What can we learn from one man’s journey to radicalisation?


2:14 pm - June 14th 2013

by Huma Munshi    


      Share on Tumblr

What does it mean to be so alienated from civil society that none of the democratic structures available offer an outlet to articulate your anger and frustration? This is explored in Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening by Maajid Nawaz, published in 2012.

It’s worth exploring this question now given the recent killing in Woolwich and the rise in prominence of the English Defence League. The idea that ‘home-grown’ men who have functional lives in the UK and, like the 7/7 bombers, reject the dominant ideology so vociferously that they turn to violent extremism worries many commentators.

Maajid Nawaz was born and raised in Essex. To an outside observer he may have seemed relatively integrated: he enjoyed popular culture, had girlfriends, went to college and had friends. But this only tells part of the story. Growing up he was subjected to systematic racial abuse and learnt to fend for himself and others. The sense of being an outsider and the subsequent feelings of displacement had begun early.

The alienation that Nawaz experiences are a driving force for him becoming radicalised, not dissimilar to the reasons people join far rights groups. In both instances, they feel the only viable option available to them is to join organisations that give them a sense of identity and purpose. The demonisation of the ‘other’ provides an outlet for their anger and frustration.

Maajid Nawaz was politicised at university, being recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party). Using his charisma and rhetoric to recruit other students, he was seen as an early leader. There is a particularly brutal scene when an African student is stabbed to death by another young man who has become radicalised. The fact that Nawaaz and others are able to stay affiliated to such groups illustrates the level and intensity of the indoctrination.

While studying for his Arabic and law degree, he travelled around the UK and to Denmark and Pakistan. He used this as a ploy to set up new cells to recruit other men to the cause and spread an ideology of Islamic extremism. He is later arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and then put in solitary confinement in a Cairo jail reserved for political prisoners.

By the end of this journey he publicly renounces fundamentalist Islamist ideology. He later went on to establish the Quilliam Foundation with Ed Hussain.

Tony Blair has called this a “book for our times”, which “should be read by anyone who wants to understand how the extremism that stalks our world is created and how it can be overcome”. The Labour government was to strongly back the Quilliam Foundation. This explains much of why Nawaz is demonised by some sections of the Muslim community. To be praised by a Prime Minister whose foreign policy has stoked much of the animosity British Muslims may feel, does not lend the author with much credibility within some sections of the Muslim community (and beyond).

However, if Radical provides us with one useful message, it is that it gives us a narrative to understand how important it is to address the alienation that young men (in particular) are experiencing. Without actions to address this, they are more susceptible to join groups which give them a sense of purpose and identity.

But to treat this distinct from other forms of extremism takes away a valuable opportunity for an accurate analysis of the causes of these criminal acts. It also fetishizes Muslim extremists unhelpfully and lends itself to further stigmatising Muslims within the media. This is often followed by a rise of Islamaphobic hate crime which feeds into greater levels of alienation by those being victimised. And so the cycle goes on.


Amazon.co.uk: Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Huma Munshi is a feminist, trade unionist and occasional writer.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Media ,Race relations ,Religion

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


A now overlooked and earlier book by Ed Hussein ” The Islamist” is also well worth a read.

2. So Much For Subtlety

Maajid Nawaz was born and raised in Essex. To an outside observer he may have seemed relatively integrated: he enjoyed popular culture, had girlfriends, went to college and had friends. But this only tells part of the story.

I think what we can learn is simple – too many people in the West loathe themselves. They teach this hatred of the West to non-Western people. Who in turn loathe the West. That often takes them to dangerous places.

Even with this book the reviewer can’t help but blame the rest of us for providing this young man with opportunities, a good home, a chance at a better life. It is all our fault it seems. It throws around trite cliches from a First Year sociology handbook that avoids the main point – we have created a wonderful peaceful suburb society which is great if you’re middle aged and middle class. If you’re young, you hate this and want rock and roll and hard core drugs. If you’re a Leftist you hate this and want violent revolution that will see your street swimming in the blood of the local Women’s Institute. What they have in common is hatred of the boring mediocrity of liberal democracy. As do the Islamists we have taught.

So it seems I do the book reviewer an injustice. It is our fault. The same society that glamorises The Rolling Stones for their rebellion, and the Angry Brigade for theirs’, naturally produces people like the Woolwich killers.

3. the a&e charge nurse

Any recommendation made by Blair must be put into the context of how such utterances feed the image Tony likes to cultivates for public consumption, in other words we should have all learnt a long time ago not to take what he says at face value ……… but I digress.

Is the contention of this book ‘alienation made me do it’ – and does it discuss it how other alienated groups in our society do not address identity problems by resorting to lashings of indiscriminate uber violence.

We even get inevitable references to the EDL – an organisation that did not exist in 2005 – how can they be implicated in certain forms of religious payback when the uber-violence preceded their formation?

I’m glad Maajid has renounced islamism although the so called ‘moderate’ position can only be maintained by a combination of ignorance or highly selective reading of the quran, a book that purports to be literally the word of god (a huge problem for any thinking person) and by the restraining effect of secularism, and more importantly scientific knowledge which makes just about all religious beliefs untenable in the final analysis.

Many liberals still have a blind spot when it comes to religionists, one of the reasons perhaps they become so excitable when they come across a group like the EDL it is OK for everybody to hate.

We can learn a lot about how radicalisation comes about just by reading about some of their history.
Some of the people who blew up the trains in Madrid were second generation North African petty criminals and otherwise non-religious low lifes. They drank and went to clubs, had girlfriends and sold drugs.
Then one of their religious friends told them they were going to hell, and they felt they had to do something big and worthy to redeem themselves. To become shahids or soldiers in the good fight against their heathern imperialist fellow countrymen.
It was all just rather tragic. Maybe you could see stuff like that happening. The bad … turning mad.

5. Charlieman

@2. So Much For Subtlety: “I think what we can learn is simple – too many people in the West loathe themselves. They teach this hatred of the West to non-Western people. Who in turn loathe the West.”

Western Self Loathers (eg Chomsky, Pilger) preach a message that is disregarded by small L liberals in democratic societies. And by liberals in undemocratic societies. Western Self Loathers are not numerous, and they even get a hard time on the far left.

The words of Western Self Loathers are used by authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe etc to argue against democracy. Islamists use the words of Western Self Loathers in the same way.

But it is ludicrous to suggest that Western Self Loathers teach hatred to Islamists. For a start, Islamists view Western Self Loathers with the same contempt as held by liberal democrats. Islamists have their own set of hatreds and motivations, and do not need any lessons.

Islamists can be crudely split between outfits using entryist tactics (eg Muslim Brotherhood affiliates) and political rejectionists (eg Choudary-style groups). Entryists are happy to play games with Western Self Loathers and with power fetishists (eg Galloway), but their philosophy is Islamist. Which makes Western Self Loathers doubly stupid.

Essentially, SMFS, your first paragraph amounts to rose fertiliser.

6. Matthew Blott

@ imrankhan

I’m reading Maajid Nawaz’s book at the moment and have almost finished – it’s a fascinating story although it would have benefited from better editing. Ed Hussain’s The Islamist is a superior literary effort and well worth reading also.

7. So Much For Subtlety

5. Charlieman

Western Self Loathers (eg Chomsky, Pilger) preach a message that is disregarded by small L liberals in democratic societies. And by liberals in undemocratic societies. Western Self Loathers are not numerous, and they even get a hard time on the far left.

That is not true. For a start the Far Left are self loathers. As are most of the Soft Left. They are not disregarded. Chomsky may be mocked, but he is also enormously influential. And they are particularly numerous among Academics, the BBC, civil servants and teaching staff in general. Which is why someone like Lyse Doucet cried when Arafat died and complains that we do not focus on the humanity of the Taliban enough.

But it is ludicrous to suggest that Western Self Loathers teach hatred to Islamists. For a start, Islamists view Western Self Loathers with the same contempt as held by liberal democrats. Islamists have their own set of hatreds and motivations, and do not need any lessons.

I don’t think there is a contradiction there. The Socialist Workers Party is strong only in one Trade Union – the teachers union. The fact is these young men are taught before they become Islamists. They are taught that the British Empire and British people are evil. Those young men may loath their pathetic teachers, but they are not getting any other message. In that vacuum that hatred becomes the default and the norm. Which provides the basis for Christians like this murderer to fall easily into Islamism.

@7. So Much For Subtlety: “Which is why someone like Lyse Doucet cried when Arafat died and complains that we do not focus on the humanity of the Taliban enough.”

Lyse Doucet is a BBC contributor and all round journalist. I trust that her friends will treat my words which follow generously. Doucet is not a Humphrys/Paxman style journalist and is not treated as one. She is one of a thousand writers who are known to the BBC and who understand how to pitch a story. Your blanket smears, SMFS, are just smears.

“The Socialist Workers Party is strong only in one Trade Union – the teachers union.”

Innumerate twaddle. The SWP is strong in the NUT and UCU, two unions representing teachers and other education workers, but also in more “traditional” or “blue collar” unions.

Growing up he was subjected to systematic racial abuse and learnt to fend for himself and others. The sense of being an outsider and the subsequent feelings of displacement had begun early.

This then is a negative consequence of immigration. Families migrate to the west from other cultures and then some of them feel alienation in their new surroundings. Things as insulting as seeing Bingo halls named after the holiest of places, or being asked to wear a football shirt with a money lending company’s logo on it.
Even just being a racial or religious minority can be alienating. In The Jewel in the Crown novel, the Indian character Hari Kumar is a little miffed that everyone at his English public school pronounces his first name wrong and just calls him ”Harry” … when it’s meant to sound more like ”Huri”.
Very alienating I’m sure.

There are a hundred and one ways in which to feel alienated, and one of the most common (IMO) is therapeutic alienation. That’s wilful self-alienation, because it feels good. Think of young middle class people who might want to slum it and appear ghetto. Like Tupac Shakur for example. He went to drama school and had bright prospects, but became a poster boy for the hip hop ”thug life” phenomenon.
And millions bought into it and wanted to emulate it.

Young Muslims can obviously also do this too. ”Every one hates us” some of them wail and gnash, as they sit in their bedrooms getting off on Jihad porn videos from Iraq.

A good account of the concept of therapeutic alienation was given by black US commentator John McWhorter.
http://www.radicalmiddle.com/x_mcwhorter.htm

I think in the case of the UCU (lecturers’ union) there is a disjuncture between strong SWP links at NEC level and the membership as a whole. In fact I think it’s because many lecturers are not highly political, not activists at least, that the far left do so well. Most members don’t bother to vote, so only the views of the more zealous/engaged are reflected in election results – that’s about 10% of members I think, i.e. those who vote.

‘What does it mean to be so alienated from civil society that none of the democratic structures available offer an outlet to articulate your anger and frustration’ is IMO a general question that can be applied to probably most of the population.

A crucial component of democracy is transparency. Without that powerful groups retain power and can regularly abuse it to their own advantage.There are enough recent cover ups recently not to warrant listing them but biggest of all is the immense power of the state to snoop over its citizens without any credible control.

The obviously other important factor is corporate power which is regularly abused and which has an overarching impact on daily life. Whats the point of a vote if you dont have a job or any stake in the society you are meant to be engaging with.

Finally with the credibilty of politics in disarray,state TV pretty much suppressing the realities of domestic and international news and the obvious inability of the current poitical parties to manage capitalisms latest crisis, I would suggest that it isnt a few errant Muslims that are doubting the democratic path. Both GCHQ and many thinking people probably on both sides of the fence are seeing where all this is going.

12. So Much For Subtlety

8. Charlieman

Lyse Doucet is a BBC contributor and all round journalist. I trust that her friends will treat my words which follow generously. Doucet is not a Humphrys/Paxman style journalist and is not treated as one. She is one of a thousand writers who are known to the BBC and who understand how to pitch a story. Your blanket smears, SMFS, are just smears.

But she was not fired. She was not disciplined. If she had said that about Franco, or some dead South African White guy or the BNP, she would be unemployed. It is not a smear. It is a descriptive.

Innumerate twaddle. The SWP is strong in the NUT and UCU, two unions representing teachers and other education workers, but also in more “traditional” or “blue collar” unions.

By all means, feel free to list all the other unions they control. I can wait.

The point being that they do run the education unions.

Sarah AB

I think in the case of the UCU (lecturers’ union) there is a disjuncture between strong SWP links at NEC level and the membership as a whole.

I do not think it is a disjuncture. If it was, the members would be angry enough to do something about it and there would be a new national executive. They are not. It is true that the SWP is a minority even among teachers but it is also clear that the majority of teachers are happy with the SWP’s views and control. Imagine what they would do if the BNP won control of their union.

Even Harry’s Place turned on them not because they were politically extreme loons, but because they were both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. It is hard to love someone who hates you. But if you look at a lot of the people in academia on HP, they were long time friends before the SWP abandoned them.

13. ludicrous pseudonym

@SMFS

“The point being that they [the SWP] do run the education unions.”

Evidence, please. You sound like the worst kind of conspiracy theorist. The one who can’t even be bothered to back up their crap. Poor form.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy: What can learn from one man’s journey to radicalisation? | moonblogsfromsyb

    […] via Guest Liberal Conspiracy http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/06/14/what-can-learn-from-one-mans-journey-to-radicalisation/ […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.