A generation of British Islamists have been trained in Afghanistan to fight a global jihad. But now some of those would-be extremists have had a change of heart. Johann Hari finds out what made them give up the fight.
From The Independent:
The Muslims who arrive here every day from Bangladesh, or India, or Somalia say they find the presence of British Islamists bizarre. They have come here to work and raise their children in stability and escape people like them. No: these Islamists are British-born. They make up 7 per cent of the British Muslim population, according to a Populous poll (with the other 93 percent of Muslims disagreeing). Ever since the 7/7 suicide bombings, carried out by young Englishmen against London, the British have been squinting at this minority of the minority and trying to figure out how we incubated a very English jihadism.
But every attempt I have made up to now to get into their heads – including talking to Islamists for weeks at their most notorious London hub, Finsbury Park mosque, immediately after 9/11 – left me feeling like a journalistic failure. These young men speak to outsiders in a dense and impenetrable code of Koranic quotes and surly jibes at both the foreign policy crimes of our Government and the freedom of women and gays. Any attempt to dig into their psychology – to ask honestly how this swirl of thoughts led them to believe suicide bombing their own city is right – is always met with a resistant sneer, and yet more opaque recitations from the Koran. Their message is simple: we don't do psychology or sociology. We do Allah, and Allah alone. Why do you have this particular reading of the Koran, when most Muslims don't? Because we are right, and they are infidel. Full stop. It was an investigatory dead end.
But then, a year ago, I began to hear about a fragile new movement that could just hold the answers we journalists have failed to find up to now. A wave of young British Islamists who trained to fight – who cheered as their friends bombed this country – have recanted. Now they are using everything they learned on the inside, to stop the jihad.
Seventeen former radical Islamists have “come out” in the past 12 months and have begun to fight back. Would they be able to tell me the reasons that pulled them into jihadism, and out again? Could they be the key to understanding – and defusing – Western jihadism? I have spent three months exploring their world and befriending their leading figures. Their story sprawls from forgotten English seaside towns to the jails of Egypt's dictatorship and the icy mountains of Afghanistan – and back again.
More here. [Thanks to Feisal H. Naqvi.]