There’s no ‘aha’ moment when you suddenly realise why Khan did it, but then life is rarely like that. And from the account it remains hard to tell why (beyond his falling in with ‘the wrong crowd’) he chose to become a murderer while others don’t. But it paints a picture of him as a human being – which is, alas, exactly what he and every other fanatic is. If you think ‘understand’ is a dirty word, this piece isn’t for you. If you value knowing your enemy, it’s worth a read.
Malik describes: how Khan was drawn to violent jihadism before 9/11, let along Iraq; Khan’s defiance of his father in marrying outside the extended family; the broader clash between Wahhabi Islamism and the more traditional Pakistani religion in the context of Western modernity; Khan’s strong community connections, helping to cement rather than dissolve his extremism; and that most of his final video is concerned with attacking mainstream British Islam rather then the government.
Khan may have felt indignant about western foreign policy, as many anti-war campaigners do, but that wasn't the reason he led a cell of young men to kill themselves and 52 London commuters. At the heart of this tragedy is a conflict between the first and subsequent generations of British Pakistanis—with many young people using Islamism as a kind of liberation theology to assert their right to choose how to live. It is a conflict between tradition and individuality, culture and religion, tribalism and universalism, passivity and action.