Countering Extremism with a Different Kind of Weapon

From my last post:

This past July, I posted “Countering the Narrative in Extremism”,a piece about former Islamic extremist Maajid Nawaz, who today works ceaselessly to, as the title suggests, counter the teachings of radical Islam. For some reason, I pulled up that post a few days ago. As I re-read it, I felt impacted by Maajid’s mission more immediately, more here-and-now than I had when I wrote the post. In it, I quoted Nawaz as saying:

“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.”

“…in it for the long haul”, “…by definition a long strategy.”  These are the phrases that caught my attention, and prompted an Internet search of Nawaz.


There is no doubt that my growing knowledge of Muslim history, radical Islamic intent, and its actions & very presence in America have had a more than sobering impact. I have become almost immobilized. I’ve been stopped short, assimilating & processing information of a sort that brings with it great threat. During this period, as fate – no, wait, that would be God! – would have it, three months of chronic computer woes have also stalled my normal life efforts. Very little visible progress has been made, in almost anything.


The one topic that has claimed and retained my attention is the above-mentioned Maajid Nawaz, so I’m going forward with that –


We have been hearing alot these days about the ‘moderate’ Muslim. Does he/she even exist? I have watched myself gravitate to a position of doubt on that issue, based on my new-found slight understanding of Quranic doctrine. The awful, eventual implications of ‘no such thing as a moderate Muslim’ can almost not be borne. (Similar to trying to read the ‘curses’ portion of Deuteronomy 28. I am literally unable to read that all the way through. I cannot bear it.)

Intending to get a copy of the Qur’an, so I could see for myself exactly what is taught there, I mentioned that in a comment thread online. A man who had no hesitation in speaking his mind, and didn’t seem the type to back down from anything, warned me against that course of action. He had done so himself, and ended up destroying the volume. His word describing his perception of the evil he sensed emanating from it was ‘palpable’. Assuming his perceptions were accurate, being extremely sensitive in the spirit, I hesitated to follow through with my plan.

Instead, I pulled up some online excerpts. What I read seemed ‘off”. Though it was only a very small segment, there seemed no clarity of focus. I know enough about chapter arrangements in the Qur’an, along with changes/contradictions in instructions along the way, to pretty much table my original goal. In addition to being possibly dangerous for me, I can see it becoming way too confusing & time-consuming…

Now what?

Enter Maajid Nawaz,‘Towards Political Engagement’,  and the Quilliam Foundation


“My doubts only grew and grew. The more talks I did, trying to ignore them, the more they grew. ” – Maajid Nawaz (link)

Arrested and imprisoned after 9/11, then Islamic extremist leader Maajid Nawaz found himself trying to re-convert cellmates who had fallen away from their former extremist beliefs. In the process of trying to talk others back into radicalism, Nawaz actually talked himself out of it. In the bowels of a Cairo dungeon, a new Maajid Nawaz was born. And leaving that dungeon marked the beginning of his new mission in life as well. Although he still needed to spend some more time sorting it all out, the dye had been cast.

Today, Nawaz holds a BA (Hons) from SOAS in Arabic and Law and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics (LSE), with modules in ‘Religion and Politics’ and ‘Conflict, Violence and Terrorism’. He serves as an ambassador for the global Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM).” He speaks internationally, from universities across Pakistan to addressing the US Senate in Washington DC, and regularly comments on national and international news and newspapers in his counter-extremism mission. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank. He has also founded Khudi, an organization and social movement that works to resist radicalism & promote democracy in Pakistan.

Can I get an ‘Amen’?!!


While a post 9/11 political prisoner, Maajid began to evaluate and study “traditional Islamic sciences.” Over time, he gained a new and unsettling perspective on the beliefs & political stance of the extremist party of which he was a member/leader, Hizbut-Tahrir. He finally realized that “the very scripture and principles used by the Party to make its analysis {resulting in a revolutionary call to a forceful overthrow of all regimes lacking Shari’ah legitimacy} do not actually support its call.” Rather, “the Party’s own principles result in the exact opposite conclusion.”


Now, it should be made known that Hizb ut-Tahrir, founded in 1953, is a major player in British-based Islamic extremism. At least it was in 2007, according to a report in Foreign Affairs Journal. Having recently read up on some of their methods and teachings, and having found them to be exactly the same as the other Islamic ideologies I’ve come across, I think it can be concluded that Nawaz’s change of heart, and his reasons for it, would apply to any extremist group, anytime, anywhere. The arguments & explanations he has put forth since his conversion/reversion, countering extremism, should apply across the board.

Nawaz began posting & debating on his blog “Towards Political Engagement” in August 2007. As someone who is not Muslim, nor versed in the Qur’an, my first attempts at reading and understanding those dialogues required some effort! Even so, it was and is clear to me that Nawaz is very well-versed in the same, and amply capable of handling this mission he has taken upon himself. His skill in the details astounds me. As I continue to try to grasp the truths & principles he sets forth, and begin to occasionally succeed, my heart support of his call to re-educate and illuminate Islamic radicals (or any others!) becomes absolute. Gratitude to my God for planting such a man in such a place, at this volatile, crucial time in history, runs deep.


Martin Bright, of The Jewish Chronicle Online, praises Quilliam for having  “dissected the ideology of Islamism with impressive rigour and taken on its British apologists”, and for providing an intelligent and sober critique.(link)

The appointment of former Libyan jihadi Noman Benotman this past August, as a senior analyst at Quilliam, has “led to six prominent members of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group renouncing violent jihad and the release {of} 600 former activists from prison.” (link)

Quilliam’s co-founder Ed Husain, another ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir member, considers the staff at this amazing think-tank to be the “most intelligent, brave, visionary and patriotic young people working in Britain — to counter the ideas that produce terrorism. ”   The placement of such an organization in Britain is strategically sound, according to Husain, because  “Britain remains vital to the Hizb, for it gives the group access to the global media and provides a fertile recruiting ground at mosques and universities.”  (Husain, Ed, The Islamist, Penguin, 2007, p.272)


Earlier in this post, I mentioned the ‘moderate Muslim’. I also mentioned my growing suspicions that there may be no such thing. According to some of the following comments made on Nawaz’s ‘early days’ blog, it appears my suspicions were perhaps wrong.

“… admiration for your courage to research, think, and write so succinctly about classical Islamic sources and the Islamist ideological perversion of it.”

“… now I look forward to you refuting the other myths activist groups advocate to destroy our noble religion.”

“My brother, God bless you. You are with the silent majority of Muslims who are bullied by the literalist extremists who fail to understand context – you speak for Muslim masses.” 

“…{you} understand the manipulative (of text and current affairs) mindset of Islamist organisations.”

“Whilst others have gone down the path of using labels, half-cooked arguments, and distorted ‘facts’ (and all that through the mainstream media), you have at the very least adopted the approach of intellectual engagement. On this I commend you.”


At the outset of this post, I had not realized the Quilliam’s co-founder Ed Husain has, since September 2010, joined the US Council on Foreign Relations, as a Senior Fellow. I will end this post with Mr. Husain’s own words:

“The battle of ideas surges across the world today, and the United States of America is at the forefront of this struggle. The Council on Foreign Relations is ideally placed to help steer American debates, policy initiatives and find solutions to the complex problems of extremism, the prelude to terrorism.’

4 responses to “Countering Extremism with a Different Kind of Weapon

  1. Somehow, Patrick, I missed answering your comment! A little late, but I do want to say that, sometimes, people write that my post helped them, they needed to hear whatever it was I wrote. Not often, but..when that happens, for me, it is the greatest thing I could hear.Hope things are OK down in Texas…

    • Tim, I believe this is the video I linked to in my July 4th. post. Yes, it is troubling. Sickening, really.
      I get regular updates from Raymond Ibrahim’s ‘pundicity’, and the video was a recent one.

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