This article originally featured in The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
As a liberal Muslim challenging Islamists and engaging atheists, Maajid Nawaz has been vilified by leftists who sound an awful like lot bigots.
I am no man’s “porch monkey.”
To be forced to defend oneself is an inherently undesirable position to be in. The focus shifts from ideas to the person conveying them. Since the likability of any personality is subjective, there is no real way for the discussion to proceed from here. The moment a cause becomes about the messenger and not the message, it is already lost. Defending oneself can publicize the original smears, and even worse, those peddling them, providing traction to false allegations. Some of that mud always sticks. To the uninitiated outsider it appears like a a petty argument. The original smear—which invariably circulates anyway—is relegated to “they had a fight,” and third parties feel empowered to piously interject with unsolicited advice, a variation of: “grow up.” I suspect that most of these reasons are precisely why ad hominem is the last resort of the scoundrel.
For a while now, a tide of racialized smears, primarily focused on denying my intellectual agency and policing which of my thoughts are “authentically Muslim” and which are deemed “too white,” have been building against me by those on the regressive left. These smears began after I, a Muslim, began a dialogue with leading atheist thinker Sam Harris on the future of Islam, my own religion. The smears peaked when Sam and I addressed a crowd at Harvard on the results of our conversation.
Nathan Lean, a non-Muslim author, felt it appropriate to decide which conversations are legitimate for me, a Muslim, to have with others about my own religion. His first instinct was to simply erase any notion of my joint authorship with Sam. When it was pointed out that Sam’s co-author was a Muslim, Lean replied that my contribution was merely as Sam’s “Muslim validator” and later his “lapdog”.
To suggest that a Muslim cannot think for himself sounds to me very much like an incident of anti-Muslim bigotry. A curious position to take for someone who’s book is on “Islamophobia”, and who now sits on the advisory board of a UK-based “anti-Muslim hate” watchdog called TellMama. Indeed, who is watching the watchers.
Over at CNN’s blog, Haroon Moghul laid the blame for young Ahmed Mohamed’s profiling in Texas at my feet, tracing a line from anti-Islam activists Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Glenn Beck directly to me. Let us put aside the fact that Glenn Beck considers me a closet Jihadist and that I had already publicly expressed sympathy for Ahmed, I have been an opponent of racial and religious profiling for years, challenging left-wing, Muslim, UK Labour government ministers on this practice since 2010.
But Murtaza Husain at Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept site felt so aggrieved, so agitated, so angry at my decision to talk to those with whom I disagree, about my own religion, that he posted a photo of Sam and me in conversation using the word “nice shot of Sam and his well-coiffed talking monkey”. When challenged the writer doubled-down, deciding that I was in fact a “native informant”, and nothing but Sam’s “porch monkey.”
Language that is designed to dehumanize, has consequences. And as secular bloggers are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and secular writers such as Raif Badawi are being lashed in Saudi Arabia, merely for questioning their own culture, reforming voices must no longer acquiesce to this rising tide of intimidation and de-legitimization.
I am a Muslim. I am born to Muslim parents. I have a Muslim son. I have been imprisoned and witnessed torture for my previous understanding of my religion. The “Muslim experience” of liberal, reforming and dissenting Muslim, and ex-Muslim, voices is every bit as valid, every bit as relevant, and every bit as authentic as anyone else that is touched by this debate. But beyond that, just as one does not need to be brown to discuss racism, and one does not need to be Muslim to discuss Islam. Ideas have no color, or country. Good ideas are truly universal. Any attempt to police ideas, to quarantine thought based on race or religion, and to pre-define what is and what isn’t a legitimate conversation, must be resisted by all. We would rightly wince if anyone called a white man a “blood-traitor” for befriending an African-American. It is no different to imply that certain stances taken by a Muslim, of their own agency, is nothing but “validation” for the “white man.” The pitfalls of “Am I Black Enough” are well-known. It is equally dangerous to disappear down the “Am I Muslim Enough?” rabbit-hole. For the only winners in this gutter game of one-upmanship are ultimately the religious fanatics.
And finally, a message for my fellow Muslims: the truth is, Sam Harris has already—and generously—stated that he feels our dialogue influenced him more than me. I am not your enemy. Since co-founding my counter-extremism organization Quilliam as well as opposing UK ministers on ethnic and religious profiling, I have opposed President Obama’s targeted killings and drone strikes I challenged Senator King in the UK Parliament on his obfuscation and justification for torture I have been cited by the UK Prime Minister for my view that non-terrorist Islamists must be openly challenged, but not banned. I have spoken out against extraordinary rendition of terror suspects and against detention without charge of terror suspects. I have supported my political party, the Liberal Democrats, by backing a call to end Schedule 7, which deprives terror suspects of the right to silence at UK ports of entry and exit, something I have also been subjected to, whilst having my DNA forcibly taken from me among much else.
What I require, dear Muslims, is your patience. For it is due to precisely this concern of mine for universal human rights, that I vehemently oppose Islamist extremism and call for liberal reform within our communities, for our communities. I merely express my opinion about the future of our religion. I am not your enemy. I am not your representative. I am not your religious role-model… but I am still from you, and I am of you. I have suffered all that you suffer. And I refuse to abandon you.
To read the original article as featured on The Daily Beast, please click here.
This article originally featured in The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz
The French satirical magazine stands accused of racism and anti-refugee bias when, in fact, it was mocking both.
Offense is not given. It is taken.
Few other outlets bring this truth to life better than besieged left-wing satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Once again, this magazine finds itself at the center of a global furor for depicting the dead refugee child Aylan al-Kurdi in two searing images. The first features the washed up image of poor little Aylan next to a McDonald’s happy meal sign, and the other features Jesus walking on water next to a caption stating that while Christians float, Muslims drown.
Ladies and gentleman, Charlie Hebdo. That’s why i was not and will never be Charlie. How can you mock that poor kid?? pic.twitter.com/q56oNrZgnY
— Zariyab Mhd (@iZariyab) September 13, 2015
The outrage began when Arab and Turkish newspapers decided that Hebdo must be mocking little Aylan.
But soon, non-Arab media also joined the fray and eventually certain race-equality activists, such as barrister Peter Herbert—chair of the U.K.’s Society of Black Lawyers and former vice chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority—were threatening legal action, stating that ‘Charlie Hebdo is a purely racist, xenophobic and ideologically bankrupt publication that represents the moral decay of France. The Society of Black Lawyers will consider reporting this as incitement to hate crime and persecution before the International Criminal Court.’
But never in living memory has a magazine been as misunderstood as Charlie Hebdo. For the truth is, Charlie Hebdo is not a racist magazine. Rather, it is a campaigning anti-racist left-wing magazine. And its cartoons, which are so often misunderstood to be promoting racism, are in fact lampooning racism. Hebdo is no more racist a magazine than that bastion of liberal media The New Yorker was when it depicted Obama dressed as a Muslim, fist-bumping his angry black-revolutionary wife Michelle. As the editor for The New Yorker unfortunately had to subsequently explain, his cover was lampooning the right-wing prejudices and smears that had risen against the Obamas, not endorsing them.
And this brings us to satire. Satire is, by definition, offensive. It is meant to make us feel uncomfortable. It is meant to make us scratch or heads, think, do a double-take and then think again. It is supposed to take our prejudices, turn them upside down, reapply them, and make us think we’re seeing something we’re not, until we stop to question ourselves.
Yes taste is always in the eye of the beholder. But that’s the whole point of good satire. It is not meant to be to our tastes. It is meant to challenge our tastes. Having our fundamental assumptions about life challenged is never a comfortable thing. Bringing this back to the subject at hand, far from insulting him, these cartoons about Aylan are a damning indictment on the anti-refugee sentiment that has spread across Europe. The McDonald’s image is a searing critique of our heartless European consumerism, in the face of one of the worst human tragedies of our times. In particular, this image plays on the notion that while we moan there are not enough resources to cope with the influx of refugees, we simultaneously offer two for one McDonald’s Happy Meals to our own children. The image about Christians walking on water while Muslims drown is—so—critiquing what the magazine views as hypocritical European Christian “love” and truly bigoted claims, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s, that Europe is a “Christian” civilization.
Not to our taste? OK. Make us cringe? Fair enough. Don’t like them? Fine. But whatever we do, let us not misrepresent these images. Juxtaposing images of a dead child next to offers of cheap food “meal deals” is not mocking little Aylan, it is mocking us. It is mocking us for what we miss every single day, hidden in plain sight, and we do not see it because this is how desensitized we have become to human suffering. No, those besieged, brave satirists at Hebdo are not mocking Aylan. They are mocking newspaper covers like this from the UK right-wing tabloid The Daily Mail in which an image of Aylan was—in a national newspaper— placed below an actual food deal. And how many of us noticed that on the day this Daily Mail cover went to print?
Poe’s law refers to a standard by which satire can be judged to be too good, where parodies of extreme views are so well performed that they are indistinguishable from the real thing. Yes, if those courageous disturbers of our conscience at Charlie Hebdo—those who survived the massacre, that is—are guilty of anything, it is that they are too good at their job.
To read the original article as featured on The Daily Beast, please click here.
This article originally featured in The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris
15 September 2015
It’s time to confront Islamism head on—without cries of Islamophobia. Holding Islam up to scrutiny, rationally and ethically, must not be confused with anti-Muslim bigotry.
Ours was an inauspicious first meeting. Nawaz, a former Muslim extremist turned liberal reformer, had just participated in a public debate about the nature of Islam. Though he had spent five years in an Egyptian prison for attempting to restore a medieval “caliphate,” Nawaz argued in favor of the motion that night, affirming that Islam is, indeed, “a religion of peace.” Harris, a well-known atheist and strident critic of Islam, had been in the audience. At a dinner later that evening, Harris was asked to comment on the event. He addressed his remarks directly to Nawaz:
Harris: Maajid, it seems to me that you have a problem. You need to convince the world—especially the Muslim world—that Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by extremists. But the problem is that Islam isn’t a religion of peace, and the so-called extremists are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine. So the path of reform appears to be one of pretense: You seem obliged to pretend that the doctrine is something other than it is—for instance, you must pretend that jihad is just an inner spiritual struggle, whereas it’s primarily a doctrine of holy war. Here, in this room, can’t you just be honest with us? Is the path forward for Islam a matter of pretending certain things are true long enough and hard enough so as to make them true?
Nawaz: Are you calling me a liar?
Nawaz: Are you calling me a liar?
It was good that we weren’t seated at the same table, because we were now more apes than scholars. The conversation ended abruptly, and with bad feelings. Happily, the room quickly erupted with dozens of parallel conversations, diffusing the tension.
Talking about Islam today is a dangerous business. Disagreements about the role this religion plays in the world have become a wellspring of intolerance and violence. Cartoonists have been massacred in Paris to shouts of “We have avenged the Prophet!” Secular bloggers have been hacked to death in Bangladesh. Embassies have burned over YouTube videos. And young men and women by the thousands have abandoned their lives in free societies to join the apocalyptic savagery of ISIS. For years, Western politicians and commentators have struggled to understand this phenomenon. And many have struggled not to understand it, denying any link between “Muslim extremism” and the religion of Islam.
Honest conversation about the need for reform within Islam has become a necessity. So we began our dialogue anew, and initial doubts about each other’s integrity and motives were soon replaced by mutual trust and respect. Neither of us would have imagined having such a productive conversation with the other 10 years ago. The result is now a short book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance.
What most discussions of “Muslim extremism” miss, and what is obfuscated at every turn by commentators like Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong—and even Nicholas Kristof and Ben Affleck—is the power of specific religious ideas such as martyrdom, apostasy, blasphemy, prophecy, and honor. These ideas do not represent the totality of Islam, but neither are they foreign to it. Nor do they exist in precisely the same way in other faiths. There is a reason why no one is losing sleep over the threat posed by Jain and Quaker “extremists.” Specific doctrines matter.
Since 9/11, the whole focus of the international community has been on destroying terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS, as if they were mere criminal gangs that needed to be disrupted operationally. The briefest survey of the state of the world, from North Africa to the North-West Frontier, demonstrates that this strategy has failed, abysmally.
After more than a decade of conventional, physical wars, we must finally wage an effective war of ideas.
The underlying ideology—we call it “Islamism”—has metastasized and must be confronted directly. After more than a decade of conventional, physical wars, we must finally wage an effective war of ideas.
Islamism, often referred to as “political Islam,” is the desire to impose a version of Islam on the rest of society. Political Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, generally do not believe in resorting to violence, though there are different attitudes even among Brotherhood franchises toward democratic participation, ranging from post-Islamists like the Ennadha Party in Tunisia, to semi-authoritarian conservatives, like South-Asia’s Jamat-e-Islami. “Jihadism,” on the other hand, is the use of force to spread Islamism.
Political Islam is an offshoot of religious Islam and draws much of its inspiration from the Quran and the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). To be sure, it does not represent the faith in all its forms, but unless challenged, the underlying problems of religious literalism, dogmatism, and pious intolerance are left untreated and continue to spread. A poll in 2014, published in the Saudi-owned newspaper al-Hayat, found that 92 percent of Saudis believe that ISIS “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.” Clearly, ISIS has something to do with Islam. That something is borne of a literalist reading of specific texts within the canon, a reading that many Saudi-based Salafists (a literalist movement that forms state-sanctioned Islam in Saudi Arabia) and ISIS share:
“And as for the male and female thief, cut off their hands as recompense for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah; and Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (al-Qur’an 5:38)
Of course, the Bible contains barbaric passages, as well. But there are historical and theological reasons why Christians and Jews can now easily ignore them. Unfortunately, out of excessive concern not to appear biased, many liberals consider any discussion of the special problem posed by Islamism to be a sign of bigotry. This attitude helps bar the door to reform.
To call ISIS “un-Islamic,” as President Obama has repeatedly done, and as Prime Minister Cameron recently stopped doing, is to play a dangerous game with words. Calling out and combating the ideology of Islamism is the only way that non-Muslims can help those liberal Muslims who wish to reform their faith from within. And failing to do so means abandoning the most vulnerable in Muslim communities—women, gays, apostates, freethinkers, and intellectuals—people like Nobel Peace Prize nominee Raif Badawi, who is being lashed in Saudi Arabia for the “crime” of writing a blog.
We do not entirely agree on how, and how fully, religion should be subjected to criticism in our society, but we both believe that merely repeating platitudes like “Islam is a religion of peace,” despite evidence that many zealots see it as a religion of war, blurs the line between truly peaceful and tolerant Muslims and those who aspire to drag humanity back to the seventh century.
Holding Islam up to scrutiny, rationally and ethically, must not be confused with anti-Muslim bigotry. Cries of “Islamophobia,” which have become ubiquitous on college campuses and in much of the liberal press, have been used to silence legitimate criticism. In an open society, no idea can be above scrutiny, just as no people should be beneath dignity.
We can testify to the power of honest dialogue on these topics. Though we initially met under circumstances that were overtly hostile, we pressed forward with civility and ended in genuine friendship. Without this type of engagement, the only alternative we see is continued intolerance and violence. And we have all seen far too much of that already.
To read the original article featured in The Daily Beast, please click here.
This article originally featured in The Daily Beast, authored by Maajid Nawaz.
12 September 2015
We are living in a spiteful, populist time.
Peddling hate makes for popular politicians and being angry is the new “being cool.” Across the Western Hemisphere a new type of leader is emerging whose rise to power has been as unpredictable as it has been swift. And the one thing these new leaders and their supporters have in common is not their politics, but their utter disdain for their political opponents and the entire “establishment.” And yes, I could be talking about Donald Trump in America, or the far-left rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. But I could just as easily be referring to the longer-term rise of Western Islamism, or far-right anti-Muslim street movements such as Germany’s Pegida and others across Europe. And whether we consider expanding campus coalitions to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, or the intransigence of extremist Israeli settlers, what many of these movements’ followers share is the desire not just to disagree with their opponents, but to delegitimize, dehumanize, and ostracize those with whom they disagree.
The resulting climate is one in which division, bitterness and hate is on the ascendency. It is now simply assumed that anyone publishing satirical content scrutinizing the Prophet of Islam will be murdered by jihadists. Government ministers are warning of the sharp rise in the U.K. and across Europe of anti-Semitic attacks, while London’s Metropolitan Police reported a 70 percent rise in anti-Muslim incidents. When a homeless Mexican immigrant was recently beaten and urinated on in the U.S., allegedly by suspect Scott Leader while telling police that “Trump was right,” Trump’s response was to call his supporters passionate. Alongside this, European far-right movements don’t just represent the more thuggish Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, but the more sophisticated politicos of Austria’s Freedom Party, Sweden’s “Democrats” and Holland’s Party for Freedom, each with significant and worrying levels of Parliamentary representation.
To question the dogma of any of these saviors of the human condition online is to invite a modern-day virtual lynching which in many cases has offline implications. This directed, targeted and vicious vitriol against individuals who dare to disagree is invariably achieved by inviting a mob to join in, then relishing in the utter defrocking and public shaming of the designated miscreant. As Sir Timothy Hunt recently discovered to his dismay, to deploy a very British sense of self-deprecating irony before a handful of politically charged activists seeking disagreement can unleash the very gates of virtual hell, one powerful enough to strip even a Nobel Prize-winning scientist of his various honorary positions.
It is not their policies that these new populists share, but their emphasis on a new kind of identity politics. The atomization of information, borne of the Internet Age, is having the opposite effect to what many commentators had previously assumed. As people’s opportunities to succumb to confirmation bias increases online—only seeking out information that confirms their prejudices—ignorance, extremism and close-mindedness have continued to rise unabated. What would previously have been isolated cases of parochial bigotry with no outlet to vent are now thriving global sub-communities of people identifying around discriminatory uber-identities. Islamist, Hindu-fundamentalist, racially aligned-activists, the extreme settler-movement in Israel, and far-left regressives have all emerged of late to form comfortable groupings focusing on cultural “authenticity,” cultural struggle, and cultural dominance.
Any centrist seeking to assert an open-minded and tolerant position between these extremes is instantly subjected to a torrent of abuse from all sides. To hold ideas beyond one’s cultural “station,” and to question these uber-identities, risks instantly being deemed a blood-traitor, a native-informant or a sell-out Uncle Tom. It is as if ideas have color and the pursuit of truth should remain segregated along racial or cultural lines.
And as these groups indulge in their own daily version of Orwell’s Two-Minutes Hate, each with their own little Emmanuel Goldstein-like traitor figure to irrationally rage at, because it feels good, the voices of those who are more comfortable with doubt are being drowned out.
Traditionally, open-minded secular liberal rationalists have not made a case for tolerance. Being opposed to preaching “truth,” those who prefer doubt over dogma and skepticism over certainty have entertained, but never engaged in arguments. But if we are to have any hope in pushing back against the rise of this Daily Hate, skeptics will need to arrive at one irrevocable truth, and then preach it: I may be wrong, but you are certainly not right. The only certainty we have is that those who are certain of a way to arrive at worldly salvation, are committed enough to organize around this, and seek power to enforce it, will invariably descend into a bloody totalitarian fascism. Dogma not only blinds its protagonist, but it muzzles all other opposition. We must mount civil society struggles for skepticism to prevail. The only way to defeat these modern political certainties is to be certain in only one thing: our doubt.
To read the original article featured in The Daily Beast, please click here.
This article originally featured in The Times, authored by Lucy Bannerman.
27 August 2015
Maajid Nawaz is what you might call a charmer. But for all his charms, he admits that the trouble with being a reformed extremist is that “you make very few friends”.
The founder of the counterterrorism think tank Quilliam occupies a strange space in the endless debates around Islamist extremism. He has recanted the poisonous politics that landed him in an Egyptian prison cell for four years and reinvented himself as a lone, liberal Muslim voice; the smooth wonk in the expensive suit.
Right now he is much angrier at the “racism” of “privately educated, silver-spooned, champagne-socialist Guardian journalists” than he is at the Daily Mail for publishing pictures of him straddled by a stripper on his stag do before his second marriage. It was a minor scandal in the life of the 36-year-old former firebrand, who went from scrapping with skinheads in Southend as a teenager to joining the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir and its campaign to create a worldwide caliphate as a student. He now advises the prime minister on how to root out the homegrown extremists.
He is in typically loquacious form over coffee in the back garden of the Quilliam offices in central London. “Who wants their stag do displayed for ever online? I don’t think anyone else you would ever meet has had a stag do that has led to an Isis death threat, a panic alarm having to be installed in their home and the deputy prime minister of a country having to intervene. Because that’s what happened. I don’t plan on having another one.”
Jail changed his mind about his militant brothers. On his return to the UK, he broke away from the radicals, becoming homeless at one point and sleeping in his Renault Clio, before setting up Quilliam, named after a Liverpudlian convert to Islam who founded Britain’s first mosque.
Today, Nawaz is reflecting on a “particularly proud moment”, having advised Downing Street on David Cameron’s keynote speech unveiling the new five-year strategy to tackle extremism. Its emphasis on stigmatizing the Islamists and calling out bigotry well before it leads to bombs was pure Quilliam.
Cameron also criticised the segregation of communities: “It cannot be right that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths. That doesn’t foster a sense of shared belonging and understanding.”
The prime minister could be talking about his own background at Eton, I suggest. Hasn’t he just described the private education of half the British establishment? Nawaz laughs, agrees and suggests pen-pal schemes as a solution.
“The Eton types must also play a role in integration. They must mix with the Bradford Muslims too. It has to work both ways. It’s amazing the level of ignorance out there among the elite. We used to have pen pal exchanges. That sort of exchange can really foster relationships. I would like to see virtual exchanges, based on that, between [boarding schools and state schools] across the country. That would help.”
Nawaz wants to see Islamist extremists treated like the BNP or English Defence League. Don’t ban them, he says, just shrink their platform by ostracising their affiliates. “Treat them like racists. Why is it you can’t be a member of BNP and be a police officer, but you can still be a schoolteacher if you’re a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?”
He is well aware of the criticisms repeated against him, often from other British Muslims: that he lacks credibility, that he is not representative. He says he has never claimed to represent anyone. The government stopped funding Quilliam in 2011. Since then, its profile has continued to rise, thanks to donations by unnamed charities and individuals. Yet so too has the number of British boys and girls leaving their bedrooms in Bethnal Green, Glasgow, Luton and Cardiff — the list goes on — to join the jihadists. At the latest estimate, 700 Britons have left to fight in the Middle East.
“We’re a small organisation of ten people trying to do what frankly should be everyone’s responsibility.” Perpetuating the problems, he argues, are the apologists on what he calls the “absurd regressive left, who are only happy when you’re attacking America”. He condemns the tone of a recent profile piece in The Guardian as “racist”.
“The expectation that the only real Muslim is a scruffy Muslim, somebody who is inarticulate and angry, that’s the racism of low expectation and it usually comes from privately schooled, Oxbridge-educated Guardian journalists. They’re talking to me, someone from a state school, who has been homeless, divorced; witnessed torture; been arrested and profiled at airports; had DNA taken from him; had every so-called angry Muslim grievance these so-called leftists are on about, yet they have the audacity to speak to me about my credibility and Muslim experience?
“They’ve never had to face the barrel of a police gun pointed at the their head because they’ve been racially profiled. They’ve never had to dodge a hammer from a neo-Nazi or be guided by a torturer’s grip as he walks you through the torture dungeons of Egypt. Yet they sit there and talk to me as if somehow my Muslim experience is somehow less credible than their silver-spoon, privately educated understanding of what a Muslim should be and the mere fact that I’m not angry is what upsets them the most.
“They would be happier if I was sitting here, saying to you: ‘Of course this country deserves to be blown up. What do you expect?’ Then they say: ‘Good Muslim.’ That’s the real good Muslim/bad Muslim game. That’s the biggest form of hypocrisy — between the champagne socialists and the shisha jihadists.” He takes a deep breath, and laughs. “That all came from having no friends, didn’t it?”
Is it lonely? “It can be. The most painful part is when people I grew up with, from my Muslim community, don’t understand what I’m trying to do. The only way you can challenge bigotry is by being consistent against it.”
This week will be his son’s 15th birthday but Nawaz hasn’t seen him for two years. He says relations with the child’s mother, whom he married when he was 21 and they were both Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters, broke down after his release from prison — “I was no longer the Islamist activist she married.” Does he worry about the interpretations of Islam his son and other teenagers are being exposed to? “Every father worries about his son and hopes he turns out to be the best person.”
It is up to his son if he wants to make contact, he says. “All I know is he’s doing very well at school. He’s very smart. He needs to know that I’m here for him. Whenever he wants to make contact, I will receive him with open arms.”
He talks about missing his son and recalls an incident when he nearly broke down in public. At that moment, a boy ran across the street, shouting his name. “It was uncanny. He said: ‘You’re Maajid Nawaz, aren’t you?’ I said yes. He said: ‘Can I take a selfie? You’re such an inspiration. You allow Muslims like me to be who we are without worrying about judgment.’”
The boy said he was 15 and his name was Younis. “He has no idea what he did for me that day. That kid saved me. Being the same age as my son, he reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I hope he reads this. And I hope he sends me that picture.”
Younis, you heard it here first. Unless he’s a Guardian reader.
To view the original article published by The Times, please click here.
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…)