Quilliam (think tank)
|Founder||Ed Husain, Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali|
|Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali, Haras Rafiq|
|Slogan||Challenging Extremism, Promoting Pluralism, Inspiring Change|
Quilliam is a London-based think tank that focuses on counter-extremism, specifically against Islamism, which it argues represents a desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam on society. Founded as The Quilliam Foundation, it lobbies government and public institutions for more nuanced policies regarding Islam and on the need for greater democracy in the Muslim world whilst empowering moderate Muslim voices.
According to one of its co-founders, Maajid Nawaz, "We wish to raise awareness around Islamism"; he also said, "I want to demonstrate how the Islamist ideology is incompatible with Islam. Secondly … develop a Western Islam that is at home in Britain and in Europe … reverse radicalisation by taking on their arguments and countering them."
The organisation opposes any Islamist ideology and champions freedom of expression. The critique of Islamist ideology by its founders, Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali and Ed Husain, is based, in part, on their personal experiences.
- 1 Foundation
- 2 Terminology
- 3 Objectives and impact
- 4 Youth Movement
- 5 Criticism
- 6 Funding
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Quilliam was established in 2007 by Ed Husain, Maajid Nawaz and Rashad Zaman Ali, three former members of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Husain left in 2011 to join the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The organisation was named after William Quilliam, a controversial 19th-century British convert to Islam who founded Britain's first mosque. He argued for a global Caliphate and swore allegiance to the Ottoman Empire. The organisation was originally called The Quilliam Foundation, but later rebranded as simply Quilliam.
Quilliam defines Islamism in the following terms:
It is the belief that Islam is a political ideology, as well as a faith. It is a modernist claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that the Shari'ah should be used as state law, that Muslims form a political rather than a religious bloc around the world and that it is a religious duty for all Muslims to create a political entity that is governed as such. Islamism is a spectrum, with Islamists disagreeing over how they should bring their ‘Islamic’ state into existence.
Some Islamists seek to engage with existing political systems, others reject the existing systems as illegitimate but do so non-violently, and others seek to create an 'Islamic state' through violence. Most Islamists are socially modern but others advocate a more retrograde lifestyle. Islamists often have contempt for Muslim scholars and sages and their traditional institutions; as well as a disdain for non-Islamist Muslims and the West.
Quilliam argues that "[Islamists] are extreme because of their rigidity in understanding politics".
Objectives and impact
At the time of its launch Quilliam published a policy proposal for the British government and journalists, in which it suggested that rehabilitation centres should be established where extremists could be deradicalised. These centres would expose extremists and terrorists who wished to leave their organisations to the work of scholars whose work had been recognized as sound and legitimate. There is more recent information about Quilliam's goals available on its website. For example:
Challenging extremism is the duty of all responsible members of society. Not least because cultural insularity and extremism are products of the failures of wider society to foster a shared sense of belonging and to advance liberal democratic values. With Islamist extremism in particular, we believe a more self-critical approach must be adopted by Muslims. Westophobic ideological influences and social insularity needs to be challenged within Muslim communities by Muslims themselves whilst simultaneously, an active drive towards creating an inclusive civic identity must be pursued by all members of society.
Quilliam seeks to challenge what we think, and the way we think. It aims to generate creative, informed and inclusive discussions to counter the ideological underpinnings of terrorism, whilst simultaneously providing evidence-based recommendations to governments for related policy measures.
To date, the organization's goals have been mainly communicated in three ways: through the publication of reports, through involvement with the media, i.e. by taking part in interviews and discussions across Europe and the Middle East, and through its "Outreach and Training" unit, which delivers a "radicalisation awareness programme". This programme provides a training course intended to develop students' understanding of the following:
- The difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as a radicalising political ideology which justifies violence;
- The different pathways into radicalisation;
- A detailed explanation of the process of radicalisation, the key causes of it and how it manifests itself;
- A thorough understanding of Islamist paradigms and extremists' propaganda;
- An exposition of the political narrative and manipulation of grievances which are exploited and used to groom vulnerable individuals;
- The cultivation of a climate which provides support for political violence;
- Explanation of the contextual nature of Islamist political ideas – as a modern and totalitarian manipulation of traditional religious ideas;[clarification needed]
- A comprehensive ideological and theological refutation of Islamist thought, providing a counter-narrative for those who need to engage directly.
Condemnation of the 2008 Gaza War
On 30 December 2008, just days after the outbreak of the Gaza War, Ed Husain condemned the "ruthless air strikes and economic blockade" of Gaza city by Israel. He predicted that the result would be "rightful support for the beleaguered Palestinian peoples – and a boost to the popularity of Hamas by default".
Challenging Dutch politician Geert Wilders
In February and October 2009, Quilliam publicly confronted the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, arguing that "Geert Wilders is undoubtedly an ill-informed, hate-driven bigot with many unpleasant views but he is not directly inciting violence. … We therefore challenge Geert Wilders to an open debate in which we will argue that Islam is compatible with secular democracy and that, contrary to what he apparently believes, Muslims are not a threat to Europe and its values."
The hijab and burqa
Quilliam supports the right of women to wear the hijab and the right of women to take it off. In a commentary in The Sun, Maajid Nawaz stated: "If Muslims object to the French ban on the hijab, we must also object to the 'Islamist' plan to impose the hijab and ban women uncovering their hair."  Quilliam has also defended the right of women to wear the full-face veil, in the form of the niqab or the burqa.
Leaked report on the UK government's "Prevent" strategy
On 14 June 2010, a strategic briefing paper with a covering letter signed by Maajid Nawaz and Ed Hussain was sent to Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT). The briefing paper was intended to be a confidential review of the UK government's anti-terrorism "Prevent" strategy following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, and was "particularly critical of the view that government partnerships with non-violent yet otherwise extreme Islamists were the best way to fend off Jihadism". Although sent "by hard copy alone" with no electronic version, both letter and briefing paper were leaked by being scanned and published on the internet, provoking protests from various groups which had been identified in the Quilliam briefing as sympathetic or supportive of Islamist extremism.
Quilliam’s report claimed that a unit within Scotland Yard called the Muslim Contact Unit, and a separate independent group called the Muslim Safety Forum, intended to improve the relationship between the police and the Muslim community, were respectively "Islamist-dominated" and "associated with Jamaat e-Islami". Other organisations listed by the Quilliam report included the Muslim Council of Britain and its rival the Muslim Association of Britain, both said to be "associated with the Muslim brotherhood". Also said to have Islamist sympathies or to be associated with Islamist groups were the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Cordoba Foundation, and the Islam Channel.
The report said of these organisations: "These are a selection of the various groups and institutions active in the UK which are broadly sympathetic to Islamism. Whilst only a small proportion will agree with al-Qaida's tactics, many will agree with their overall goal of creating a single 'Islamic state' which would bring together all Muslims around the world under a single government and then impose on them a single interpretation of sharia as state law."
Inayat Bunglawala, chairman of Muslims4Uk and a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, and Fatima Khan, vice-chair of the Muslim Safety Forum, both described Quilliam's list as "McCarthyite". Bunglawala added: "In effect, Quilliam – a body funded very generously by the government through Prevent – are attempting to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and is not an acceptable Muslim."
A Home Office spokesman told the press that the report had not been solicited, but added: "We believe the Prevent programme isn't working as effectively as it could and want a strategy that is effective and properly focused – that is why we are reviewing it."
Maajid Nawaz told The Daily Telegraph: "Quilliam has a track record of distinguishing between legal tolerance and civil tolerance – we oppose banning non-violent extremists … yet we see no reason why tax payers should subsidise them. It is in this context that we wish to raise awareness around Islamism." 
Speech by David Cameron in Munich, February 2011
Maajid Nawaz describes in his book Radical a meeting that he had with the British prime minister, David Cameron, when he was called in to advise Cameron on a speech "distinguishing Islam from Islamism and extremism". According to Nawaz, he presented Cameron with a "comparison between extremism and racism. I had argued that the two should be analogous in terms of public response. Why should extremist views, which went against basic liberties, be any more acceptable than racist or homophobic ones? I told Cameron that he shouldn't be afraid to criticise Muslims who were putting forward extremist views in the name of faith. There was a difference between holding these views and religious piety."
In February 2011, David Cameron accordingly made a speech in Munich in which he criticised "state multiculturalism", saying, "Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism ... Let's properly judge these [Muslim] organisations: Do they believe in universal human rights - including for women and people of other faiths? Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separatism?"
In a debate with Nawaz, Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman described the speech as being "as inflammatory as it was superficial", since Cameron proceeded to "blame the rise of Islamist-inspired violence in the UK on 'segregated communities', 'the doctrine of state multiculturalism' and 'the passive tolerance of recent years'." Hasan concluded by saying that "the most egregious aspect of the Prime Minister’s now-notorious address was his enthusiastic endorsement of the so-called 'conveyor belt' theory of radicalisation, which states that young Muslims start off alienated and angry, slowly become more religious and politicised, and then almost automatically turn to violence and terror."
Nawaz conceded that "raising multiculturalism in the speech was an unnecessary distraction". However, he considered it a positive step that Cameron had highlighted the problem of "non-violent extremism", which "may not pose a physical threat but", he continued, "that doesn't mean it is not a challenge requiring a robust policy response. Casual racism in society poses no direct physical threat, but we can all recognise that where it spreads unchecked, without a civic challenge, it is an unhealthy phenomenon. Islamism – which can advocate anti-democratic views, divisive sectarianism and ideas that discriminate on grounds of gender and sexuality – is analogous in this respect to racism. This does not mean we ban such ideas, but it does mean that, as with racism, we require a popular civil society approach in challenging them." Nawaz agreed that "there is no conclusive evidence that extremism is a 'conveyor belt' to terrorism, just as there is inconclusive evidence to the contrary". He added: "To become a jihadist terrorist, one first becomes an Islamist, though not all Islamists will go on to violence. Joining militant racist groups like Combat 18 seems unlikely if one is not first exposed to a level of racist rhetoric." He concluded by saying that the conveyor belt theory "is a red herring. Whether or not there is a 'conveyor belt', we must surely agree that the spread of extremism in societies is unhealthy for integration in its own right."
Resignation of English Defence League leadership
On 8 October 2013, it was announced that the co-founders of the anti-Islamist English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, had had meetings with Quilliam and intended to leave the EDL. Robinson said that street protests were "no longer effective" and "acknowledged the dangers of far-right extremism". However, he also said that he intended to continue to combat radical Islamism by forming a new party. Both Robinson and Carroll began taking lessons in Islam from Quilliam member Usama Hasan, and stated their intention to train in lobbying institutions.
Quilliam had previously persuaded another member of the EDL, Nick Jode, to leave the EDL. Jode had been persuaded by the writings and on-line videos of Maajid Nawaz speaking on behalf of Quilliam, being particularly impressed by Nawaz's debate with Anjem Choudary of the Islamist group Islam4UK.
Passionate Quilliam members such as Haydar Zaki promote a message of peace to universities, through the Right2Debate campaign, focussing on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but disapproving of extremism apologia.
We represent a cross section of the Muslim community, and reject the simplistic narrative about the dangers of Islamism espoused by the Quilliam Foundation ... We believe this is just another establishment-backed attempt to divert attention from the main cause of radicalisation and extremism in Britain: the UK's disastrous foreign policy in the Muslim world, including its occupation of Muslim lands and its support for pro-western Muslim dictators. The foundation has no proven grassroots support within the Muslim community, although it does seem to have the ear of the powers that be, probably because it is telling them what they want to hear.
It is quite possible to be a politically engaged Muslim without wanting to fly planes into tall buildings. Yet the [Quilliam] foundation equates all forms of political Islam with extremism and terrorism. But those misguided few who are willing to cross the line into terrorism are not driven by disfranchisement or Sayyid Qutb's writings; they do it because they are furious about western foreign policy.
Maajid Nawaz has since answered the charge that Quilliam ignores the impact of the UK's foreign policy:
I have attempted to strike a balance between the two extremes of the neoconservative right, which tends to blame Islam itself for an increase in Islamist-led violence, and the regressive left, which tends to blame only foreign or domestic western government policy. The fact is that human beings are complicated animals. Unlike water, we don’t all boil at 100° Celsius. No catch-all cause of extremism can be identified. It is best to approach this subject with some general principles in mind that inevitably contribute to the phenomenon – grievances, identity crises, charismatic recruiters and ideological narratives.
When Quilliam's Ed Husain was alleged to have recommended spying on Islamists unsuspected of any crimes, Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Robert Lambert wrote in The Guardian:
Charles Moore and Dean Godson of Policy Exchange, have explained that this is a re-make of a 1980s Thatcherite counter-subversion strategy in which Husain is cast in the role of Frank Chapple the 'moderate' trade union leader who was, they suggest, used to discredit and undermine the 'extremist' miner's trade union leader Arthur Scargill. Husain, they argue, can help defeat Altikriti, Bungalwala and their colleagues in the same way.
Quilliam responded with a press release, which stated:
Quilliam does not support indiscriminate 'mass spying' on British Muslims nor a 'police state'. Ordinary Muslims are our first line of defence against Islamist terrorism and our allies against extremists. We condemn any efforts to conduct mass spying operations on innocent Muslims through the Government’s Prevent programme.
In 2015, at Medium.com, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed criticised the UK government's support of Quilliam and the Henry Jackson Society and alleged that Quilliam has close connections with the anti-Islamic conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney and Haras Rafiq, former head of the Sufi Muslim Council. Ahmed claims that the think tank is allied too closely with anti-Islamic conspiracy theorists and hate groups, and links this with the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, and Trump's recent[update] proposals to impose a mandatory ban on all Muslim immigration into the United States.
In January 2009, The Times published an article claiming that Quilliam had received almost £1 million from the British government. The article also said that some "members of the Government and the Opposition" had questioned the wisdom of "relying too heavily on a relatively unknown organisation … to counter extremism". Quilliam openly acknowledges the funding that it receives from the public sector, and has made its financial records publicly available.
Since 2011, Quilliam has not received government, i.e. "public", funding. In the BBC programme HARDtalk, Nawaz explained that "the reason it was cut was because we disagreed at the time with the direction the government was headed. Now that the strategy has changed, and the policy of government has changed, what we haven't done is revitalize those funding relationships; but rather now we're 100% privately funded, which I'm happy with because of course it allows me to do the work without having to face the questions about which government is funding you and whether we're pursuing a government line or not."
With the sudden cut in 2011, Quilliam operated at a loss that year. However, after it had cut half of its staff – including Ed Husain, who left when he secured a job with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York – and cut back on its expenses, The Guardian reported that Quilliam "was just about able to make it into the red again in the following year".
According to its political liaison officer, Jonathan Russell, the removal of public funding has been to Quilliam's advantage, as "it can remain ideas-focused, non-partisan and continue its own pursuits. Quilliam's ideas, projects and output are all made possible by the support of private donations from Muslim and non-Muslim individuals and foundations based in the United Kingdom and all around the world."
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