‘When Injustice is the Law, Resistance is Our Duty’: Yvonne Ridley Speaks to Young Muslim Digest
In a recent interview with Biju Abdul Qadir of the Young Muslim Digest, British-born, award-winning journalist, Yvonne Ridley spoke on a host of issues ranging from her discovery of Islam, the ongoing ‘War on Terror,’ the stagnation within the Muslim Ummah today, the decline of American power, feminism, the position of women in Islam, and the like. Ridley is well-known in the Muslim world for her outspoken views and defense of Islam. She reverted to Islam 30 months after making international headlines when she was captured by the Taliban on an undercover assignment as a senior reporter of the Sunday Express in Afghanistan. She has also worked on projects as a broadcaster, producer and presenter on programmes for BBC TV and radio, CNN, ITN and Carlton TV travelling to Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. In her spare time, she travels throughout the UK and across the globe promoting peace and the anti-war message. She has also delivered lectures on issues relating to Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Uzbekistan, Women in Islam, the War on Terror and journalism at Ivy League universities across the US, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. She has written two books called In the Hands of the Taleban and Ticket to Paradise and is currently writing and researching for two other titles including a biography of Osama bin Laden. A patron of the UK-based pressure groups Cage Prisoners, and Stop Political Terror, she also devotes much of her time to humanitarian work and is a Goodwill Ambassador for the charity Helping Hands. She is currently employed as the Political Editor for Islam Channel and writes a weekly newspaper column for the New York-based Muslims Weekly as well as being a regular media commentator on Muslim-related issues. Presented hereunder is the text of this exclusive interview.
YMD: What are the books that have been the greatest influences on your thinking in the four years since 2003 – since the time you opted for Islam? In this context, which were the books that influenced your life most before you embraced Islam?
YR: The Holy Qur’an was the greatest influence on my life, and the English translation I read was by A. Yusuf Ali given to me by a group of brothers and sisters in Harrow in November 2001. Following on, I read three different biographies of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I became totally absorbed by him and his path. Later I read a biography on Khalid bin Walid which I found to be inspirational and several books on the women around the Prophet (pbuh). But next to the Holy Qur’an, I truly believe that every Muslim should read a copy of Milestones by the Egyptian martyr, Sayyid Qutb, for additional strength, courage and the ability to reason and evaluate Western lifestyles. The one book which made me cry and which continues to inspire was The Return of the Pharaoh written by the late Zayneb al Ghazali.
YMD: How do you evaluate those books now? Are they any less attractive? Would you recommend them to, say, a Muslim trying to know the roots of Western thought?
YR: I am very selective in my reading because time is a great luxury for me and I try not to waste a single moment. Therefore, I will only read non-fiction to educate myself. An understanding of the roots of Western thought can be obtained through reading Milestones. From a secular point of view, Lawless World by lawyer, Philippe Sands, is a must. He argues that recent American actions are undermining the global legal order established after the Second World War and promoting its economic interests at the expense of human rights and the environment.
Another book which rocked my world was Imperial Hubris – Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, because it was written by an active US intelligence officer who broke ranks to tell the world what many of us already knew – the war on Iraq had not made the world a safer place. The anonymous author was soon unveiled as CIA officer, Michael Scheuer, who reasoned that Islamists are in a campaign of insurgency, not terrorism, against the US because of US policies, not out of hatred for American values.
YMD: A witty remark is going about that you were the only man at a recent conference in Egypt where you pointed out that a certain class of Muslim men has lost its masculinity. How wide-spread do you think this phenomenon is? Do you also see this prevalent in other parts of the world, and if so, what do you attribute it to?
YR: I have always spoken my mind at union conferences, anti-war rallies etc. It was only when I put on a hijab that people started to call me outspoken and radical. I am damned if I am going to lose my freedom of speech on the grounds that I am now a Muslim and, instead of trying to undermine me and pull me down, I wish some Muslim men would raise their game and stand on the same platform as me. I really worry about the lack of confidence in the Ummah as a whole, which I think is a legacy of living under despots, tyrants and dictators. There are a few exceptions, and there are many sisters who are beginning to stand up and be quite vocal in their views, but I do worry about this lack of confidence.
YMD: It was also, perhaps, the first time in Egypt that you were in the company of so many of the Muslim intellectual class. How did you feel being there? And how will you evaluate them?
YR: Intellect and the ability to reason are great attributes and I am usually overwhelmed when I am in the presence of such great thinkers. I have always found learned men – and women – to be exceedingly kind and gracious with impeccable Islamic etiquette. Stepping into that arena was, for me, extremely daunting because I knew that I would have to do, or say, something exceptional to make any sort of impact at all. I also knew that any slip-ups would be detected immediately. So there was no way I could pretend to be someone I wasn’t. The advice I was given afterwards was gratefully received because it was given out of genuine love and concern for a sister who was new to the Deen.
YMD: That takes us to another question: who are the personalities that have influenced your thinking during the past four years? Do you have a role-model before you?
YR: The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is alive in my heart and will always be up there among the greatest of influences. I only wish I had his piety, wisdom and tolerance. Other more recent sources of inspiration have been brothers like Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, Sheikh Tamim al Adnani, Malcolm X, and Zayneb al Ghazali.
Those alive today who I look to for wisdom and inspiration include – in no particular order – Moazzam Begg, ex-Guantanamo detainee; Sheikh Anwar al Ouda, Saudi scholar whom I met in Cairo; Dr. Azzam Tamimi, Institute of Islamic Political Thought, Anas al Tikriti, Cordoba Foundation; Ibrahim Hewitt, Chair of Interpal; Ismael Patel from Friends of al-Aqsa; and Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki, currently under arrest in Yemen. Inspirational sisters include Batool and Erica who have had a huge impact on every revert they encounter and Salma Yaqoob who I believe will become the first hijabi to enter the British Parliament.
YMD: Could you please share with us your experiences/ comparisons between the Judeo-Christian and the Islamic traditions?
YR: We are back to the notion of confidence and free speech. Every church and synagogue I have ever entered has promoted free speech from the leaders down to the congregation. Sadly, political views and free speech do not exist in some mosques where the male-dominated led committees dictate to the imam what can, and cannot, be said and done in the Masjid. However, I came to Islam through the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and not the people who practice it.
YMD: In your opinion, what implications do the pacifist-moderate-extremist interpretations have on the proper understanding of Islam by Muslim youth?
YR: Anyone who loves freedom, justice and liberty will do whatever they can to maintain it, for it is their right. Pacifism has its strengths when you look at the achievements of Gandhi, but Gandhi would never have brought an end to apartheid in South Africa, or achieved peace in Northern Ireland. I hate the word ‘moderate.’ Its Arabic version, which means ‘balance,’ is far more meaningful. Islam has been hijacked by a number of pacifist-moderate-extremist so-called scholars which is why it is imperative for Muslim youth to become more discerning in what they are taught and who is teaching it to them.
YMD: Like the late Muhammad Asad (formerly Leopold Weiss), do you think that Western animosity against Islam harks back to the Crusades that happened at a time when the West was still in the early stages of its civilizational growth?
YR: The poison set in during the run up to the Crusades, continued throughout the Crusades, with Islam still seen as a threat by the West which is also in denial that much of its civilization and expansion and development is due to Islamic Civilization. Islam has been in Europe for 1,000 years already, a point which many seem to overlook.
YMD: The word is circulating that Western Civilization has had its day. Some say it is decaying, and, in fact, quite fast. If you agree, can you assign causes?
YR: Every Empire eventually collapses. You only have to look back in history at the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the fall of the great dynasties and destruction of other civilizations. The decline is often brought about by the decline of moral standards, ethics and behaviour. It is only a matter of decades before America finally collapses as a super power, but the destruction will come from within and not from an enemy invader.
YMD: A stealthy and very cleverly organized ‘autocracy of a few’ seems to have been engineered in the USA. Do you think democratic forces can obliterate it completely?
YR: Continuing on from the last question, the rot and decline of America has started already, but there are many good people living in the United States and when the rancid, rotten, corrupt regime now installed brings about the collapse of the US, its citizens will seize back their once great country.
YMD: Do you think public opinion can really and truly influence American foreign policies in a big way, let us say in a way the majority wants it? Or, is the majority as helpless as in some open tyrannical systems?
YR: If Tony Blair had refused to go in to Iraq, George W. Bush might have pulled back from the brink of war because the American people would not want to go it alone. The ‘Coalition of the Willing’ has already collapsed and few are rallying around to give more troops for either Iraq or Afghanistan. Public opinion brought about the fall of Ceausescu’s brutal rule in Romania. Other despots have fallen by the overwhelming surge of people-power and revolution. People are not helpless; they just think they are because the most powerful weapon in the hands of the tyrants is the fear expressed by the people. One day people will wake up and lose that fear and then wonderful things happen as we saw with the fall of the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe.
YMD: How much do you agree with Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations and Fukuyama’s End of History?
YR: Both Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama over simplify their arguments by refusing to really acknowledge the growth of Islam across the West by eclectic groups of individuals who are as diverse and multi-culturally aware as the communities in which they live. Britain, for instance, is no longer recognizable as the country it was 50 years ago. London is a wonderful melting pot of more than 50 different languages and cultures. I much prefer the vision of Karl Marx (a secular hero of mine) who saw the end of civilization as a period in time when class divisions no longer exist, but even he could not have predicted the growth and rise of Islam across the western world. Of course, there is no rank in Islam, a faith which transcends nationalities, borders, boundaries and cultures. Neither Huntington nor Fukuyama have really taken into account this amazing growth, with each drawing on secularism as proof of a positive development rather than negative.
YMD: How do you feel about the lack of Muslim/ Islamic contribution to science and technology having any impact on culture and civilization in modern times? Is the one necessary for the other?
YR: We need to re-educate the educators in the West and force them to acknowledge the huge contribution to science, mathematics, literature, art and culture from Islamic civilizations. It is nothing short of disgraceful that the history of Muslims has been erased and re-written in some areas.
YMD: Could you please comment on the view that Muslims have stopped being agents of civilizational progress in the last two or three hundred years primarily because they have been forced, by the imperial/ colonialist forces of Europe, to constantly engage in defensive wars?
YR: This is probably going to be controversial but I believe the male dominated, patriarchal, cultures in the Muslim world brought a halt to the development of civilization. Probably, the greatest influence was the colonialists in whose interests it was to make sure the colonies were populated by passive influences. By persuading the men to oppress the women, the colonialists were able to subdue half the population with little or no effort. In return, various traitors were rewarded with a few crumbs from the boss-man’s table. So, yes, colonialist forces are to blame in some ways, but their job was made really easy by the sell-outs who paraded themselves as community leaders…and it is still happening to this day.
YMD: Given the presence of the highly educated, dynamic, cadres in the Middle-East being among the Palestinians and Iraqis, do you think the destruction of Iraq had this very theme as the reason why both the Republicans and the Democrats agree over military action, but which reason they cannot pronounce?
YR: The first, second and third victims of war are women because they represent the mothers, wives and daughters of those killed by bombs and bullets. Once the very security and fabric of society collapses, the women again are the victims because they no longer feel it is safe to send their children to be educated… in particular, the daughters. Rape, kidnap, forced marriages and murder follow. What we have seen in Iraq, in particular, is the end of a great civilization where women were high up and active in academia, science, technology, politics and security. Where are they now? And many Palestinian women are suffering in similar ways. Of course, the big crime is that brothers and sisters from surrounding countries, better armed and better placed to come to their defense, look the other way – so weak are they in their resolve.
YMD: Do you think the forces among the modernists within the Muslim world that claim that Democracy is compatible with Islam, have been weakened by the form that American democracy has taken in the USA?
YR: Why should anyone in the Muslim world want to embrace Western-style democracy which simply does not translate elsewhere? We have to stop this Western arrogance that what works for us should work for everyone else. We have seen a great example of democracy in the Middle East when the Palestinian people voted in 2006 for Hamas – and Bush and Blair have punished them every day for exercising their democratic rights.
Democracy is compatible with Islam. In fact, if the truth be known, it was probably the establishment of Islam which inspired those pursuing real democracy.
YMD: What in your opinion has been the impact on Muslims of the West’s refusal to accept true emergence of true Democracy in the Middle East, such as in Palestine, or even Algeria?
YR: American-style democracy was once likened to Henry Ford’s first mechanized automobile production line when he told customers: ‘You can buy any colour car you want as long as it is black.’ The Palestinians were punished for voting out a corrupt gaggle of politicians in favour of Hamas members, and of course, we saw the hysteria which followed when the Algerians voted overwhelmingly in favour of a group not to the liking of their western masters.
YMD: Do you think another reason why continued American presence in Iraq is the US objective is the explicit purpose of installing a new political system which is tyrannical to the masses, but subservient to Washington?
YR: The current Washington Administration could not give a stuff about the well-being or political system installed in Iraq. It could not care less that Muslim blood is being spilled daily across the country because Muslim blood, unlike oil, is a cheap commodity. What the US cares about is sucking out as much oil and riches from Iraq as it can get away with. If there is another agenda, then it is to create a greater, stronger, Israel.
YMD: What are your views on the life and works of Syed Qutb and other recent reformers?
YR: I think I have made my views on Qutb very clear. He was an inspiration and he saw things very clearly in terms of western decadence and the dangers of such a hedonistic lifestyle. Men (and women) of vision have qualities which sadly bypass most of us…. They have courage, integrity and no fear of oppressors or tyrants.
YMD: It is interesting to speculate on how both Syed Qutb and Malcolm X would have fashioned Islamic liberation movements within America and the Islamic world today had they lived beyond the dates when they were executed/ assassinated. Your comments?
YR: Malcolm X was just beginning to launch as a Muslim after his Hajj experience, and I believe the Deen in the US would be much stronger today (had he lived). I think we would also have seen more Muslims in the Senate and the House of Representatives. I also think the cruelty of the Zionists over their obscene man-made catastrophe called Israel would also have been exposed. As for Sayyid Qutb, I think he would be living in London in exile by now or leading Egypt with the rest of the Muslim Brotherhood. The world would certainly be a better place.
YMD: As a founder-member of ‘Women in Journalism,’ and also as a promoter of women’s rights, do you subscribe to a certain concept of feminism within the framework of Islam?
YR: The Holy Qur’an gives women the perfect mandate. Sadly, Western feminism never took into account the special needs of those sisters who followed a faith. In particular, Muslim women were being asked to follow a form of liberation which would have put them on a collision course with Islam. However, now, we have the emergence of Islamic feminism, and I believe we are far more radical than our secular sisters. But please don’t confuse me with sisters like Ayan Hirsi Ali, Amina Wudood or Irshad Manji: their type of Islam does not really exist, and so I’m not sure what they really promote. However, since there’s no compulsion in religion, they should just go off and start whatever their movement is, and call it anything but Islam.
YMD: What are your impressions on the works of Maryam Jameelah, another prominent thinker of the 20th century and an exponent of Western hollowness?
YR: There are some parallels in our lives, but I really don’t know enough about her to comment with any authority.
YMD: How have you viewed the life and works of the former Bosnian President, Alija Ali Izzetbegovich?
YR: I was given his biography only yesterday, and I can’t wait to read it. Like many Muslims who have the courage to lead and inspire, he’s suffered for his Deen.
YMD: You are presently the Political Editor of Islam Channel in Britain. What have been your experiences in this capacity?
YR: Arriving at the Islam Channel was a bit like being an architect rolling up at a Greenfield site. The last two years have been hectic and thoroughly rewarding. I launched an eponymous, political and current affairs show called The Agenda which soon attracted a huge following and became the number one show on the channel according to a readers’ poll. The Agenda had a meteoric rise and became synonymous with Islam Channel but, sadly, it was taken off the air under the orders of the Chief Executive, Mohamed Ali. I am still waiting for a convincing explanation of why this was done, although he does cite pressure from a Government watchdog for the axing of the show. Whatever the reason, The Agenda reports came without fear or favour and had a huge following from non-Muslims as well as Muslims. It is, without doubt, the end of an era for me.
YMD: Do you see a climate of hope for Muslim Media outlets in the Western world?
YR: Al Jazeerah raised the benchmark for heroic journalism in the Muslim world, but I am afraid that most other examples of Muslim Media I have seen are riddled with corruption, editorial interference, lack of integrity and professionalism. There are some good websites around from the Muslim world and some excellent blogs from Egyptian youth. But I do get very, very uppity about professional ethics because I went through four years of hard training as an apprentice journalist before I was let near a serious story. I have always regarded my craft with pride and jealously guarded my rights as a journalist to protect sources and contacts. So, when I see my profession in the hands of amateurs and those who have no background, training or respect for journalism, I tend to get stroppy. Until Muslim Media takes itself seriously and with a full commitment to professionalism, it will never be held in the same regard as the Western media. Oh, and the pay is always appalling.
YMD: Jihad Unspun, an Islamic media outlet begun by Khadijah Abdul Kahhar, another Western woman revert to Islam (post 9/11) like yourself, now operates from Canada and Malaysia. What are your views on Jihad Unspun and its founder?
YR: I have met Sr. Khadijah very briefly and would liked to have spent more time with her. I like her combative style, determination to tell the story as it is without the spin…hence, her wonderful banner and title. Good for her.
YMD: Having worked for, or with, leading Media names like The Sunday Times, The Observer, Daily Mirror, Independent on Sunday, BBC TV and radio, CNN, ITN and Carlton TV before your reversion to Islam, how has that experience helped you after your reversion in understanding media bigotry when it comes to Muslim/ Islamic news around the world?
YR: Well, I’ve been on both sides of the fence now and I can see and recognize spin, deliberate demonization and propaganda. It is blatant in the Western media and, frankly, I am appalled because really good, professional journalists are debasing themselves and the profession.
YMD: Your comments on Zionist – as against Jewish – control and manipulation of Media around the world?
YR: The Zionists hated my television show The Agenda because, at least once a week, the activities of the Z people would be highlighted, but never confused with the actions of Jewish people. In fact, I think that The Agenda did more to make people realize that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. There are those who have done their best to try and undermine me and portray me as anti-semitic, but I have always said that if I am ever called anti-semitic, I will take legal action and I have one of the country’s best lawyers….who just happens to be Jewish.
YMD: The US quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan have thrown up new terms and practices within the corporate media like ‘embedded journalism’ which are now being upheld as a more direct line of reporting from battle-zones that supposedly exemplifies the corporate media’s reach and power. Your comments regarding such projections?
YR: I have walked through the killing fields of Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, Lebanon and got caught up in crossfire between Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government forces. This is the sort of war reporting that most journalists prefer but sometimes you have to take what you can get and so being embedded is often a tempting option for senior management who can’t afford high risk assignments and huge insurance bills. I do know that many journalists prefer not to be embedded but often have no choice. I also know that more journalists have died in Iraq than any other conflict in the world today. It is very difficult to criticize a professional in any hostile situation.
YMD: How far have your recent researches for the Osama bin Laden biography you’re working on helped you in an impartial study of the man?
YR: Well, he just goes up and up in my estimation. There are few people who are critical of him and those who have been close to him have nothing but admiration or kind words. Sadly, most will not go on the record which is very frustrating. I really need to interview people who have been around him the last six or seven years because I need to know why he appears to have taken a change of direction in his views towards jihad. So, if there are any takers out there, please contact me!
YMD: You are a founder-member of the ‘Friends of Islam,’ an All Party Parliamentary Group in UK, the National Union of Journalists’ and the ‘Society of Authors.’ In addition, you have also formed the ‘Respect’ political party. What exactly are your roles with these organizations today?
YR: I attend meetings, pay my subscriptions and am active when called upon. However, most of my activism is linked to my membership of the RESPECT political party where I sit on the National Council.
YMD: How successful do you think that a political role for yourself in British politics will turn out to be, especially if that role is more of a Muslim/ Islamic one?
YR: I will always be politically active but my destiny really lies with the electorate because they are the ones who may, or may not, vote for me. However, if I can’t make my voice heard in the House of Commons, I will make sure it is heard on as many platforms as possible outside.
YMD: What are your views on the predicament and promise of the Islamic resistance in Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya and elsewhere for the future of oppressed people across the globe?
YR: When injustice is the law, resistance is our duty regardless of where we live. If it were not for the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people, the Ummah would have lost Masjid al-Aqsa years ago.
YMD: How do you reconcile yourself to the fact that Muslims living as demographic minorities within a non-Muslim majority nation may never have the chance to implement the complete Islamic code of socioeconomic life in their area of residence?
YR: This sort of question always makes me laugh because where in the world is there a truly Islamic State? I see no Caliphate in the making. In fact, I think I would rather live in a minority than under some overweight, tyrannical puppet of the West.
YMD: What are the new books/ projects that you are working on at the moment?
YR: My big thing at the moment is Islamic Feminism and promoting the sisterhood. I was writing another fictional thriller based on Muslims living in Britain, but the plot was ruined by the July 7 bombings in London. It was a shame because I had virtually completed the book. I began to sympathize with a friend of mine who had written a book about a plot to assassinate Princess Diana. It was due to hit the shelves the week she was killed – how’s that for bad timing?
YMD: What would be your message to the Muslim youth: the future of Muslim civilization?
YR: Hold on tight to the rope of Allah (swt) and fear no one but Him. Go out into the world, seek knowledge and be proud of who you are and the great faith you represent. It is also important to remember that everything you do is in praise of God. So make sure you are the best in your chosen field. Finally, never buckle or kneel before the enemy, and never kiss the hand that slaps you because one day soon you will have to account for all of your actions.