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|Turning towards Mecca|
“”"It's very very easy for me to slander you to pieces in my book, thus ruin not just your personal but professional standing... If you think I’m being harsh now, thank your Islamist god that I’m not speaking against you in public, because trust me, if I was half as ignorant and idiotic as you, I could destroy your career in a second. And that’s not a threat, it’s to show you how stupid you’re being by writing such one sided crap... And my megaphone is far louder than your petty ignorant one-sided emails against my work..."
|—Maajid Nawaz, tearing his fundamentalist brother Kaashif, (whom he is alleged to have once threatened to turn in to the British secret services as a dangerous Islami extremist), a new one|
Maajid Nawaz is a British activist, author and politician perhaps best known for his former membership of the extreme Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (حزب التحري) and as author of his memoir, Radical. In recent times he has become a very vocal advocate for a moderate, secular Islam.
Then and now
Nawaz became involved with radical Islamism in his teens and worked as a recruiter for Hizb ut-Tahrir. He spent a year abroad studying Arabic in Egypt, where he continued his recruiting and as a result was arrested by Hosni Mubarak's notorious secret police and imprisoned for 4 years, starting in 2002.
Nawaz has since gone on to talk of how successful he was at fomenting Islamist fervour at Newham College, and how easy it was to get the primarily liberal institution to turn a blind eye to his brand of theocratic political agitation.
“”We disguised our political demands behind religion and multiculturalism, and deliberately labeled any objection to our demands as racism. Even worse, we did this to the very generation who had been socialist sympathizers in their youth, people sympathetic to charges of racism, who like [the student affairs manager] Dave Gomer were now in middle-career management posts. It is no wonder then that the authorities were unprepared to deal with politicized religion as ideological agitation; they felt racist if they tried to stop us...The default liberal position was to embrace the movement as part of multicultural sensitivity: to tell people to stop practicing their faith was imperialism in nineties clothing, a colonial hangover bordering on racism. Instead, we were embraced as a new generation of anti-colonial politicized youth.
Nawaz has claimed that while incarcerated, surrounded by several prominent jihadist leaders, he realized he wanted to take a different path. He cited George Orwell's Animal Farm as key to this realisation and how he came to a new understanding of "what happens when somebody tries to create a utopia." Friends and family, however, are disdainful of this supposed come-to-Jesus prison experience -- of which they saw no evidence at the time -- and instead see Nawaz as an utter opportunist. They say he cares more "about being a well-compensated hero than he does about the cause he champions."
“”Most in my family who witnessed his life outside home, religious or irreligious, find his story at least exaggerated or embellished for his agenda, if not absolutely false,” Nawaz’s elder brother, Kaashif, said.
Ashraf Hoque, a friend from Nawaz’s college days, is more blunt.“He is neither an Islamist nor a liberal,” he said. “Maajid is whatever he thinks he needs to be.
After his release, at the age of 24, Nawaz reportedly "was 100 percent committed" to Islamism, and at a press conference after held at his release, Nawaz declared: “I have become more convinced of the ideas that I went into prison with.” But, after about ten months out of prison he had concluded he could rise no higher in his Islamist organization.
Nawaz's renunciation of his ties to Hizb ut-Tahrir and his wider condemnation of Islamist ideals, occurred in the same week his friend, Ed Husain, gained some celebrity and adulation for writing "a stirring defection story of a Muslim extremist who had come clean." Shortly thereafter, in 2007, Nawaz and Hussain founded The Quilliam Foundation, and "the British government shelled out the equivalent of more than $3.8" to Quilliam in three years.
In 2012 Nawaz published his memoir Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening which was feted as a vital insight into how young Muslims are radicalised and embrace extreme Islamism. The book describes in detail how he experienced serious racist abuse growing up in Britain and how this led to his embracing the ideals of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Quilliam compiled a secret list of Muslim groups it considered as being sympathetic to violent Islamism. Nawaz sent the list to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a directorate of the British Home Office. The organizations and individuals named included the Muslim Council of Britain, the main umbrella group in Britain for Islamic organisations. Also included was the claim that a Scotland Yard counter-terrorism squad, the Muslim Contact Unit, is dominated by extremist ideology. Critics of the foundation accused it of McCarthyite smear tactics and branded its claims ridiculous. Nawaz's reputation among British civil libertarians and many British Muslims fell quite low.
In 2014, he created a storm of criticism and received many death threats after posting on his Twitter account a Jesus and Mo cartoon. Even some supporters of Nawaz's ideals viewed this as a crude publicity stunt designed to offend and curry favor with his new Islamophobic friends.
“”In short, this pisses me off, big time. It pisses me off because it’s grossly inaccurate, and unfair to Maajid. It pisses me off because as he points out it puts a target on him. It pisses me off because the SPLC has done heroic, brave work in the past. It pisses me off because I have many liberal Muslim friends who also campaign against Islamist extremism. It pisses me off because the left really needs to get it straight: Islamism is not a left-wing ally, it’s a deeply right-wing, reactionary, anti-human rights, theocratic movement, and people who campaign against Islamism are not anti-Muslim and not extremist. Islamism is not our friend, and its enemies are not (all) our enemies.
Maajid Nawaz issued a strongly worded reply:
“”Through the counter-extremism organisation Quilliam that I founded, I have spent eight years defending my Muslim communities in Europe, Pakistan and beyond from the diktats of Islamist theocrats. I have also argued for the liberal reform of Islam today, from within. But, in a naively dangerous form of neo-Orientalism, the SPLC just arrogated to itself the decision over which debates we Muslims may have about reforming our own religion, and which are to be deemed beyond the pale. (...) In a monumental failure of comprehension, the SPLC have conflated my challenge to Islamist theocracy among my fellow Muslims with somehow being “anti-Muslim”. The regressive left is now in the business of issuing fatwas against Muslim reformers.
Nawaz appeared on Intelligence Squared, arguing that Islam actually was inherently a religion of peace that had been corrupted. Opposing him was Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray. This may come as a surprise to people that only hear from others disparaging Nawaz and don't realize that he actually is still a Muslim. Unfortunately for him, the opposing side 'won' in that they convinced more people that Islam wasn't inherently peaceful.
Sam Harris's Muslim pal
In 2015, Nawaz collaborated with Sam Harris (described by some as an Islamophobe) to produce a short book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance. The book is presented as a dialogue, but the collaboration further damaged Nawaz's standing in the mainstream Muslim community. Particularly, the two are at one in condemning what they jointly perceive as left wing/liberal apologists equating criticism of Islamic doctrines with Islamophobia and racism (or as Nawaz terms it, reverse racism). Both individuals are of the opinion that to hold Muslims to lower standards than Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. with regards to issues such as human rights, freedom of religion, and free speech, is to tacitly endorse the view that Muslims are inherently inferior, and incapable of being as "civilized" as non-Muslims. Borrowing the phrase from that
war criminal great statesman George W. Bush, Harris, Nawaz, and several others claim to see anti-Islamophobes practicing a "soft bigotry of low expectations".
But Harris and Nawaz's notable critics are not, in fact, practicing any sort of bigotry, including that of "soft expectations." Rather, they object to a Western focus on the poor human rights records in some Muslim countries vis-a-vis women and sexual minorities, when the same West that lectures Muslims has colonized and subjugated their lands and continues to bomb and invade them, as well to support their worst tyrants. If Western modernity is unattractive to many Muslims, that makes sense to religious studies scholar Karen Armstrong:
We’re in danger of making a scapegoat of things, and not looking at our own part in this. When we look at these states and say, “Why can’t they get their act together? Why can’t they see that secularism is the better way? Why are they so in thrall to this benighted religion of theirs? What savages they are,” and so on, we’ve forgotten to see our implication in their histories. We came to modernity under our own steam... But in the Middle East, in the colonized countries, modernity was a colonial subjection, not independence... That modern spirit is almost impossible to acquire in countries where modernity has been imposed from outside.
Nawaz critics like Armstrong do not, then, object to holding Muslims to proper standards of human rights; they merely reject Western arrogance on the subject in light of the other kinds of Western human rights abuses that understandably aggrieve many Muslims. While this position clearly underlines the weakness of the West's moral authority, its refutation of Nawaz et al. relies on the tu quoque fallacy.
Some accuse Nawaz of making money playing the role of the "good" and "moderate" Muslim every Islamophobe loves and argue that his projects are simply self-promotion;
There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Reformation.... the root of the anti-Nawaz sentiment is that he has used Project Islamic Reformation as a self-serving tool to enrich himself. This book both opens and closes with details of Nawaz’s life story, his radicalization, his time in prison, and his shift to liberalism. The implicit thread that runs through his public performances is I went through this, therefore you should listen to me. Unless Nawaz is perpetually writing a memoir, his personal experiences should reach diminishing returns quite quickly, yet they are right there, front, center and back. Can a man who makes all of Project Islamic Reformation about himself really claim offense when his critics attack his character? They did not make this personal. He did.
To promote the book, in September 2015 Nawaz and Harris
droned on forever jointly addressed Harvard University's Institute of Politics.
The Cameron Speech
In July 2015, Nawaz collaborated with the British Prime Minister David Cameron to write the speech delivered by Cameron as his 5 year strategy purporting to counter Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.
In 2015, Nawaz was filmed in a London lap-dancing club on his stag night, receiving a private dance and putting his hands on the woman dancing for him. This resulted in a barrage of dubious criticism and some counter-claims from Nawaz making arguments inline with the views of sex positive feminists. In the UK, however, sex postive feminism is weak, therefore many declared Nawaz to be no feminist at all.
The Quilliam Foundation (and hence by association, Nawaz) has received funding from a man associated with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, neo-cons. Moreover, Quilliam takes money from the UK government
as a quid pro quo and, as noted, has sent a list of alleged Islamist sympathizers to British intelligence.
- How Orwell's 'Animal Farm' Led A Radical Muslim To Moderation | National Public Radio
- What Does Maajid Nawaz Really Believe? | New Republic
- The Story of Maajid Nawaz | Amnesty International (USA) blog
- Alom Shaha admires the honesty of a former Islamist | NewHumanist.org.uk
- List sent to terror chief aligns peaceful Muslim groups with terrorist ideology | The Guardian
- Maajid Nawaz's with-us or against-us mindset is out of touch with reality | The Guardian
- Southern Poverty Law Center: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz Are “Anti-Muslim Extremists”
- Bad move SPLC
- Maajid responds
- Intelligence Squared, Is Islam a Religion of Peace
- Let’s Talk About How Islam Has Been Hijacked | Wall Street Journal (Commentary)
- Maher vs. Charlie Rose: To Claim Islam Is Like Other Religions Is Naive And Plain Wrong | RealClearPolitics.com
- Karen Armstrong on Sam Harris and Bill Maher: “It fills me with despair, because this is the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps” - Salon.com
- Sam Harris’ detestable crusade: How his latest anti-Islam tract reveals the bankruptcy of his ideas - Salon.com
- Islam & the Future of Tolerance - Maajid Nawaz & Sam Harris (YouTube)
- David Cameron & Maajid Nawaz unveil strategy to tackle Islamism (YouTube)
- Nice try, Maajid Nawaz, but you didn’t go to a lapdancing club because you’re a feminist | NewStatesman.com
- Maajid seems to have gotten funding by a man associated with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, known bigots | loonwatch.com
- Home Office funding to the Quilliam Foundation from 2008 to 2012 - Publications - GOV.UK