August 19, 2013
Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz
More of a political book than a memoir, Radical was written by Nawaz to show how he was brought into the world of Islamist extremism, and why he decided to leave it and advocate for a more balanced view. It shares a good deal of knowledge on Islamism and Muslims and does have a little bit of memoir that is used to explain Nawaz's own path.
As a teenager, Nawaz experienced a lot of racism. Between that and other factors, it was no surprise when the Islamist group Hizb ut'Tahrir was a draw. Having an answer for everyone, Nawaz found somewhere to put his energy. And in joining the group he made a decision that would later see him in an Egyptian prison. But it was there that he began to question his views, and after being released, he kept discovering more views that meshed with his previous thinking. Because of this, he wen ton to start Quilliam, a foundation that wants to reverse extremism and shed light on misconceptions of both the West and Muslims.
Nawaz's journey is fascinating. He does a great job explaining his thoughts and actions and you can see why he made the choices he did. And he admits his faults and why he feels guilty, taking blame for things instead of trying to blame someone else. It's that aspect that makes this book read as authentic. I also like that he shared how the organizations worked and how they targeted people to join. It definitely helped me understand why extremists may think like they do, although it certainly doesn't explain the motivations for 100% of the people like that out there. Regardless, it's easy to see why Nawaz's current role is that of a speaker on the subject.
Because this was in a memoir form we go from Nawaz's childhood to the present day and it covers his years as a teenager in a gang of sorts, to his time in prison, to creating his foundation. I actually found the book to be a bit choppy and jumpy; so much time was spent on the first half and then it seemed like once he got out of the prison the book flew by too fast without as much detail. But really, that's my only complaint on the book. I don't normally go for political books as they operate in a realm that is not my expertise, but Nawaz made his subject matter presentable for anybody in this book. I learned that Muslim and Islamist don't mean the same thing necessarily. I learned how the Jihad is different from Hizb ut-Tahrir, and I think that that understanding is very important. Too often everything is painted with a broad brush and people, regardless of individual feelings, get swept into it just because they fit a certain characteristic. And that's part of the message Nawaz was trying to give.
I think this is a very valuable book for understanding extremism and feelings against the United States. As I said, it doesn't encompass everyone, but it does explain the motivations for a lot of people, and it has a great lesson in trying to prevent extremism and violence.