UK government lacks counter-extremism strategy: Maajid Nawaz

Interviews

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London – The UK government needs a counter-extremism strategy to complement its counterterrorism strat­egy, Maajid Nawaz, chair­man of the UK-based think-tank Quilliam, says.

Speaking to The Arab Weekly on the sidelines of the release of a re­port looking at the spread of jihad­ism into South Asia, Nawaz said: “There is a gap in the government policy at the moment which I’ve been advocating to be filled. That gap is what I call a counter-extremism strategy. The government has a counterterrorism strat­egy but what it hasn’t got is a strategy to deal with non-violent ex­tremism.”

British-born Nawaz was jailed in Egypt in 2005 for being a member of radi­cal Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation outlawed in Egypt. He grew disenchanted with politi­cal Islam after more than four years in Egyptian prisons and co-founded Quilliam — the world’s first coun­ter-extremism think-tank — with other former extremists when he returned to the United Kingdom.

After failing to secure a seat for the Liberal Democrats in the lat­est parliamentary elections, Nawaz said he was focusing his efforts on expanding Quilliam beyond the United Kingdom.

“What the government is lacking is a kind of civil society-based, non-violent extremism-based strategy. Hopefully, by the end of this year, the government will adopt such a strategy,” Nawaz said.

With the Islamic State (ISIS) holding an increasingly strong sway over some young British Mus­lims, Nawaz said the government, non-governmental organisations and think-tanks such as Quilliam must do more to counter extrem­ist ideology and expose ISIS’s true nature.

More than 1,600 Britons are be­lieved to have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, including 17-year-old Yorkshire resident Talha Asmal, who be­came the United King­dom’s youngest suicide bomber in an attack near an oil refinery south of the Iraqi city of Baiji, and Moham­med Emzawi — better known as Jihadi John — who has brutally killed at least seven foreign hostages over the past year while spouting hateful ISIS rhetoric.

“What I’m really enthused by is some of the outreach work that we’re planning to do like taking members of families of foreign fighters and those who have lost their loved ones [to] schools and speaking directly to students as a warning,” Nawaz said.

For example, he said, “Take a mother who is in grief, who has lost her son, to meet [British Mus­lim] kids as a warning and saying ‘This is what happens if you go out there [to fight]‘.”

He called on British Muslim re­ligious leaders to do more to pro­mote a counter-narrative to ISIS’s hateful ideology. “We need reli­gious leaders to come out, not just against the violence but, against the ideological underpinning of the violence, against some of the geo­political constructs that ISIS sup­ports, such as the idea of resurrect­ing the caliphate. We need religious leaders to come out and debunk some of these myths,” Nawaz said.

Nawaz said the responsibil­ity for counter-extremism goes be­yond British Muslim leaders and is something that must take place at a grass-roots level.

“We’ve had some help from the British Muslim community, but I wish we had more,” he said. “We need more help [to counter extrem­ism], not just support in terms of fi­nancial donations, but more moral support.” Unfortunately, Nawaz said: “Sometimes Muslim commu­nities in Britain can take a reaction­ary position because they’re defen­sive and because they’re worried about speaking about such things and that makes them insular. I en­courage them to be out in the open so everyone speaks about this [ex­tremism]. We can no longer be in denial about the extent of the prob­lem within our communities.”

Despite criticism regarding the paucity and disorganised nature of British Muslim communities’ coun­terterrorism response, Nawaz said the key was to hear more voices raised against ISIS and extremism, even if they were not necessarily in accord.

“I think the way forward is to let a thousand flowers bloom. Let eve­ryone contribute to the civil society discussion towards a more pluralis­tic democratic future.

“One hopes that if everyone does that together, even if they’re not working in tandem, you’ll see a re­sult,” he added.

This article was originally published here.