Chris Muir reviews Maajid Nawaz’s memoir Radical.
There’s no getting around it. The Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, Maajid Nawaz, is a controversial guy. Described by Muslim crackpot Anjem Choudary as a ‘traitor to the faith’ and suggested to be a secret Islamist by Christian crackpot Glenn Beck, it’s clear he has ruffled more than a few feathers. In fact, it would take the entirety of this blog post to list the enemies he’s accrued – many of whom are a lot more dangerous than the aforementioned talking heads.
In spite of this, Nawaz has fiercely loyal supporters. Recently, after another Liberal Democrat activist, Mohammed Shafiq, spearheaded a campaign to have Nawaz deselected as the Lib Dem Hampstead and Kilburn PPC, Nawaz’ supporters launched a petition in his favour which has accumulated more than 6000 signatures at the time of writing. What bonds Nawaz’s supporters, whether they’re atheists or theists, right wing or left wing, is their belief in and defence of liberalism.
So just who is this man, capable of infuriating religious extremists and hooligans alike? Where did he come from? And why should you listen to him? Well, put simply, because he knows what he’s talking about.
In Radical, Nawaz’s recently released autobiography, he recounts the extraordinary journey which took him from being just another teenaged, rap-loving, ‘b-boy’ in sleepy Southend to a highly dedicated recruiter for the notorious Islamic extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, to then subsequently found the world’s first counter-extremist think-tank, Quilliam.
Radical is a fascinating autobiography, telling a truly exceptional life story. But it’s more than that. It’s a mission statement and a case study. Nawaz’s story gives us a unique insight into how a Brit, raised with Western values, can grow to deplore the country he calls home. How one can assume a supranational identity, bound not to country but to an alien ideology. Radical is Nawaz’s vow to once again separate that ideology from his religion. He wants to communicate that Islamism and Islam are not the same.
Islam is a religion of peace, he argues, but is being used to bind Muslims to a deceptive yet highly convincing meta-narrative calling for a caliphate. By conflating legitimate grievances regarding the effect Western foreign policy has had on Muslims in other countries with half-truths and propaganda, these recruiters have successfully established a siren call to the alienated and the angry. It is an ideology that has resonated with the disaffected and been enflamed by further Western military interventions, allowing a hegemony to be established.
Nawaz has a gift for communicating in prose. What really brings the book to life is his ability to paint a picture. Even knowing the dark path he’ll later take, it’s impossible not to sympathise with his young self when we read of the barbaric violence he witnesses at the hands of racist thugs, or the discriminatory way he is treated by the police just because he isn’t white. The young Nawaz is relatable, vulnerable, normal – which is why his decline into extremism is particularly striking. It’s striking because it’s clear that religion has little to do with why the young Maajid becomes entangled in jihad.
Whilst reading Radical I couldn’t help but recall Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Dawkins identified in The God Delusion that it is faith itself which allows extremism to breed. He argues that the very concept of faith – the willingness to accept instruction or explanation, no matter how irrational, as long as told in the name of God – creates a pliable mind, easily manipulated by extremists to further their own ends. After all, one is surely more likely to kamikaze into a building if they think they’ll be rewarded in the afterlife. I think this is a reasonable conclusion to reach, but It wasn’t until I read Radical that I realised it’s a reductive and simple explanation. Radical has been for me, an ‘antitheist’, what Dawkins would call a ‘consciousness raiser’.
I no longer think of the issue of extremism in black and white, in absolutes. The many shades of grey, and the many disparate components of the process of radicalisation are now visible to me. Radical feels like the breakthrough moment of a culture shift, and I wish Maajid and his movement all the success in the world.