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Maajid Nawaz

“When President Obama gave his speech, he said, ‘We will not allow these people to claim they are religious leaders. They have nothing to do with Islam.’

No. They are not “Islam” — of course they’re not. Nor am I, nor is anyone, really, because Islam is what Muslims make it. But they have something to do with Islam. If you’re going to argue with one of them — and I do all the time — you’re not discussing Mein Kampf. You’re discussing Islamic texts…

And just to clarify — one sentence:

What is Islamism? Islam is a religion; Islamism is the desire to impose any version of that religion on society.

It’s the politicization of my own religion. What is Jihadism? The use of force to spread Islamism.

The danger of not naming this ideology is twofold. Firstly, within the Muslim context, those liberal Muslims, reformist Muslims, feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, dissenting voices, minority sects, the Ismailis, the Shia — all these different minorities within the minority of the Muslim community — are immediately betrayed.

How are they betrayed? Because you deprive them of the lexicon, the language to employ against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. You surrender the debate to the extremists…

The second danger is in the non-Muslim context. What happens if you don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam?

President Obama in his speech said there’s an ideology we must challenge, and he didn’t name it.

So, think about it, you’re sending out the message to the vast majority of Americans: there’s an ideology you must challenge, but you don’t tell them what it’s called. What are they going to assume? The average American is going to think, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to challenge an ideology — it’s called Islam.’

You’re only going to increase anti-Muslim hatred, increase the hysteria, like ‘he who must not be named’ — the Voldemort effect, I call it — by not naming the ideology. Because the average guy out there is going to assume the President is talking about the religion itself.

But if you distingiush Islamist extremism and say, ‘Look, Islam’s a religion. We’re not going to tell you whether Islam is good or bad, peaceful or not. We’re not going to define that for you. What we can say is you mustn’t try to impose that on anyone else. If you do, that’s called Islamism, and that’s what we have a problem with.'”


Recent comments from Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist who was imprisoned for several years in Egypt and escaped to denounce radicalism and found the London-based counter-extremism group Quilliam. If the west is going to make it out of its conflict with Islamism in tact, we need a Muslim voice like Maajid’s to pop up for every extremist mullah. At the moment I don’t think the ratio is in our favor.

I encourage you to watch the entire discussion, which includes the brilliant Douglas Murray, and to buy Maajid’s remarkable book about the making and unmaking of a terrorist Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism.

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