November 17th, 2015

Former jihadi: apologies of far left, sensationalism of far right blind us to ending “global Jihadist insurgency” #FZGPS

Sunday’s CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS featured an interview with former jihadi and counter-extremism expert Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism group. Nawaz discusses how partisan politics in the U.S. and Europe are blinding the world from effectively fighting what he describes as a “global Jihadist insurgency.”  Nawaz also discusses why religious extremism is attractive to young people born and raised in the West, and his own journey from extremist to a founder of an organization working to stop radicalization and promote tolerance and democracy.  Below, is a full transcript of the interview – Nawaz also appears in Fareed Zakaria‘s special one-hour investigation into the origins and aims of the terror group known as “ISIS” or “Daesh,” that airs tonight,Tuesday, Nov. 17.  Blindsided: How ISIS Shook the World airs at 9:00pm Eastern on CNN/U.S.

Interview Transcript


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS:  Maajid Nawaz was himself a radical jihadi.  Now as the founder of the counter extremism group Quilliam, Nawaz works to promote tolerance and democracy among Muslim youth.  Maajid, when you hear about these people in Paris, and let us assume that some of them, we don’t know how many, are, in fact, locals.  Paint us a picture of the kind of person who would do this.  It’s still so unthinkable not just being willing to kill, but being willing to die.

MAAJID NAWAZ, FOUNDER OF COUNTER-EXTREMIST GROUP QUILLIAM:  Yes, thank you, Fareed.  I want to begin by saying that look, I deal with this every single day of my life.  I’ve been – this struggle, this cause has consumed me since founding Quilliam eight years ago.  So, I just want to make it clear that between the apologies among the far left in this debate, you know, pretending there’s absolutely no problem with Europe’s Muslims and between the sensationalism of the far right, the most important thing as you’ve correctly stated right now for us, is for us to remain level-headed.  The vast majority of those who have gone to join ISIS from the West, Western-born and raised Muslims are Western-citizens.

So, yes, there’s genuine discussions around refugees.  We need to be having genuine conversations about some of the challenges that refugees pose.  But look, let’s be honest and real about this.  Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees.  France has hardly taken in any.  Yet, I bet you that many of these attackers in France were French-born and raised citizens.  So, let’s remain levelheaded and avoid being, I’d say, blinded by our left eye or popping a blood vessel in our right eye because both of those conclusions would render us blind.

ZAKARIA:  And tell us about those, you know, let’s assume you’re right.  Tell us about these French youth.  You’ve interviewed hundreds of these kinds of people.  Why are they willing to commit suicide for a cause they’ve often barely understand as far as I can tell?

NAWAZ:  So, I would argue that jihadist extremism we’re in the midst of a fully blown global jihadist insurgency.  And jihadist extremism is the new – the anti-establishment, angry youth.  Many even convert to Islam to join them.  And a few factors come into play here when they are joining this phenomenon.  One of them is a sense of grievance or anger, a perceived sense, ultimately, of grievance and anger, another reason, identity crisis.  And in the case of France, you know, we all hear about the suburbs on the edges of Paris and how difficult it’s been for the French to fix this question.  The same applies, by the way, to Britain and across much of Europe.  To fix what I call the Muslim question.  The successful integration of those Muslims who are born and raised into – in Europe and finding a place, which is a two-way street, it’s a mutual process of integration.  Finding a place for them in European society is a huge challenge.  And the final factor – in here is the role that the ideological – ideological narrative plays.  I called that ideology Islamist extremism, as distinct from the religion of Islam, in a way, in which that ideology blinkers this angry young men and women from – from seeing any form of moral clarity and being prepared to commit all forms of atrocities in its name.

ZAKARIA:  What – when you got radicalized yourself, what was the principal motive for you?

NAWAZ:  The principal motive in my case, I joined a group known as Hizb ut-Tahrir, at the age of 16.  It’s the first group that was responsible for popularizing this notion of resurrecting a caliphate.  And at 16, there were two things that really disturb me.  One was the genocide that was unfolding in Bosnia against Muslims on our own continent of Europe, which made me feel completely disconnected from mainstream society.  Because, of course, the reaction in dealing with that genocide was incredibly slow.  And many, many Bosnian Muslims lost their lives in that genocide.  And the second was domestic racism, which I faced.

But I want to emphasize here that those two were as perceived by me as a 16-year-old.  Of course, you know, they don’t justify joining a theocratic organization.  So, what kicked in off for that sense of grievance, was the fact that I was found in that incredibly vulnerable state, and sold this ideological narrative.  And, in fact, this is lots of point.  The ideological narrative that we need to be a lot more robust in dealing with.  We have to recognize, we cannot shoot our way out of this problem.  We are in the midst of a global Jihadist insurgency, and we have to render the appeal of this Islamist ideology as unattractive as Soviet communist has now become for young people today.

ZAKARIA:  Do you find finally that you can reverse it when you talk to these young people?  What works best in deprogramming them?

NAWAZ:  The most inefficient way to go about this is to try and pull people out once they join.  Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult.  I’m not — my pattern isn’t normal.  I was a political prisoner in Egypt, and most of those whom I served with are either with – at the same level of their theocratic convictions or even more, you know, even more committed to the notion of resurrecting the caliphate.  I think the most efficient way to approach this is to prevent the next generation of youth from succumbing to this phenomenon of Islamist extremism, and that would mean working to build resilience among communities and crucially it’s not just a Muslim problem.  It’s not just a non-Muslim problem.  I give the analogy of racism, Fareed.  You know, you don’t have to be African-American to challenge racism.  Anyone who cares about this issue, it’s all of our problems.  Because that bomb when it goes off, you know, all of us get affected by it.  So, we all have to show solidarity including Muslims across the world, have to show the solidarity we expect from others when it comes to racism and anti-Muslim attacks, we show in this instance and we all have to stand together.  The worst thing we can do right now is think and act like ISIS by dividing people along religious lines.

ZAKARIA:  Very quickly, do you think the tide is turning?  Where are we in this struggle?

NAWAZ:  Unfortunately, I think, this is the new normal.  We’re going to have many more such attacks.  In fact, we are overdue in attack in Britain.  (INAUDIBLE).  If that were to happen.  So, I think this is the new normal.  And we’re not turning the tide at the moment, by what we are turning the tide on in particular is an understanding and getting to grips with this.

David Cameron, the prime minister here, has been speaking openly for once and finally, actually, this year, about the threat that the Islamist ideology poses.  And I would encourage other world leaders to recognize this problem as an ideas problem in civil society.  Less so than a physical military problem.  Of course, war has a role, but the first and primary solution to this is going to be winning back the hearts and minds of those angry disenfranchised youth across the West and making sure they don’t succumb to this form of extremism in the first place.

ZAKARIA:  Don’t you think, finally, and we only have 45 seconds left.  But it does strike me that’s all well and good for David Cameron to do this, it would be even better if the ruler of Saudi Arabia were to do it.  If you could find the key, Sunni Muslim leaders who would, you know, in a genuine way take on not simply the violence, but also the extremism of the ideas and the ideology, that would begin to make some difference, perhaps.

NAWAZ:  I agree with you 100 percent.  And I don’t deserve an applause here on your show for saying I don’t want to kill anyone.  You know, that should be – Look how low the bar has sunk.  That should be the base line.  What really as you pointed out, is needed, is for those who have real leadership among Muslim majority societies.  Those who should be showing their leadership to get to this ideology and to debunk it, to refute it, and as I said, to render it as unattractive as Nazism and Soviet communism have become today.

ZAKARIA:  Maajid Nawaz, always a pleasure to talk to you.

NAWAZ:  Thank you, Fareed.