I mentioned yesterday that BBC3 was that night going to air a documentary ‘My Brother The Islamist’ looking to explore the reasons why a young English bloke converted to Islam and joined Anjem Choudary’s group of provocateurs.
Well, the documentary can still be viewed for the next few days on the BBC iPlayer at this link and you can draw your own conclusions. What stood out for me was the reaction of several converts against what they saw as a hedonistic culture that was engaged in aggressive wars in Muslim countries.
One convert recounted how his eighteen year old sister had died of a cocaine overdose and felt that society should have done more to protect her. Another convert, the seventeen year old Ben (Ahsan), told us that prior to embracing Islam he had been out drinking every weekend and taking drugs. One day, he said, he woke up and thought to himself that there’s got to be a bit more to life than this. A third convert more surprisingly said that he came to Islam because of George Bush. Bush’s declaration ‘You are either with us or against us’ caused him to conclude that if that was the only choice on offer then he certainly wasn’t going to side with Bush!
It was sad to see what appeared to be a group of thoughtful and intelligent young men being drawn to Anjem Choudary’s brand of idiocy which included shouting abuse at soldiers returning from duty in Afghanistan. There was clearly a camaraderie there amongst them which was understandable and attractive. Still, I kept wishing the documentary maker would ask them what on earth they thought they were achieving by engaging in such offensive and clearly counter-productive antics as insulting soldiers and their often grieving families.
It was also very touching to see the obvious concern that Maggie – the mother of young Ben – had for him and his new faith and zeal. She said that aspects of her son’s behaviour caused her worry but in the end she trusted him to find his own way and ‘not to do anything stupid.’
The documentary-maker, Robb Leech – the step-brother of one convert, Richard (Salahuddin) – said at the end that he thought his brother had not been brainwashed but had just reacted against what he saw as serious defects in the society around him. I think, on balance, that is only partly true. In my experience, extremists such as Anjem Choudary’s followers, are encouraged to read and study from a highly limited set of resources. They are not taught to learn about the huge variety of thought and tendencies that exist among Muslims, let alone the rest of the world, and end up looking at the world in very binary colours.