[ by Charles Cameron — a powerful tale of “de-radicalization” as metanoia ]
Munir, by his own account, was drifting under the influence of various radical Muslim clerics, Abu Hamza al-Masri among them. One’s never too sure about the exactness of journo quotes, but here’s one media report to be going on with:
“Look who I ended up with,” he said.
“We had a fantastic relationship. It was a match made in heaven – his anger, my lack of self-esteem.
“He wanted me to die on the battlefield.”
It was, mashallah, not to be — Munir had a change of mind and heart, and now works to offer potentially susceptible British youth alternatives to the “al-Qaeda narrative”.
Here is his story in two brief tweets:
Tweet 1: I once held a spoon Tweet 2: That same spoon gouged
That little double event — the holding of a spoon, the revelation of its invisible history — I am calling a dark sacrament. I draw the word “sacrament” my own theological background, but also from Joseba Zulaika‘s analysis of Basque terrorism in his fine book Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament, wherein he quotes GB Ladner:
The sacrament is altogether a very different kind of symbol: it not only signifies, but also effects what it symbolizes.
I call this passing of the spoon a dark sacrament in two interwoven but opposite senses. The one who gave Munir the spoon intended it as a gesture making and marking a symbolic connection between Munir himself and its history, a gift of intensification in the dark religion of terror which calls on Islam for its justification.
And yet it was also sacramental in another sense entirely from the one intended: it reached deep enough into that darkness to turn Munir himself towards the light — Islam rediscovered as the struggle of the soul to reorient from ignorance towards the Niche for Lights mentioned in the Verse of Light in the Qur’an, 24.35:
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp (the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star) kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light; (God guides to His Light whom He will.) (And God strikes similitudes for men, and God has knowledge of everything.)
Note those two last sentences: God strikes similitudes for men, so that each moment may be a signpost if we do but see it. And God guides to His Light whom He will.
Professional writers naturally have an affinity for all kinds of form, from the epic epic via the novel, novella, short story, sestina and sonnet to the haiku, and Twitter has unsurprisngly engaged their imaginations. Thus the New Yorker Fiction account, @NYerFiction, has been running a short story in tweets by Jennifer Eagan, while Teju Cole, more to my taste, has posted Seven short stories about drones in a tweet apiece.
But those are prize-winning professional writers, which as far as I know Munir makes no claim to be: he is simply offering us his personal story, unvarnished — yet his effort effortlessly matches theirs. Here is a signal to myself and to the rest of us who try to understand radicalization, CVE and de-radicalization: that true epiphanies — sacramental signs, sacred moments — unleash a power into the system that no amount of calculation could predict.