9 September 2016
This article was originally published on The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
The recent terrorism conviction of Anjem Choudary, the West’s most prolific media cheerleader for the so-called Islamic State , raised questions about his incarceration in prisons that have—in some cases —been labelled jihadist training camps.
Indeed, terrorist recruitment in prisons is one of the biggest challenges the West faces today, and Jihadi-Joker Anjem Choudary would thrive in such an environment. Prison radicalization is a real and sustained problem. Petty criminals predisposed to violence like “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid caught trying to blow up a transatlantic flight out of Paris in 2001 initially were radicalized in this very way, by mixing with hardened jihadist ideologues inside Britain’s jails, only to come out and attempt to attack the United States.
As of this summer there were 12,633 Muslims in prison in England and Wales. While of the 147 convicted terrorists in UK jails, 137 defined themselves as Muslim.
A 20 percent increase in the jail population has been outstripped by a 122 percent rise in Muslim inmates. Muslims make up just one in twenty Britons, but one in seven inmates. In the U.S., rough estimates suggest that 35,000-40,000 prisoners convert to Islam each year. Nationally at around 350,000 inmates, 15 percent of the U.S. prison population is Muslim. This is more than 18 percent the proportion of Americans who are Muslim. That’s a huge disparity. These psychologically vulnerable Muslim prisoners must not be allowed to mix with charismatic, committed and convincing jihadist ideological recruiters.
In a recent column for these pages I asked how people like Anjem Choudary could “be stopped from playing his wicked tune through his crooked flute in jail?” Later that same day the UK Ministry of Justice finally released plans to overhaul its 50-year-old policy of dispersing the most dangerous terrorist prisoners among the general prison population in high-security prisons. They will create segregated specialist units within prison instead, to house the most committed, hardened jihadist ideologues. This followed a thorough investigation into prisons by government appointed independent reviewer Ian Acheson.
The incompetence and neglect Acheson unveiled in the department responsible for prisons, the National Offender Management Service (Noms), is incredibly disturbing.
Political correctness in prisons was found to be allowing extremism to flourish. Acheson’s review team found aggressive encouragement of conversions to Islam by prisoners, unsupervised collective worship with pressure on prison guards to leave the prayer room, and attempts to engineer segregation along Islamist lines.
Materials promoting Islamist ideology had been allowed into prison libraries, while official prison imams were facing intimidation by convicted jihadist terrorists. Prison guards were found to be too afraid to confront Muslims, as “cultural sensitivity” was preventing staff from “challenging unacceptable extremist behavior and views.” Offenders were advocating support for ISIS, and “charismatic” prisoners had been acting as “self-styled emirs”, exerting a “controlling and radicalizing influence” on the wider Muslim prison population.
Even those Muslim prison chaplains employed by government to offer religious guidance to prisoners were found to be part of the problem. Around two-thirds of these chaplains followed the fundamentalist Pakistani wing of the Deobandi sect that only further instilled medieval literalism into vulnerable Muslim prisoners. Acheson personally remarked that the prison service faced a “serious challenge,” as unchecked extremism in prison could soon pose a “lethal threat to national security.”
He found evidence that jihadist radicalization was “such a serious problem” inside some of Britain’s jails that it threatened “prison legitimacy.” At leadership levels within Noms, a “cultural relativism” obstructed decisive action being taken.
Acheson even coined a phrase for this neglect: “institutional timidity.”
The British government will now implement eight of Acheson’s 11 recommendations.
A new Ministry of Justice directorate of security, order and counter-terrorism has been set up to tackle the problem. Extremist materials will be removed from prison libraries, and due diligence tests for the stronger vetting of prison chaplains will be adopted to ensure Noms has “the right people in place to counter extremist beliefs.”
But much of the media focus has been on creating segregated specialist units for the “most subversive” extremists. A new “ghost train” system will be created to move the “most subversive” extremists between isolation units. Up to eight such high-security units within prisons are expected to be built. Each is likely to hold around 50 inmates. Government sources indicated that Anjem Choudary will be one of those locked up in a segregated unit.
Critics have warned that such a move could provide a focal point for public protest, and for media charges of a “British Guantanamo.” The troubling history at the infamous Maze and Maghaberry prisons in Northern Ireland during the 1980s, where organized Republican and Loyalist paramilitary prisoners ended up running their respective prison blocks is used as the main argument against a separatist solution.
But the Ministry of Justice’s directorate of security, order and counter-terrorism would be responsible for ensuring that concentrating the most dangerous jihadist extremists into separate units would not simply allow them to create their own operational command structures in this way.
A similar “jail within a jail” system has been used with some success in the Netherlands. A researcher at Leiden university, Daan Weggemans, claimed that half the detainees found this regime to be a “wake-up call,” and broke with their former violent extremist networks.
One rehabilitated ex-terrorist prisoner felt the segregated approach was “the least bad of all bad options” because it prevented the radicalization of inmates in the general prison population. But he emphasized that care was needed to house only extremist “leaders” in the wings, and not their “followers” who presented a much lower risk of radicalizing others.
Frustratingly, my counter-extremism organization Quilliam warned of all of this seven years ago. We highlighted precisely these problems in a report called ”Unlocking al-Qaeda”. Our research found the neglect to be so great that some of Europe’s most dangerous al-Qaeda supporters (this was before ISIS existed) were even able to provide live media interviews to their followers from inside jail. They were also able to issue fatwas supporting specific acts of terror while behind bars. To tackle this problem, we recommended setting up these very segregated specialist deradicalization units inside prisons that the government now proposes.
But for seven long years absolutely nothing was done.
I agree with Acheson, “institutional timidity” is the only word that can possibly describe our gross neglect of some of the most vulnerable—and most dangerous— people in our care. I fear that such “institutional timidity” is not restricted to our prison services, but is replicated across all sectors of our society.
Most of all in our own minds.
To read this article as originally published on The Daily Beast, please click here.
26 August 2016
This article was originally published on The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
That great French Republic has banned another piece of cloth. The origins of this burkini (or burqini) ban furor are alarming. A Muslim group in Marseille wanted to have an all-burkini day, and the mere notion provoked a storm of controversy. Then the all-over bathing suit was banned in the Riviera resort of Cannes, where a French official rather absurdly described it as displaying “an allegiance to terrorist movements that are at war with us.”
Forcing a burkini-clad woman to strip on the beach violates her dignity and France’s promise https://t.co/6PkCmgFD9o
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) August 24, 2016
One Corsican village called Sisco banned the full-body swimsuit following a darkly comical mass brawl involving French-Muslim men of North African origin who took offense at photographers taking snaps of burkini-clad women on a local beach. Some of the brawlers reportedly were armed with hatchets. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were injured. One man’s wounds were caused by a harpoon.
And then we had, this week, the stunning spectacle of a woman being compelled by armed French cops on the beach at Nice to strip off her burkini.
It seems that we are in the midst of mutual mass-identity hysteria.
The burkini is, in fact, a sad symbol of Islam today going backward on gender issues. France’s ban on it is a sad symbol of liberalism today going backward in reply.
Classical liberals of any religion or none would do well to remember that this does not have to be a zero-sum game. It is possible to oppose the French ban on burkinis while also challenging the mindset of those who support burkas and burkinis.
As a reforming secular liberal Muslim, I do not endorse the gender-discriminatory body-shaming and moralizing of burkas. I recoil, too, at the silly idea of a burkini. But I also believe that France’s ban on them is ridiculous, illiberal, and incredibly petty. It is also cynical.
As for liberalism going backward, when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck through the crowd in Nice on July 14, he sought to deepen division, and to further the ISIS aim of a global civil war. Strategically, he chose the right location.
The French Riviera is a traditional stronghold of French reactionaries. The area sees consistently high poll results for the far right. Last year, National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, ran a high-profile campaign there and succeeded in making huge gains. The region is now rapidly turning into a polarized hotbed of tension, pitching far-right sympathizers against Islamist extremists.
In this respect, the burkini ban is nothing but a product of political opportunism. With the proximity of elections looming, shortsighted politicking is the only consideration that matters. Local petty political chieftains would rather provoke national turbulence merely to win a local council seat than do what is in their country’s national interest.
As the 2017 French presidential and legislative elections approach, the country’s politicians are desperate to prove who can do the most—or anything at all—against the pernicious effect of jihadist terrorism. They have only a few months left. Sadly, grand gestures such as bans on symbolic pieces of cloth carry political currency in this game of mass-hysteria identity politics.
This is how our most valued asset, source of strength and global envy—liberalism—is capitulating to identity-based communalism, short-term electoral gain, populist appeasement, and a clamor to just do something.
This capitulation is exactly what jihadist terrorists were hoping to achieve with their sustained random attacks.
Perpetual identity-based civil war, rather than war between countries, suits those who wish to build a new world order—a caliphate—carved out of existing states. Equal treatment on a citizenship basis means nothing to jihadists.
There is no better way to kickstart dividing people along exclusively religious lines than by committing atrocities in the name of Islam. Their hope is that everyone else also begins to identify Sunni Muslims primarily by their religious identities, in reaction to the atrocities. In this way, religious identity has won and citizenship becomes redundant.
But the backward trajectory of contemporary liberalism is matched by a backward trajectory within Islam today.
In modern Muslim-majority contexts and up until the 1970s, the female body was not shamed out of public view. As one Egyptian feminist asserts, this was mainly due to the social dominance of the relatively liberal, middle-class elite in urban centers.
But throughout the ’80s, theocratic Islamism began replacing Arab socialism as the ideology of resistance against “the West.” As is always the case with misogynist dogma, the war against the “other” necessitated defining what is “ours” and what is “theirs”—and our women, of course, were deemed “ours.”
Suddenly, women’s bodies became the red line in a cultural war against the West started by theocratic Islamism. A Not Muslim Enough charade was used to identity “true” Muslims against “Western” stooges. Religious dress codes became a crucial marker in these cultural purity stakes. Only the fanatic can ever win in this Not Muslim Enough game. Any uncovered woman was now deemed loose, decadent, and attention seeking.
In short, too Western.
Many Islamists advocate total segregation between the sexes, and in fact they would reject the burkini. The full-body swimwear would certainly not be allowed in today’s Saudi Arabia: still too revelaing!
In that sense, it is actually a step forward from Islamism’s peak in the ’90s. But it is still a step backward from before theocratic Islamism took hold among Muslims. The more women succumb to this Not Muslim Enough charade, the more theocrats demand of them. Is it any wonder, then, that some of the most abusive, oppressive societies for women happen also to be the most religiously conservative?
When writing recently in defense of her burkini invention, Aheda Zanetti equated concealing the female form with “modesty” no less than three times.
She confessed to not participating in sports when young “because we chose to be modest.”
But the assumption that “modesty” equates to covering up is a subtle form of bigotry against the female form. It goes without saying that harassment on Western beaches, where the female form is more normalized, occurs less than in conservative societies, even though it is still present. But in too many instances across Muslim-majority contexts this “modesty theology” has led to slut-shaming of women who do not cover.
In the worst of cases, misogyny disguised as modesty has led to mass sexual harassment on the streets, most recently by gangs of Muslim migrants in Cologne. In Egypt, it has even given rise to a mass public rape phenomenon. As Muslim feminists note, violating Muslim cultural “honor codes” (‘irdh) and modesty theology (hayaa’) can lead to heinous legal and societal reprimand and the gross fetishization of a woman’s body.
Just like any other practice rooted in religiously inspired misogyny, the burkini cannot be detached from the body-shaming tied to its origins. Aheda Zanetti continued to insist that her product is “about not being judged” as a Muslim woman, yet she is wedded to a practice that inextricably judges the female form as being “immodest,” as she, too, did in her own piece.
“I don’t think any man should worry about how women are dressing,” she argued.
OK. But it has only ever been conservative-religious Muslim men telling Muslim women how to dress.
Over the course of my years immersed in Islamic theology and Arabic, I remain unaware of any medieval female Muslim exegete used as authority by Muslim women for the “duty” of wearing a hijab. It is only ever male exegetes of the Quran who are cited preaching for the duty of female “modesty.”
And it is simply an undeniable fact that most Muslim women judged and attacked around the world for how they dress are attacked by other Islamist and fundamentalist Muslims, not by non-Muslims. These are religious fanatics playing the Not Muslim Enough game.
I am a liberal. The headscarf is a choice. Let Muslim women wear bikinis or burkinis. Liberal societies have no business in legally interfering with the dress choices women make. I have consistently opposed the ban on face veils in France, just as I oppose their enforced use in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Outside of this legal debate, though, and as a reforming secular liberal Muslim, I reserve the right to question my own communities’ cultural traditions and taboos.
As a liberal, I reserve the right to question religious-conservative dogma generally, just as most Western progressives already do with Christianity. Yet with Muslims, Western liberals seem perennially confused between possessing a right to do something, and being right when doing it.
Of course American Christian fundamentalists of the Bible Belt have a right to speak, but liberals routinely—and rightly—challenge their views on abortion, sexuality, and marriage. To do so is not to question their right to speak, but to challenge their belief that they are right when they speak. I ask only that secular liberal Muslims are also supported in challenging our very own “Quran Belt” emerging in Europe.
This is the real struggle. It is intellectual and it is cultural, more than it is legal.
Meanwhile, the French authorities are busily providing the ideal iconography that can, and will, be used by Islamist recruiters the world over. If we seek to debunk the jihadist myth that the West is at war with Islam, it would help not to oblige the jihadist propaganda machinery with ready-made imagery of armed police forcing conservative Muslim women to strip, under the shadow of a gun on a beach.
Or maybe that next election is just that worth it.
To read this article as originally published on The Daily Beast, please click here.
22 August 2016
This article was originally published on The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
Perhaps the world’s most mainstream pro-ISIS Western media agitator, Anjem Choudary, finally has been convicted of terrorism in the United Kingdom.
It took 20 years to bring him to justice, but after jurors at the Old Bailey heard last week that he’d pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, they were not going to let Choudary walk free again. He now faces up to 10 years in prison.
I first met Anjem in 1995 when I was 17 years old. Back then, we were both students of the pro-caliphate group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).
A year before, HT had organized an international caliphate conference at Wembley Arena. In an unprecedented move, we gathered 10,000 people under orange banners proclaiming “Khilafah [caliphate]—coming soon to a country near you.”
Then, one of our associates, Saeed Nur, murdered the Nigerian student Ayotunde Obanubi on the campus of Newham College in London. This was probably Britain’s first jihadist street murder.
I was expelled from the same college due to my unruly Islamist activity, and I got in touch with Anjem because he was a lawyer, and I was seeking his legal advice. But our paths soon diverged.
During the two decades that followed, many of us, Muslim or otherwise, dismissed Anjem as an irrelevant fringe voice, almost a parody of an extremist. But like an evil clown, Anjem courted this jester brand while concealing beneath it an incredibly nefarious network. Our neglect and mockery of his manic call to enforce a burqa on the queen and fly the ISISblack flag over Downing Street suited him perfectly.
But evidence now shows that Anjem Choudary was one of the most dangerous extremists in Europe.
Over the course of his 20-year jihadist freefall, Anjem’s group al-Muhajiroun and its “Sharia For…” offshoots have been deemed responsible for half of all U.K. terrorist attacks. Anjem himself has been directly linked to the RAF Lakenheath plot, to radicalizing Jihadi John’s British successor Siddhartha Darr, the Anzac Day plot in Australia, the plot to behead a British soldier, themurder of drummer Lee Rigby at Woolwich in London, the Royal Wooten Basset plot, the London Stock Exchange Plot, and suicide bomber Omar Khan Sharif’s 2003 attack in Tel Aviv. Anjem has also been indirectly linked to London’s 7/7 bombings, the shoe bomber, the ricin plot, the fertilizer bomb plot, the dirty bomb plot, and the Transatlantic bomb plot.
Around 6,000 European citizens don’t just get up out of a vacuum and leaveto join the worst terrorist group of our lifetime. Anjem Choudary was a key voice responsible for cultivating what eventually became this ISIS support network in Europe. And he acted with impunity.
No surprises, then, that police revealed his link to 500 British jihadistsfighting with ISIS in Syria.
But Anjem was the jihadist Fagin: the ideologue who produced the zombies; the battlefield standard bearer to whom they all rallied; the inciter who took them to the brink, while remaining just on the right side of the law to survive another day.
While we dismissed him as a clown, Anjem was no fool. His jester brand was cynical, deliberate, and planned. He was a trained criminal lawyer who stopped practicing law only because he came to believe that appealing to man-made law meant apostasy.
With hindsight, many may now be wondering how such flagrant incitement was tolerated in Britain for over 20 years. His story serves as a lesson in tolerating gross intolerance. But now that Anjem is in prison, another challenge confronts us. He will be held for a while at HMP Belmarsh, previously described as a jihadist training camp. How will he be stopped from playing his wicked tune through his crooked flute in jail? This time his audience is made up of hardened criminals.
As a society, we are that far behind in countering extremist propaganda that even jailing jihadists can exacerbate the problem. There are some, though, who work exclusively with incarcerated terrorists in order to deradicalize them. My friend and colleague Usman Raja’s organization The Unity Initiative specializes in just such a task. Usman has a track record initiating a certain change in people like Jordan Horner, a convicted member of the “Muslim Patrol” group that was prowling London’s streets enforcing its medieval take on Sharia, and Ali Beheshti, leader of the “Jewel of Medina” petrol bomb plot.
Both men had ties to Anjem’s group al-Muhajiroun but have now apologized for their past jihadist extremism. It may be slightly too optimistic to see this happening to Anjem anytime soon, but action to at least neutralize his recruitment efforts must certainly be considered. And any plan should form a blueprint for building such intervention to scale, globally.
The way in which my path eventually forked from Anjem’s symbolizes the split at the heart of the civil war currently playing out within Muslim communities, and beyond: Islamists against secularists. Muslims with varying levels of devotion, and even non-Muslims, sit on both sides of this divide. They straddle a largely passive Muslim majority that values its religion and culture but just wants to get on in life.
Islamist theocrats will not allow them to do so.
A civil war has unfolded within Islam, and none of us can any longer afford to remain neutral. First and foremost, this is an ideological war. The state, private companies, and civil society must intervene on behalf of secularists. A rally of thousands calling for a caliphate at Wembley in 1995 followed by a jihadist murder on London’s streets should have acted as a clear warning of the ISIS brutality that was set to follow.
Anjem’s story highlights the dangers of underestimating theocratic Islamist ideologues while allowing their ideology of Islamism to fester as it morphs into violent jihadism. We all stood by hoping it was just going to go away by itself. It hasn’t. And it won’t.
This cancer requires treatment.
To view this article as originally published on The Daily Beast, please click here.
29 July 2016
This article was originally posted on The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
From the murder of a French priest to the slaughter of 80 Shia Muslims in Kabul, ISIS has one goal: to get states and the far-right to single out Sunni Muslims and create a spate of religious civil wars across the world.
Did anyone at the Democratic National Convention notice the slaughter of 86-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, as jihadists slit his throat in his own church in Northern France during morning Mass? Well… here’s why they’d better start paying attention.
For our own future’s sake, we must understand what jihadists are seeking to achieve through sowing the seeds of such chaos. What possible military strategy could there be in mowing 84 innocent people down to death using a lorry in Nice? How is “the cause” at all served by murdering 325 mainly Shia Muslims in Baghdad? Or by killing 80 mainly Shia Hazara Muslims in Kabul?
In fact, since the start of Ramadan last month, and till the time of writing on July 27, 2016, there have been 75 attacks in 50 days by various jihadist groups globally. This amounts to attacks in 21 countries at a rate of one-and-a-half per day, leaving over 1,169 dead, not including the injured and maimed. The 21 countries and territories attacked have been Jordan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Syria, Israel, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, France, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Malaysia, Turkey, Mali, Palestine, Cameroon, Saudi, Thailand, and Germany. Sixteen of those are Muslim-majority territories.
Yes, these attacks were organized by disparate jihadist groups—all professing the same ideology—and many of them have a distinct command and control structure. But sowing the seeds of indiscriminate chaos among their enemy is a tactic modern jihadist groups now all share. So what could they possibly be hoping to achieve? Sadly, there is jihadist method to this madness. ISIS-adopted playbook Idarat al-Tawahhush, or the Management of Savagery, elaborates.
The so-called Islamic State, widely known as ISIS, seeks not to spark a World War, but to ignite a World Civil War.
This book on jihadist war theory first appeared online around 2004 and was attributed to an ideologue who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Bakr al-Naji. Naji instructed followers to incite ethnic, sectarian, and religious hatred throughout the world so that societies end up dividing along mutual mistrust and a desire for revenge. Naji’s hope was that Sunni Muslims would then largely be blamed—as they now are—as the cause of this intolerance and violence, rendering them hated and left isolated. Naji even highlights the importance of provoking heavy state military responses against Sunni Muslims everywhere, so that entire populations of Sunnis feel suspected and attacked by everyone else around them, and turn in on themselves. The idea is that through such division Sunnis would find no refuge from angry non-Muslims and over-reacting states, except in jihadists who would embrace them. In turn, Sunnis would end up swelling the ranks of jihadists’ militias as they began to protect themselves against reprisal attacks.
Behold, a world divided along sectarian religious lines, the ideal conditions for a “caliphate.”
If you think this is wishful thinking on the part of ISIS, think again. It is precisely by managing chaos—the Management of Savagery—in this way that ISIS became the most effective jihadist group in post-Saddam Iraq. So uncannily did Iraq’s Shia majority government under Nouri al-Maliki follow ISIS sectarian game plan, that they unwittingly created a climate north of Baghdad in which Iraqi Sunni’s felt isolated, under siege, disempowered, and brutalized by Maliki’s Shia majority state as it clamped down on jihadist terror. Of course, the government of Iraq was merely reacting to the ever-increasing mass-casualty atrocities orchestrated by jihadists based out of Fallujah against the beleaguered Shia Muslims in Iraq. But crucially, the Iraqi government reacted through a sectarian lens, and failed to isolate the terrorists from Iraq’s general Sunni Arab population. These Sunni Arabs eventually turned to ISIS in the hope that they would be a strong hand against the Iraqi regime. There was a grain of truth to that.
Fresh from their success in Northern Iraq, ISIS repeated their method of chaos in Syria. Early on, at the start of Syria’s civil war, ISIS had not been the main fighting force against Bashar al-Assad. But by continuing to pressure Assad’s brutal regime to overreact, and Assad’s eagerness to oblige (a penchant that had been handed down from father to the son), ISIS managed to convince enough of the Sunni Arab population in the south of Syria that they were the only effective fighting force able to resist Assad on the ground, while the international community stood aloof. There was a grain of truth in that.
This is how chaos, division, savagery, and hatred suit ISIS. The only master that chaos submits to is the total tyrant.
Perpetual civil war, rather than perpetual war between states, suits those who wish to build a new world order carved out of existing states. Equal treatment on a citizenship basis means nothing to jihadists. There is no better way to kickstart dividing people along exclusively religious lines than by committing atrocities in the name of Islam. The hope is that everyone else also begins to identify Sunni Muslims primarily by their religious identities, in reaction to the atrocities. In this way, religious identity has won and citizenship becomes redundant.
Unprovoked mass slaughter is a provocation designed to spread panic and fear, aimed at inching Europe closer to a religion-based civil war.
Brace yourselves, for there will be many more such provocations.
Chaos breeds fear, which creates panic, which leads to both paralysis and spasms of over-reaction simultaneously. We now either witness total denial in that this problem “has nothing to do with Islam,” or a gross generalization that the problem includes all of Islam and every Muslim. Both of these reactions are born of fear. Doing barely enough, and doing too much, will both exacerbate tensions. Neither are sensible. Of course the problem of jihadist terrorism has something to do with Islam. And course it is a problem that Muslims need to play a very active role in solving, alongside everyone else.
Meanwhile, we have never been more divided. Too many Muslims still insist that to challenge Islamist extremism breeds anti-Muslim bigotry, while they fail to grasp that it is the Islamists themselves who provoke anti-Muslim hatred thorough their divisive agenda, and by insisting on defining Muslims against others primarily by our religious identity. Our collective task will be to robustly stand against the division caused not just by the far-right who seek to isolate Europe’s Muslims, but to challenge the very same division promoted by the Islamists themselves within our Muslim communities. Only by reasserting the universality of our secular liberal democratic citizenship are we able to protect the multiplicity of identities, as opposed to the exclusionary religion-based identification that Islamists and anti-Muslim bigots thrive on.
No insurgency can survive without a level of ideological support within the community it seeks to recruit from. To isolate the terrorists from their host population must be a priority for us all. One needn’t be black to condemn racism. Likewise, one needn’t be Muslim to condemn any expression of theocratic Islamism. All of us must stand together to condemn all forms of hatred and bigotry, without exception. But this will be a generational struggle against the Islamist ideology in its entirety, and not merely against the latest jihadist terror group. For years my colleagues at Quilliam and I have been screaming at every opportunity of a global jihadist insurgency that cannot be defeated merely by law or war, but requires a full-spectrum civil society struggle against it. Understanding this makes it incumbent on us to begin working in earnest to actively avoid this civil war before certain vested interests on the far-right and Islamist extremes succeed in sparking it.
For if you were wondering what this global jihadist insurgency looks like, look around you, we’re in the thick of it.
To read the article as originally published on The Daily Beast, please click here.
25 July 2016
This article was originally published on The Times, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
For years in Britain there has been a pernicious trend to shy away from making a case for our liberal values among minority communities. As these values continued their march unabated among the mainstream, certain multiculturalists assumed that to assert them among minorities would be deemed offensive, perhaps racist, and in the Muslim context even Islamophobic.
The successful turnaround of the “Trojan horse” school Park View — now Rockwood Academy — couldn’t have proved this view more wrong. Two years after the scandal, the school has surpassed expectations, with cadet recruitment, after-school drama classes, counterextremism workshops and trips to Wimbledon. Those who worried about a more active integration policy alienating the Birmingham school’s predominantly Muslim students really needn’t have. So why did they?
Our 1990s-era multiculturalism was intended to bring about diverse communities. Instead, it brought about monocultural ghettos that gave rise to state schools such as Park View broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer from their loudspeakers. Two complementary trends arose together that culturally disintegrated Britain. Within my own Muslim communities, Islamism, a theocratic ideology, which sought to impose a version of Islam over society, emerged practically unchallenged to insist that we were Muslims to the exclusion of every other identity. Meanwhile, among mainstream liberals, multiculturalism came to mean diversity between, rather than within, groups.
Due to these two trends, as a country we celebrated our cities as they self-segregated into isolated cultural ghettos. Division in areas such as Dewsbury and parts of Bradford was hailed as diversity. Self-segregation was supported as cultural tolerance. Disintegration was championed as integration. Those of my fellow liberals who promoted such policies believed they were doing so to help us Muslims. Yet this “help” couldn’t have been more disempowering.
Failing to advocate for liberal values within groups and not merely between groups led to a stifling of creativity and a lack of diversity among Muslims. Rebel voices who needed our support inside these communities suffered the most, and feel betrayed by liberals to this day. I call these the minority within the minority: feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims, secular Muslims and anyone else deemed to be heretical or not Muslim enough.
With progressive Muslim voices being abandoned by wider society, while simultaneously being stifled within by the Muslim “community leaders”, it is no wonder that by 2015 a BBC survey of British Muslims found that 11 per cent expressed sympathy with fighting against the West. Twenty per cent said that a western liberal society could never be compatible with Islam, and a quarter sympathised with the Charlie Hebdo “blasphemy” attacks.
Meanwhile, Muslims in today’s Britain find it difficult to gain employment, are falling behind educationally, are disproportionately represented in prisons and among terrorist groups, while also remaining behind the rest of the country in our attitudes to civil liberties. Instead of integrating with wider society, many Muslims in Britain turned in on themselves, integrating more with their co-religionists globally while pulling away from the society into which they were born. British Muslim attitudes on key cultural milestones such as homosexuality, blasphemy and religion in politics now have more in common with global Muslim opinion than with liberal Britain.
As a country we ended up living together, apart. By allowing minorities to isolate themselves, the very people my fellow liberals wanted to help were suffering the most. It is no surprise then that such disintegration created a breeding ground for Isis recruiters. The liberal values that we came to expect from everyone else we shied away from advocating among Muslims. It is as if we Muslims were simply incapable of embracing secularism. And as we weren’t even expected to be liberal, or in many cases as our illiberalism was celebrated, we naturally grew further and further apart from wider society. I call this the bigotry of low expectations.
If mainstream society had woken up to this earlier, much more could have been done to prevent this polarised and incohesive state in our communities. And though I emphasise that it is not only Muslims who may be isolated in today’s Britain, and obviously not all British Muslims live like this, too many do. Culture is never homogenous, and has always been a hybrid. Any artificial desire to preserve the past was not only bound to fail but was destined to fail minorities primarily. Instead of defining communities primarily by their religious identity, we must support policies that encourage diversity not only between groups but within and among groups too.
The success at Rockwood Academy highlights that it never had to be this way. Identities are by definition multiple. So yes I am a Muslim, but I am also English, a secular liberal democrat of Pakistani descent, I was born in Essex and I am British.
When a chance was given instead of denied, when aspiration was encouraged instead of withheld, when integration was expected instead of disparaged, and when social mobility was promised instead of rubbished, the children and parents at Rockwood Academy rushed to it, and excelled. They embraced it all. Indeed, why wouldn’t they? There was finally an expectation that they could be just like anyone else.
Maajid Nawaz is an author and the founding chairman of Quilliam
To read this article as originally published on The Times, please click here.
16 November 2015
This video was originally shown on CNN.
Maajid Nawaz spoke with Fareed Zakaria on CNN following the Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed.
In the interview, Maajid explained why some individuals are susceptible to extremism and how they are radicalised. He also discussed how governments and civil society can work towards countering extremism.
In his newly-published autobiography, “Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening”, Maajid Nawaz, chairman of the British counter-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation, recounts his transformation from being a member of an extremist party to founding one of the world’s first counter-extremism organisations.
Nawaz began as a member and leader in Hizb ut-Tahrir — a party calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate — then abandoned his radical ideas in an Egyptian prison before returning to Britain to combat the same ideology he had previously worked to spread.
Al-Shorfa spoke to Nawaz about his personal journey and his views on al-Qaeda, the Taliban and extremism. (more…)