Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 16, 2015

George Orwell and Radical Islam

Earlier this week, NPR’s Fresh Air had a fascinating interview with Maajid Nawaz, a British Muslim and one-time recruiter for an Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nawaz actually moved away from his Islamist beliefs during his imprisonment in Egypt. This part especially caught my attention:

You know, I was quite studious, and I wanted to carry on with my studies. So I took the opportunity to read, to study and to discuss with everyone. And I began reading a lot of George Orwell. Now, if your listeners have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, George Orwell parodies the Soviet communist state – the USSR – and takes the example of a farm to kind of parody what happens in – when somebody tries to create a utopia. Now, when reading that, I began to join the dots and think, my God, if these guys that I’m here with in prison ever came to power, they would be the Islamist equivalent of Animal Farm. You know, if they declared their caliphate, you know, they would do all the things that Orwell warns of in Animal Farm, but in the name of God instead.

And so I kind of began to see the humanization combined with the understanding that it’s impossible to create a utopia, especially when – if this is the vanguard. And I’m living up-close and seeing their everyday habits and lifestyle. I thought, my God, you know, I wouldn’t trust these guys in power because, you know, when I called it back then and said – if this caliphate – this theocratic caliphate was ever established, it would be a nightmare on earth. And now, when we see what ISIL is doing in the name of this theocratic caliphate, I believe I’ve been vindicated that these guys – any of them – if they ever got to power, they would be committing mass atrocities.

Interesting throughout. Recommended.

Incidentally, Nawaz has a book out — Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism — and he is apparently running for Parliament in the UK as a Liberal Democrat.


  1. Interesting. W/o yet having read the interview and thus not knowing the details, I’d say offhand this process of ‘de-radicalization’ (i hate that terminology, but you know what i mean) while in Egyptian prison is unusual. Though the only case I’m familiar w in any detail is a well-known one, i.e. that of Ayman al-Zahawiri, who was already a committed Islamist when imprisoned but emerged embittered etc by having been tortured (as recounted e.g. in Wright’s The Looming Tower).

    • I’m sure prison affects each prisoner differently (not that I can speak from personal experience). I would not be surprised if most individuals who spend substantial time inside an Egyptian prison emerge as converted or more ardent jihadists or Islamists. Mr. Nawaz is probably an exceptional case and not the norm.

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