarded as the definitive manifesto for extremist Islam.
After Qutb's death, his brother Mohammed Qutb continued preaching his message in Saudi Arabia. One of his students was Ayman Zawahiri - Bin Laden's number two. Qutb believed that the only acceptable form of government for a Muslim was a God-given Islamic theocracy - a return to "Khilafah", along the lines of the Ottoman Empire as it existed up until 1924.
Note Bin Laden's statement of 2003: "Jihad will continue until the establishment of an Islamic state." And Hizb ut-Tahrir's statement of last week: "Working for Khilafah is fard (obligatory) and Hizb ut-Tahrir does not need a licence from any government or institution to fulfil this obligation."
This theocratic form of Islam is not just the guiding principle for al-Qa'ida and Hizb ut-Tahrir, it is the central motivating ideology that unites all militant Islamic groups around the world today. It is a philosophy which has as its objective the overthrow of governments, East and West, while condemning any notion of democratic political engagement. This philosophy has been pushed to young Muslims by a variety of groupings in the UK for over 50 years.
During the general election campaign earlier this year, 30 Muslim youths surrounded George Galloway and his Muslim supporters at the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency and declared they were "setting up the gallows" for him. They warned any Muslim who voted for his Respect party that they faced a "sentence of death". At Hizb ut-Tahrir's last annual conference the attendance was reported to have been over 8,000 people.
The majority of Muslims in the UK have no truck with theocratic Islam. A more mainstream secular Islam is practised in mosques and homes up and down the country. It is an esoteric, law abiding and peace-loving practise that is often, however, taken for granted by many of us. Energetic radical theocratic sects have, all too often, found their way into the minds of disillusioned young people with, in some areas, little by the way of secular Islam with which they can identify to counter it.
Recently some groups of moderate young Muslims have, however, established themselves around publications such as The Revival magazine. It is these gatherings that need to be supported by the Government in the battle of ideas. Drawing local support networks for young people from such proactive organisations is the most productive initiative the Government could take at the moment.
At a national level, a new second-generation British-Muslim culture, which is only in its birth pangs at the moment, needs to be nurtured and encouraged in all sectors - music, film, sport and entertainment. Young Muslims need culturally integrated role models to follow, rather than the ancient martyrs and caliphs pedalled by the theocrats.
Sayyid Qutb's best role model for a young Muslim was Ibn Taymiyya, a 14th-century Islamic writer who declared to the Egyptian Sultan that, as the neighbouring Iranian Mongols were not the purest of Muslims, a jihad had to be waged against them. A "glorious" slaughter ensued. Qutb's vision has inspired Islamic "resistance" movements since the 1950s. They compare themselves to the French resistance of the Second World War, waiting to reclaim their nation, happy to go underground if they must.
Like the young man who waited outside Brick Lane mosque after prayers yesterday. With unabashed persistence, he resolutely approached every worshipper who left the building. His leaflets spoke with defiance of the inevitable dawning of the Khilafah state. Most people paid no attention, some rolled their eyes, others sneered, but one or two stopped. That's all it takes.
The author is a London-based psychiatrist and film maker
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