What don’t people get about Ed Husain?

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On Monday, the Guardian printed an abridgement of Andrew Anthony’s response to David Edgar’s piece in the Guardian Review about the recent fad for “defection literature”, amongst which he lists Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony himself, Ed Husain and Melanie Phillips whom he says “wears the ‘apostate’ label with pride”. Andrew Anthony writes:

The key name, here I think, is that of Ed Husain.

If you can really view someone who leaves an imperialist, anti-semitic, anti-democratic, ultra-religious party like Hizb ut-Tahrir and comes out in favour of democracy and religious tolerance as a defector moving rightwards, then it shows your political - not to mention, moral - compass is in urgent need of repair.

David Edgar did not exactly say that Ed Husain was a defector from left to right; he said that his book fitted the profile of the recent spate of “defection” books to appear in the last year or so. (Melanie Phillips has actually not contributed to the genre in book form; her contribution is mostly web-based.) However, he does not appreciate why there is an objection to Ed Husain and his campaign.

It has nothing to do with whether he has moved up or down or left or right. Ed Husain is not a “defector from Hizb-ut-Tahrir to freedom and democracy”; for the umpteenth time, there is a gap of several years between his involvement in the gang calling itself HT which caused a lot of trouble in colleges in London in the 1990s and his reappearance in May last year with his book, The Islamist.

It is not as if he spent the intervening years educating the Muslim youth about HT; he spent them working for HSBC (a big bank) and teaching English in Saudi Arabia. He is, thus, not somebody who has paid his dues and is a figure of authority among the Muslims; he was in fact a nobody when he published his book last May. In fact, he had been contributing to the DeenPort web forum, where he criticised people for washing dirty laundry in public by criticising Hisham Kabbani, and when his book appeared, people did not make the connection between Muhammad Mahbub Husain and “Ed Husain”. He does make some valid points about such matters as the fondness of some Muslims for outlandish conspiracy theories, something I have remarked on in the past myself, but his talk of Muslims referring to whites among themselves as goreh, which in fact just means whites in Urdu, smacks of what we call namima (tale-bearing, or running around saying “he says this about you!” like kids in the playground).

Really, most of us have no problem with Muslims condemning terrorism or even encouraging other Muslims to make positive contributions to the country they live in rather than hating it, as if most Muslims in the west do hate it. What we object to is nobodies coming out of the woodwork to point fingers and tell tales, and worse still, for their bourgeois liberal media chums to keep amplifying them while ignoring those who disagree with them. There is a huge sense of a skewed debate here: Ed mostly does not listen to or respond to his Muslim critics, and the newspapers who give him publicity do not either, rarely if ever even printing letters disagreeing with his version of events.

His book, and his other media appearances, merit mention alongside left-to-right defections simply because he is closely associated with them, and because his writings are used as ammunition by them (and not just the “muscular liberals” like Anthony and Cohen but also by Phillips who has moved pretty explicitly to the right), but his profile is completely out of proportion to his authority.

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