UPDATE: Scroll down please for thoughts and observations regarding Maajid Nawaz from friend and reader G. Perrry - http://american-rattlesnake.org/
an ex-member of an Islamist extremist group, to detail his personal experience with the Islamic radicalization process and to explain how he works to confront it.
This presentation in the speakers series was called, ” The Front Lines of Counter Terrorism: Confronting Islamist Extremist Propaganda “.
Maajid Nawaz is a former a high-ranking member of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and spent four years in an Egyptian prison for his affiliation with the group. He emerged to help establish the Quillium Foundation, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, where he serves as executive director.
He is also the founder of Khudi, a counter-extremism social movement working to promote a democratic culture in Pakistan.
There are some who feel that Nawaz is NOT what he appears to be .
Here is his 2008 testimony before Senator Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee (this is an 8 page pdf) . It would seem that even though his advocacy of a purely personal Islam devoid of all political “Islamism” is good, on the other hand, his representations about Shariah in the Lieberman testimony and about Islam (etc) are all (pretty much without exception) not factually based; including his assertions about the Shariah State.
Nawaz speaks for 38 minutes and the Q and A is approx 18 minutes.
At 33, with slightly greying hair, Maajid arrived dressed in very British-’mod’ attire: trousers and trench coat which harkened back to a 1960′s Beatles-look (particularly those pants.) And there seemed to be quite a few women (and men) who were in awe of Nawaz. Glowing smiles. Groupies almost. You could feel their quiet-eagerness awaiting his speech.
As for his presentation, Nawaz gave us a way-too-safe 3o minute biographical rehash of his life that can easily be read on-line. Perhaps some of this is necessary to ‘set the stage’, but other than his pointed criticism of Peter King ( he supports the committee but feels King was not the man to lead it and a wise-crack about Glenn Beck) to this observer, the teaser “Confronting Islamist Extremist Propaganda”, was barely addressed. Of the questions asked of Nawaz, the focus was on ‘The Narrative’. This was the magic-word of the evening “The Narrative”… over and over….
The audience was small, perhaps about 30, but this is an intimate space and isn’t meant for large gatherings. And since we observed the disappointment of a few tourists who wanted to enter the Memorial Preview site (the site was closed to the public at 5 pm rather than the usual 7 pm) perhaps they might have been invited-in (or not)…
A slide show with a few pictures of the Memorial Preview Site and the audience (after the presentation):
What was accomplished by inviting Maakid Nawaz to the Memorial site is unclear. It has been suggested that perhaps Maajid Nawaz’ appearance at the Memorial Preview Site should NOT have gone on without critical comment. They ask , “Should this be the purpose of the 9/11 Memorial.”
From G. Perry http://american-rattlesnake.org/
I’m going to admit right off the bat that I’ve only watched a third of the speech so far, but I’ve come to a few incipient observations.
First of all, thanks for the video. Regardless of what you think about the speaker, what happened during that event is important irrespective of what occurs in the future at Ground Zero. I’m glad I had the opportunity to view it, at least in part.
Secondly, as to whether or not he should be invited to speak at what’s sacred ground for so many Americans-especially New Yorkers-I don’t believe he should for a number of reasons not the least of which is that he has no existential connection to the families who lost loved ones on that day.
Theoretically, someone who’s been involved in jihadist violence could have something useful to say about combating his fellow “brothers.” Even so, I doubt the appropriate place for that person to speak is at a memorial to 2,800 people who were slain by adherents to the very same religion. That’s if you belive Maajid Nawaz is sincere, which is another question altogether.
I know it’s hard to infer people’s true beliefs based upon their speeches, and this problem is faced by a lot of Muslims or ex-Muslims who are ostensibly opposed to jihad or have renounced their previous anti-American, anti-Semitic stands, e.g. Walid Shoebat, Musab Yousef, among many others. However, after having listened to what Nawaz has to say, I’m not entirely convinced that he’s sincere.
The Quilliam Foundation is essentially a creature of the British government. I know they admit this when questioned, but I don’t think that many people who are casual observers realize that all of its funding sources derive, albeit indirectly, from the average UK taxpayer. Keep in mind, this is the same government that for decades sponsored official, “moderate Islamists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, e.g. The Muslim Council of Britain. They still sponsor these groups-once Abu Hamza was ejected from Finsbury the mosque was reopened under new management, that management being the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m not necessarily saying the two organizations are analogous, but it’s something to consider.
Plus, you have to consider the composition of this group’s staff:
It seems to be comprised primarily of Muslims who claim they’ve renounced a belief in Islamism, but don’t present much evidence that they’ve renounced their belief in violent jihad. A case in point is Noman Benotman-the fellow who’s been quoted in recent days in news stories proclaiming his insider knowledge of who’s going to replace UBL in Al Qaeda’s leadership. In other words, someone who’s supposedly ostracized himself completely from the jihadist subculture represented by Al Qaeda is still close enough to the situation to know who will succeed Osama Bin Laden. Either that, or he’s simply full of hot air-I opt for the latter explanation, but either way, it doesn’t paint a very flattering picture of Quilliam as an institution.
Check out this article from The New Republic a few years ago, which examined Mr. Benotman’s alleged break with AQ:
You’ll notice that he still justifies the jihad in Iraq. In other words, “resistance” against Americans who are “occupying” Arab-Muslim lands is perfectly legitimate. So blowing someone up with an IED or beheading them is okay if you happen to live in the Middle East, but verboten if you live in England. To describe that as a culturally relativist attitude is an understatement. Granted, his views might have changed in the past three years, but I haven’t found a quote from him in the intervening period disclaiming responsibility for the views he expressed to Peter Bergen in that article. Which isn’t to say that Nawaz holds the same views, but you have to assume they share some commonalities, since they are both on the board of directors of Quilliam.
Finally, the rest of the Quilliam fellows seem to be an ad hoc mixture of radical leftists who’ve written for such esteemed publications as Comment is Free-a bastion of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism-and Counterpunch, which is almost as bad. They seem to be primarily concerned with alleged right wing violence aimed at Muslim Britons-a point that Nawaz himself emphasized quite ineffectively during the portion of the speech I watched.
I suppose you have to address the BNP and Blood and Honour in order to maintain some street credibility with leftists, and the theme of racist nationalism and radical Islam being opposite poles is a recurring element in contemporary British culture-for example, it’s referred to repeatedly in one of my favorite English novels, White Teeth-but the amount of emphasis they place on this issue-and the fact that they assume that it is as dangerous as the creeping sharia found in the UK-makes question their true motivations. While I do believe that there can be true leftists who oppose Islamism on ideological grounds, I don’t believe that their contribution to this debate will be the decisive factor, and often times their philosophy occludes the issue. A perfect illustration of this phenomenon is Tarek Fatah, a committed Rousseauian and die-hard leftist who thinks the best way to combat the Muslim Brotherhood and like-minded organizations is to embrace the values of republican France.
I realize a lot of good people-Frank Gaffney among them-embrace this man, but I think his contribution to the debate is completely counterproductive, and his real views-which include a passionate enmity towards Israel-were exposed during a debate with Irshad Manji.
In short, I tend to agree with you on this subject. I’m not saying Maajid Nawaz is a complete fraud, but I also don’t believe his views have a place at the burial site for so many Americans who were murdered by Islam.
-good times, G. Perry http://american-rattlesnake.org/