Friday, February 5, 2016

QUOTABLE: Maajid Nawaz on challenging Islamist narratives

Thursday, February 4th 2016

Quilliam Foundation
“. . . it makes the problem WORSE if we don’t name Islamist extremism. Because actually in doing so we’re blurring the lines between Islam and its extremist offshoot,” said British activist, blogger, columnist, and politican Maajid Nawaz in an interview program, “The Drum,” on the Australian Broadcasting Network on January 25, 2016.  He was interviewed by John Barron and members of the studio audience.  The transcript was provided by the Quilliam Foundation, of which Nawaz is the Founding Chairman.  Here are a few key points:

  • MN: I think the MOST important thing is to distinguish Islam as a religion which is as diverse and as internally pluralistic as any other religion across the world – from Islamist extremism, which I define in one sentence as “the desire to impose any version on Islam over society”. We’ve GOT to make that distinction and by doing so we automatically disarm those on the Right Wing who say all Muslims are extremists, but we also empower reform Muslim voices from within Muslim communities who are attempting to hold this conversation and are attempting to do two things: isolate Islamist extremism from their faith as they understand it, and also reform some of the traditional practices within their communities, for example on women’s issues or what have you. So that’s crucial, and I think the mistake we’ve made, that President Obama I believe has made, is that in not naming this, we undermine to reform voices within Muslim communities.

  • JB: So that’s a big debate in the United States now, not to talk about “radical Islam”, but to talk about “violent extremism” to take the word “Islam” or “Muslim” out of it. Done, with good intentions, no doubt –

  • MN: Absolutely, umm those intentions are noble . . . . they are laudable concerns, but actually it makes the problem WORSE if we don’t name Islamist extremism. Because actually in doing so we’re blurring the lines between Islam and its extremist offshoot.

  • MN: . . . . . There’s a half-truth to the Islamist narrative, and that – it plays on real events in geo-politics to breed a sense of anger and victimhood within young angry Muslims – which has half a truth to it, so it’s difficult to refute. Now, of course the problem with this narrative if it’s deliberately manipulative so in the case of Bosnia you’re right, the anger was “we’re not intervening and standing by while a genocide was unfolding”, but in other instances where Western governments and the international community have tried to intervene, Islamists have spun it as Colonialism. And that’s why the real solution to this ultimately can never come through guns and bombs and war and invasions, it can only come by challenging that narrative through civil society, and we as Western societies have done that with racism in the past, we ‘ve done it with homophobia, we’ve done it with women’s rights.

  • MN: Everybody. You don’t have to be black to challenge racism, you don’t have to be gay to challenge homophobia – you don’t have to be Muslim to challenge Islamist theocracy. Everyone has a role in society, this is a whole of society campaign. We need a civil society movement – as we had with racism and homophobia to deal with and fix this question of unsuccessful integration – that is a two way street (Western governments have failed at this as well) – ahh and to fix this question of the rising theocratic trend within certain elements of Muslim communities that we witness in its worst form in the form of violence. All of us have to be involved.

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