Title: Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism
Author: Maajid Nawaz
Publication Date: 10/15/13
How I Found It: I've heard about it from several outlets.
Date Completed: 4/22/16
Summary: Once an Islamist extremist, Maajid Nawaz has now dedicated his life to educating others on this dangerous movement.
What I Thought: "Simply defined, Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society as law. Understood in this way, Islamism is not another religious schism, but an ideological thought that seeks to develop a coherent political system that can house all these schisms, without necessarily doing away with them. Whereas disputes within Islam deal with a person's approach to religion, Islamism seeks to deal with a person's approach to society."
This quote from Nawaz's book is an important starting place. Islamist extremism and the religion of Islam are not the same thing. A similar, though not exact, comparison would be this one from the post-9/11 episode of my favorite TV show, The West Wing.
Oh, Aaron Sorkin. Thanks for your continued efforts to educate our country, even if you claim it was exclusively in the name of entertainment.
Of course, we've come a long way in our understanding of the difference between extremism and mainstream Islam since this episode premiered back in 2001. And, yet, have we progressed at all? Hatred against Muslims seems to be at an all-time high in our country right now. Plenty of news outlets have reported interviewing Muslims who feel more in danger now then they did after 9/11. We have a long way to go.
I think reading books like this is a good start. Nawaz breaks down how he came to join the extremist movement in the first place and the emotional and even, at times, logical arguments that kept him there for so long. Statements like "Nonviolence is only for those who have the luxury of an audience!" really helped me to understand some of this foreign perspective. I don't agree with the sentiment on moral grounds and neither does Nawaz any more, but the rational behind it makes purely rational sense. I tell my Critical Thinking students all the time that logic is incredibly important, emotion and morality are incredibly important, but none can stand alone. They must all work together to get you to the best decision.
There were many parts of Nawaz's book that I found surprisingly dry. He actually comes from London and so he has a much more European perspective on these issues. He's consulted in America since his exit from the movement, but much of the story takes place away from the States. It's a great reminder that we are far from alone in the fight against extremism. Really, it's a worldwide issue, most of which has little to do with us. In the perspective of the book, however, that left me feeling a little out of the loop and unfamiliar with some of the events and policies Nawaz discussed.
Still, it was enlightening in a lot of ways. While I did learn from it, mostly I feel like I learned that I have so much left to learn. As our country continues to face threat from violent Islamism, I would encourage all of us to continue to educate ourselves on the particulars.
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful, but I'd like to read more on the subject
A Reduced Review: After spending years as an Islamist extremist, this author is reflecting and educating on what brought him out of the movement.