By Deeyah Khan
14 Jun 2015
In Exposure - Jihad: A British Story, I
investigate the roots of Islamic extremism in the UK, speaking to many reformed
extremists as well as ordinary young Muslims to answer the burning question of
why some young British Muslims join fanatical Jihadi cults like ISIS. Why is
the message of extremism and Jihadism appealing to young Muslims in the UK and
Although I come from a family with origins
in South Asia, I have always struggled to understand the appeal of religious
For Exposure, I spent two years travelling
the UK, interviewing British citizens, whose lives had been consumed by
One of these was a pivotal figure: Abu
Muntasir. Now a reformed and moderate imam, he is tormented by his violent
past. He has been described as one of the founding fathers of the British Jihadi
movement. He fought in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Burma, and organised arms
He told me: “I inspired and recruited. I
trained, I raised funds, I sent people for training, I went and fought myself,
and it wasn’t just for a one-off - 15 to 20 years.” He worked to radicalise
thousands of young Muslims and encouraged many young men to fight abroad.
I learned that Abu Muntasir created a
movement of other young extremists, holding meetings and study circles across
the UK, and preaching an extreme form of anti-Western Islam, promoting jihad
and the idea of martyrdom.
Asked if he should be forgiven, he says:
"If I've done those things which have terribly upset people or hurt people
I should be forgiven, I should forgive others as well.
"I cannot hate, hate is not what
Muhammad taught. I have been forgiven, I will forgive, that's the least I can
do. You have the right to punish me if you think that's fair I will take all
Asked whether he has forgiven himself? He
answered: "How you answer that? I don't know."
I went on to speak to a number of his
former disciples, who describe how they were led into extremism - and reveal
the inner workings of the jihadi movement.
I gained an in-depth interview with another
former fighter, a direct student of Abu Muntasir, now devoted to spreading a
peaceful and tolerant version of Islam.
He explained to me how young people can be
psychologically vulnerable to the extremist worldview.
One young man gave me a chilling insight
into the radicalised state of mind:
"I just had so much hate in me. I
wanted to vent that so badly. I wanted to kill or be killed. So my wishes at
the time were that I died on the field of battle. And I killed as many
non-believers as I could who opposed me on that field".
But this was not the end of his story - in
compelling testimony he describes how he slowly confronted his own extremist
beliefs and managed to reclaim his life.
I managed to gain an exclusive interview
with a young Bradford man, facing a retrial for terrorist offences (the charges
were later dropped).
He and his brother pleaded guilty to
downloading jihadi manuals from the internet.
He had, he told me, been inspired by videos
of Muslim fighters, and had been groomed by his cousin.
I was told about how these vivid propaganda
videos prey on impressionable young minds:
"It puts that image inside you that
these are the true warriors… watching the Taliban and Al Qaeda, these kinds of
videos, you'll think you have sympathy for them, these know how to fight, they
are representing Islam, that’s how you feel. But obviously later on you start
understanding that this is not how it is supposed to be."
I particularly wanted to understand the
appeal of Muslim extremism to women.
One woman told she was drawn into an
extremist group in the UK as an abuse survivor looking for a sense of justice.
She described the isolationist mindset that
develops within these groups: “it was just like everyone was disgusting,
everything was dirty.”
She eventually turned away from the group
after she learned that her child was expressing her violent world view in
This became a moment of clarity that forced
her to re-evaluate and change her whole belief system.
Through talking with former extremists, and
hearing them share their innermost emotional conflicts and experiences, I
learned about the anger many feel in being caught between extremism and a
society which some feel rejects them.
Through these moving testimonies, I started
understanding the complex reasons why men and women might turn to extremism.
We have to first truly understand the
appeal of this movement in order to find ways to tackle this terrifying