Muslim Reformer


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The Imams are refusing to speak about extremism in public, but a former Islamic radical has come forward to sound a warning.

Maajid Nawaz understands extreme Islamist groups, he was once a true believer.  “When September 11 happened, I had absolutely zero sympathy for the people of America”, he said.

Maajid had become a radical Islamist; a process which began when he joined Hizb ut-Tahrir at age 16.  “It is the young, ignorant, angry youth who join Islamist groups”, he said.

Maajid was the perfect candidate -- as a 3rd generation Pakistani he'd been exposed to years of violent racism.   “Whether it is hammer attacks by racists or whether it's being held back and forced to watch my friends stabbed by racist, neo Nazi skin heads”, Maajid said.

These attacks left him alienated, angry and vulnerable to the embrace of charismatic leaders like Anjem Choudary and Omar Bakri Mohammed.  “Omar Bakri Mohammed left the group and went on to found what's now a banned terrorist organisation.   It was his man, Michael Adebelajoe that went on to kill drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich”, Maajid said.

“These people they deserve to die. They occupy our lands, they kill our people every day in our countries”, Adebelajoe said at the time.

Maajid calls outbursts like that the radical Islamist narrative.  “You're Muslim, everyone else is the other, everyone else is your enemy and they caused your grievances, they caused the racism, they caused the foreign policy problems. They invaded Iraq, they invaded Afghanistan, it's their fault”, Maajid explained.

As a radical, Maajid's job was to recruit as many members as he could, using the ant- western sales pitch.   He travelled to Pakistan, Denmark and finally to Egypt where he was arrested and jailed for four years.   It was a pivotal time.   “I became so angry that I wanted revenge against my torturers, against my prison guards and I was very tempted to move to the next stage, which is the stage terrorism”, he said.

Amnesty International successfully campaigned to have Maajid released from jail, because while his ideas were anti-western, he had not committed a crime. Suddenly, he saw the West in a different light.  

Maajid believes the best way to counter extremism is by telling the whole truth.  “It is important to say at this stage, that more Pakistani Muslims, for example, have died from al Qaeda and Taliban attacks in Pakistan, than anyone else.   And the first and foremost victims of al Qaeda and their groups, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan are Muslims”, Maajid said.

When Maajid returned to England from Egypt, he left Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Former allies became bitter rivals. 

“The problem isn't with the religion of Islam, the problem is with those minority voices that attempt to hijack the religion of Islam for their ideological and political purposes.   I can't be plainer”, he said.

Through his think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, Maajid has taken his message, addressed to the United Nations and the US. Congress; he has even been to the former Taliban stronghold of Pakistan's Swat Valley with an American television crew in tow.

So why, when he came to Australia, did only two people turn up for a public forum.   It is the result of a boycott.  Not because people don't want to hear what Maajid has to say but people don't want to engage with Maajid, with our cameras rolling.

Eight days earlier, we invited Australia's leading Sheikhs and Imams.   After five days of deliberation we were told they wouldn't participate because they thought our program was biased and they didn't want to further alienate the extremists.  

At one stage an Imam invited Maajid and Today Tonight to a meeting forum at his mosque.   But a day later, Neil Kadomi pulled out saying he'd received intimidating phone calls from Maajid's former colleagues at Hiz ut-Tahrir.   “I received many calls to say he is not the right person to speak on TV because you are, Channel 7, was not fair for the Muslim community”, Mr Kadomi said.

Throughout our meeting Mr. Kadomi thought it was okay to constantly question Maajid's credentials as a true Muslim.  But when the tables were turned, he took offence. 

The list of respected Muslim leaders we approached to be involved in this story was exhaustive.    They all refused to appear.

ASIO estimates 200 Lebanese Australians are involved in the Syrian conflict.  Maajid dreads their return.  “If out of those 200, 50 are trained to make bombs, I imagine it's going to be a huge problem”, Maajid said.

The situation is volatile.   Maajid points to a recent court case as an example of how quickly extremism can take hold.  “Think about it. An Australian Muslim has lashed another Australian Muslim;  40 lashes for drinking alcohol in a democratic country -- lashed him with an electric chord”, Maajid said.

“I'm a Muslim, I love my faith.  I'm not criticising my religion and the religion of Australian Muslims.  What I'm criticising is the voice of the organised minority who have strangled the voice of Australian Muslims and Muslims generally”, Maajid said.

Maajid offered to debate any extremist leaders and that offer stands.