Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Maajid Nawaz’

Liberalism versus Islamism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th March, 2015

imageimageWhen the International Office of the Liberal Democrats first mooted the idea of a fringe meeting at this weekend’s Spring conference in Liverpool on issues surrounding radical Islam some voices urged caution, fearful this could inflame tensions. But what is a Liberal party for, if not to stand up for the freedom of expression in a tolerant, diverse society? The recent bloody excesses of ISIS in Syria and Iraq — one of whose victims was the noble aid volunteer from my home town of Eccles, Alan Henning — have highlighted the need to tackle the scourge of Islamism head-on. This is absolutely not the same as criticising the religion Islam, whatever some critics might say. Islamism, the radical ideology that seeks to impose its own extreme interpretation if Islam on society is as far from the core values of Islam as the Spanish Inquisition was from the core values of Christianity. Indeed, as (Baroness) Kishwer Falkner — a secular Muslim LibDem peer of Pakistani origin — declared at the controversial fringe meeting last night, ISIS are essentially fascists, far more extreme than just extreme. Maajid Nawaz, the LibDem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn at the forthcoming general election also spoke passionately of the need to defend the right of people to have any religion or none, or even to change religion if they wish — though apostasy is a capital offence in some conservative Islamic states. Such issues were reprised in a plenary debate at the conference this morning, when a very detailed motion on protecting freedom of expression was overwhelmingly passed. I spoke in that debate, highlighting the fact that journalism has become a much more dangerous occupation than when I first started as a teenage cub reporter for the Manchester Evening News in Vietnam. These days, journalists are often deliberately targetted, not just in the Middle East but in countries such as Brazil, Mexico and Russia. It is essential that we champion the principles of free expression enshrined in both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including in relation to the media. As the late US statesman Adlai Stevenson once said, a free press is the mother of our liberties — something we should bear in mind this Mothering Sunday.

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Maajid Nawaz and a Hampstead Liberal New Year

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th January, 2015

Burgh HouseEvery New Year for quite a while now Andreas Utermann, the Belgian Global CIO at Allianz Global Investors, who has a house in Hampstead, has generously sponsored a New Year reception for Hampstead Liberal Democrats; often it was in the magical Heath Library in Keats Grove, but tonight for the first time it was at Burgh House, the early 18th Century gem in North End Square. The timing was unusually pertinent, as the LibDem PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn, Maajid Nawaz — who, as Director of the Quilliam Foundation, has been running from one media interview to another in the wake of yesterday’s repulsive attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris — was able to speak on the hot topic of the day. Maajid himself came under considerable fire from some parts of the UK’s Muslim community a year ago (even receiving death threats) for retweeting earlier cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed, but this evening he restated his Liberal principles in stressing how important it is to defend free speech in the UK. I believe that there is a delicate balance between respecting that and not intentionally offending people, but it is good that the local party has a candidate who can debate such issues with a good grounding both in British culture and in Islam. This evening we also had the benefit of comments from the Honorary President of Hampstead and Kilburn Liberal Democrats, Baroness (Sue) Garden, who gave an insight into her work as one of eight Coalition Government Whips. I’m sure I was not alone in being astonished to learn that while her five Conservative colleagues get Ministerial salaries, none of the three Liberal Democrats do.

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Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th October, 2013

RadicalMaajid NawazThe radicalisation of Muslim youth has been a prime concern of Western governments and security agencies ever since 9/11. But it is sobering to realise that the path to militancy — with its intolerance and, in extreme cases, its contempt for human life — is not necessarily only one way. Readers of Ed Husain’s 2007 book The Islamist (Penguin, £9.99) will be aware of that, but it is useful to have the message reinforced by the record of another SOAS alumnus’s journey to Islamism and back, Maajid Nawaz’s Radical (W H Allen, £8.99). Born in Southend, Essex, in what white neighbours would doubtless have considered to be a “well integrated” Pakistani-origin family (his mother was positively liberal), Maajid experienced not just casual racism as a child but also the violence of white skinheads. He learnt to stand up for himself, carrying a knife around with him for years. But it was at college in Newham, East London, that he came under the influence of Islamist radicals, notably from Hizb ut-Tahrir. After witnessing a fatal stabbing there he was recalled by his family to Southend, enabling him to get the grades necessary to go to SOAS to read Law and Arabic. He met a similarly radical young woman, married and fathered a baby boy, moving with them to Egypt to work on his Arabic, following a prolonged stay in Pakistan where he worked to further Hizb ut-Tahrir’s cause. He hoped to do the same in Egypt, but the omnipresent Mubarak security forces had him under surveillance and before long he was taken away in the middle of the night from his apartment in Alexandria and entered the hell of the regime’s torture chambers, where every inmate was electrocuted on a rota system, the screams of their agony resonating through the dark dungeon hour after hour. Maajid was fortunate himself to narrowly escape the electrodes, instead being knocked about and threatened with rape, and eventually he was put on trial and transferred to a political prison, whose inmates included Ayman Nour, the Egyptian Liberal who had dared to stand against Hosni Mubarak in a presidential election and was incarcerated on trumped up charges for that impertinence. By this time Maajid was getting regular consular visits a well as some contact with his family, but his release was as sudden as his arrest and maybe partly because Amnesty International had adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, putting pressure on both the Egyptian and British governments. SOAS let him resume his studies, but his marriage had broken down and he had become disillusioned with the ideology that had driven him for several years. He met up with Ed Husain, who had defected to rationality well before, and made his own great leap away from Islamism; together they established Quilliam, a foundation dedicated to countering Islamist extremism (and also Islamophobia) and won open access to both the last Labour government and its Coalition successor. Indeed, so far did Maajid’s conversion go that he joined the Liberal Democrats and is now the Party’s candidate for the three-way marginal London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. I read Radical at one sitting, over eight hours on a plane back from Beijing on Thursday. It was literally a book I could not put down, passionate and at times chilling, but ultimately cathartic. Highly recommended.

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Maajid Nawaz and Quilliam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th September, 2010

This week’s guest at an event organised by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in the London offices of the European Parliament, was Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam Foundation, an organization designed to challenge extremism, promote pluralism and inspire change. Like another of Quilliam’s leading figures, the author of  ‘The Islamist’ (and my near neighbour in Tower Hamlets) Ed Hussain, Maajid is a former extremist now dedicated to dissuading other Muslims from adopting militant and especially violent interpretations of Islam. 

Maajid was born in Essex and became radicalised as a young man, joining Hizb ut-Tahrir (which calls for the re-establishment of the Caliphate in the Islamic world) and then acting as a propagandist, recruiter and trainer for that organisation in Denmark and Pakistan. He was imprisoned for four years in Egypt, where he was tortured, and while there he was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. That experience, as well as further contact with NGOs on his return to the UK, helped lead him away from  extremism (while retaining his religious faith) and to denouce Hizb ut-Tahrir and some of his former Islamist colleagues. The Quilliam Foundation (which is named after the Liverpudlian William Henry [Abdullah] Quilliam [1856-1932], who embraced Islam and established Britain’s first mosque in his native city) is regularly consulted by the British Government (from which it receives some of its funding), as well as working with other think-tanks, media outlets etc. Maajid Nawaz believes that although legislation does have some role to play in containing extremist activity, it is nonetheless important for civil society to engage with the Muslim community in Britain, for example in a debate about the relative values of tradition and modernity. It is essential that counter-terrorism and counter-extremism are seen as separate activities, he argued; the former most appropriately dealt with by the Home Office, the latter by the Department for Local Government and Communities.


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