How can Malala Yousafzai and the Taliban both be Muslim?

Dr Matthew Wilkinson, author of The Genealogy of Terror

What is the book about?

The Genealogy of Terror: How to distinguish between Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism shows how Mainstream Islam, Islamism and Islamist Extremism are fundamentally different worldviews despite sharing some superficial similarities. By worldview I mean a consistent way of being in and knowing the world. This idea of the worldview also explains why different types of Muslim behave in fundamentally different ways. The book explains what these worldviews are, where they came from and who has been responsible for propagating them.

“These differences in basic worldview explain, for example, why Malala Yousafzai campaigns for the Islamic right to female education and why the Taliban shot her for it.”

Why did you write this book?

“Personally, as a convert to Islam myself, I have had a constant struggle to explain how some people who justify terrible acts in the name of Islam are different and believe differently from other people who want to lead good and productive lives in the name of Islam. It’s a big conundrum for a lot of people.

“In a professional sense, I have been called as an expert witness in Islamic theology 28 times in counter-terrorism trials, so I have needed to explain to juries the ideological and theological nature of evidence they are being asked to consider in relation to charges being brought against defendants. I’m there to help them make informed decisions. The idea of the basic underlying worldview helps makes things clear.

“Judges, barristers and police officers have told me that this is an explanation that everyone needs to know, so I wrote the book.”

Why is this book needed?

“Media and policy discourse around Islam and Muslims and the connection, or lack of it, to extremism has often been shoddy. The mainstream media, because it so often sets up stories as dialectical oppositions, has for many years unwittingly given the public the impression that Islam does indeed stand for acts of barbarism. If we use the murder of Lee Rigby as an example – the Muslim point of view was often represented in mainstream media outlets by the now convicted terrorist Anjem Choudary.

“In the political space, the problem is the ‘elephant in the room’ syndrome. People tend to think that they’ll know what extremism is when they see it, and that means that there has never been a clear policy impetus to define well the different Muslim and Islamist worldviews that cover a whole spectrum of possibilities from the healthy to the destructive. And this means whole groups of people have tended to be bundled up in the ‘dangerous’ category, sometimes very unfairly. My book brings definitional clarity to this confusion so that the rights of innocent religious people can be properly protected and people who would do themselves and society harm can be identified.”   

Who should read this book?

“The Genealogy of Terror was written for lawyers, academics, policy-makers, teachers and journalists. But it will be useful for any reader who wants to gain a sophisticated, original and clear understanding of the landscape of contemporary Islam.”

Matthew’s book is available in the SOAS Library as an e-reader and via Amazon

Matthew Wilkinson is the Principal Investigator on a new international research project Understanding Conversion to Islam in Prison

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