Shy Radicals – a manifesto for the quiet revolution

shyrad radicals

Shy Radicals: the antisystemic politics of the militant introvert by Hamja Ahsan, published by Bookworks, 2017, £9.95

Shy Radicals is a ‘what if?’ book. What if everyone who suffers from anxiety, depression or agoraphobia, all those with diagnoses of autism or Aspergers’ syndrome, and everyone who is simply shy or socially awkward and has ever suffered for it, banded together and employed methods of political struggle to turn themselves into a liberation movement?

Working on the basis that there is nothing fanciful about such a possibility, Hamja Ahsan takes us into a fictionalised world of struggle, the ‘Introfada’, where the end goal is complete liberation of the shy peoples and the declaration of a free homeland, ‘Aspergistan’.

Hamja himself is the ultimate shy radical, being both shy to the point of anxiety and a seasoned activist, whose life has been dedicated to political struggle ever since the day in 2006 when the police arrived at his parents’ house to arrest his brother Talha on terrorism charges. Talha Ahsan, who himself is a shy radical, living with Asperger’s, was held in high security British prisons from 2006 until 2013, when he was extradited to the US, where he was held for a further ten months, part of the time in solitary confinement.

As a result of Talha’s arrest, Hamja found himself thrust into campaigning and into a limelight which has both terrified and enthralled him ever since. From then until 21 August 2014, when Talha was flown back to Britain, Hamja campaigned relentlessly for his brother’s freedom, widening this focus to fight not just for Talha but for all political prisoners, especially those in solitary confinement, and taking every opportunity to link this to other campaigns and struggles. In carrying out this work he had to confront both the hostile, Islamophobic climate that surrounds such arrests, and his own deep-seated and longstanding personal fears, anguish, and anger. These same sentiments have led him now to write Shy Radicals.

Shy Radicals is funny and bitter and idealist. But it also contains a lot of material that is shocking and serious; highlighting in particular the levels of suicide among young men. Hamja describes the book as based on ‘a life-time of resentment’; this is palpable throughout the pages and will strike a chord with many readers. Anyone who hates nights out or false bonhomie, or has ever been excluded from a popular group and felt the dual emotion of despising that group and everything it stands for, while at the same time wanting to belong somewhere, will easily identify with the sentiments behind Shy Radicals.

Nicki Jameson


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