That question has occurred to most of us in the past few days and is taken up by Legal Eagle in another excellent post. There were some good thoughts too on Lateline last night from Professor Andrew Silke, director of terrorism studies at the University of East London, an expert on the psychological profile of terrorists, and on tonight’s 7.30 Report — link later — an interview with someone who knew well one of those arrested in the UK.
I have had occasion to think about this a lot in the past six or seven years — haven’t we all? In my case it was made more pertinent because I was working with a number of very intelligent, concerned, and committed Muslim teenagers, the sort who just might morph into people like those doctors, though I hope not, and believe for most it is unlikely. But I wrote several times about my concerns between 2003 and 2005 especially.
Here are a few relevant archives, all now on WordPress:
1. Monday, September 12, 2005: New America Foundation : article -957- “Portrait of the Enemy”. I have found A Fury for God (2002) by Malise Ruthven has stood the test of time well. In that entry I quote from the NAF article:
Ruthven rightly spends time exploring the writings of Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, a name that will be unfamiliar to most Americans, but as the leading modern exponent of the Wahabbist strain of militant Islam, he is as significant in that world as Lenin was to communism. Qutb visited the United States during the 1940s, a visit that Ruthven characterizes as “the defining moment or watershed from which ‘the Islamist war against America’ would flow.” Qutb, a fastidious man, was appalled by the overt sexuality of American women, the crowds of New York and even jazz. Returning to Egypt with an intense animus against the West, he joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was eventually imprisoned in Nasser’s hellish jails. While in prison he wrote Signposts on the Road, a tract that Ruthven describes as “an operational manual” for later militant Islamists. Qutb argued that jihad was more than a defensive war against the enemies of Islam — and, by implication, that jihad had to be conducted offensively. Qutb’s disciples have since acted on that message with devastating results.
Those disciples have an ambivalent relationship to Western civilization, seeing in it only the bad, while taking from it only what they need. They know nothing of Dostoyevsky, Einstein or Monet; instead they master “only the instrumentalities of Western culture… how to operate machinery, mix chemicals, program computers, fly planes… The philosophical presuppositions behind the technicalities, the condition of epistemological doubt, is spurned, because it threatens the structure of an identity rooted in the received certainties of faith.” Ruthven notes that this tendency gets reinforced by the strong backgrounds that many Islamists have in scientific or technical education; this, he argues, makes them “more susceptible to monodimensional or literalist readings of scripture than their counterparts in the arts and humanities.” For Ruthven, the lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta, a student of architecture and town planning, is perhaps the apotheosis of that narrow world view.
2. Monday, August 22, 2005: 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists. This entry tells you quite a lot about what I was working with, about Khilafah and Hizb ut-Tahrir.
3. Friday, March 17, 2006: The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern? This entry adds more detail to the previous one.
Lateline on Thursday night featured an interview very relevant to those old entries above.
TONY JONES: Do you understand how a doctor, though, doctors that you met who were training in Britain could give up their primary aim I suppose which is to heal people, for killing people?
ED HUSAIN: Well, you see their identities are very complex. Being a doctor is a means to an end. Many of these people were asked to become doctors simply because that’s what their parents wanted them to be. Many of these young Asian people born and raised for the first time here in Britain and their parents have a strong influence. Among Arabs and Asians there’s a preference for doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Their being doctors is default, it’s not a career choice for them that they’ve deliberately made out. It just so happens that while they’re at university, while they are isolated from mainstream communities and while they have this identity crisis, they’re recruited into extremist organisations at a very young age.
Many of these people are what we would call born again Muslims like born again Christians, who don’t really have a legitimate traditional experience of what it means to be Muslim other than an Islamist experience.
And here, if I may say so, I’d like to make that distinction between Islam the faith Islamism, the political ideology set up in its name. Just as we don’t blame the Catholic Church for the IRA or ETA violence in Spain we don’t blame Islam the religion with a 1,400-year track record of creating civilisations from Spain to China to the Middle East for what going on now.
What we blame is the marrying of an Islamist ideology set up in the 1950s in Egypt and later in Pakistan with what your piece correctly identified as Wahhabism.
My only criticism of the reports coming out of Australia is that you’ve correctly identified sections within Wahhabism to be a problem. Well done for doing that. But we must also remember that Australia is also now home to one of the most extreme Islamist organisations, not Islamic, Islamist organisations known as Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Yesterday in the Houses of Parliament here, the leader of the Opposition, leader David Cameron asked for that organisation to be banned. The Prime Minister Gordon Brown here is looking into that.
That organisation functions in Australia and its leadership takes its call and its literature and the London based Hizb ut-Tahrir. So that’s a threat in the making that I think your policy-makers and people in the media need to identify and educate the wider Australian population about and on a final thought, that even here the leadership of Hizb Ut Tahrir as well as the leadership of Wahhabist organisations are filled with engineers and doctors.
It’s that mindset of looking at scripture as a manual. It’s also a DIY attitude that we can do it ourselves. DIY reading without scholarly backing or spiritual inclinations. It’s that sort of text Islam of the mindset of a modern secular mind going to scripture without the assistance of legitimate, centuries-old scholarship…
I can kind of relate to that from my own experience, having been a Calvinist in my late teens and early twenties and having a similar feeling of being at the heart of God’s will, together with a number of others who were in fact rather well educated. I can also relate it to my experience of Communists later on.