Former Islamist: Ideology and Theology, Not Grievances or Poverty, Produce Radicalization

Patrick Goodenough | April 27, 2016 | 4:10am EDT
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Former Islamic radical Ed Husain. (Photo: Tony Blair Faith Foundation)

( – Muslims are radicalized not because of Islamophobia, poverty or foreign policy grievances, but because of an ideology and theology that must be uprooted if the growing problem is to be addressed, a former radical Islamist said at the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Addressing a conference on European Muslim radicalization, Ed Husain, a senior advisor to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and former Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, urged participants to “be honest about the nature of the problem.”

And the nature of the problem, he said, “is not Islamophobia – because it is Muslims who are being killed most by this global surge of extremism and terrorism.” He pointed to Pakistan, where more than 40,000 people have been killed by terrorists over the last decade.

“It is not poverty,” Husain continued, saying that if it were, then Muslims in countries like Mauritania and Bangladesh would be the most radicalized – “and they’re not.”

“In fact, Osama bin Laden, as we all know, was from Saudi Arabia,” he noted, added that there were multi-millionaires now in the ranks of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

Husain, a practicing Muslim, told his Brussels audience it was convenient to argue that radicalization was caused by Muslim grievances over foreign policy.

“If it was all about Western foreign policy then why was Belgium attacked [by ISIS last month]” – rather than Israel, he asked.

Some of the grievances claimed by Muslims around the world were also shared by others, he said, citing India as an example.

“Large chunks of India have become Pakistan and Bangladesh. We don’t see Indians going around trying to blow themselves up to regain their lost land.”

The battle of ideas, said Husain, is underpinned by “a combination of an ideology and a theology.”

“The ideology is not Islam but Islamism, a perversion of the faith, a politicization of the faith,” he said, while the theology is “Salafism.”

“Our enemies are fighting a battle of ideas; we cannot fight with a battle of bureaucracy, with a battle of procedures, and a battle of funding,” without understanding those ideas.

Husain listed several key manifestations of the radical ideology and theology:

--“Our enemies approach scripture [the Qur’an and Hadiths] literally,” he said. “Metaphor, nuance, poetry, all of this is lost. And where it says in the Qur’an, ‘Kill them wherever you find them’ you see ISIS and other literally doing that.”

(Husain said mainstream Muslim consensus was “we do not apply those verses in this day and age – they were for a particular time and a particular place and don’t have application now.”)

-- Islamists’ and Salafists’ belief that shari’a (Islamic law) must become state law.

A photo from an ISIS propaganda publication shows fighters from the terrorist group. (Photo: Dabiq)

--The belief that only their kind of Muslims are true Muslims. In that thinking, accusing other Muslims of not being true Muslims justifies killing them. “That’s why we’re seeing attacks on shrines, that’s why we’re seeing beheadings.”

--A readiness to become martyrs. “Suicide bombing isn’t just a political strategy,” he said. “It’s justified by their literalist approach to scripture.”

--A “total certainty” that what they are doing is for Allah – that sacrificing one’s life is not ending it but “beginning a new life in the next life.”

Unless such a mindset is destroyed, Husain said, no amount of funding or bureaucracy or programs will work.

“It is these ideas that stop people from integrating, it is the embrace of these ideas that makes them want to become suicide bombers.”

Husain concluded by warning that without a strategy to “change the narrative” by uprooting those ideas, the crisis will escalate.

“If we’re worried about the problem now, today, and what’s going on with ISIS, the problem is set to get worse unless we tackle the ideology, the philosophy and the theology behind the global scourge in terrorism,” he said.


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