LibLink: Maajid Nawaz … Parliament needs an Arabic-speaking liberal like me

maajid-navazThe Ham & High has been interviewing Maajid Nawaz, PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn, which is the country’s most marginal seat – and a three-way contest at that.

The article begins by describing the time when he was a recuiting officer for Hizb ut-Tahrir, then imprisoned in Egypt  and adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. His subsequent transformation into a campaigner for counter-extremism through his think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, has not been without controversy, but Liberal Democrats have taken him to their hearts.

In the interview Maajid says:

How great would it be to have the first parliamentarian in this country who has been a Bush era, ‘War on Terror’ political prisoner who speaks fluent Arabic.

No other parliamentarian does, yet we’re all over the Middle East. I speak Urdu and therefore can communicate with the south Asian communities as well.

My mother tongue is English and I will stand there in parliament as an example of how this society can embrace people who rejected it before.

From his unique perspective (at least, unique amongst Lib Dem candidates) he says:

What I’m hoping is when you’re seeing [me in the press] you’re thinking, ‘My God, I’m concerned about these things, as he is, because I just voted religious and ethnic strife as one of the biggest issues in the country. Here’s a guy who’s addressing all this.’

So what I’m hoping is that people will vote around issues in this constituency and not parties.

That’s how we are going to try and win.

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  • David Faggiani 9th Feb '15 - 2:37pm

    Whenever I see Mr Nawaz speak, or read one of his pieces, I always think about the old saying that no religious believer is more zealous than the convert.

    Hampstead and Kilburn will be fascinating to watch.

  • matt (Bristol) 9th Feb '15 - 3:06pm

    He is impressive; I do wonder if he has taken too many pot-shots at too many sacred cows to be inoffensive enough to enough people to get elected, even were the wind with him, which in this election one feels it won’t be… (does that make sense?)

  • Not wanting to turn this into a Maajid fan club meeting, but I have heard few people speak with such a clear view of Liberalism. His recent Centre Forum essay is superb.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Feb '15 - 5:16pm

    I wish that I lived in Hampstead and Kilburn so that I could vote for Maajid. He is such an exciting candidate.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Feb '15 - 7:12pm

    Maajid goes down well with secular liberals. However, I wonder how well he goes down with Muslims? For me, it’s important for a Muslim Liberal Democrat who claims to be a liberal and also a Muslim, to connect with the various Muslim communities actually living and practising their faith in the country. How well does he do this I wonder?

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Feb '15 - 9:17pm

    I listened to Maajid the other week on a special, ‘party candidates’ version of Any Questions. He was simply head and shoulders above everyone else and would also put most of our MP’s to shame in his articulation of the values of Liberal Democracy.
    Great candidate and a clever dick multi-linguist to boot!
    Wishing you every success Maajid.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Feb '15 - 10:28am

    @ Helen Tedcastle,
    I would imagine that Maajid would go down very well with some individuals within those communities and badly with others.

    The Muslims of my acquaintance would be thankful that someone like Maajid has the bravery to speak up for them. I dare say that makes them the ‘wrong sort’ of Muslims in the eyes of those who want to exercise control over what they think and say.

  • In response to the comment about muslims,

    Muslims don’t need a spokesperson within the liberal Democrats. Most have the same concerns as everyone else eg good health, affordable housing, making work pay. Setting aside issues more appropriate for theologians, what muslims can offer is alternative ways of looking at things like different ways of financing, faith in foreign affairs and broadening trade. In response, muslim liberal Democrats don’t need one Maajid, but more muslims breaking through in their local communities with lib dems offering the same support, guidance and sensitivity – this is especially the case for the latent muslim women who want to become more active locally but don’t have the confidence often.

  • In Hampstead in 2010 we came third with 31% of the vote.

    There were just a handful of votes between Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates.

    Last year’s London Borough elections were not so encouraging but who knows what might happen? It would certainly be handy to have an Arabic speaker in the parliamentary party. It would also be helpful to get some of our MPs to speak like human beings but I think we will probably get an Arabic speaker first.

  • @Cllr Mark Wright

    > a kind of 21st century British Malcolm X character

    By any mean necessary? He wants violence against the white oppressor? He’s “never seen a sincere white man”? He’s going to be assassinated by people round him? He used to be addicted to drinking, drugs and extra-marital affairs?

    Maajid certainly isn’t a 21st century Malcolm X character, a most bizarre claim. His methods are in no way analogous to Malcolms, if they were, would you really be supporting him? Malcolm was no liberal, and whilst I admire his work (maybe more so Alex Haley’s), I’d rather have Maajid any day of the week.

    Get your hand outta my pocket!

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '15 - 12:12pm

    I agree with sfk. Maajid does not speak for muslims but for himself.

    @ Jayne Mansfield

    Maajid does not speak for muslims.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Feb '15 - 12:50pm

    Surely it is a mistake to think that members of any faith (or none) must or do think and act as monolithic blocs.

    Such a portrayal is not only illiberal and totally inaccurate but it leads to extremists being able to use such beliefs to peddle their views against believers, the wrong sort of believers and or non-believers as they deem appropriate.

    ‘Protestants are heretics’, ‘Catholics are all dangerous papists’, ‘Muslims must believe this’, ‘Non-believers are …’, it goes on and on down through the ages.

    What Maajid offers transcends religion(s) and should be welcomed in our party and in our wider society.

  • Helen, all political representatives, except the most vacuous proponents of machine politics, speak for themselves to some extent. And in any case, muslims aren’t some monolithic homogeneous blob that have to be spoken for by the most conventionally stereotypical candidate we can dig up. They form a community of diverse views who are part of the national conversation and who need representatives inside parliament to make sure that the wider political debate has all of their input. Parliament itself also needs figures who can make that conversation work in both directions.

    Regarding Maajid Nawaz himself, you might regard him as being unrepresentative of British muslims today and you might be right. But he’s been in the same sort of situation that thousands of British muslims who have radicalised in recent years now find themselves, and I personally hope that they will have the same opportunity to engage with society again in future.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Feb '15 - 1:00pm

    Helen Tedcastle
    “Maajid does not speak for muslims but for himself.”

    As far as I can see, Maajid doesn’t claim to speak “for Muslims”, and I see no reason why he should. (In fact, as he wants to be an MP he should be aiming to speak for all his constituents, where appropriate and as a Liberal Democrat candidate he should be speaking for Liberal Democrat policies and values.) For some reason, you seem to believe that because he is a Muslim he should speak “for Muslims”. Why? And how? Do you imagine that all Muslims think the same, or have a telepathic link that enables them to know what all the others are thinking?

  • A good bloke. I like him. Some people just seem to think Muslim Brits should be represented by religious leaders of some sort rather than as members of a society with a lot of different faiths and an increasing number with no faith at all.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Feb '15 - 1:32pm

    @ Helen Tedcastle, sfk,
    I would not presume to speak for all Muslims, but I can speak about the Muslims whose views I know, not a large group I accept.

    I leave it to the extreme right to presume an understanding of what ‘Muslims’, as some undifferentiated mass, want or don’t want.

    @ Maajid,
    There is something I don’t understand. Members of my family would have been the type of friends you had, who you were made to watch being stabbed. Why did that not make you realise that there are good and bad in all sorts of people rather than become susceptible to radicalisation? Given the current situation, it is so important that people can understand the processes that cause this. So often we see young people who have been radicalised, and photographs of them as smiling, happy children whose lives have subsequently been blighted. I understand cultural confusion. I understand racism and rejection, but why does this hold sway over the fact that many, like your friends, offer acceptance?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Feb '15 - 2:08pm

    I don’t presume to speak for the muslim community. I’m not a muslim.

    I do know that Maajid has made some remarks which have been deeply offensive to muslims so I just wonder how he can reach out to them? As a Liberal I think you can’t impose liberalism on people by offending them in order to shock them into change. All it does is build barriers. It does not break them down.

  • Helen Tedcastle.
    Maajid made some remarks that offended some Muslims, not all Muslims. There is no such think as Muslims as single entity. You might as well say were offensive to everyone or to all plumbers. One of his chief arguments is the need stop treating Muslims as a group with a single identity who are all offended by the same things or who all believe the same things because he sees this as being part a damaging pattern of low expectations that reinforces separation, which in turn gives credence to the idea perpetuated by both Islamist groups and the Hard Right that Islam is incompatible with democracy and freedom of expression.

  • Glenn made a good point when he said “there is no such think as Muslims as single entity”. There is not. And the way politicians speak of ‘the Muslim community’ and their ‘community leaders’ just seems to deny the individuality of each person.

    Anyway, back to the point of the article, I hope Maajid wins because I think he would be a great choice and I think he could contribute a lot towards the solutions to a lot problems this country has today. Unfortunately, as a Lib Dem the task of getting him elected will be rather harder.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Feb '15 - 4:01pm

    Helen Tedcastle
    “I don’t presume to speak for the muslim community. I’m not a muslim.”

    Rather missing the point. We know you don’t presume to speak for the “muslim community”. But you seem to demand that anyone who is a Muslim should do so. (If not, what is the point of your comments, since we know that Maajid Nawaz isn’t making that claim for himself?)

    I find it particularly odd that you say “you can’t impose liberalism on people offending them in order to shock them into change”, whilst at the same time apparently rejecting the authenticity of a self-described Muslim precisely because you think (on what basis isn’t unclear) that what he says is offensive to Muslims. So you appear to be rejecting both liberalism “imposed” from outside a community and liberalism espoused by a member of that community as non-representative. I’m not sure what options that leaves, unless you are waiting for some sort of all-Muslim representative body to make a declaration for liberalism that all Muslims can then be presumed to be happy with…

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Feb '15 - 4:03pm

    @ Helen,
    You are the last person I would want to enter into an acrimonious disagreement with as I admire what you say in your posts. When it comes to fundamentals, I actually think that we are both firmly on the same side. I find the current scapegoating terrifying.

    I think that Maajid can reach out to all people irrespective of religions, including his own, albeit not everyone within that religion, because he can speak from personal experience. Indeed how could anyone speak on behalf of everyone that follows his religion when there are so many strands of thought within it. If you say that he has caused offence , I accept it, because I am sure that that is part of your personal experience, but how can one expect him not to cause offence in some quarters when there are disagreements amongst his co-religionists.

    I agree with you that one cannot impose liberalism, would that it were so, but one can argue with people who try to impose their own particular views on others and demand conformity. It has always been my opinion that one should stand up the those sort of people, especially when, if one is speaking in the narrow religious context, it seems from my reading the work of an academic practising Muslim, that so much of what the bullies assert to be Islamic authority for their controlling behaviour is absolutely nonsense. I believe that to not challenge bullying from any quarter, is to collude with it, standing by with a seemingly ‘liberal’ neutrality, is a way of allowing the powerful to exploit the weak and the vulnerable.

    I would just like to finish by saying that the Muslims I know, are the sweetest, dearest people one could ever hope to meet, and like you, I am sure, I want them to be able to walk the street without fear, and to be able to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without the certain knowledge that they will be wounded by a generalised attack from people who have never met them.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Feb '15 - 4:21pm

    As usual, Jayne says it best, forthright yet entirely without waspishness. You’re an example to us all!

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Feb '15 - 3:46pm

    I appreciate all the comments on the thread responding to me. I think some valid points are made. Maajid has a perfect right to give his views and yes he is a Muslim. The Muslim community in the UK is not a monolith and there are individual muslims who agree with him. I take on board all those points.

    Equally, the extreme responses to Maajid’s actions are not representative of Islam either.

    However, my concerns are that he is indeed trying to push an agenda (I refer to the cartoon controversy in recent memory) and that his main supporters are indeed secular liberals. If he did have support within the Muslim communities in this country, how much more of an asset that would be for the party.

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Feb '15 - 4:08pm

    ” If he did have support within the Muslim communities in this country, how much more of an asset that would be for the party.”

    Yes, but wouldn’t we all? The point is, there’s no particular obligation on MN in this regard.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Feb '15 - 4:45pm

    Malcolm Todd
    ‘ there’s no particular obligation on MN in this regard.’ Well no but then again he does self-identify as a Muslim and he is fighting a seat with a sizeable Muslim community. It seems to me to be responsible politics not to alienate but build bridges.

    He is certainly entitled to his personal view and he puts it eloquently but he can only speak for himself as someone who happens to be a Muslim.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Feb '15 - 8:18pm

    OK Maajid, they all seem to have buggered off now 🙂

    I continue to wish you great success in May!

    If we make just one gain, I hope it is Hampstead and Kilburn.


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