This video clip shows an interview with Tawfik Hamid, former member of the radical Egyptian terrorist organization Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and ex-protégé of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who may be familiar to you as Osama bin Laden’s second-in-command in al-Qaeda. Hamid was raised in a secular family but became interested in religion while in medical school, where he was recruited into Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. Note that Hamid came from an extremely comfortable background: his father was an orthopedic surgeon and his mother a French teacher. He is yet another example of the educated, disaffected child of privilege who turns to extremism to fill an ideological gap in his life — more evidence of the vacuity of the notion that terrorism is the response of the hopelessly poor and disenfranchised.
In the clip, Hamid describes being taught by his religious mentors to use violence against non-Muslims and also against Muslims who do not conform to their version of Islam. He was sufficiently radicalized to have been invited to participate in the kidnapping and burying alive of a police officer, an act he was unable to stomach. He ended up renouncing Islamic extremism completely, and began to promote “a reformation [of Islam] based upon modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts,” as he puts it on his site.
Hamid’s former friends attempted at first to seduce him back to the group through ideological appeals, but were unsuccessful. They resorted to death threats that apparently still continue. He is now the Senior Fellow and Chair for the Study of Islamic Radicalism at the Potomoc Institute for Policy Studies and the author of Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam.
When asked by the interviewer who the enemy was defined to be by his jihadist masters when he was a young radical, Hamid doesn’t mention the Jews or Israel:
“Women’s rights were the first enemy for us. Strange, but this was the first enemy, truly. …That’s why when you see radical groups, the first thing they do is they suppress women. The first thing, before anything else, they tell women not to go out, to wear the hijab….[T]he first enemy was not a political enemy; it was women’s rights. This is what we typically hated, and the West represented for us the guardian of women’s rights.”
The interviewer cited the incessant debate within Israel (where the video was recorded) as to whether or not we should make concessions to extremists. Hamid responded:
Never do concessions to radicals. The moment you do concessions, the more they attack you. For example, when radicals attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the response was weak. This…encouraged the radicals of al-Qaeda to attack the US again on September 11, in three years. So too the cartoon issue with the Prophet Mohammed. The radicals didn’t demonstrate for a four-month period — until the magazine apologized. Then they started demonstrating. So concessions mean nothing for them but a green light , an invitation to attack you more. So my advice to you: never do concessions.
He goes on to say that the responsibility is now on the side of the Arabs to bend toward the Jews and Israel, who have, as he says, “done your best.” Now, Hamid says, “it’s our turn to do something. We always expect concessions, and the world also expects concessions only to come from the Israelis and the Jews. But it’s now our turn…otherwise the problem will not be solved.”
This is obviously a dangerous position to hold, but Hamid is not worried. If Islamists succeed in assassinating him, he says, “they will not kill my voice…[T]here will be thousands of Tawfik Hamids coming to stand against their evil.”