Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In December 2009 the US government launched an air strike against the tiny Yemeni village of al-Majalah where al-Qaeda militants were believed to be in hiding. A second attack a week later targeted the prominent religious leader Anwar Awlaki. He escaped unharmed but many villagers were killed. These two strikes were intended to set back al-Qaeda's operations in Yemen but, within 24 hours, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - a 23-year-old Nigerian man and one of Awlaki's followers - boarded a plane to Detroit with explosives hidden in his clothing. His is not a unique story: at a time when true pluralism remains an aspiration rather than a reality in the West, young men, disillusioned and angry with the spiritually barren, consumerist societies in which they live, travel to Yemen in search of fulfilment. There, in the country's anarchic wilderness, they find what they could not at home: a pure way of life, submissive wives and like-minded brethren. Some, like Abdulmutallab, find something much more dangerous: the conviction to carry out Jihad. In Undercover Muslim, Theo Padnos brilliantly evokes a landscape and journey that few Westerners have experienced. He investigates the radicalisation of these disaffected young men as they move, almost unnoticed, from London, Berlin or Paris to their new spiritual home in Yemen. Padnos's journey takes him from the newsroom of a Yemeni newspaper to the prayer rows and lecture rooms of Yemen's madrassas, from covert Jeep rides into the sacred mountains to a stint in an overcrowded prison. It is through these events, and through the people he encounters, that Padnos shows us how a terrifying gulf has opened between Islam and the West.
racket and the light. We asked a passer-by for the nearest mosque and followed him through an alley, past a nondescript ministry, and into a garage-like hall made of cinder blocks. It was evidently the mosque of a local military detachment. Soon we were standing shoulder to shoulder with a legion of mustachioed men in army fatigues and black socks. ‘I seek refuge from the Shaytan, and the djinn,’ the hall whispered. ‘From the Outcast and his evil.’ 30 THOUGH OUR EXCURSION to the
question and you say that’s wrong? Even to try?’ The two of them stared at me. ‘Subhan allah,’ Omar muttered. Good heavens. ‘If this is true what you say,’ said Said under his breath, ‘then in the first place you are crazy to come to Yemen. In the second place, you do not have adequate learning. And do you have permission? From anyone? No. And in the third place, you have totally and completely missed the point.’ ‘Of what?’ I said. ‘Of study. Of Islam. Of the unity of God.’ We went round
and stood on the street corners, staring. The Yemeni public loved its Big Man, Ali Abdullah Saleh. He was the king of southern Arabia, the hero of the unification of North and South Yemen, the scourge of the southern communists, and the defier of George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War. He was the builder of roads and institutions. He brought satellite TV, cheap food and foreign dignitaries. On this occasion, he brought the attention of the world to Yemen. Most at the rally and probably all
rally was to be held. A couple of Sudanese diplomats who had stopped to buy cigarettes offered to give us a lift. ‘A Frenchman and an American?’ the driver asked. ‘Here? Today?’ ‘They are spies,’ muttered the fellow in the passenger seat. ‘Are you spies?’ the driver asked, turning to us with a smile. He dropped us off a few metres from the Greenland restaurant. Above us, a squadron of helicopters flitted in front of the sun. ‘Good heavens,’ Said murmured. ‘We’ll walk just to the edge of the
from the computers, locked the cafe and the three of us walked together into the mosque. 46 JOWAD WAS AN especially good companion during the sheikh’s speeches, which could be long disjointed affairs, more like a tour through the mind of a rural Arab chieftain than instruction in Islam. Usually the two of us sat against a side wall of the mosque and listened while the sheikh followed his stream of consciousness. Now and then, a funny or surprising or otherwise noteworthy idea would