Countering ‘the Narrative’ in Extremism

His name is Maajid Nawaz, and as I listened to his story, I thought that much of his life experience partly mirrored that of the apostle Paul. And I thought how perfectly his life experience appeared to have been designed to that very end. Having gone to the dark side, how equipped one is in its understanding, so as to refute it, to combat it. Having been on the inside & gotten out, one knows how to speak to others still there and perhaps lead them to the light.

I hadn’t planned on watching ’60 Minutes’ this night, but…weird…my favorite channel suddenly had no signal. It always has a signal…I gave up trying & switched to Channel 10, just in time to hear Lesley Stahl explaining the topic for the night’s show. And, I wouldn’t normally be watching Channel 10, either. But nothing else caught my interest. Events in this night‘s experience, also, seemed to have been designed to this end.


With intensity and passion, Maajid Nawaz speaks before groups large & small, in person and televised, seeking to change minds that are firmly closed against the United States, and against the West. Minds that have been persuaded to believe “That America is waging a war against Islam, invaded Iraq because it hates Muslims, invaded Afghanistan because it hates Muslims…” and that their only recourse is to fight back on all fronts. Nawaz, a British Muslim, tells them otherwise. “America did not invade Iraq because Iraqis are Muslims. Oil, money, economic interests. Who knows? But it was not because Iraqis are Muslims. Do you know how many Muslims are in America. Do you know how many mosques there exist in America? Do you know Obama’s father is Muslim?”

I am sure that, 11 years ago, as a leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), sent to Pakistan to recruit converts to this extremist ideology, Maajid never dreamed he’d end up doing just the opposite.

One of the things that intrigues me about Maajid’s situation is the place from which he came. It was not what I would’ve expected. His background & upbringing should have absolutely countered a conversion to Muslim extremism. In a sense, he was even barely Muslim! Yet…he was recruited to one of Britain’s most active Islamic extremist groups, and went on to recruit others, for years.

Maajid “grew up in an upper-middle class home in Essex, east of London. His father was a successful engineer in the oil business and growing up, Nawaz was both happy and assimilated.” (60 Minutes) Both happy and assimilated. Not discontented, bitter, frustrated. In fact, it sounds like Maajid was more well-adjusted than I was! Hmmm…and as it turns out, he wasn’t even religious, did not attend mosque, by his own admission knew ‘very little’ about Islam, most of his friends were white and all were non-Muslim. He was smart and attended the University of London.

So how did Islamic extremists get to him?


When Maajid was in his early teens, gangs of ‘skinheads’ attacked him and his white friends, holding Maajid back and forcing him to watch while they stabbed the friends. These violent gang members considered the white friends ’blood traitors’, and the stabbings were meant as ’discipline’ for the betrayal of loyalty to race, to skin color. The attackers did not know Nawaz was Muslim – it was, for them, a racial issue.

“I was primed because of this racism to already feel that I didn’t belong in my own society. I felt that there was something different about me, “ says Nawaz. It was at this point of breakdown in Nawaz’ sense of belonging that he was approached by a Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) recruiter, a medical student. Basically, Maajid Nawaz bought it hook, line & sinker, when all was said and done. HT recruiters used his personal alienation to their advantage. Working on his sense of who he was not, they convinced him that he was, and others were and would be, targeted by whites (the West, America etc) for being a Muslim. Eventually, a once non-religious, essentially well-adjusted young man was re-made into an Islamic radical, a Muslim ‘in politics’ who would, for over a decade, spread a message of hate against America.

Just try and tell me that it is NOT true that ‘…your adversary the devil…walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Post 9/11, in 2001,Nawaz was arrested in Egypt. His journey back from extremism began then. In an amazing twist & turn of events, while trying to re-convert back to the extremist ideology some of his heavy-hitter cellmates who had lapsed in their former beliefs, Nawaz began to doubt his own! Imprisonment in the “dungeons of Cairo’s state security headquarters“ led to, ultimately, unexpected ideological release. Soon after he left prison, Maajid also left Hizb ut-Tahrir

“I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee …to open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:6,7)


Maajid Nawaz now devotes himself to repairing the damage he’s done during his years as an Islamic extremist. Though the group that recruited him did not advocate violence, their message fostered its potential. And so today, he combats one set of words with another. It is his belief that such a method is “…’the’ key factor in solving the problem we’re experiencing in the world at the moment…Countering the narrative is the core of the solution, making this narrative as unfashionable as Communism has become today.”

On location with Maajid at a workshop with a group from Peshawar and the Swat Valley, Lesley Stahl asked the following question:
“”How many of you believe it is U.S. policy to be at war with Islam and to destroy Islam?” About a third of them believed it. “Give us one single reason to love America and we will forget about the rest of the millions of reasons to hate America,” {a} student replied.

I will end this post with Maajid Nawaz’ final sentence as reported in the “60 Minutes” piece –

“There are people who are as frustrated as we are with extremism in their own country, in Pakistan. But they’ve never had anyone to articulate that frustration, to organize them and to help them work along those lines…That means work. It means we have to be in it for the long haul. And it means the solution isn’t going to come through bombs or through prison. It has to come through the ideas debate, which is by definition a long strategy.”

2 responses to “Countering ‘the Narrative’ in Extremism

  1. Just try and tell me that it is NOT true that ‘…your adversary the devil…walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)Looks can be deceiving. When we are transient, and unknown amongst others, and not from the area; it can be a touchy situation. Especially if one were to have a dimple where no others have dimples.We then become strays, and sort of hover on the outskirt of the herd. I once had a fellow walk by me and say this to me: "Are you looking for something to devour…" as I stood in the after room at a church I had been attending with my rather large family. But I was a stranger and got picked out of the whole crowd for this usurper to whisper in my ear….I shrugged and gave a smirk at him and he moved on. Very weird, and as you can see not forgotten.

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