On April 30, 2003, Asif Hanif, 21, achieved the notorious feat of becoming Britain's first suicide bomber, killing Ran Baron, Dominique Hass and Yanai Weiss and wounding 60 others when he detonated his explosives to murderously shatter the mellow peace of Mike's Place, the Tel Aviv beachfront blues bar.
Ed Husain knew Hanif, and remembers him as "a teddy bear of a character: generous, kind, selfless and committed."
Both men had been studying Arabic in Damascus not long before the bombing. But while Husain was in the process of reeducating himself and rejecting Islamic extremism, Hanif was plunging ever deeper into violent radicalism.
"The Asif I knew did not believe in killing innocent civilians in Britain or any other country, but Islamist rhetoric had convinced him that Israelis, without exception, were not innocent but occupiers of the Palestinian homeland," Husain writes in his frankly horrifying book The Islamist. "Asif's recruitment to suicide bombing came about against a backdrop of increasingly radicalized young Muslims in communities across Britain," the author notes. "The qualities that made Asif a great Muslim host - selflessness and commitment - were the same traits that, when corrupted, transformed him into a suicide bomber."
Had Husain not so starkly changed course, he might have wound up as murderously transformed as Hanif. For Husain had traveled along the same route to indoctrination. He too had been well on the way to persuasion, over years of deepening immersion in the prevalent victim-aggressor culture of perverted Islam, that it was God's will, Allah's will, for his soldiers to kill the infidels - Jews, Christians, even nonextreme Muslims - to establish an all-powerful Islamist state.
Husain's book, recently published in the UK and yet to appear in the US, is horrifying precisely because it documents so candidly the smoothness with which Husain was recruited to such misguided ruthlessness. He was gradually drawn into ever more intolerant circles, and became prominent within them - helping to galvanize the process by which the racist, misogynist and thuggish ideology came to dominate various colleges in East London a decade or so ago.
Husain himself was thus instrumental in the trend that saw Islamist separation politics rise and thrive; hatreds inculcated among thousands of recruits against nonbelievers and against Britain; the adoption of Islamic clothing by female students on campuses, open confrontation with utterly overwhelmed and impotent college authorities and, in what was for Husain a climactic, epiphanic incident, a murder just outside the grounds of his own Newham College for which he holds himself partially, indirectly responsible. "It was we who had encouraged Muslim fervor," he writes, "a sense of separation from others, a belief that Muslims were worthier than other humans."
The 1995 killing of Ayotunde Obanubi, a Christian student of Nigerian extraction, was carried out by an Islamist activist, Saeed Nur, as "a direct result" of the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir radical group in which Husain was active, a global Islamist organization committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate, the elimination of Israel, and conflict with every other civilization and ideology. Nur was jailed for life. "Britain's first Islamist murder," Husain has called it.
For Husain, the murder was "a wake-up call," the long overdue realization that the Islamists really meant what they said about the lives of infidels having no consequence in the push for hegemony.
"I had advocated the ideas of Muslim domination, confrontation and jihad, never for one moment thinking that their catastrophic consequences would arrive on my own doorstep," he writes, in a passage that demonstrates how breathtakingly successful the brainwashing had been up until this point, how thoroughly it had subverted serious introspection. "Did I really want to follow a credo that led to violence and murder?" he so-belatedly now asked himself. And the answer was no.
PERHAPS WHAT makes Husain's raw description of his recruitment to such vicious foolishness more troubling still is the clear sense that, if he could be so completely won over, then most any Muslim youngster could be.
For the author, whose father is Indian-born and mother has Bangladeshi origins, comes from a warm, moderate background. He grew up steeped in the virtues of an Islam that firmly eschews the abuse of religion as politics. (His descriptions of these belief systems are fascinating and salutary, rare evidence of a peaceable Islam that has been marginalized in public discourse by the godless extremists.)
Now 32, Husain also personally experienced tolerance and multicultural interaction and all that is best about Britain's open society as a young school pupil. And yet he was prised neatly and expertly away - rejecting that loving, supportive, godly home, and rejecting that education - to become a firebrand Islamist leader.
The predominant population at his high school was "Asian, Muslim and male," he said in a recent interview with Britain's Sky News, "and I think to a large extent that made me more receptive to the call of extremists when I was 16 - that we were Muslims first and foremost; we had no sense of belonging to British culture or British identity, and it was our responsibility to try to create an Islamist state in the Middle East that would then declare jihad as a foreign policy."
The pressure from the radicals, targeting schoolboys and college students, was open and blunt, he said. "There is not a single jihadi in the world, and I defy anyone to prove me wrong on this, that wakes up in the morning and says, 'Right I am going off for a jihad.' It is part of a trajectory, where they start off with less extreme organizations and, as time goes by, they become more and more radical. Eventually, just calling for a jihad isn't enough... Some will always be prepared to not just be content to talk the talk, but walk the walk."
The first part of Husain's book is devastating for so plausibly charting his descent, and that of so many impressionable youths like him, into the clutches of Islamist extremism in willfully blind Britain. The speed with which the campus takeovers he describes are achieved is dizzying; students' mindsets are utterly remade in months, succumbing to the certainties and the fervor; colleges are transformed; at one, even the security guard was converted. It is a corrupting decline that, of course, is still being promulgated fiercely today in mosques, lecture halls, libraries and colleges across the nation and far beyond.
It is being facilitated in the UK, as he makes clear, by a staggering naivety on the part of the government, law enforcement and the educational authorities, who are shown to be hesitant and closed-minded as to the terrifying scale of the threat despite the series of Islamist attacks Britain is enduring, and insistently invoking free speech as an absolute value even as it is being abused to fuel vicious hatred for the very society that upholds it.
Husain echoes many of the arguments lambasting the British authorities and pleading for them to wake up that were marshalled last year by Melanie Phillips in her Londonistan polemic. But unlike Phillips, Husain writes not as an outsider, trying hard to catalogue an unfamiliar world, but from within, from the sobered perspective of one who, during his formative years and beyond, was swept up and came to exemplify the hating mindset.
THE SECOND part of his book covers terrain that others have documented in more detail, but is dismal nonetheless, describing periods spent by Husain teaching under British Council auspices in Syria and Saudi Arabia as he seeks to purge himself of his indoctrinated malevolence.
In Damascus - perhaps surprisingly for those of us here who are well-attuned to the Syrian threat to our well-being, and aware that Damascus strategically hosts some of the most extreme of all ideologues - he encounters a rejection of aspects of Islamic extremism, albeit along with deep-seated racism and anti-Semitism. Irony of ironies, he has Syrian students asking him why Britain tolerates Islamist fanatics in its midst, when plainly, they tell him, this can only lead to disaster for the UK.
In Saudi Arabia, though, there is no mitigation. In Jeddah, Husain finds Wahhabi society in all its perniciousness. He is struck by the racism within Islam, as exemplified by the plight of thousands of immigrants, black Muslims from unfavored African backgrounds, left to rot under an overpass in the city's blighted Karantina quarter.
"How could it be that Saudi Arabia had condemned African Muslims to misery and squalor," he asks himself. "All my talk of ummah [the Islamic community] seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical, utopian slogans as one government, one ever-expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal."
He is also taken aback by the extremist sentiments in Saudi state educational texts blaming all the world's ills on the Jews and citing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by way of evidence.
In such a climate, it is hardly surprising when some of Husain's own young students - as a teacher at the British Council, remember - tell him two weeks after homegrown UK Muslims have killed 52 people and wounded 700 in a quadruple London suicide bombing on July 7, 2005, that they want to go to London, "to bomb," to "make jihad!"
In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, he meets with various visiting European Muslim youngsters - "men with angry faces," internalizing the fundamentalist teachings of Wahhabism even as they complain that Saudi Arabia has strayed too far from its path. One student from south London and another from Dublin tell him they are soon to be returning home, as he puts it, "fully indoctrinated by Wahhabism, to become imams in British mosques."
BACK IN the UK, Husain has been trying to alert college administrators to the dangers posed by the extremist Islamic groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, in their midst. But even now, the myopic authorities tell him that they do not feel it appropriate to interfere. Similarly, even now, Hizb ut-Tahrir is allowed to openly hold the same kind of rallies in London that Husain was helping to organize years ago. At Alexandra Palace earlier this month, for instance, it drew thousands of adherents to a conference dedicated to the establishment of the Islamic caliphate.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in several Muslim countries, and outlawed in Germany for "spreading hate and violence." Britain's Conservative Party leader David Cameron, vainly demanding last month that it be banned in Britain, declared that it was "poisoning the minds of young people and has said that Jews should be killed wherever they are found." Husain urges it be outlawed "because it is part and parcel of a conveyer belt to terrorism; it breeds this 'them and us' mentality; it is against democracy and it is actively plotting and financing an Islamist state in the Middle East dedicated to a jihad."
Husain also recently returned to one of his old haunting grounds, the East London mosque complex, which was an Islamist stronghold in his teenage days. He wanted, he writes, "to see if the management had moved away from Islamism. After all, many of the leaders of the East London mosque are now influential in the Muslim Council of Great Britain, with access to ministers and large sections of the media. Sadly, I was disappointed."
Although the mosque has provided platforms for notorious extremists, including one now serving a prison term for soliciting murder, he discovers that the British government has helped finance the mosque's expansion into the London Muslim Center, "Europe's largest Islamic hub." (Prince Charles had been scheduled to open the expanded complex in June 2004, but was away at Ronald Reagan's funeral. Still, the heir to the throne did send a video message of support.)
Husain finds that the Saudi-trained imam of this mega-mosque prohibits gatherings there of opponents of Islamism and Wahhabism. And he finds extremist texts on sale at the mosque book store - books newly published in the UK, carrying chapter titles such as "The Virtues of Killing a Non-Believer." Hundreds of impressionable Muslim youngsters are buying such books today, "just as I had done as a 16-year-old... and imbibing the idea that killing nonbelievers is not only acceptable, but the duty of a good Muslim," he writes. "From such messages are suicide bombers born."
As an Islamist, Husain recalls, "I too believed that the taking of Jewish and non-Muslim lives was perfectly acceptable if it would facilitate Islamist domination."
Husain, incidentally, is plainly far more knowledgeable about Islam and Islamic extremist than Judaism and Zionism; either that, or he has yet to fully shed all the remnants of those years of Islamist brainwashing. In a risible article for the Guardian a few weeks ago, he attempted to parallel would-be world-dominating Islamism and small-Jewish-state-establishing Zionism as two "dangerous political ideologies posing as religious movements," misrepresenting both Zionism and modern-day Israel as he strained to make his case. Having evidently failed to grasp the fact that Zionism's aspiration, far from mirroring the Islamists' rapacious quest for the domination and overthrow of all opponents of their fundamentalist religious doctrine, is limited to self-determination for the Jewish nation in its ancestral homeland, he characterized himself, impossibly, as an opponent of Zionism but no enemy of Israel and a supporter of the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. "This article is bonkers," was the riposte from one of the multitude of readers - many others delightedly endorsed Husain's comparison - who deluged the paper's Web site.
THE WARNING Husain issues at the conclusion of this extraordinary journey into the darkest extremism and back is simple and chilling. If the taking of innocent lives continues to be acceptable, if Islamist thought continues to influence Muslim minds, he writes, "I fear the unleashing of a firestorm of violence by homegrown Wahhabi jihadists, inflamed by Islamist rhetoric, on the major cities of America and Britain."
Purported grievances over Palestine, over Iraq? These are pretexts, he writes. And were they to be satisfied, the killing would go on nonetheless. Drinking alcohol, gambling, inappropriate dress - "these and a host of miscellaneous others will become excuses for jihad, for martyrdom, feeding the tumor of Islamist domination which grows in the Wahhabi and Islamist mind. Why else was Bali bombed, [were] Egyptian tourist resorts attacked, and plans made to bomb nightclubs in London?"
We have been warned. And by the former Mohamed Mahbub Husain, an insider. "An austere form of Islam (Wahhabism) married to a politicized Islam (Islamism) is wreaking havoc in the world," he writes in his penultimate chapter. "The sword... is in the hands of the madmen."