When I was still a member of what is probably best termed the British Jihadi Network – a series of British Muslim terrorist groups linked by a single ideology – I remember how we used to laugh in celebration whenever people on TV proclaimed that the sole cause for Islamic acts of terror like 9/11, the Madrid bombings and 7/7 was Western foreign policy. By blaming the Government for our actions, those who pushed this “Blair’s bombs” line did our propaganda work for us.
More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology.
The attempts to cause mass destruction in London and Glasgow are so reminiscent of other recent British Islamic extremist plots that they are likely to have been carried out by my former peers.
And as with previous terror attacks, people are again saying that violence carried out by Muslims is all to do with foreign policy.
For example, on Saturday on Radio 4’s Today programme, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: “What all our intelligence shows about the opinions of disaffected young Muslims is the main driving force is not Afghanistan, it is mainly Iraq.”
I left the British Jihadi Network in February 2006 because I realised that its members had simply become mindless killers. But if I were still fighting for their cause, I’d be laughing once again.
Mohammed Sidique Khan met with the author on two separate occasions
Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the July 7 bombings, and I were both part of the network – I met him on two occasions.
And though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many others to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain and abroad was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary worldwide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice.
If we were interested in justice, you may ask, how did this continuing violence come to be the means of promoting such a (flawed) Utopian goal?
How do Islamic radicals justify such terror in the name of their religion?
There isn’t enough room to outline everything here, but the foundation of extremist reasoning rests upon a model of the world in which you are either a believer or an infidel.
Formal Islamic theology, unlike Christian theology, does not allow for the separation of state and religion: they are considered to be one and the same.
For centuries, the reasoning of Islamic jurists has set down rules of interaction between Dar ul-Islam (the Land of Islam) and Dar ul-Kufr (the Land of Unbelief) to cover almost every matter of trade, peace and war.
But what radicals and extremists do is to take this two steps further. Their first step has been to argue that, since there is no pure Islamic state, the whole world must be Dar ul-Kufr (The Land of Unbelief).
Step two: since Islam must declare war on unbelief, they have declared war upon the whole world.
Along with many of my former peers, I was taught by Pakistani and British radical preachers that this reclassification of the globe as a Land of War (Dar ul-Harb) allows any Muslim to destroy the sanctity of the five rights that every human is granted under Islam: life, wealth, land, mind and belief.
In Dar ul-Harb, anything goes, including the treachery and cowardice of attacking civilians.
The notion of a global battlefield has been a source of friction for Muslims living in Britain.
For decades, radicals have been exploiting the tensions between Islamic theology and the modern secular state – typically by starting debate with the question: “Are you British or Muslim?”
But the main reason why radicals have managed to increase their following is because most Muslim institutions in Britain just don’t want to talk about theology.
They refuse to broach the difficult and often complex truth that Islam can be interpreted as condoning violence against the unbeliever – and instead repeat the mantra that Islam is peace and hope that all of this debate will go away.
This has left the territory open for radicals to claim as their own. I should know because, as a former extremist recruiter, I repeatedly came across those who had tried to raise these issues with mosque authorities only to be banned from their grounds.
Every time this happened it felt like a moral and religious victory for us because it served as a recruiting sergeant for extremism.
Outside Britain, there are those who try to reverse this two-step revisionism.
A handful of scholars from the Middle East have tried to put radicalism back in the box by saying that the rules of war devised so long ago by Islamic jurists were always conceived with the existence of an Islamic state in mind, a state which would supposedly regulate jihad in a responsible Islamic fashion.
In other words, individual Muslims don’t have the authority to go around declaring global war in the name of Islam.
But there is a more fundamental reasoning that has struck me as a far more potent argument because it involves recognising the reality of the world: Muslims don’t actually live in the bipolar world of the Middle Ages any more.
The fact is that Muslims in Britain are citizens of this country. We are no longer migrants in a Land of Unbelief.
For my generation, we were born here, raised here, schooled here, we work here and we’ll stay here.
But more than that, on a historically unprecedented scale, Muslims in Britain have been allowed to assert their religious identity through clothing, the construction of mosques, the building of cemeteries and equal rights in law.
However, it isn’t enough for responsible Muslims to say that, because they feel at home in Britain, they can simply ignore those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers.
Because so many in the Muslim community refuse to challenge centuries-old theological arguments, the tensions between Islamic theology and the modern world grow larger every day.
I believe that the issue of terrorism can be easily demystified if Muslims and non-Muslims start openly to discuss the ideas that fuel terrorism.
Crucially, the Muslim community in Britain must slap itself awake from its state of denial and realise there is no shame in admitting the extremism within our families, communities and worldwide co-religionists.
If our country is going to take on radicals and violent extremists, Muslim scholars must go back to the books and come forward with a refashioned set of rules and a revised understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Muslims whose homes and souls are firmly planted in what I’d like to term the Land of Co-existence.
And when this new theological territory is opened up, Western Muslims will be able to liberate themselves from defunct models of the world, rewrite the rules of interaction and perhaps we will discover that the concept of killing in the name of Islam is no more than an anachronism.