For five years, I became a fervent Islamist, moving up the ladder of increasingly radical organizations. All strands of this movement descend from the teachings of Banna. He fought against the British in Palestine, trained a paramilitary organization, and members of the movement killed Egypt’s prime minister in 1948. In response, the Egyptian state had Banna assassinated a few months later.
Yet I learned, through bitter experience, that Islamism is far from unitary or coherent. In the end, I quit what’s called “the Islamic movement” because I found it too controlling of my life ”” but also because I no longer wanted to be in a perpetual state of confrontation with the West. It took me several years of travel and study in the Middle East before my mind was free of Islamist influences. I remain a follower of Islam, the religion, but not of Islamism, the political ideology.
Because I was once a part of this movement ”” whose primary goal has been the creation of Islamic governments ”” and then established the world’s first counter-radical think tank, Quilliam, in London to oppose their ideology, I have been following the Arab uprisings with more than a passing interest.