The Times interviews Maajid Nawaz: “I am planning to become a quite respectable Liberal Democrat MP”

maajid-navazToday’s Times carries an in-depth interview with Maajid Nawaz, Lib Dem candidate for the three-way marginal London seat of Hampstead & Kilburn, and co-founder and chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, the counter-extremism think tank. (Readers may have caught Maajid’s excellent performance on BBC1’s Question Time on Thursday night.)

You can read it in full here (£), but here are a couple of excerpts for those who can’t read beyond the paywall:

Maajid Nawaz can understand why two aspirational Muslim brothers from Cardiff have ended up going on jihad in Syria. Born in Southend to a middle-class Anglophile household of Pakistani origin, he and his brother also turned from being A-grade students into Islamist extremists.
By his teens, Mr Nawaz was getting into fights with the “Paki-bashing skinheads” in Essex. When he moved to London to study law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, he watched one of his fellow Islamist extremists stab an African student to death. By 21, he was a leading firebrand in Hizb ut-Tahrir, the militant organisation that wishes to overthrow all infidel regimes, and by his mid-20s he was arrested in Egypt for belonging to a banned radical group and jailed for four years.
“I was very like the Cardiff students,” he says. “The difference is that in prison I changed, I realised I hadn’t really been religious, I was just angry with the neo-Nazis and racists I had encountered on the streets of Essex.”
He came back to Britain, set up the anti-extremism think-tank Quilliam and started wearing suits, checked shirts and brogues. As we sit in the Montague Hotel, which is covered in tartan wallpaper and chintz sofas and drink afternoon tea, he explains how he now advises the prime minister and is a parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. “I am planning to become a quite respectable Liberal Democrat MP.

He thinks the British need to start trying to win the intellectual battle, making the Islamist extremists seem unacceptable.
“We have shifted the debate on racism and homophobia . . . we need to replicate that with Islamism. Islamists are homophobic, antisemitic and sexist yet they are not jeered at. White males can’t be sexist and racist, so brown Muslims shouldn’t be able to get away with it either. Your culture does not excuse you.”
Mr Nawaz wants to convince Muslim actors, politicians and athletes to speak out against Islamist extremism. “We need to show Muslim role models succeeding. The cool thing should not be going to jihad but going into politics, winning gold medals, being a film producer. These Muslim children are very clever, articulate and hard-working, they can do whatever they want. They need to see they can succeed in Britain in conventional ways. It isn’t fun fighting. At first that young Cardiff kid leading a battalion in Syria will feel he never had so much power in his life but soon it will become scary. We need to show those kids we can empower them in different ways.”
He would also prefer all state schools to be secular. “No state education in Britain should demean girls or use megaphones for the call to prayer. If you want to be devout, be devout but don’t expect schools to administer your devotion.”
Nor should teachers be allowed openly to hold extreme views. “Adults in Britain — from teachers to doctors and parents — all need to make it clear that beheading people, stoning women and female genital mutilation is not acceptable in the modern age, anywhere in the world.”
It is insane, he says, that the British accept medieval interpretations of a religion. “Of course you should be able to cover your head but you shouldn’t be able to wear a burka in places where you can’t wear a helmet, hoodie or balaclava — whether in a bank, at Heathrow or in a classroom. We are fine telling off white working-class children with hoodies but it’s disempowering allowing women in burqas to keep covered up in all situations because it is saying, ‘They are not one of us, they don’t have our standards’.”
The groups that need help and support, he says, are “the minorities within the minorities. Women at risk of honour killings, liberal voices, humanist voices.”

“That’s why I want to go into British politics. I want to prove that the best way to change the world is through democratic engagement — and get that boy from Cardiff back here becoming an MP.”

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19 Comments

  • Jonathan Pile 28th Jun '14 - 6:56pm

    Maajid came across well and make an undeniable point is that human rights are universal and indivisible. Tolerance and multi-faith, multiculturalism should not excuse the indefensible. I hope he is elected and inspires young Muslim men to emulate his views and achievements. A future British Prime Minister?

  • Daniel Henry 28th Jun '14 - 7:13pm

    Maajid continues to impress and I really hope he gets elected.

  • In his interview Maajid lays out some home truths saying:

    “I was bought up in the bad old days of racism. I hated being attacked by skinheads but when we scared them away by becoming extremists it became more fun. It gave me self-confidence.”

    Now he thinks the divide is not between Anglo-Saxons and Asians but Muslims and other cultures. “My parents were agnostic, they bought me up liberal, in those days the Asian weddings were mixed with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. There would be dancing and music for men and women. Now it is hard to find weddings and parties like that, the friendships have broken apart. British Asians became British Muslims.”

    “They started segregating men and women, becoming more conservative. Young people in the East End started declaring Sharia zones. It has slid backwards and disaffected youth see an outlet and a power source in becoming radicalised as Muslim Islamists.”

    “Islamism is not a religion, it is an obsessive, outdated ideology. We are still being too multiculturalist and politically correct about it, we say, ‘It’s the natives, it’s their culture, they have bizarre habits we can’t criticise.’ But the people who are being radicalised are very smart, western-educated people. In the 1990s some of the hotbeds for recruitment were some of the best universities in the country. I was recruited at one.”

    “…I was abusing my faith for a political project. Islamism is not the religion of Islam but a modern political ideology inspired by 7th century norms.”

  • Tony Dawson 28th Jun '14 - 7:41pm

    We need to stand out for Islam against ‘Islamist’ fundamentalism in the same way that we stand out for Christians against crazy fundamentalist Christianity or Jews against militant Zionism. Any religion’s adherents who asserts their religion to the point of ‘supremacism’ do their moderate co-religionists no favours at all as well as subverting any liberal society which relies upon tolerance and co-existence.

    It is sometimes hard to define the correct place where to draw the line but we cannot tolerate extreme intolerance.

  • David Blake 28th Jun '14 - 7:59pm

    He was the quiet star of QuestionTime.

  • Richard Dean 28th Jun '14 - 8:04pm

    I think the cool thing should be to be a responsible member of British society.

    It’s fine to aspire to be politicians, gold medalists, or film producers, and to have role models in those positions, but most aspirants are not going to make it, and not making it can be a bitter experience that can render people vulnerable to extremists’ persuasion.

    And I agree that achieving that cool thing is hard.

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th Jun '14 - 10:59pm

    I hope that Maajid is elected. I find him very impressive.

  • Jonathan Pile 28th Jun '14 - 11:36pm

    Maajid was impressive on BBC Question Time. He is clearly future leadership material, and a positive role model .His points about the universality of human rights and free speech are crucially important for all. I hope that LDV will practice some free speech and allow this comment to be posted as my earlier comment was moderated out for 6 hours.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jun '14 - 1:00am

    It sounds good, but I think it would be better to understand that Maajid is not saying the things he is just to promote free speech. It often annoys me when someone says something deeply offensive and others run to their defence in the name of free speech. If everybody did that then we wouldn’t even have the taboos that Maajid praises.

    Regards

  • Bill Le Breton 29th Jun '14 - 9:52am

    It is extremely important for someone like Maajid to be saying these things and campaigning on such a platform. Yes, it may increase his influence further if he were to gain the added legitimacy of election to the H of C, but there is not a cat in yells chance of this happening unless we have a new leader now. The electoral maths cannot be ignored.

  • Unfortunately all the portents are telling us he will not be elected next year, maybe at a by election somewhere in 2017 or 2018.

  • Once again, he impresses me.

  • Well done, Bill le Breton, for keeping up the record of the anti-Cleggites in trying to turn every LDV thread into an attack on our leader. I will simply direct my remarks towards joining the praise for Maajid and respect for his Question Time performance. One little point to Maajid – be careful to couch your statements in such a way as to keep in touch with the many Muslims who are open to the message of moderation. This means continuing to show understanding as to how alienated many have been by counterproductive actions of Western governments.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 29th Jun '14 - 5:20pm

    Impressive. Maajid has grown his audience and influence via a small party. He could have joined Labour for an easy election victory but his principles would then not be taken up as a free thinker. We need to remember that as LDs we are not a major party for votes but are definitely a major party for forward thinking. Maajid is a great role model for education, for principles, and for what LD are capable of in future – probably leadership too.

  • Bill Le Breton 30th Jun '14 - 8:02am

    Denis, I am pro getting as many lib dems into the 2015 parliament as possible. The recent interviews with young Muslims whose Comprehension of what is going on in Syria and Iraq is dangerously misinformed is evidence that we need people like Maajid to get across basic information.

    we are 8% in the polls and at that level we shall be lucky to retain 25 MPs. Maajid is fighting a seat that was well fought in 2010 so it is not like a Montgomeryshire. Ed increased the vote by 6.5% but was still in 3rd place. That was with a national support level of 20% plus.

    I can think of another thirty or so good liberal democrats whose expertise will not be available to the country unless we change a leader who is not trusted by so many of the electorate and who most candidates won’t even use in their campaigns.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jun '14 - 9:43am

    Maajid Nawaz

    …I was abusing my faith for a political project. Islamism is not the religion of Islam but a modern political ideology inspired by 7th century norms

    Indeed, this seems to me to be fairly obvious. A lot of this “Islamist” stuff seems to me to be a development of the sort of Trot-type idea that politics should be “find out what the USA is doing, and oppose it”, mixed with a sadistic delight in those aspects of Islam that can be interpreted in a violent way. Apart from a mechanical attachment to certain rules of ritual, there seems to me to be no actual sense of the spiritual in it at all.

    In fact I would regard it as a form of atheism. There is no real sense of a transcendental God in it, instead there is just a book from which the leaders can pick the bits that suit their ideology. A lot of so-called “fundamentalism” is like this, and that is why it is a modern ideology, not a “mediaeval” one. The absence of any real religious sense in their stuff marks it out as quite different from mediaeval theology. To me, a lot of it comes down to its adherents having an underlying atheism that they do not want to admit, but that leads to an unwillingness to think about their religion or question it, and to adopt simplistic and extremist interpretations out of fear that if they dropped back from that, it would all fall down and they would have to admit, there is no God in their lives.

    I disagree strongly with the idea that the British government should help Muslims out with their plight on this issue. As we have seen, the more this is done, the more the sub-Trots can play at the game “this is Muslims v. the West, so if you are a true Muslim you will support us”. This is a Muslim thing and it is up to Muslims to solve the problem. Instead of us liberals gathering round them and saying “There, there, we know that is not what your religion is really like, you don’t have to do anything about it” we need to be more firm and say “It is disgusting, and if that is not what your religion is like, it is up to YOU to do something about it”. It is up to Muslims to develop a more thoughtful and spiritual form of their religion, we who are not Muslims cannot help them out on this issue.

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