Ed Husain remembers the man as a kindly soul, not the sort you would suspect of recruiting for a radical Islamic group. As a teenager already in rebellion against his upstanding middle-class parents, who had raised him as a sort of Muslim choirboy, young Mohammed — his original first name — was an easy target.
They met in the early 1990s at the elaborate Muslim wedding of a distant relative. "He was a medic at Royal London Hospital, and he invited me to lunch," said Husain, whose recently published memoir, The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left, has caused a ruckus in the newspapers, on television, on talks shows and in blogs.
"He was asking me questions and then saying, 'White Muslims are being killed in Bosnia,'" he recalled in an interview. "What chances do we have as brown people in England?' He was creating doubts." His new friend said he had "black and white" answers to the world's problems, and gave him books by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, a Palestinian judge who, dissatisfied with the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1950s, set up his own Islamic party, called Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation.
Thus began Husain's journey into the world of British Islamic radicalism. He joined a university campus branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He said he had been hooked on an ideology that calls for a caliphate in Muslim countries and the end of Israel, though in nonviolent ways. Membership made him feel important, even though he was only a cog in a larger movement. "You feel a few cuts above an ordinary Muslim," he said.
He left the group in 1995 after two years, dismayed after a fellow Hizb ut-Tahrir member stabbed a Christian student, killing him.
Now, with his book, Husain's personal story has become fodder for the percolating debate in Britain about how to combat terror, and about how to narrow the divide between white non-Muslim Britons and Muslims from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
With the zeal of a true believer, Husain, 32, has denounced Hizb ut-Tahrir, and called for it to be banned. With almost equal fervor he has upbraided the British government for being too soft on issues of Islamic extremism.
Some Muslims have called Husain, who is of Indian heritage, a traitor. Some non-Muslims on the left have questioned his get-tough approach. Others, mostly on the right, have hailed him as brave. Husain has also been challenged by some who argue that his experiences do not deal with the most pressing problem, the very small minority of British Muslims who end up being recruited as terrorists.
For its part, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which runs a sophisticated Web site and is no slouch at joining the fray, has assailed Husain, calling his attacks unfair and outmoded. A spokesman, Taji Mustafa, said that Husain was never a formal member who took a pledge, but rather attended the group's circles like thousands of others.
On the other side, Husain says he has been approached by British government officials, asking whether he wants to join their anti-extremist efforts, a move that would almost certainly cast him in parts of Britain's diverse Muslim community as a government stooge.
"The Islamist blogs are apologists," Husain said of his Muslim critics. Of the critics on the left, he said: "The left shouldn't be getting into bed with the Islamists. We've got a political correctness gone mad in Britain that says: 'How dare we white British tell them what to do?'"