Anjem Choudary has over the last few years, perhaps become the world’s most famous Western based Islamic hate preacher. He has become the media’s go-to-man for the Islamic ‘extremist’ opinion, or simply the Islamic opinion, in his own profession.
How did Choudary become a hate preacher? Did he come to the United Kingdom along with his family as a child refugee, facing poverty, adversity, discrimination and social alienation at every turn? Well, as it turns out, no.
Choudary was born in the UK, and his father worked as a market trader. Young Anjem attended school, like any typical child, however, post secondary school he enrolled into Southampton University as a medical student.
Anjem (known then as Andy) was well known for his partying, which is probably the reason why he failed his first year. Anjem is not the first person to do such a thing, in what has become quite a cliche in the university experience. Nor is he the first person to ever find ‘religion’ after a bit of lust and debauchery.
Anjem never completed his medical training, but opted for law instead, becoming a solicitor.
Now, this does not sound like the story of someone who has suffered from social injustices and isolation. On the contrary, Anjem had a lot of friends and was well on the way to a successful career and life.
In many respects, Anjem has had a rather normal, if slightly privileged background and upbringing. He was born and grew up in a nation which had embraced his immigrant family, and provided free and good quality healthcare and education, giving him every opportunity for flourishing and personal fulfillment.
So what on earth went wrong?
It is this very question that is perplexing the West, if we can even ask it.
Of course, a major part of the problem in our dealing with extremist Islam is that we are not asking this particular question, and when we do, we are providing ‘ready made’, prescriptive answers which often assume problems that aren’t there, whilst ignoring the real ones that are.
We assume that people such as Choudary suffer marginalisation, are uneducated, and are easily impressionable, and in a last ditch effort to find a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging in life find it in things like extremist Islam.
But this is certainly not the case for Choudary, nor is it the case for many others. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, likewise has not had a life of oppression and few opportunities, but is in fact a scholar with a doctorate in Islamic Studies. Likewise, Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks came from a very wealthy Saudi oil family. Oppression and alienation are not behind the experiences of these men.
Rather, Choudary, and others of his ilk have consciously and decisively rejected everything that the West stands for. Indeed, Choudary rejects the nation and culture which raised and nurtured him. What on earth has caused this aggressive and treacherous reaction from people like Choudary?
A significant part has to do with the fact that Western culture has been undermining itself for the last few generations. It has offered the younger generations a vision of fulfillment through material and sensual consumption, and a vague, new age spirituality to believe in. In fact, the only things that people are allowed to believe in in the modern West are are those of little or no consequence. A Church of England faith that is more interested in polite cups of tea, than Jesus, or ‘interesting’ foreign religions that celebrates things such as art and dance rather than rigid caste systems or human sacrifice. Whilst multiculturalism celebrates all cultures as being ‘equally valuable’, the flip side is that all cultures are equally worthless.
What is behind the hate preaching of Choudary and others is partly a protest against the West, but it is not a protest against the things that we normally presume. Choudary and others are protesting against the vacuousness and the corruption that has beset the West in recent generations. The West needs to admit that it has failed to impart on him (indeed several younger generations of Westerners) a sense of cultural identity, and to give him anything of profound existential ‘worth’. The West has not only lost its religious faith, but also its cultural faith.
However, this is not all that there is behind the hate preaching of Islamic extremists, nor is it the sole cause.
Islamic extremism is not simply a knee jerk reaction against the failure of the West to teach and impart its culture. Islamism is a movement with its thinkers and scholars – many of them are their leaders. It is a movement dedicated to reform Islam, and to return it to its more pure form before Western and medieval accretion and corruption. As a movement, with its seeds going back to the 19th Century.
Indeed, in Islamism we are not seeing an extreme or distorted presentation of Islam, as many Western leaders and commentators often like to purport, but rather, we are seeing a more pure form which reforms and returns Islam directly to the life andteaching of Mohammed.
For the West to win this war, it needs to offer a better alternative to the ugly brutality of Islamism. To be quite frank, that shouldn’t be too hard. But in order to do this, the West must regain its nerve and its self-confidence. The West must stop apologising for itself, and start celebrating the fact that Western culture represents the greatest, most successful and freest culture in all history.
Then will win the cultural battle against Islamism, and give people like Anjem Choudary, and others something to belong to and believe in.