In April 1957, the pro-Western King Hussein of Jordan dismissed his socialist-leaning government (elected the previous October), banned all political parties and introduced martial law. As Mark Curtis points out in his compelling survey of Britain’s relationship with radical Islam, the palace coup was supported by a familiar alliance of British, American and Saudi interests. The fourth member of the quartet was the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement transplanted from Egypt, which had established itself as an alternative to Arab nationalism and revolutionary socialism. In May 1957, the British ambassador in Amman, Charles Johnston, wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Selwyn Lloyd: ‘I suggest that our interest is better suited by an authoritarian regime which maintains stability and the Western connection than by an untrammelled democracy which rushes downhill towards communism and chaos.’ In October he wrote again to explain how the Muslim Brotherhood fitted into the equation. They had worked to help undermine the democratically elected government by intimidating its leftist supporters. ‘The Muslim Brotherhood was useful to King Hussein in April as representing a “strong arm” organisation which could if necessary have taken on the Left Wing extremists in the streets.’ For Curtis, the letters from Johnston to Lloyd are emblematic of the West’s historic relationship with radical Islam, which successive governments in Britain and America viewed as a bulwark against communism and, it would seem, self-determination.
In an extraordinary sweep from India at the time of Partition, through the rise of Nasser, to the Iranian revolution and on to the rise of al-Qaeda, Curtis chases down example after example of British cooperation with the Islamist cause. During the Cold War there was a certain