Inside The Mind Of A Western Jihadist: U.K. Citizen Who Lived The Experience Describes The Allure Of The Islamic State For Young Westerners;
The Deadly Peril It Poses; How London Is Creating A Terrorist State — From Within
Shiraz Maher, a U.K. citizen who lived the experience of a Western jihadist– and, lived to tell the tale, was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari in this weekend’s edition (August 31, 2014). Mr. Ahmari is a Wall Street Journal Editorial Writer based in London. “On 9/11, Shiraz Maher thought to himself. ‘Yeah, you Americans deserve this. For supporting Israel. You shall reap what you’ve sown for a long time.”
“Within days the college student would quit alcohol, dump his girlfriend and join Hizbut Tahrir, a radical Islamist group he describes as the political wing of the global jihad movement.” Mr. Ahmari writes that Mr. Maher “quickly climbed the ranks before eventually leaving the U.K. Islamist movement; and, rededicating his life to combat it.”
“Mr. Maher is today, a Senior Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, Kings College, London, where he researches Europe’s homegrown Islamist movement; and, profiles the droves of young Britons who are decamping for Syria and Iraq to wage jihad with ISIS, aka, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. These [profiles] include Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, a wannabe rapper from a posh, west-London neighborhood who recently posted a Twitter selfie of himself holding a severed head.” ‘Chillin’ with my homie,” read the caption, “or, what’s left of him.” Abdel Bary is suspected to be the terrorist who addresses the camera before beheading American journalist James Foley — in a widely circulated online video, though Mr. Maher thinks the masked figure is a different British jihadist.”
“Abdel Bary is one of 500 to 600 British citizens who have joined the Islamic State; and, Mr. Maher’s center estimates about 2,200 foreign fighters from Europe are operating in the region,” writes Mr. Ahmari. “Globally, we believe the number to be somewhere in excess of 12,000. We’ve counted 74 different nationalities that are represented on the ground.” As has been well documented, “many of the [foreign] fighters have [Western] and European passports, which means they can travel freely around the continent and even the U.S. — with relative ease. Two-hundred and fifty [Islamist] fighters have already returned to the U.K.,” according to Mr., Maher.
“Not all of the foreigners in the region initially intended to join ISIS, which is only one of several groups fighting Basher Assad’s regime. Yet in recent months the Islamic State has emerged as the most successful and prestigious outfit, while recruits to other [Islamist] groups have slowed to a trickle.” “ISIS proved appealing in part because it was the easiest group to join: “We know of a lot of people, including Britons who’ve tried to join Jabhat al-Nusra,” al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise — “who were turned away because Jabhat felt it didn’t know them; and, so couldn’t trust them. And then, they went to ISIS, ISIS welcomed them with open arms.”
“Battlefield prowess was another advantage. “ISIS has been particularly successful at bringing in fighters from Bosnia and Chechnya,” Mr. Maher says. “The greater human asset that an army can have is fighters with combat experience. And, the Bosnians and Chechnyans of course have huge experience; a great deal of sophistication; and, a knowledge of how to fight guerrilla warfare.”
“Cultivating a brand helped too,” Mr. Maher added. “ISIS developed a strong social media presence,” Mr. says while “other organizations didn’t have the same glamour. And, we’re dealing with young men. They want to be with a strong horse, with a winning team. At the moment, ISIS has momentum.”
“Finally, the Islamic State has a veneer of authenticity. It’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi presides over “land that these guys regard as pure and holy,” Mr. Maher says. “There’s a lot of stuff in normative Islamic theology which talks about bilad al-Sham, the land of Syria. The Hadiths, the prophetic tradition say that when God sends angels…they rest in Syria after the journey.”
“The typical British Islamic State terrorist is male, in his 20s, and from a South Asian background. “He usually has some university education and a history of Muslim activism,” Mr. Maher observed. “The fighters generally fall into three personality types.”
“The first is the adventure-seeker. They’re in jihadist summer school; or, camp,” Mr. Maher explained. “I’m with my buddies, we’re hanging out and we have these great weapons — AK-47s, RPGs.” “The adventure seekers are often involved with U.K. gangs; or, drugs, and they might consult” Islam for Dummies” before traveling to Syria. They publish photos of themselves eating fast food, swimming, and playing soccer in al-Sham. The message they telegraph to friends back home is” We live better lives here than we were in London — come.”
Then, there are the “really nasty guys,” Mr. Maher warns, “the ones who will show off s severed head on FaceBook and say, “Yeah, I just beheaded this son of a bitch.” These guys, Mr. Maher adds, “should definitely never come back,” or be allowed to.
The third type are “what you might call idealistic or humanitarian jihadists for want of a better phrase,” Mr. Maher said. “They would say, “Look, haven’t you seen what’s happened to the women and children of Aleppo?” “Over time, they become hardened and no longer mention the innocents they came to rescue. The land belongs to Allah,” they now say. “We’re here to impose Islam.”
Mr. Maher, “fits himself into the third type most closely, and had he been born a decade later he might not be sitting across from me at a restaurant eating a steak tartare and sipping Guinness. “If I were younger; and, instead of 9/11 — it was the Syrian conflict,” he says, there’s a very good chance I would go. Instead of studying them, I would be the one being studied.”
Shiraz Maher was born in 1981, in Birmingham, to British-Pakistani parents. When he was still an infant, his father’s accountancy practice took the family to Saudi Arabia. “I never had a concern about what kind of society Saudi Arabia was,” he says. “We lived in a Western compound, with everything you could want: tennis courts, swimming pools, cricket, basketball, bike races, all gender-mixed.”
“Yet, the political atmosphere in Saudi Arabia became more tense after the first Gulf war. When he was 11, he owned a Duffy-Duck T-shirt with the slogan, “One day, an ordinary Saudi asked why he’d wear such a such.” I said, “Why not?” “Saddam’s a terrible man.” The man said: “No. This is an American conspiracy. These people use us as an excuse to establish ‘bases on holy soil.'”
“In 1995, at age 14, Mr. Maher moved back to the U.K., and five years later, he enrolled at Leeds University in northern England. Then, came 9/11, an event he says, “activated” latent anti-American idea’s he’d imbibed while growing up in Saudi Arabia. By the time the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, he had recovered his Muslim faith, changed apartments so he could live across the street from the local Mosque, and joined Hizbut Tahrir.”
“Hizbut Tahrir — Arabic for “Party of Liberation,” — campaigns for a global Islamic State; but, advocates a broad political path to the caliphate.” “It’s not anti-violence per se,” Mr. Maher said. “It applauds suicide bombers; but, believes suicide bombing is not a long-term solution.”
Mr. Mayher says, “the U.K. government….for years, looked the other way, as a generation of British Muslims was radicalized.” “In the late 1980s, early 90s,” he says, “this country opened its doors to radical Islamist preachers from around the world, who also began to preach a very hard-line, totalitarian message about what Islam should look like. That message has always been a minority view;” he says, but it is persistent.”
“Hazbut Tahrir, for example, organized at a 1944 conference in London about the need to establish a caliphate. This even drew Islamists from Sudan to Pakistan,” yet Mr. Maher says, “U.K. law enforcers took a blaze’ attitude: “These exotic guys with beards are talking about a new state. OK.” The result was that the “idea of having an Islamic State had been normalized within the Muslim discourse,” Mr. Maher noted, “and young Muslims were taught to think of their British identity as something “filthy,””
“Government missteps continued even after 9/11. The 2003 “Prevent counterterror strategy,” as Mr. Maher describes it, involved “empowering fairly radical people, like Abu Hamza, who were saying to people: “Don’t anything up here, go abroad, and do it. That’s fine.” Abu Hamza, an Egyptian imam who for years led London’s notorious Finsbury Park Mosque, currently awaits sentencing in the U.S. on terrorism charges.”
“Today, Mr. Maher says, “London is much more aware of the need for the ideology of Islamism to be tackled.” In 2005, when he began to have doubts about Hizbut Tahrir, Mr. Mayher was alone and without support. He’d risen from a cell leader to a regional director and even been invited to join the group’s U.K. Executive Committee. Yet, during graduate study at Cambridge, Mr. Maher encountered more pluralistic strands of Islam and came to conclude that the Hizbut Tahrir’s radical ideology “will lead to terrorism. It’s also basically, rubbish.”
Mr. Maher “left the group on July 7, 2005 — the day the London Underground bombings killed 52 people and maimed more than 700. The bombers were from Leeds. They weren’t Hizbut Tahrir members, but belonged to the same radical milieu.” “Where we, I was part of the flame that warmed up the anger?,” he asked. “Absolutely. I don’t go around feeling guilty, but we contributed to the momentum of hatred and anger.”
“Does his own journey from Islamist to anti-Islamist give Mr. Maher hope?” “On a positive note, secular dissidents, moderates, and Muslim liberals have found a voice in the West and the Middle East. Thanks in part, to his own efforts, the British branch of the Hiabut Tahrir has been decimated. The group tells its members that the “party is your umbilical cord to Islam,” Mr. Maher says, and young Muslims having second thoughts, need confidence.” “Tell them: You’ve been in a cult. There’s a world outside.” Huizbut Tahrir rallies used to draw 20,000 supporters. Today “they struggle to get 1,000.”
“But, those gains are overshadowed by breathtaking Jihadist advances in Syria and Iraq. Save for a small country of idealistic Islamic State members who question the group’s brutality and long to come home,” Mr. Maher argues, “most of these guys have to be fought. Militarily, we have to confront them; and, when I say confront them, I mean the United States and Britain.”
“It didn’t have to be this way, “Bashar Assad is one monster,” he says. “Had we gone in and taken him out, there would have been other monsters; but, not at this level. The jihadists needed this crisis. They needed the power to vacuum.”
In conclusion, Mr. Maher asks, “Did Osama bin Laden win? Yes, he did not want there to be a strong hand in the region for the world’s greatest and most powerful force for good — the United States. And, voluntarily, we chose to disengage, and watched as these radical millenarians came in and took over.” Mr. Maher knocks on our table for emphasis: “This is a disgrace and a humiliation.”
Mr. Maher’s Observations Are Rich And Interesting, With Much To Think About
A rich and interesting diatribe on the allure of the Islamic State’s fervor and success — thus far, on the battlefield of both the ground; and, the battlefield of ideas — has tapped a rich vein among the young, and dispossessed…particularly in North Africa.
The Islamization Of Britain
In 2013 Soeren Kern had an article on the GATESTONE Institute for International Policy website with the title above. The GATESTONE Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit international policy council/think-tank.
She reports that the Muslim population of Britain topped 3.3M at the end of 2013, comprising 5.2% of the U.K’s total population of 63M, according to figures extrapolated from a recent study on the growth of the Muslim population in Europe. This comes as recent opinion polls in Britain view Islam and the topic of Muslim immigrants as the top-ranked public concern — and a growing concern that Muslim’s are establishing a separate society there.
A 2013 documentary, secretly filmed by the British Broadcasting System (BBC) inside several of the 85 Islamic Sharia Law Courts in April 2013 show that these Islamic courts routinely issue rulings on domestic and marital issues — according to Sharia law that are at odds with British law. “Although not legally binding,” Ms. Kern says, “those subject to these rulings feel obligated to obey their decisions as a matter of religious belief, or because of pressure from family members and/or community members to do so.” The film reportedly makes a compelling case that these courts, run by Muslim judges known as are putting women at risk of violence from abusive husbands, by pressuring them to stay in abusive marriages.
Ms. Kern goes on to note that a report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in May of 2013, shows that “although Christianity is still the main religion in Britain — over 50% of the population believe or describes themselves as Christian — nearly half of all Christians in Britain are over the age of 50. And, for the first time ever, fewer than half of those under age 25 (in Britain), describe themselves as Christian. By contrast, those whom are 25 and under — who describe themselves as Muslim — has doubled in the past ten years: one in 10 under the age of 25, up from one in twenty in 2001.”
If current trends continue — a Muslim population boom, combined with an aging Christian demographic, and the increasing secularization of British natives — Islam is set to overtake Christianity in Britain within the next 20yrs — according to demographers. More alarmingly, last November, the head of MI5 (British domestic intelligence), Andrew Parker, told the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that “there are thousands of people living in the U.K. today that support al Qaeda,” while the head of MI6 told that same committee that the threat of domestic terrorists attacks in Britain is increasing.
This unfolding dynamic was foretold in a very compelling and powerful read, “Londonistan: How Britain Is Creating A Terror State Within,” by British journalist Melanie Phillips. In this 2006 work, Theodore Dalrymple of the American Conservative Magazine wrote that “Ms. Phillips documents not only the establishment and growth of Muslim extremist groups in London; but, the administrative incompetence and cultural weakness that is enabling it.” Former Russian Refusenik Nathan Shranansky called Londonistan “a last minute warning for Britain and for much of the free world.” He added that the book “is powerful and frightening, but also courageous.”
Looks Ms. Phillips prediction of 9yrs. ago is still progressing in a direction she feared and warned about. One also wonders if the United States, to a degree, is headed down the same path. V/R, RCP