Nawaz at West Hampstead, London hustings 2015
|Born||Maajid Usman Nawaz
November 2, 1978
|Occupation||Author · Founder of Quilliam · Liberal Democrat Politician|
|Education||Law and Arabic (B.A 2007)
Political Theory (M.Sc. 2008)
|Alma mater||SOAS, University of London
London School of Economics
|Subject||Islamism · Liberalism|
|Spouse||Rabia Ahmed (m. 1999–2008)
Rachel Maggart (m. 2014)
Maajid Usman Nawaz (Urdu: ماجد نواز, [ˈmaːdʒɪd̪ naːwa:z], born 2 November 1978) is a British activist, author and politician. He was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for London's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in the 2015 General Election. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists.
Nawaz is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. This association led to his arrest in Egypt in December 2001, where he remained imprisoned until 2006. Reading books on Human Rights and interacting with Amnesty International, which adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, resulted in a change of heart. This led Nawaz to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounce his Islamist past and call for a "Secular Islam".
After his turnaround, Nawaz co-founded Quilliam with former radical Islamists, including Ed Husain. He documented his life story in his Amazon bestselling autobiography Radical (2012). Since then, he has risen to become a prominent critic of Islamism in the United Kingdom. He is a regular op-ed contributor, debater and public commenter, and has spoken from various international platforms including the TED conference. He presented his views on radicalisation in front of US Senate Committee and UK Home Affairs Committee in their respective inquiries on the roots of radical extremism.
Nawaz is proficient in three languages: English, Urdu and Arabic. His writings have been published in various newspapers including New York Times, The Guardian, Financial Times, Daily Mail and Wall Street Journal. He has made appearances on programmes including, but not limited to, Larry King Live, BBC Hard Talk, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes, Newsnight and Real Time with Bill Maher. He has delivered lectures at LSE and University of Liverpool, and has given talks at UK Defence Academy and Marshall Center for Security Studies.
In June 2014, Nawaz became an honorary associate of the National Secular Society which was founded in 1866. His next book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, is a collaboration with neuroscientist Sam Harris and is due to be published in October 2015.
|“||What is Islamism? Islam is a religion; Islamism is the desire to impose any version of that religion on society. It’s the politicisation of my own religion. What is Jihadism? The use of force to spread Islamism.||”|
— Maajid Nawaz 
- 1 Early years
- 2 Views
- 3 Islamist activism
- 4 Counter-extremist activism
- 5 Political career
- 6 Controversies
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 References
Nawaz was born in Essex, England to parents of Pakistani origin. His mother, Abi, is described as a literature-loving liberal woman whose family moved to Southend, England when she was nine. His father, Mo, is an electrical engineer who once worked for Pakistan Navy, but had to leave on medical grounds after he contracted Tuberculosis. Mo later worked in Dewan Group in Islamabad, Pakistan where he won a court case against his employer, Dewan, which had banned trade unions. After moving to UK, Mo worked at an oil company in Libya, and frequented between Libya and UK till his retirement. Maajid has an elder brother and a younger sister. In his memoir, Radical, he uses the pseudonym Osman to denote his brother.
Nawaz studied Law and Arabic at the SOAS, University of London. Later, he earned his master's degree in Political Theory from London School of Economics. At the age of 21, he married Rabia Ahmed, then a fellow Hizb ut-Tahrir activist and a biology student; they have a son named Ammar, named after Muhammad's companion Ammar ibn Yasir. On Nawaz's decision to leave Hizb ut-Tahrir, they separated and divorced.
Security and Human Rights
Nawaz has opposed racial profiling of Muslims, extrajudicial detention of terror suspects, torture, targeted killings and drone strikes. Nawaz also opposed the Terrorism Act 2000, under which he was himself once detained, and called for universal Right to Legal Representation and Right to Silence in all cases, and for all suspects. In a talk given at Marshall European Center for Security Studies, he suggested a revisit of UK Government's historical approach to deal with terrorism, and called for a more nuanced response to tackling the ideology of Islamism without breaching fundamental liberties of citizens. According to him, security should never debase citizens of their civil liberties.
Nawaz was among the 12 advisers to UK Government who, in 2009, wrote an open letter to the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him to hold Israel accountable for its attacks on Gaza. He also opposes Hamas which he considers a terrorist organisation.
Dealing with extremism
In an article for Financial Times, Nawaz argues that Jihadism is no longer dependent on organisations because it has become a brand, and brands generate followers without the need for leadership. He argues that just like Britain invests in early intervention campaigns in areas like drug abuse and sexual health, extremism should be challenged at a stage before it morphs into terrorism. According to him, we must build a competing brand by adhering to our own values and visibly distinguishing our actions from those of the extremists. He warned against the illiberal approach of seeking new powers to intercept communications, or banning non-violent groups, and asserted that liberalism will kill totalitarianism softly, not by mimicking it. He advocates a civil society push back against extremism, just like it was done against racism and homophobia, by seeding grass-roots initiatives and making extremist narratives a taboo.
Islamism, radicalisation and deradicalisation
In Nawaz's view, we are moving from an era of Nation-States and Globalisation, where identity is defined by national allegiances and citizenship, to an "Age of Behaviour" where behaviour is shaped by transnational ideas, narratives and allegiances.
Nawaz notes how all transnational social movements of today, whether European Neo-fascism or Islamism, are extremist in nature, and democracy aspirants all over the world are left behind. He criticises the idea of political correctness, and the hesitation of democrats in asserting the universality of democratic norms. He also points to the political failure of many states in the Muslim world as a contributing factor. According to him, there is absence of democratic choice in many Muslim-majority countries which means their democratic parties often find themselves competing with non-democratic parties (theocratic parties, military-backed parties etc). And the political failure of a democratic party is taken as a failure of Democracy itself.
- Ideas: Idea is the cause in which one believes e.g. the establishment of a global caliphate.
- Narratives: Narrative is the propaganda technique employed to sell that idea e.g. the narrative of West being at war with Islam.
- Symbols: Symbols denote iconography, flags, the logos, attires, congregations etc.
- Leaders: Leaders are the people that come to symbolise what the struggle means.
In his article for the Daily Mail, Nawaz notes how self-segregation has created Muslim communities in London where third-generation teens are growing up without having any non-Muslim friends, or friends from the opposite sex. He notes how their lives revolve around faith schools, mosque, Islamic extracurricular activities and cultural events involving members of the Muslim community only. Without any exposure to the complexities of modern life, he argues, such teens are susceptible to simplistic worldviews and dogma. On an individual level, Nawaz maps a person's path to radicalisation with four key stages: grievances, identity crisis, charismatic recruiter and ideology. It begins with a sense of real or perceived grievances, which leads to an identity crisis. This condition is then capitalised on by a recruiter from an organisation who lays out the ideology as a solution to that individual's alienation.
As a solution, Nawaz suggests building of global youth-led democratic movements that are above politics, and that build demand for democracy at the civilisational level. He notes that while Islamists offer a full package to the Muslim youth, the democrats of the Muslim world offer nothing: there is nothing to dream, no democratic leaders to follow and no democratic symbolism to admire. He cites Malala Yousafzai as a successful symbol of democracy and women's rights, but stresses the need for more such symbols which young Muslims can look up to.
Definition of Islamism
Nawaz defines Islamism as a desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society. He notes that Islamism, like Communism before it, comes in different shades: organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood who want to work within democratic set up to further their agenda; groups like Hizb ut Tahrir which are revolutionary in nature and seek power through military coups; militant groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS who engage in direct violence. He also differentiates Islamism from conservative Islam, with the former having political ambitions.
Free Speech and Blasphemy
In his essay On Blasphemy, Nawaz notes that all prophets and reformers blasphemed against the existing orders of their time, and that heresy is the only guarantee of progress. He lamented the revival of the atmosphere of blasphemy, and the neo-orientalist unwillingness to defend the ideals of free speech. He also criticised the term Islamophobia which, according to him, is a muzzle on free speech and deployed as a shield against genuine criticism.
Nawaz criticised Ed Miliband's UK elections campaign promise of "banning Islamophobia". At the Liberal Democrats Conference in Liverpool in 2015, he moved a motion in favour of free expression which was accepted by the house. He published a video blog in support of jailed Saudi liberal blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to imprisonment and 1000 lashes by Saudi Government. Owing to his stance on free speech, Nawaz opposes ban on Islamist organisations like Hizb ut Tahrir, and insists that their ideas should be challenged and refuted without silencing their voices. He advocates a doctrine of "legal tolerance, civic intolerance" in dealing with such issues.
In the same essay which he wrote for CentreForum, Nawaz criticised cultural relativism for entrenching unhealthy taboos in U.K. just to appease the community heads. He cites the 1993 attempt by London Borough of Brent to make Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) legal among African communities, just because it was "their tradition". Although a local councillor, Ann John, was able to oppose this motion, but the subsequent torrent of abuse and threats she received created an atmosphere of fear. In that atmosphere, victims of FGM became reluctant to come out and, as a result, Britain is yet to witness a single conviction for this crime.
He also blamed misguided multicultural policies of the 90s for creating "monocultural ghettos". According to him, those policies allowed unelected community leaders to speak for the rest of the community, shutting out the voices of minorities-within-minorities. Liberalism, he wrote, should seek out the individual, not the stereotype of the community he belongs to. In one of his columns, columnist Nick Cohen quoted Nawaz's candidly worded critique of the far-left's role in silencing the voices of minority-within-minority:
|“||Ok far-lefty fellow-travellers of Islamism, I'm a state-school, brown, stabbed-at-by-neo-Nazis, falsely arrested at gunpoint by Essex police, Muslim, divorced, estranged from his child, ex-Islamist, tortured ex-prisoner who's been mandatorily profiled & DNA’d under schedule 7 at Heathrow airport & blacklisted from countries. I am every grievance you harp on about. And yet your first-world bourgeois brains malfunction because I'm not spewing hate & fitting in your little angry Muslim box. Are you feeling slightly privileged yet?||”|
Nationalism and far-right movements
According to Nawaz, nationalism hinders the fight against Islamist extremism, and democratic states must adopt a transnational outlook to combat this challenge. He also termed nationalism a corrosive ideology that led to two World Wars, and advocates a citizenship model for states which is based on allegiance, instead of race or religion.
Nawaz is also a critic of far-right movements that have emerged in Europe, and accuses them of harboring disdain for ordinary Muslims. According to him, far-right xenophobes and Islamists agree upon on thing: the impossibility of Muslim and non-Muslim cohabitation in Europe. As a solution, he proposes the assertion of liberalism which can shine through the fogs of these extremes.
Association with Hizb ut-Tahrir
|Part of a series on|
Nawaz cites racism whilst growing up, whether from classmates, C18 gangs or the police, and feeling divided between his Pakistani and British identities as important factors in his struggle to find his own identity.
His elder brother, fictitiously named as Osman, was recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir by Nasim Ghani, who would later become the UK leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Osman subsequently persuaded Nawaz to attend HT meetings held in Southend homes. At those meetings, recruits were shown videos that depicted European Muslims being massacred in Bosnia. With his identity crisis lurking in the background, these videos became the catalyst for Nawaz's formal recruitment in the HT.
While a student at Newham College, and then at SOAS, Nawaz quickly rose through the ranks. By the age of 17, he was recruiting students from Cambridge University, and by 19, he was on the national leadership of HT in United Kingdom. He became a national speaker and an international recruiter for Hizb ut-Tahrir, travelling to Pakistan and Denmark to further party's ideology and set up organisational cells.
Imprisonment in Egypt
As part of his bachelor's degree in Law and Arabic, Nawaz spent a compulsory year abroad in Egypt, arriving just one day before the 9/11 attacks took place. Since political Islamist organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir were banned in Egypt, Nawaz was arrested and interrogated in Alexandria by the Egyptian security agency Aman al-Dawlah. Like most foreign prisoners, he was not subjected to torture, but faced the threat of torture while interrogation and witnessed other prisoners being tortured. He was then transferred with fellow foreign prisoners, including Ian Nisbet and Reza Pankhurst, to Mazrah Tora prison. There, he was put on trial and was sentenced to five years imprisonment. During the trial, he was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.
Disenchantment and exit from Hizb ut-Tahrir
Among the Jihadists were the members of terrorist organisation al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, and the assassins of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Among the Islamists, he met with Dr. Essam el-Erian, the spokesman of Muslim Brotherhood. He also held discussions with Mohammed Badie, who in his youth had smuggled the manuscripts of Syed Qutb's famous Islamist manual book Milestones out of prison, and made sure that it got published. Among Islamic Scholars, Nawaz continued his studies sitting with graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and Dar al-'Ulum. He specialised in the Arabic language whilst studying historical Muslim scholastics, sources of Islamic jurisprudence, Hadith historiography and the art of Qur'an recitation. He also committed half of the Qur'an to memory. On the liberal end of the spectrum, he befriended author and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. He also benefited from the company of imprisoned Egyptian politician Ayman Nour who was the head of the centre-liberal Tomorrow Party and a runner-up to 2006 Presidential Elections.
Departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir's world view came slowly and gradually. One of the reasons, as he describes, was the realisation that he was abusing his faith, Islam, for a mere political project, Islamism. And once the distinction between faith and ideology was clear, he no longer felt guilty for criticising a Political system inspired by medieval norms. In an interview to American state broadcaster National Public Radio, Nawaz explained how, other than the interactions in prison, George Orwell's novel Animal Farm played a major role in his turnaround.
|Part of a series on|
|Criticism of Islamism|
After leaving Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Nawaz founded and has remained involved with the Quilliam Foundation, the world's first counter-extremism think tank. As Director of Quilliam, Nawaz regularly attends events and conferences organised by government and security departments, think tanks, media houses, non-governmental organisations and academia.
Among events by government or security departments, Nawaz addressed the US Senate's Homeland Security Committee on the subject of Islamist extremism. He also spoke at the "Sovereign Challenge" conference organised by United States Special Operations Command where he emphasised the need to move beyond hard power, and look at new counter-radicalisation strategies. In 2010, he participated in Europol Conference on home-grown extremism. On youth radicalisation, Nawaz participated in a panel discussion titled "Engaging Youth" at the 2010 Google Zeitgeist event hosted by Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas. In the same year, he and his Quilliam partner Usama Hasan joined a panel discussion on "Youth Radicalization Redefined" at the Tribeca Film Festival held in New York City.
In Radio, Nawaz presented the Lent Talks on BBC Radio 4 in March 2010. On TV, he has appeared in several The Big Questions debates on human rights, religious rights and tolerance. In January 2009, he attended the Doha Debates alongside Shadi Hamid and other Muslim speakers to debate the threat of Political Islam to the West. In a debate organised by Intelligence Squared on the question "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?" he debated Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray. On campuses, he took part in Oxford Union debate on the topic "Dream the American Dream"; and Cambridge Union debate on "War on Terror Decade", highlighting the failures of War on Terror. In politics, Nawaz has held meetings with various heads of state including George W. Bush, and advised successive United Kingdom Prime Ministers from Tony Blair onwards.
In 2008, Nawaz published a video blog response to Syed Qutb's article Amrika allati Ra'aytu (The America That I Have Seen). In October 2014, The Daily Beast published the open letter Nawaz wrote to the fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, urging them to "quit while they can".
Role in resignation of EDL leaders
Nawaz played a major role in Tommy Robinson's exit from the far-right English Defence League (EDL), of which Robinson was the founder. He met Robinson in 2013 during the filming of a BBC documentary When Tommy met Mo, and subsequently met the EDL's co-leader, Kevin Carroll. Nawaz's personal story of turning back from Islamist extremism, and his counter-extremism work at Quilliam Foundation encouraged Robinson and Carroll to quit the EDL. Later, Robinson also apologised to Muslims for the fear caused by his EDL activism. The move was hailed by Quilliam as "a huge success in community relations in the United Kingdom", and a continuation of combating all kinds of extremism: Islamism and Neo-Nazism
Khudi foundation for Pakistan
He has co-founded an activist group in Pakistan, Khudi, using his knowledge of recruitment tactics in order to combat extremism. The described aim of Khudi is to reach out to Muslims and challenge the Islamist narrative, which is: West and non-Muslim states are out to crush Islam and Muslims will only be safe in a Caliphate. In January 2014, he stepped down from Khudi because his candidacy for UK Parliament was "incompatible with vision and objectives of Khudi".
In 2009, with BBC Newsnight crew and security team, Nawaz embarked on a counter-extremism tour, speaking at over 22 universities and recruiting students all over Pakistan. In 2010, he wrote a series of articles for Pakistani English daily The Express Tribune as part of this campaign.
In 2011, Nawaz was spotted by the publishing director of Ebury Publishing at the TED stage during his talk A Global Culture to Fight Extremism who became enthused about getting his story out. This resulted in the publication in July 2012 of his autobiography Radical by Ebury's imprint W.H. Allen. The US version, Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism, was published by Lyons Press in October 2013 with a preface for U.S. readers and an updated epilogue.
Liberal Democrat candidate
With the delegation of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (of which Maajid is not a member) he visited both sides of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In September 2013, Nawaz and his Camden District team was given the Dadabhai Naoroji Award for support and promotion of BAME (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic groups) party members. The award was presented by party MP Tim Farron. In the same year, he was included in the Daily Telegraph's list of 50 most influential Liberal Democrats. In July 2015, Nawaz moderated the LibDem hustings between contenders Tim Farron and Norman Lamb on the topic "Liberalism, Free speech and Extremism".
In January 2014, after an appearance on The Big Questions TV series, Nawaz tweeted about the individual Jesus and Mo cartoon, including a reproduction of the artwork. which was briefly banned by the authorities at the London School of Economics in late 2013. Of the cartoons (Jesus: "Hey"; Muhammad: "How ya doing?") which he reproduced he typed: "This is not offensive & I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it." As a result, Nawaz received death threats from Islamist activists. George Galloway, the Respect MP, called on Muslims, via a tweet, not to vote for the Liberal Democrats while Nawaz is one of their candidates. By 24 January 2014, a petition to the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (reportedly organised by the Liberal Democrat activist Mohammed Shafiq) demanding that Nawaz should be removed as the party's parliamentary candidate had received 20,000 signatures. Petition organisers though have denied a connection to Shafiq and have condemned the incitement to murder.
On 26 January, Nick Clegg defended Nawaz's right to free expression and said that the death threats are "unacceptable".
In April 2015, the Daily Mail reported that Nawaz, who has often spoken up for women's rights, had been filmed in a strip club. The club's owner, Abdul Malik, told the Mail that he wanted to publicise the CCTV footage as Nawaz had represented himself as a “spokesman for Islam” yet, he said, visited the club during the month of Ramadan. Nawaz has said that the filmed event took place during his stag night prior to his wedding; he also questioned the timing of the CCTV footage, taken at the Charlie’s Angels strip club in East London in July 2014, being leaked so close to the 2015 election. The publicising of the CCTV footage led to death threats against Nawaz by ISIS extremists. Nawaz apologised for causing offence to fellow Muslims, but defended himself against accusations of hypocrisy: “I never describe myself as a representative of Muslims in media, and speak as a liberal, who happens to be a non-devout Muslim, with a unique experience and insight into Islamist extremism."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Maajid Nawaz.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Maajid Nawaz|
- Nawaz Personal Website
- Maajid Nawaz on Twitter
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- Anna Dubuis; Sebastian Mann (15 April 2015). "Maajid Nawaz sent death threats by ISIS and installs panic alarm at home because of lap dance CCTV". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
- RICHARD OSLEY (14 April 2015). "Lib Dem candidate Maajid Nawaz breaks silence over strip club visit: 'Moral uproar should be for stoning deaths, not lap-dancing'". Camden New Journal. Retrieved 15 April 2015.