20 November 2015
Maajid Nawaz delivered a keynote speech at the One Young World 2015 conference on the subject of peace and security. In his speech Maajid also talks about how intolerance can drive conflict.
23 November 2015
Maajid Nawaz speaks to Megyn Kelly on Fox News about the Obama administration’s middle-eastern policy. In the discussion, Maajid argues that President Obama’s current strategy lacks vision and action as well as failing to name the ideology Islamist ideology we face.
Maajid Nawaz recently featured in a vidoe produced by Big Think. To view the piece accompanying the video, please click here.
19 November 2015
This article was originally published on Jewish News, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
As part of a wider bid to tackle extremism, certain networks across Europe are urging nation-states to introduce laws that would render intolerance illegal. Yet to do so would be wrong, for several reasons.
Belonging to a racial or ethnic group is not a choice. We are born Jewish, South-Asian or Arab, and it is right that membership of such groups should not be targeted. This is why discriminatory practices are illegal, and racism is shunned in civil society.
However, as well as being a racial group, Jews have certain cultural practices that do involve choice. Many South-Asians and Arabs are also Muslim. These cultural choices all invariably carry with them implications for wider society.
As distinct from race, where religious or cultural ideas are freely adopted, part of the freedom to adopt them entails – by necessity – the freedom of others to scrutinise them. It is only by subjecting ideas to scrutiny (and in the final analysis, cultural and religious practices are ideas), that society has ever been able to progress and develop.
These distinctions between ‘race’, ‘a believer’, and ‘the idea she believes in’ are best summed up in my maxim: ‘no idea is above scrutiny, and no people are beneath dignity’. Criticise Islam, or Jewish cultural practices, in other words, but don’t incite hatred towards an individual Muslim or Jew.
In this context, consider the term Islamophobia, which has unfortunately been deployed (even against other Muslims) as a shield against any criticism. As an idea, Islam should be subject to the same scrutiny we would expect any other idea to be subjected to. This is why ‘Islamophobia’ is an unhelpful term, sometimes deployed as a muzzle on free speech.
No idea, no matter how ‘deeply held’, should be given special status. There will always be an equally ‘deeply held’ belief in opposition to it. Criticising a religion, faith or deeply-held belief, is a civic duty.
More accurate a term to use would be ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’, for this describes the specific act of bigotry against an individual Muslim for her chosen identity. As a term, anti-Muslim bigotry is more akin to anti-Semitism. And though being a Muslim is not a race, few would wish to live in the sort of society where targeted verbal street abuse directed at Muslim women merely for their headdress, or lack thereof, were to become accepted. But to confuse such bigotry with satirising, questioning, researching, reforming, contextualising or historicising Islam, or Judaism, is as good as returning to Galileo’s Inquisition.
There are many Muslims, just as there are reform Jews, who wish to internally question the practices of their own cultural hegemony, and the only stance society should have towards such voices is that of support, not censorship. Any liberal person naturally concerned with a fair society must vehemently defend against any erosion of free speech, especially when erroneously conducted in the name of minority rights.
For liberalism, if it is to mean anything at all, is duty-bound to support the dissenting individual over the group, and to support the weakest in society. These weakest are the minorities-within-minorities: those minority sects, apostates, feminist Muslims, LGBT Muslims, who raise their voices within their group dynamic to bring about change. These are often the weakest and most vulnerable people to exist within already vulnerable groups.
And just as Jews who may criticise orthodoxy or certain Israeli government policies, are no less Jewish because of it, we must protect against the cultural and religious shaming of those who question the prevailing dogma within Islamic communities. Groups must never be reduced to the assumption that they harbour a homogenous static culture. To assume that any group’s members all think in the same way, would be equally offended by the same thing, while assuming that none of them speak as individuals, is the worst form of bigotry, because it erases the individual. If seeking one view in politics is fascism, then seeking one view in religion is theocracy.
Liberalism must cherishes internal diversity in both.
There must, in short, be a right to heresy. Yet today there are those who seek to clamp down on speech in the name of ‘protecting against intolerance’. This is reflected not only among Islamists and their concern with ‘blasphemy’, but among those attempting to challenge Islamism, and their concern with defeating extremism.
And while we expect nothing less from extremists than to try and ban what they don’t like, Governments have also been exploring censorship and filtering methods online, in an attempt to do ‘something’. Not only is this ineffective, it is counter-productive: our researchers found that the vast majority of radicalised individuals come into contact with extremist ideology through offline socialisation, prior to being indoctrinated online.
If censorship and laws are the wrong answer to the right question, how instead should we deal with intolerance?
Here I offer my doctrine of legal tolerance, coupled with civic intolerance. Any form of extremism that stops short of encouraging violence should remain legal, while civil society should rightly name and shame it, just as has been done with racism over decades.
A consequence of banning expression that causes mere offence and controversy, come in the form of banning speech that is offensive to fundamentalists and Islamists too. This is how blasphemy laws creep in. It is far better to maintain legal tolerance whilst encouraging civil society to debate and engage with the bigotry inherent in Islamism, while explaining and educating why questioning religion is a right. Applied to the controversial topic of women wearing a face veil, this approach would therefore defend the legal right of a woman to wear it, while supporting the right of liberal activists who question this deeply misogynist practice, to continue to do so.
The right to heresy, to blasphemy, and to speak against prevalent dogma is as sacred and divine as any act of prayer. If our hard earned liberty, our desire to be irreverent of the old and to question the new, can be reduced to one, basic and indispensable right: it must be the right to free speech.
Our freedom to speak represents our freedom to think, our freedom to think our ability to create, innovate and progress. This is why I would oppose any such laws that seek to ban mere intolerance. You cannot kill an idea, but you can certainly gag a person for expressing it.
And if liberty means anything at all, it is the right to express oneself without being silenced.
To read the original article as published on Jewish News, please click here.
19 November 2015
This article was originally featured on The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz
Want to fight ISIS? You’ve got to start by recognizing what it really is: part of a worldwide campaign to impose a religion by gunpoint.
The first female jihadist suicide bomber to blow herself up on European shoresstruck this week in St. Denis, France. The pope and King Abdullah of Jordan have both named ISIS’s assault on Paris as the start of World War III.
I disagree. Those two horrific World Wars involved states and conventional armies. Until now—and our reaction will determine whether it stays this way—this has been a conflict involving an asymmetric non-state actor, which by its sheer audacity is forcing states to reconsider the precarious status quo of international relations today. I believe it is safer, more accurate, and more productive to name this a global jihadist insurgency. And after the latest events in Paris, it’s time to recognize that this insurgency has reached European soil.
Recognizing this as an insurgency affects entirely how we react to it. We cannot simply shoot or even legislate our way out of this problem. Unlike war, counter-insurgency rests on the assumption that the enemy has significant enough levels of support within the communities it aims to survive among. Recognizing the source of that support means avoiding the apologism of the far left or the sensationalism of the far right. Both of these reactions will render us blind to the real wellspring of this insurgency’s appeal: the Islamist ideology, as distinct from the religion of Islam.
President Obama, and many liberals, shy away from calling this ideology Islamism. Their fear is that both Muslim communities and those on the political right will simply hear the word “Islam” and begin to blame all Muslims. Instead, the mantra that is repeated is “ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.”
Phrasing things in this way rests on an understandable concern. But it exacerbates the very problem it seeks to avert. To explain this, for a while now I have been using a reference from popular culture, which I am glad to say has now made the Urban Dictionary. I call it the Voldemort Effect, named after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The people in Rowling’s fictional world are so terrified, so petrified of this evil that they do two things: They refuse to call him by name, instead referring to him as “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and while refusing to name him, they also deny that he even exists at all. Of course, that only increases the fear and worsens the panic and public hysteria, thus perpetuating Voldemort’s all-powerful myth even more. Refusing to name a problem, and failing to recognize it, is never a good way to solve it. We know that from the Weimar years of appeasement to Nazism, as much as recovering alcoholics will understand it from their 12-step programs.
I say this as a liberal, and as a Muslim. In fact, I speak as a former Liberal Democrat candidate in the U.K.’s last general election and as someone who became a political prisoner in Egypt due to my former belief in Islamism. I speak, therefore, from a place of concern and familiarity, not enmity and hostility to Islam and Muslims. In a televised discussion with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on the issue, I have argued that of course ISIS is not Islam. Nor am I. Nor is anyone, really. Because Islam is what Muslims make it. But it is as disingenuous to argue that ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam” as it is to argue that “they are Islam.” ISIS has something to do with Islam. Not nothing, not everything, but something. If you’re going to talk to a jihadist—and believe me, I have spoken to many—you’re not going to find yourself discussing Hitler’s Mein Kampf. You’ll be discussing Islamic texts.
It is important to define here what I mean by Islamism: Islam is a religion, and like any other it is internally diverse. But Islamism is the desire to impose a very particular version of Islam on society. Hence, Islamism is Muslim theocracy. And where jihad is a traditional Islamic idea of struggle, jihadism is the use of force to spread Islamism. Defined in this way, it becomes easier to understand how this global jihadist insurgency seeks to recruit from Islamists, who in turn operate among Muslim communities.
The danger of not recognizing this relationship between the ideology of Islamism and the religion of Islam is twofold. Firstly, within the Muslim context, those liberal reformist Muslims, feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, dissenting Muslims, and minority sects—all these different minorities-within-the minority of the Muslim community—are immediately betrayed. By failing to name the ideology and isolate it from everyday Islam, we deprive these reforming voices of a lexicon, a language to deploy against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. We prevent a conversation around ending Islamism’s appeal while also reforming traditional Islam. If it has “nothing to do with Islam,” there is nothing to discuss within Islamic communities. In this way, we surrender the debate to the extremists, who meanwhile are discussing Islam with impunity.
The second danger is in the non-Muslim context. What happens if you don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam? President Obama in his last UN speech referred to a “poisonous ideology,” yet failed to name it. Most people, who are understandably in need of some guidance on such topics, may well assume that the ideology they must challenge is Islam and all Muslims, ergo the rise of current populist xenophobic trends within Europe and America.
We should be able to distinguish Islamist extremism from Islam by clarifying that Islam is simply a religion and that Islamism is a theocratic desire to impose a version of that religion over society. And once we do that, we are then able to clearly identify the insurgent ideology that we must understand, isolate, undermine, refute, and provide alternatives to. It is precisely this distinction that I have spent the last few years advising Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron on, and I would like to think that is why Cameron corrected Obama on this very issue at the United Nations.
Many non-Muslims claim that they are powerless to address Islamism, let alone refute it, because they are outsiders. However, just as one does not need to be black to care about the struggle against racism, one need not be Muslim to speak against theocracy. To do so, after all, would be in defense of Muslims first and foremost. Europe and Europeans are especially well placed to speak in a secular way about why theocracies were never really good for humanity. (Just look at the Inquisition.)
As for my fellow Muslims, many have pushed back against the call to address Islamism head on and refute it by asking why they should apologize for something that they have little or nothing to do with. Again, this is an incredibly unhelpful and inconsistent rebuttal to what is everyone’s social duty. Just as we Muslims expect others to speak up and defend us against anti-Muslim bigotry—even, and especially if, they are not Muslim—likewise we must speak up against Islamist theocracy. It is not only our duty but the least we can do to reciprocate the solidarity we rightly expect from our fellow citizens.
Our political leaders have been restricting the definition of this problem to whichever jihadist group is causing them the biggest headache at the present time, while ignoring the fact that they are all borne of the same Islamist ideology. Before ISIS emerged, the U.S. State Department strangely took to naming the problem “al Qaeda-inspired extremism,” even though it was not al Qaeda that inspired the radicalism. Rather, Islamist extremism inspired al Qaeda. And in turn, ISIS did not radicalize those 6,000 European Muslims who have traveled to join them, nor the thousands of supporters the French now say they are monitoring.
This did not happened overnight and could not have emerged from a vacuum. ISIS propaganda is good, but not that good. No, decades of Islamist propaganda in communities had already primed these young Muslims to yearn for a theocratic caliphate. When surveyed, 33 percent of British Muslims expressed a desire to resurrect a caliphate. ISIS simply plucked the low-hanging fruit, which had been seeded long ago by various Islamist groups, and it will now require decades of community resilience to push back. But we cannot even begin to do so until we recognize the problem for what it is. Welcome to the full-blown global jihadist insurgency.
To read the original article as published on The Daily beast, 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…)