Liberal Muslim activist Maajid Nawaz goes on Facebook to slam Guardian’s ‘hatchet job’ on him

The following was posted an hour ago on Facebook by Maajid Nawaz, a liberal Muslim counter-extremism activist, in response to a Guardian article on Aug. 2nd titled “Maajid Nawaz: how a former Islamist became David Cameron’s anti-extremism adviser” written by David Shariatmadari.

My reply to Mr Shariatmadari of the Guardian:Dear Mr Shariatmadari, I do wonder what exactly about me made you feel so insecure?Anyway, below are some reflections of mine, and a bit of fact-checking for you, on your rather personalised hatchet-job of me in the Guardian.

1) Concerning your passage:

“…If much of Quilliam’s – and now Cameron’s – positioning reflects Nawaz’s own journey, it’s reasonable to ask how representative his experience has been. Hizb-ut Tahrir, which does not advocate violence, sees the creation of a new caliphate as the solution to the Muslim world’s problems.”

Unfortunately, as has become a habit with your paper, you are too soft on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) here. It is true that HT does not advocate terrorism. However it is not true that it does not advocate violence. All terrorism is violent, but not all violence is terrorism.HT’s aims to come to power via military coups, these are inherently violent, even if non-terrorist, acts.“(This would) normally be done by the Party seeking to access the military in order to take the authority…After this the military would be capable of establishing the authority of Islam. Hence a coup d’etat would be the manifestation of a political change…” (The Method to Re-establish the Caliphate and Resume the Islamic Way of Life’, Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain [al-Khilāfah Publications], pp. 105-6.) Once in power, pretty much like ISIS, which is a group HT’s ideology played a large part in inspiring, HT advocates the use of state orchestrated massacres to further its aims.“Hence, it is imperative to put back this issue in its rightful place and consider it to be a vital issue, by killing every apostate even if they numbered millions”. (Abdul Qadeem Zalloom [2nd global leader for HT], How the Caliphate Was Destroyed, Khilafah Publications, p.193)

2) Concerning your passage:

“Nawaz’s powers of verbal persuasion are something even his detractors concede. There’s a strong line to take in every answer. But equally, there’s very little sense of being open to persuasion himself.”

Indeed, I must be very unopen to persuasion. This must be why – despite the fact that it cost me my marriage, proper access to my son, my home and most of my friendships – I changed my mind after nearly 13 years inside HT’s leadership, and I left that group.

3) Concerning your passage:

“Perhaps this is the Hizb-ut-Tahrir training at work, a training he says involved sitting in meetings “concocting rebuttals as defensive mechanisms’.”

This quote came in relation to my reflection of how Dr Abdul Wahid – the UK front-leader of extremist group HT – used to sit with me to do this in preparation to defend our Islamist extremism in media interviews back when I was still a member of HT. I deployed this quote in protest at your newspapers very soft puff-piece profiling Abdul Wahid by Peter Oborne, which allowed Abdul Wahid to get away lightly using his pre-prepared answers. How ironic you used my same quote, out of that context, against me without citing this context in which I used it.

4) Concerning your passage:

“That’s the impression I get when I challenge him on one of the central tenets of the Cameron speech: that non-violent extremism creates the “mood music” for violent jihad. This has been labelled the “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation – and it’s the subject of a good deal of controversy in academic circles…When I put this to Nawaz, he immediately says “No, no”, going on to describe the whole conveyor-belt theory as “a red herring”. But, confusingly, he then appears to restate it. “There is a link. What we cannot deny is that there’s an association between exclusion, segregation, non-violent extremist thinking and jihadism.” 

You conveniently omitted at this stage my long explanation on exactly why the conveyor-belt theory is a red-herring. What I said was that whether or not non-violent extremism empirically leads to violence, misses the point entirely. Like racism, non-violent extremist ideas (e.g: that in an ideal Islamic state apostates must be ‘killed in their millions’) are bad for social cohesion, regardless of whether they lead to immediate violence. For example, just because generic racism or generic homophobia also cannot be empirically proven to lead to immediate violence, this doesn’t mean we simply tolerate such social ills in society. IN fact, we don’t tolerate them. Yes, let us only ban violence (you also omitted at this point I referenced that I have consistently advised UK Prime Ministers against banning HT in the UK), but what we can certainly do – as we do with homophobia and racism – is to challenge non-violent extremist ideas in civil society in order to make them a taboo. I mentioned that I call this doctrine one of legal tolerance coupled with civic intolerance. I then went to state that despite the absence of empirical evidence either way, what cannot be denied is that there is a relationship, a link, to whatever extent, between believing that it is okay to kill apostates, and actually killing them. It is silly to deny that a pre-requisite for the act of killing apostates, is the belief that it is okay to kill them. Your two recordings will have captured all of this, nevertheless you chose to omit all of this.

5) Concerning your passage:

“But I can’t help feeling that unwillingness to concede a point is Nawaz’s overriding concern. It’s as though he has made up his mind and the facts must form an orderly queue behind him.”

With respect, as all of the above indicates, it seems that it is you, sir, who has succumbed to this folly in this very interview of yours.

6) Concerning your passage:

“It’s clear, however, that his powers of persuasion are not universally felt. In Hampstead and Kilburn, he won only 3,039 votes. Nawaz tells me his result “was in line, entirely proportionate to what happened across the country”. On closer inspection, that turns out not to be true. Nationally, the change for the party from 2010 was -15.2%, but in Nawaz’s seat it was -25.6%.

Apart from being unbelievably petty, if we really must address this, let us consider the London swing to Labour, and the fact that in Labour-facing seats the swing against the Lib Dems was higher than the national average. If the London Labour facing held seats of Lib Dem minister Lynne Featherstone, and deputy party leader Simon Hughes were lost to Labour, what chance did a first time Lib Dem such as me have in stealing an unsafe London seat that Labour already held?

7) Concerning one of your many anonymous negative quotes used against me:

“The problem is the connections they have – with [rightwing think-tank] the Henry Jackson Society…”

Quilliam is a non-partisan organisation that has connections and supporters for our counter-extremism work from across the board. Integrity should provide ample reason to balance this clearly hostile quote with proof of our cross-party work. To focus only on one political wing’s support for us – and to set it up so that the only positive remarks you cite about Quilliam are from those on the political right – is dishonest. If asked, I am sure that James Bloodworth from Left Foot Forward, Peter Tatchel, and the countless Labour party members and MPs who have come to rely on our work over the years, and regularly attend our events, could have been cited as evidence of support for Quilliam among the left too. This is not to mention within my own party the Lib Dems. Former party leader Lord Ashdown did, after all, present at our launch event in 2008.

8) Concerning your passage:

“In 2013, Nawaz made much of his role in orchestrating the EDL leader’s departure from the far-right group he had founded. This association, controversial at the time, has been cast in an even worse light by continued anti-Muslim invective on a Twitter account bearing Robinson’s name. “What I’ve never claimed,” says Nawaz, “is that Tommy has changed his views.” Which raises the question of what purpose the exercise actually served.”

Again, you chose to omit my answer to this very question. As the two recordings of your interview will demonstrate, I stated very clearly that it is my belief that the country is better served without the EDL having a charismatic leader. My simple aim was to help Tommy Robinson and the deputy leader Steve Carroll leave the EDL. This rendered the EDL without effective leadership, and forever hindered their ability to attract new supporters. This, I argued, was good for race relations in the country, regardless of whether Tommy on an individual level changed his views. In fact, I never even got to start the process of attempting to change Tommy’s individual views on Islam, because soon after he left the EDL he went to prison. Judged by my own aim however, the intervention was indeed a success. The EDL, as an organisation, is now a shadow of its former self. I asked you to imagine UKIP, for instance, without Nigel Farrage. But again, you chose to leave all of this out.

9) Concerning this citation:

“But it is the lack of trust among ordinary Muslims that comes up again and again. Sadakat Kadri, a barrister and expert on sharia law, thinks Nawaz is “a very personable character”, but says “the problem with Quilliam is that it just doesn’t have any credibility. Cameron and Gove want to deal with Quilliam because they’re people they can do business with. But it isn’t an intermediary to anyone within the Muslim community.”

Credibility is in the eye of the beholder, and Quilliam has never claimed to be a representative, nor an intermediary organisation for anyone. We exist, and will continue to exist, please deal with our arguments and address our work.

10) Concerning your passage:

“Then there is his closeness to the law-making elite, which unsurprisingly creates suspicion…”

A policy organisation does its job, by working closely with those who form policy.

11) Concerning another one of your anonymous negative quotes:

“..As one Muslim woman tells me: “People who’ve never been attracted by that ideology don’t need to be lectured by someone who was…”

On the one hand, we claim we wish to understand the grievances of those vulnerable to extremist recruitment – I can only assume by talking to them – while on the other we’re wholeheartedly dismissing here those very same experiences and sentiments?

12) Concerning another anonymous quote that went unscrutinised:

“A former acquaintance of Nawaz, who also asked for anonymity, points to something more personal. “If you talk to people who went to school with him, they all say the same thing: they say it’s not about the mission or the cause, it’s about the man. I don’t think Maajid believes anything. I think he’s basically a man who says: what is my cause and what is going to get me the most attention, the most publicity?” 

Apart form the fact that most of my former acquaintances are either jihadists, Islamists or extremely conservative Muslims, you didn’t stop to cross-examine this person by asking here that if I truly didn’t believe in anything except what suits me, surely, for heaven’s sake, I would have stood for any party except the losing Lib Dems?!13) Finally Mr Shariatmadari, concerning that “skinny flat white” coffee that you so gleefully referenced at the start, your recordings will also have captured the fact that you too ordered one. The difference between you and me, sir, is that you left while allowing me to pick up the tab for both of us.

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