Radical is Maajid Nawaz’s autobiography detailing his journey of how he entered the folds of Islamic extremism and then how he turned towards a moderate and democratic thought. He comes from a middle class family of Pakistani origin, based in the United Kingdom where Nawaz was born and raised.
Facing racism during his teenage years and struggling to assimilate in Southend’s predominately Anglo residents, the ingredients of a reactionary in the making were all there. Initially he took to hip hop music to make sense of things around him. The infamous rap group Public Enemy was one of those with which he could identify the most. This phase gave a new meaning to his faith; it became a symbol of resistance and defiance.
The next part of the book takes the reader to the inner workings of Hizb-ul-Tahir, an extremist organization actively recruiting members in a very skillful manner. Nawaz was made to believe in what he calls the ‘Narrative’; the idea that the troubles he faced as an individual or saw his group of friends go through, were not isolated incidents but a part of a major conspiracy of the West against Islam. Once sold on this narrative, Nawaz not only became a loyal member but scaled up the hierarchy to become one of the lead recruiters for the organization. His talents were not only used within UK but in Denmark, Egypt, Palestine, and even in the country of his family’s origin, Pakistan.
Radical is also a tale of personal redemption that came after Nawaz was imprisoned and put in the torture cells in Egypt under the rule of Hosni Mubarak. This section of the book is also the most chilling one, as the excruciating details of the prisoners while waiting for their turn for torture, leaves the reader in haunting anticipation. Amidst all of this, Nawaz’s engagement with other fellow prisoners from all sort of backgrounds and viewpoints, brought him the realization that ‘Islamism’ had not much to do with the teachings of Islam; instead it is a political ideology given the face of Islam.
Once a free man again, Nawaz took it as a personal task to go around spreading the ideas of moderation and democratic polity through establishing an organization named Quilliam Foundation. In his own words ‘Ideas are like water, they take a while to reach a boiling point, but as soon as they do, they erupt’. One can therefore appreciate his personal effort in bringing about the change through the debate of ideas.
Though fascinating read as far as an individual’s personal journey is concerned, the book falls short on the expectation of the debate on the big picture about the issues highlighted in the book; the involvement of the major political players at the global front and given this scenario the practical solutions to solve the problem of extremism. Someone who has been a part of the inner workings of the system, it was expected that some part of the book towards the end touches these issues that usually go unanswered and the discussion ends around the tip of the ice berg only.