By Maajid Nawaz
We are in the midst of a Muslim Reform – do not miss the wood for the trees.
The tragic attacks in Brussels this week mark the arrival of the global jihadist insurgency to Europe. The deaths of over 34 people in coordinated attacks in the heart of Europe’s capital had me pondering how we got here, and how far we have yet to go.
This month of March marks ten years since my release as an Islamist political prisoner from Egypt’s Mazra Tora prison. To stave off madness in solitary confinement, I used to organize races between pebbles that I flicked across the floor of my cell, naming them Freddy-Fred and Johnny-John. My cell had no lights, no toilet and no sheets for the first four months. In those early days, among the concrete and cockroaches, I found solace in the one item I was allowed to keep with me, a pocket-sized version of the Qur’an. I eventually memorized half of it under the light of the moon as it shone through the bars of the skylight and into my cell. The echo of my voice in that cell as I chanted the passages remains with me till this day. As does the same pocket-sized Qur’an, which I preserve with mixed feelings as a keepsake.
It is surreal to think back now and consider how dogmatic and intellectually inflexible I had become by the age of my arrest as an Islamist at 24. My rage stares out, piercing the lens of the prison guard who snapped this mugshot that I eventually smuggled out of prison with me. Our defiance of the World Order was on display for all to see as we marched in and out of that Cairo court raising slogans against our torturers as loudly as we could muster.
There we were, a vanguard, calling for the return of a “Caliphate” that we would eventually denounce when ISIS declared one 12 years later.
Over those next five years in jail my hardened immaturity softened, as I experienced the contradictions of life in a setting akin to Orwell’s Animal Farm, but for jihadists. There, as far back as 2002 I witnessed conversations among cellmates about how slavery would be reinstituted under our caliphate, and how the world would come to be conquered through jihad. I eventually became convinced that if we Islamists achieved what we had been romanticizing, we would come to destroy everything beautiful around us.
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