I recommend the book The Islamist: Why I Joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left by Ed Husain.
It’s the true story of a man who became a radical Muslim while living in London. It’s so easy to dehumanise terrorists and to dismiss religious extremists as insane. While we still fear them, there is some small shred of comfort to be found in the idea that they are fundamentally different to us and the people around us. The trial of Anders Breivik proved how uncomfortable the world is with the idea that clinically sane people are capable of carrying out such terrifying and depraved acts. This book is a unique insight into the mind-set of the radicalised. It is at once both reassuring and frightening. Now that we understand how these people indoctrinate others, surely we’re one step closer to combatting it. At the same time, if a normal man living in London could be driven to hate the country that raised him, perhaps the people around you could, perhaps they have, perhaps you could.
Empathy is such an important part of the human experience, and being able to empathise with someone who has abhorrent beliefs is a strange but necessary thing. If we refuse to, we become the very psychopaths we are afraid of. Previously, the only time I had ever seen the subject of radical Islam and terrorism dealt with in such an emotionally intelligent way was in the excellent film Four Lions.
Four Lions is superb, absurdly believable and well researched, but this is a true story. There is a German concept called ‘Sonder’ which means the feeling that every passer-by is living a life in which they are the protagonist, with as many complex ambitions, ideas and emotions as you. While all good first person fiction should give you a tinge of sonder, this book has an intense shot of it. It is a reminder that it is not bombs that kill people, but ideas. Corrupt, evil, horrible ideas, but ideas nonetheless.
I do not recommend that this book be given to any bigots, as I’m sure they could very effectively decontextualize vast swathes of the narrative in order to support their own xenophobic views. The same goes for this recommendation as I’m sure that, devoid of context, I could be seen to be ushering in the reign of the Thought Police.
To everyone else: this is an important book, read it.