Daylife/AP Photo used by permission
Ten years ago, I was sent from Britain by a global Islamist group to recruit in Pakistan. Stepping off the plane in Lahore, I slowly breathed in the scene around me. With minarets and azans almost like background props and mood music, the Muslims I saw in every direction whetted my appetite for revolution. We were going to radicalise the country and foment a military coup against the democratically elected “client” ruler, Nawaz Sharif. I was 21 years old. I was part of a vanguard to set up a Pakistani branch of Hizb ut Tahrir (HT), so that their future caliphate could go nuclear. Nothing was going to get in my way. Nothing did.
Ten years on (during which I spent five years as a prisoner of conscience in Egypt), I recently returned. I had left HT and recanted Islamism. I was back, determined to reverse some of the Islamist fever I had helped instil…I was older, wiser and smarter. This time, the revolution would be against Islamist hegemony.
I was on a four-week, nationwide university tour to speak against Islamism and to urge students towards pluralistic, democratic values. Contrary to western mythology, Islamist radicals are found among the educated, the elite and the socially mobile. Yes, a minority of Pakistani madrasas provide an ample supply of jihadists, but the ideologues are smart and modern…The poor are simply used as jihadist cannon fodder.
Thus it was that we began in Karachi and worked our way around the country. We ventured deep into the deserts of interior Sindh and then across into the turbulent outback of Quetta, Balochistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are said to be headquartered. From there, we crossed into the Punjab, ascended into Kashmir and then finally up to Islamabad. In our flak jackets, with a security detail in tow, we addressed thousands of students…
Pakistan and its problems are not monolithic and are not all related to Islamism. Corruption, ethnic and economic factors and a lack of leadership all play out differently in each province. I found the people of Sindh to be hugely sympathetic to our message. Conversely, the people of Mirpur, in “free” Kashmir, from where more than 90% of British Pakistanis come, and where sterling is a currency of choice, were hostile to the west. It was in Punjab where I found most of the denial culture. The west was to blame for everything, including sending me as an agent to set up HT in Pakistan and then as an agent trying to push back HT. You see, the trouble with conspiracy theories is that they were invented by the infidel west to stop Muslims thinking.
Interesting article. Like any turncoat making a living from his liberation I have to question the function of opportunism within his original convictions. I have to question the life and breadth of his conversion.
But aside from that, this is a useful and interesting article. The sort of first-person piece still part of the British Journalism. It happens in American TV documentaries – often truthful when coming from the likes of NPR, PBS and Discovery. More opportunist from the networks and cable giants.
Read it. It will increase your knowledge of this land in turmoil.