Maajid Nawaz: “Radical” | Talks at Google

>>Presenter: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks
very much indeed for coming. I’m delighted to welcome our guest today, Maajid Nawaz,
who has just published this book, Radical. Maajid’s story is a fascinating one in that
he got involved, as a young man, in radical Islam and then ended up in prison in Egypt
for his views, then, subsequently, had a conversion and rejected political Islam, although he
remains a Muslim, and now campaigns around the world in favor of democracy and nonviolent
methods. I’m particularly interested in sharing this
discussion because I’ve actually met Maajid in both his incarnations. When I was at Newsnight
a few years ago, we did an item about Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was the organization that
Maajid was a member of. He came into the program and complained long into the night about the
film. We discussed that until well after midnight, I think. Then, when he decided to take a new
path, he phoned us up and said, “I am converting and I’m going to [man coughs] change my approach
completely.” He asked if he could make a film about that change on Newsnight, which we very
quickly said, “Absolutely.” The film went out.
So welcome, Maajid.>>Maajid Nawaz: Thank you.>>Presenter: It’s great to have you here.
I’m really– Let’s go back to South End. How did you get involved with extremism in the
first place?>>Nawaz: First of all, thank you for that
introduction. I mention Peter in the book because of the story that he’s just mentioned.
It was very kind of you to actually give me the opportunity to come back and set the record
straight. Thank you for agreeing to chair this event today.
My journey to an Islamist organization began– I was born and raised in Essex. My journey
began in my teenage years. I grew up in a very– with a very integrated background.
In fact, all of my friends were white Essex boys. We had little problem with racism until
I became a teenager. But when I hit the age of around 14 years old, because of a phenomenon
that was called “white flight”– Now if any of you are not from England or London, white
flight was something that was used as a term to describe white people moving from East
London to get away from increasing immigration and moving as far east as they could go. Now,
of course, the furthest east is South End, because beyond that, there’s the sea. When
they went as far east as they could go to get away from the immigration, they found
me in South End, which is where I was born. They didn’t expect that.
In those days, I think South End was about 99.5% white. So I had– All my friends were
English and white people. I basically didn’t know anything else. I became– I experienced
a rude awakening. I became suddenly aware of my skin color. I describe it in Radical
as a way that when I look at people, when I look at you, when I look and talk to people,
I don’t see my own skin color. I see people in front of me. I see them as human beings.
The racist is forever seeing me and defining me by the color of my skin. And would view
the color of that skin as a target. In those days, there was a phenomenon– Now,
I’m saying all this– This is the beginning of the story. Please don’t get me wrong. Racism
is no longer as severe a problem in the UK as it used to be. I have to say that point.
Things are much better than they used to be. But in those days, there were people that
would engage in what they call Paki bashing. What this is is that they would ride around
in white vans and they would randomly jump out the back of these vans to attack any one
of a brown complexion that they saw in an unprovoked and totally without warning attack.
These attacks would usually be with hammers and with screwdrivers and with kebab knives.
At the age of 14, I began experiencing or being a target of this sort of Paki bashing
on the streets in Essex. It would occur on many occasions. One of my friends called Moe
Giddings was chased down the seafront with a hammer. Had a hammer attack to his head.
We were targeted on many occasions. On many occasions, I had to watch my friends stabbed
and slashed at with knives by these racists. This was all happening at the same time while
Essex police authorities, before the days of the Stephen Lawrence murder, before the
days of the Macpherson Report that exposed a level of institutional racism in the police
forces in this country, we were living that type of institutional racism. On many occasions,
we were the target of police discrimination as well as targeted on the streets of Essex
for our skin color. On time, my brother, who was 16, was playing
with a toy gun in the park. A lady saw him and decided that he must be about to rob a
bank, and reported him to the police. I joined him later on in the evening, as a 15 year
old, and we went to play snooker. We were on the way back home in our friend’s car,
who was 17 and therefore old enough to drive. The police had blocked the roads, and there
was a police helicopter flying above us. They shone a spotlight onto our car. Suddenly,
from either side of the car, came these armed policemen with sub semi automatic machine
guns. The put guns to our heads and they dragged us out of the car and said, “You’re being
arrested for suspicion of armed robbery.” I was too young to be interrogated without
the presence of an adult, so they called my poor mother at 3 am in the morning. They woke
her up and said, “Both your sons have been arrested for suspicion of armed robbery. You
have to come down to the station because we can’t interview– interrogate the younger
one without your presence.>>Presenter: And your response to that was
then to turn to extreme Islam, was it?>>Nawaz: One more thing happened. That was
Bosnia. With the genocide in Bosnia, what I had previously associated as racist violence,
I began seeing as something a bit deeper. Because of course, in Bosnia, there were white,
blond-haired, blue-eyed Muslims who were being targeted by the Serbs because of their faith.
What all of this led to isn’t me joining Hizb ut-Tahrir. It led to me becoming very disenfranchised
and disconnected from society. What then led me to join Hizb ut-Tahrir, once I was already
primed, is the final ingredient that you need to join the dots of the grievances that one
experienced. That’s the ideological narrative. I met a recruiter who joined those dots and
basically gave me an alternative discourse to explain away all of these grievances.>>Presenter: Tell us a little bit about Hizb
ut-Tahrir, because they are an organization who effectively want to overthrow governments
right around the world and impose an Islamic state.>>Nawaz: Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, Hizb
ut-Tahrir has three names. But first of all, I’ll say it’s an Islamist organization. What
is Islamism, and how is it different to Islam? Islam is a religion, it’s a faith. Every Muslim
has the right to practice their religion, whether in its conservative form or in its
reformist form. Islamism, on the other hand, is the desire to impose an interpretation
of that faith over society as law. That’s the difference. The desire to impose an interpretation
of Islam over society is the politicization of religion. That’s why we add the suffix
-ism to the end. So it’s called Islamism. Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamist organization.
It seeks to overthrow every single Muslim majority regime so it can impose its interpretation
of Islam. It also seeks to create, as a result, a pan-Islamist superstate, an expansionist
state that will rule the world. The final aim is to destroy the state of Israel.
How they aim to get to power: there’s three different groups of methodologies within Islamist
organizations. We have the Muslim Brotherhood variety in Egypt. They aim to get to power
through competing in elections and participating in the political system. Then the second category
are those who are the revolutionary Islamist organizations, like the group I belonged to.
They aim to recruit army officers, serving army officers, from the armies of Muslim majority
countries so they can incite military coups. They’ve done that and I’ve participated in
that level of incitement across a couple of countries in the world. The third type, the
third category are the terrorist Islamist organizations. I joined a revolutionary Islamist
organization.>>Presenter: It treaded a fine line, didn’t
it, this organization? This is where we got into heated debate, because it’s not a terrorist
organization. But is it a violent organization?>>Nawaz: There is a level of violence that
is not defined as terrorism. For example, a military coup is inherently a violent act.
When you attempt to overthrow a government using an army, the fact is, the army is threatening
force if the government doesn’t comply. Now, if that’s a democratic regime, then it’s an
illegal act to even encourage that. In that sense, they’re encouraging violence. But they’re
not encouraging terrorism, meaning they will condemn, and not condone, attacks on hotels,
nightclubs, and these sorts of things. It’s a more focused level of violence. Once they
come to power, they then aim to use the fact that a state has a monopoly over violence
to engage in a very aggressive and violent foreign policy of war. They appropriate the
term jihad, which is a Koranic concept which means “struggle”, and they apply it to their
foreign policy.>>Presenter: And it’s all based on sales,
isn’t it? And you were actually a sale recruiter, weren’t you? What does that involve?>>Nawaz: I went through the ranks. I started
off as a recruiter at Newham College. I became president of the students’ union and was involved
in a heavy recruitment drive for the group. My entire student union committee were members
of my organization and were elected on the same slate as I was. We ratcheted up and poisoned
the atmosphere to such an extent that sadly, though we didn’t encourage this directly–
but it’s a natural consequence of what I believe is is if you boil a kettle enough, eventually
the water will boil over. One of our supporters called Sayid Nour ended up murdering a non-Muslim
student on that campus by stabbing him through the heart with a machete. He was convicted
for murder and is serving a life sentence. He was not a member of the group. He was a
supporter who– As I said, when you ratchet up the atmosphere– It’s like if racism spreads
unchecked in society. Don’t be surprised if Combat 18 and other racist groups start engaging
in violence. That’s the fine line you mentioned. That was
the debate we had when I was still a member of the group. They don’t directly encourage
violence, and that was the point I was pushing and was bound to push. When you were editor
of Newsnight. I was arguing a legal point. But they don’t necessarily encourage violence
directly. But what I was conceding was the fact that this point, that just like with
racism, if you spread an extremist idea and if you spread hatred and bigotry in society,
then the natural consequence– Don’t be surprised if people then allow that the spin over and
take matters into their own hands.>>Presenter: Then this led to you going to
Egypt and to getting into trouble there.>>Nawaz: Before I went to Egypt, I was co-founder
of this group in three other, well, two other countries apart from Britain. I went to Denmark
and helped establish the Danish-Pakistani branch. When Pakistan tested it’s nuclear
bomb, we got a message from the global leader saying that the superstate that they wanted
to create would really benefit from a nuclear bomb. He sent a message to all British Pakistani
members, and asked us to leave our studies. At the time I was doing law and Arabic at
University, at Soas. We could leave our studies and go over as quickly as possible to Pakistan
to recruit from the Pakistani Army and recruit from the population, so prime Pakistan as
being the starting point for this so-called caliphate. Again, another appropriation of
an Islamic term, a historical term that they’ve now used to call their superstate.
I left in 1999. I moved to Pakistan and began recruiting there. I tried to– Well, I co-founded
the group there and set up cells in Lahore and Rahim Yar Khan and other cities, and also
helped recruit Pakistani Army officers to the group, who were discovered in 2003 by
General Musharraf in a purge, because they were plotting a coup. Even this year, they’ve
discovered a third cell of my former group in the Pakistani Army. Brigadier Ali Khan
and four other officers who are currently facing a military tribunal, again, for plotting
a coup. Media reports state that, in fact, there was a recruit from the Air Force who
was even considering bombing the Parliament as a distraction when they attempt to engage
in this coup. After my activities in Pakistan, I ended up
in Egypt. In Egypt, I was head of the Alexandria chapter, and was attempting to resurrect and
recreate this group in Egypt. I was in Egypt, after 9/11, that the authorities– or my activities
caught up with me and the authorities arrested me. On the 1st of April in 2002, I was arrested
in Alexandria. I was blindfolded. I was taken to the dungeons of the state security headquarters
in Cairo in a building known as al-Gihaz. My hands were tied behind my back with rags.
I was given a number. My number was 42. The numbers went into the hundreds. It was there,
in the building of al-Gihaz, that they began torturing everybody by electrocution, going
up from number 1 to number 2 to number 3, all the way into the hundreds. We were eventually
sentenced to five years in prison. I wanted to actually read an extract–>>Presenter: Sure.>>Nawaz: –from– Could I just borrow your
book, please?>>Presenter: Sure. [laughs] With pleasure.>>Nawaz: I thought that what I’d do is just
read from that section of my time in al-Gihaz. It’s not long, just a page. Because it just
gives you a feeling. It’s very difficult to describe walking towards your torture, to
your own torture. I wasn’t electrocuted, thankfully. I need to make that point clear. I was instead
subjected to having to witness other people electrocuted. And then my questions were being
played off them and vice versa. But at the time that I was walking towards the torture
cell, to the interrogation room, I didn’t know. Because of course, they had tortured
another British citizen who was with me. So I didn’t know if they were going to electrocute
me or not. This is– What I try to do is explain how that feels, in the book, when you’re walking
towards what could be a very difficult situation to deal with. This chapter– It’s from chapter
20. It’s called “As-Salamu Alaykum, You’ve Just Come Out of Hell” because al-Gihaz was
a building infamous throughout Egypt. During the Egypt uprising, the revolutionaries in
fact stormed this building. They ransacked it and they took the files. There are two
buildings that are infamous in Egypt for torture, and they were, respectively, the Cairo headquarters,
Amn ad-Dawla, or the State Security, and the Egypt headquarters. Al-Gihaz was the national
Egypt headquarters, and Lazoghly was the building that was the Cairo headquarters. Just merely
mentioning the names, if anyone is Egyptian in the audience, you’d know. Merely mentioning
al-Gihaz and Lazoghly would be enough to send a shiver down the spine of any Egyptian. They
were truly dark and despicable places. If you bear with me, this is a very difficult
passage. When I wrote this, it was actually– I had a bit of a breakdown. I’m just going
to read it for you because it gives you a sense of what it feels like to be in that
situation. “To be asked to voluntarily walk towards your
own torture is the cruelest of expectations. Why can’t they just carry me? Each step is
a personal betrayal. My body is convulsing in revulsion against my commands. Every instinct
is screaming at me to turn the other way. [pause] But I’m expected to walk on. Try standing
in the middle of a highway, watching an oncoming bus, without flinching. That’s hard. Now try
voluntarily walking towards that bus instead of stepping out of the way. Impossible. That’s
what it’s like walking towards your own torture. My legs are buckling under each step, but
I force compliance and walk on. God, your chaperoning hand that helps me walk blindly
to my own torture feels perversely merciful. For how could I avoid stepping on my brothers
in the corridor, were it not for you? Alas, without sight, I cannot help but feel so disgustingly
dependent on you. Now it is hard to breathe. Fighting to stay
hidden away deep within me, even my breath fears coming out to face my torturer. My heart
is attempting to escape the cage that is my chest, and my mind is beginning to shut down.
I’m in shock. Oh, God, I need you right now. If any mercy
I’ve ever shown to anyone has amounted to any value in your esteem, then send me your
angels now to shield me from these monsters. I’m trying to be brave for you, my Lord, but
the truth is, I’m scared. Help me, my Lord, for I am very scared.”
As I said, that’s from chapter 20. That’s just before my number was called, number 42.
It’s just before I was called to the torture cell. After four days, we were then put into
solitary confinement in a concrete cell with no sanitation and no– and that means no toilet.
And no bed and no light and no sink. Eventually, we were sentenced to five years in prison.>>Presenter: And did you spend five years
in prison?>>Nawaz: I spent my full sentence, which was
meant to be three years and nine months. It took them an extra three months to sort their
paperwork out, so I returned after serving four years. The prison was Mazra Tora Prison.
Anyone who follows the Egypt uprising will know that Hosni Mubarak’s sons and the former
Minister of Interior, Habib El Adly, and Hosni Mubarak himself, are currently serving in
that very same prison. I thank God that they weren’t tortured and that what happened to
Gaddafi didn’t happen to them, because of course, as Nietzsche said, “Beware of becoming
the monster you’re attempting to fight.” When I became an Islamist, I did become somewhat
of that monster. I’m happy that I’ve managed to pull myself back from that level of anger.>>Presenter: So then how did you start to
change your mind? Was it around this time?>>Nawaz: You can have your book back.>>Presenter: Thank you very much.>>Nawaz: Two things happened to me in Mazra
Tora Prison that had a profound impact on me. One of them was that Amnesty International,
to whom I owe a great deal of thanks for their support, they adopted me as a prisoner of
conscience. If you keep in mind the way in which we spoke earlier, that there are three
categories of Islamist organizations, and my one was a non-terrorist organization, and
specifically, in this case, there were no charges of violence, that the charges in Arabic
were– They’re quite comical, actually. [speaks Arabic] which means, “Propagation by speech
and writing for the ideas of a banned organization.” We were charged for ideas. The charge in itself
was a known goal. That spurred Amnesty on. There was a man called John Cornell, who is
a part of the Amnesty’s Buckingham branch. He began writing letters to the headquarters,
asking them to adopt us as prisoners of conscience. He had an impact, and they did.
As soon as we were charged by these dodgy charges– Now I’ve got to say, again, we were
extreme. We did believe in unpalatable and reprehensible ideas. But that’s different
to actually doing something illegal. It’s also different to being a terrorist. Part
of the reason I’m doing the work I’m doing now is to make amends for the extremism that
I spread. I just want to make that point clear. When Amnesty–>>Presenter: But when did you realize that
what you were doing was reprehensible? When did that dawn on you?>>Nawaz: This was a– There was no sudden
moment. There was a four year process, and one year after prison. As I said, the two
things that really helped change my mind is Amnesty working to campaign for my release.
That began a rehumanization process. I began defining the other no longer as my enemy,
because of course, they were defending me. There’s a lesson there in the importance of
adhering to human rights. The war on terror decade I think had it the wrong way around.
They basically started cutting back on human rights and going in heavy with the military,
whereas what should have happened is a heavy civic response to extremism and a protection
of civil liberties. But anyway, that’s another subject. But that had a profound impact on
me. The second thing was that I was in prison,
at the time, with some of the leading jihadists and Islamists of their day, in Egypt. Everything
from, on the one end of the spectrum, the assassins of the former president, Anwar Sadat,
through to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, Dr. Mohammed Badie, who’s their current Masul,
their general leader. That’s the party that’s now– Their candidate won the presidential
elections in Egypt. They’re now in power. All the way through to liberal political prisoners,
such as Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour, the former presidential candidate.
Essentially, the four years in university, it was a political university. Everything
I’ve told you that I did, I did before the age of 24. I was imprisoned at 24. I’m now
only 25, believe it or not. [laughs] No, I’m 34. At 24, I was imprisoned. So I was still
very young. It was those four years that basically was my political maturity, political awakening.
From 24 to 28, the Amnesty’s work, and my political discussions in prison, and my studying
from Islam’s original sources– I became fluent in Arabic, not only because I did the law
and Arabic degree at Soas, but also because, by that time, obviously in prison, I had to
speak Arabic every day. I began studying from the Koran and the original
sources of Islam. I realized that this distinction between Islam as a religion and Islamism as
a modern political ideology inspired by European fascism, ironically enough. After my release
from prison, it took me a further 10 months, and I could no longer justify– You met me
during that 10 months.>>Presenter: Yes.>>Nawaz: And I could no longer justify believing
in those ideas.>>Presenter: You changed in your mind, but
you hadn’t changed publicly.>>Nawaz: That’s right.>>Presenter: You were still representing Hizb
ut-Tahrir.>>Nawaz: On their leadership. Yeah.>>Presenter: But you knew you were on the
wrong path.>>Nawaz: Yeah. I had a BBC HARDtalk interview
with Sarah Montague while I was still a member, during the time I met you. I toed the party
line as far as I could. It’s still on the internet, if you wanted to watch it. You’ll
see me speaking as a Hizb ut-Tahrir member. But I was roundly criticized inside the group
for that interview because they said it was too soft. That was me struggling with my own–
For example, I used the term– I said, “We’re calling for a representative caliphate.” They
basically took issue with my use of the word representative. “What do you mean, ‘a representative
caliphate’? It’s God’s law! God’s the one who represents us.” It wasn’t– They weren’t
happy with that. That was like– They could see that my views were changing a bit. Like
we’ve met again, I’m actually due onto HARDtalk again next week, the first time since leaving.>>Presenter: Aha. So then, how did you make
the break, and how did that go down with Hizb ut-Tahrir?>>Nawaz: They asked me to– They pretty much
were preparing me to take over the leadership of the group in the UK. The man who originally
recruited me was, by this time, the leader. He needed to go to Bangladesh to [pause] help
found the group in Bangladesh. Incidentally, there’s also been an army purge in Bangladesh.
They found a cell in the Bangladeshi Army plotting a coup. They offered that, and I
was forced to make a decision: either become the leader of the group in the country, and
I no longer believe in the group, or leave. I unilaterally resigned. I guess the only
other question is, “Why didn’t I keep quiet after my resignation?” I think that what drove
me to join the group in the first place was a desire to see justice and fight the injustices
that I saw around me. I now came to believe that the ideology of Islamism is as big an
injustice as racism and all the other grievances, including foreign policy grievances, that
are out there. I believe that the ideology of Islamism is one of the biggest obstacles
standing before Muslims and their progress. That sense that the Islamism is creating more
injustice than it’s solving meant that my original motivation was still there. I needed,
I wanted to fight injustice. The target had just shifted towards this ideology now, as
well.>>Presenter: Did that put you at risk, do
you think, when you came out? You did a, I think it was a 70 minute film on Newsnight
denouncing Hizb ut-Tahrir and then obviously doing speaking programs and so on. Have you
had threats or intimidation as a result?>>Nawaz: There were threats, there were intimidations.
Yeah. Just today, someone on Twitter said they wanted to shoot me. If they saw me in
the audience, they’d come up and kill me, because I did a talk yesterday. We get threats
all the time. But I don’t know how serious they are. I have been attacked in Pakistan
by a member of the group. But keep in mind, this isn’t a terrorist organization. The bigger
danger is, it comes from– Because I’m not just criticizing Hizb ut-Tahrir. I’m criticizing
the entire Islamist project that I no longer agree with, and separating it from Islam.
That’s very dangerous for them, because Islamists believe that they have a monopoly over Islamic
discourse. The minute you separate their ideology from the faith, you’re removing that monopoly.
You’re breaking that monopoly. It upsets all Islamist organizations. The bigger danger
is from the violent ones. We do a lot of work in Pakistan now to try
and challenge the Islamist narrative and inoculate young people against the extremist narratives,
and instead advocate the democratic culture. I’ve found in a movement, in Pakistan, mirroring
my founding of Islamist movements. I’ve used the same tactics and the same organizational
techniques to set up a social movement that advocates, instead, democratic culture.
A leading member of that movement is here with me today. He’s Imran Khan who’s on the
leadership. Just stick your hand up, Imran. If anyone wants to ask him about Pakistan
afterwards, he’s on the leadership of the movement we founded there called Khudi. He’s
here for a week, just to see how things are in the UK. But we travel around and hold workshops
in universities with students. We inoculate them against the extremist narratives. We
train them in how to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. We’re trying to popularize the
counter narratives and rebrand democratic activism in Pakistan. Of course, it is dangerous,
but I think the bigger danger is facing people like Imran who are out on the front lines
every day. I’m just providing my consultancy services, if you like.>>Presenter: That’s the Quilliam Foundation?>>Nawaz: Yes.>>Presenter: That’s interesting, because there’s
a number of people, Ed Husain and some others, who had conversions round about the same time,
and banded together. Why was it that these guys all came to the same conclusion around
the same time, to found Quilliam?>>Nawaz: There was some– Ed and I founded
Quilliam together. We brought, as you said, a number of guys on board. There was something
of a perfect storm in those days. The perfect storm was that the public appetite to understand
the difference between Islam and Islamism was at its peak. It was post 7/7. Policy makers
were hungry for this distinction, and to understand the debate. There was funds available, in
terms of public funds, to try and address some of these subjects. Ed had just written
his book explaining his views around these things. All of that came together. I had just
got released from prison, and of course, my story, being out of the group, being the only
one who had gone on the be a bit of an international Islamist and imprisoned and stuff. It added
the extra spice, if you like, in the masala, to create that background, backstory. It was
a perfect storm. I don’t think we could replicate it today. I don’t think we could replicate
founding Quilliam. We could probably replicate founding Khudi in Pakistan, but founding Quilliam
in the UK as a policy-based institution dealing with, addressing some of these issues on a
policy and media and public diplomacy level. I don’t know if that same level of opportunities
that we found would present themselves today.>>Presenter: Are you succeeding? Do you think
the threat of radical Islam is receding in Britain?>>Nawaz: That’s tough to say. Jonathan Evans,
the head of the Security Services just gave a speech two weeks ago, if you caught that,
warning that the security vacuum from the Arab uprisings could be exploited and is,
in his view– I’m sure he’d know– is being exploited by British Muslims going over to
train with al-Qaeda. Now, the Arab uprisings were great news. I
believe– Not only because they were personally cathartic– Hosni Mubarak was brought to justice–
but I believe that in the long term, this is a step to the right side of history. I
believe that closed societies breed closed minds. And open and democratic societies will,
in the long run, breed open and democratic minds. But how to make sure they remain open
and not become elected dictatorships? To have that, we need to have the democratic
trinity I often refer to. That’s the need for a democratic culture, meaning the ideas
and values that underpin democracies, just human rights and freedoms. The democratic
institutions, such as Parliament and the Senate. And the democratic processes. If this democratic
trinity can be rooted within societies just as Egypt or Pakistan, they will act as the
strongest check against any one party dominating politics, even an Islamist party. That’s what
we’re trying to seed in Pakistan, this democratic trinity. It’s what we’re trying to seed in
Pakistan with our social movement Khudi. But Egypt doesn’t have an equivalent level of
social organizing for democratic values. It’s quite disparate at the moment.
Jonathan Evans gave a speech saying that British Muslims may exploit the security vacuum from
the Arab uprisings in countries like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Especially Syria
because of its proximity to Iraq, and former militants coming from Iraq into Syria to fight
Assad. He said there’s a chance, and they’re aware of, some people coming back and potentially
trying to attack Britain. Now, it’s not a huge leap of the imagination
to remember that 7/7 occurred during the week we won the Olympics bid, and that now we’re
about to come into the Olympics. It would be hugely symbolic if there was a terrorist
strike in London. I don’t think it’s a matter of if, I think it’s a matter of when and where.
I hope and believe that it wouldn’t be successful, but I definitely think that there will be
attempts. In fact, there have already been arrests. A couple of cases. One non-Olympics
related terrorism arrest, a group of six. And one Olympics related, a Somali who had
14 Somalia with al-Shabaab. I think it’s not about if, but when and where, sadly.>>Presenter: Okay, thank you. Now, should
we throw it in to the audience? Who would like to ask some questions? [pause]>>Female #1: Hi. My name is Eleanor Davis.
I’m Israeli. I’ve been shaking most of the time while you were talking. I have to collect
myself. I have two questions for you. The first one is: I’ve read that you went to meet
Israeli families, bereaved families, that are victims of terror attacks that Israel,
unfortunately, has a lot of. I wanted to ask you how you were received, how it made you
feel, and also ask you what your thoughts are on terror organizations such as Hamas
and Hezbollah, who are very focused on destroying Israel?
Then, my second question to you was regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. As you said, Arab
Spring is something that brought a lot of hope. But from an Israeli perspective, looking
at the Muslim Brotherhood, who have very difficult opinions. There’s been a lot of quotations
recently in the Israeli news about whether to keep the peace with Israel or not, and
calls to destroy Israel and so on, which isn’t very hopeful or Spring-like for us. I was
hoping to get your opinion on that, as well. Then, I just want to end by saying thank you,
so much, for being who you are. I just wish we had more like you.>>Nawaz: Thank you. Indeed, you’re correct.
You probably read it in the Jewish Chronicle.>>Female #1: I actually read Israeli News.>>Nawaz: Oh, was it in the Israeli paper?
Ah, okay, I didn’t know that. I wrote that in the Jewish Chronicle. I didn’t realize
the Israeli press covered it, which is good, I suppose, as well. I’ve just returned from
both Israel and the West Bank. In Israel I met with Mark Regev, the spokesman for Netanyahu.
I also met with our own ambassador there, Matthew Gould, and met with Husam Zomlot from
the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in Ramallah. We did a full talk. I was part
of a parliamentary delegation that went. As you correctly said, I met with victims of
terror. The experience was very fulfilling for me. The whole rehumanization process is
what I, because of Amnesty’s work, is what I put a lot of emphasis on. I think rehumanization
of the other is crucial. Face to face contact is one of the best ways to do that. But not
only face to face contact. What is also needed is to actually start, respectively, to start
challenging some of the extremisms that exist within one’s own communities. That’s why,
to take responsibility for some of the ideas that I’ve put out there, I’m doing the work
I’m doing now. Hamas and Hezbollah. There is absolutely no
excuse and no justification, no matter how angry somebody is, to deliberately target
civilians and non-combatants in revenge or to achieve any foreign policy objective whatsoever.
I spoke in Israel, I say the same here, when an individual or non-state actor targets civilians
or non-combatants, I define it as terrorism. Whoever they are, even if it’s Hamas and Hezbollah.
When a state does so, I describe it as a war crime. Because of the position I’m in, you’ll
understand, I have to be very– I have to try and be perceived to be very fair. I regularly
write in the newspapers against Hamas. I consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
I believe the true chance for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict is by strengthening
the successes of the Palestinian Authority. I saw some of the projects they’re involved
in, such as the new development site called Rawabi, which is the first time in history
that they’re building a planned city in the West bank. It’s a Qatari funded project. It’s
a great project. [unintelligible] It’s a hugely successful thing if they pull it off. I think
that that’s the solution, in strengthening the Palestinian Authority.
So I write against Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s terrorism in the papers. But I also, I won’t
make any qualms about it, was critical of Israel’s Gaza Operation, the one where they
were bombing Gaza, I think a year ago, whenever it was. I believe– yeah, two years ago. I
think the reaction was disproportionate. But I do draw a distinction between terrorism
and a disproportionate state reaction, which in international law is called “disproportionate
reaction.” I hope that answers your question. But thank you, as well, for your kind comments.>>Female #1: Just about the Muslim Brotherhood,
as well.>>Nawaz: Okay. Because of all the questions,
what I’ll say is that the democratic trinity’s what’s needed to be rooted in the Egyptian
society. If we can do that, then there will be a check on any one party taking over or
having an undue influence in Egyptian politics. Finally, there is some cause for hope. Don’t
forget, only 25% of the population voted for an Islamist party. That’s 75% that did not
vote for the Brotherhood. That’s a 50% drop from their parliamentary results. If you remember,
in Parliament, they got 50%. In the presidential elections, they only got 25%. Within the space
of a few months, their percentage dropped. That’s because the majority of Egyptians realized
the difference between Islam and Islamism, because they have to live it.>>Presenter: Next question.>>Male #1: Hi. First of all, thanks for coming.
It’s great to have you here.>>Nawaz: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.>>Male #1: I have three questions. [laughter]>>Nawaz: Is that okay with our chair?>>Presenter: Yeah. Be quick, though.>>Male #1: You were a recruiter. What would
you say to one person that you recruited? Because I guess you used some arguments, something
to convince these people. What will you say to those people now? This is my question number
1. My question number 2 is: are you afraid–
do you think your life is in danger after these changes in your life and publishing,
writing this book? And the third question is: where do you think
the Arabic Spring will come out, will end up? And also, one thing is that your book
is available in Playstore, which is great. [laughter]>>Nawaz: Okay. What’s Playstore? Forgive my
ignorance. [laughter]>>Presenter: A very good online store.>>Nawaz: Ah! Fantastic. Thank you, Playstore.
Thumbs up to that. I think it’s easier to deal with the second
question first, my life being in danger or not. I mean, it may be or it may not be. Everyone’s
life’s in danger in that sense, because anything can happen. But the reason I’m sounding slightly
flippant, forgive me, about that question is because when you are a member of an Islamist
organization in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, facing potential torture or death for your Islamist
activities, you’re already pretty much desensitized to that level of danger. I’m not doing anything
more dangerous now than I was when known systematic torturers were hunting me down in Egypt. Anything
that terrorists could do to me now is what the State Security could have done to me before.
In that sense, I’ve pretty much reconciled myself to it already 13 years ago.
Your first question about what I’d say to somebody. I don’t think we have the time,
but I am involved in that. I am engaged in that. Just recently, I managed– I have some
good news: I managed to convince a member of an Islamist organization from a leadership
position to resign and step down and also denounce the Islamist ideology. Because they’re
not the same thing. You can leave the Communist Party and still be a communist. The key is
to actually convince them to leave the ideology as well. I am engaged in that.
As for your third question, I’m optimistic in the long term about the Arab uprisings.
I think Libya, for example, in the elections that just happen there. It’s great. The Islamists
didn’t win in Libya. And even in Egypt, as I said, only 25% voted for the Islamist candidate.
That was because they were actually rejecting Hosni Mubarak’s last PM, because the final
runoff ended up, ironically, being between the old order and the new order. And there’s
no surprise there. They happened to be the most organized blocks within a disorganized
majority: Mubarak’s cronies and the Muslim Brotherhood. This election was actually a
rejection of the old, and nothing more. So I’m optimistic in the long term.>>Presenter: Next question.>>Nawaz: Forgive me, I’m trying to rush through
the questions. I hope you don’t mind.>>Presenter: Just one at a time is preferred.>>Male #2: I saw you at BBC Interview, I think
it was 2006. I didn’t know it was when you were going through the transformation. But
I want to just ask a quick question on that.>>Nawaz: Which BBC interview do you refer
to?>>Presenter: The Sarah Montague, is that right?>>Nawaz: The HARDtalk one?>>Male #2: HARDtalk, yeah.>>Nawaz: Okay.>>Male #2: In that one, you had mentioned–
maybe it was you being “soft”– but you had mentioned you were trying to encourage to
Islamic governments to unite. I didn’t see much wrong with that. You had defended that
idea. I was in agreement with that specific idea. I just wanted to know if you are against
that idea now, because that seems not–>>Nawaz: Are you from Pakistan?>>Male #2: No, I’m not. I’m from India.>>Nawaz: From India. It’s a good question.
The reason– What I did is I remember the analogy I drew is with the EU. I said, “If
the European Union can come together, why can’t Muslim countries come together and form
a caliphate?” I’d like to tell you, now, that that analogy is false. You’ll understand why
it’s false because you’re in London. The reason it’s false is if you look at me, I carry a
British passport, and I have a Pakistani identity card as well. I can go in and out. That’s
called citizenship. Now, as a Muslim of Pakistani origin, born in Essex, I’m a member of the
EU citizens and I’m a member of– I’m a citizen of Britain. Britain didn’t say to me, “Because
you’re not a Muslim, you can’t be a citizen.” Britain said, “You’re a British citizen.”
In this country, we have a Muslim in the Cabinet, serving in the Cabinet. Regardless of one’s
views about her. I’m not a Tory and– But Baroness Warsi’s in the Cabinet. In the opposition,
we have a Muslim in the Shadow Cabinet. That’s Sadiq Khan, who, incidentally, by the way,
or for the record, was my lawyer campaigning for my release from prison. So I need to thank
him for that on the record. And in the Lib Dems as well. Muslims serve in all three parties
as citizens of this country. Why am I telling you this? Because there’s
a difference between the citizenship model that doesn’t look at ethnicity and that doesn’t
look at religion, but rather looks at your rights, yeah? You can be American Italian,
you can be American Jewish, you can be American Muslim, you can be American Christian. But
you’re American. Likewise with Britain. You can be British Muslim, British Sikh, British
Hindu, British Indian, British Pakistani. However you define yourself, the fact is,
you’re a citizen of this country. The EU is not a Christian club. That’s the
point I’m coming to. The analogy, to say, “Why can’t Muslim countries unite under a
Muslim banner?” is a false analogy because we have moved out of the medieval era where
nations were basically bonding on religion. We have moved into what I called the “citizenship
era”. If there is a regional cooperation between Pakistan, it should be– and that’s why I
asked you where you’re from– it should be a South Asian regional economic cooperation
with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the region. It should not be based on
religion. That’s the point why the analogy is wrong.
Likewise with the Middle East. There should be a regional cooperation. There are many,
many Christians in the Middle East. Egypt is not a Muslim country. It’s not. It’s a
Muslim majority country. That’s why I’m very careful with my terminology. Egypt does not
belong to Muslims. It belongs to Egyptians. It’s a republic. 20% of Egypt are Coptic Christians.
They’ve been there before Muslims ever got there. Likewise with Lebanon. Lebanon is not
a Muslim country. It’s a Lebanese country for Lebanese people.
We have to stop defining nations by their religious denomination, otherwise, we will
only reinforce the Islamist narrative that defines people by their faith alone. When
Google people, senior Google people like Peter, see you, they don’t say, “You’re a Muslim”
and then only treat you as a Muslim. They see you as a man, as an Indian, as a Google
employee, as whatever else you are. If you’re a father, you’re a father. If you’re a husband,
they see you as a husband. They see all of your identities together. They don’t stereotype
you, put you in a box, and then patronize you just for that one identity of your faith.
I think it’s dangerous if we, as Muslims, try– Inadvertently, reinforce the Islamist
narrative by insisting that we are only defined as Muslims and as nothing else. Because if
you think about it, I will be self excluding myself from British society if I do that.
If I insist that I’m only a Muslim, then I’m not British. Then I won’t be allowed to participate
in the democracy of Britain and make things easier for other Muslims in this country.
Does that make sense? I spent a bit of time on that answer just to make sure that– because
it’s important to make that distinction.>>Male #2: It does make sense–>>Nawaz: Yeah.>>Male #2: –but I don’t think you’re– If
I can take more?>>Presenter: One more.>>Male #2: European identities: they’re not
just European, they are many things, right? Muslim identity: we can be Muslims as well
as other things. So what’s wrong with having unity between–?>>Nawaz: Right. In which case, if it’s multiple,
it’s done by economy and geography, isn’t it? It’s not done by religion alone. That’s
my only point, yeah? If there is regional cooperation, then there are more Muslims–
you know this– there are more Muslims in India then there are in Pakistan. Numerically.
There are more Muslims in India than there are in Bangladesh. Right? In fact, there are
more Muslims in South Asia than the entire Middle East put together. If there are more
Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan, but India’s not defined as a Muslim majority
country, because it’s not, then where does that leave the Muslims in India? We need to
be– We need to stop defining it just by religion. India needs to cooperate with Pakistan on
an economic and geographic level, not on just a religious level. That’s my point.>>Presenter: Next question.>>Female #2: Hi. Thank you so much for coming.>>Nawaz: Pleasure.>>Female #2: It’s been absolutely fascinating.
What I was really interested in was you talked about the three different facets, I suppose,
of Islamism, and how each of those builds towards their goals.>>Nawaz: The methods, you mean. Yeah?>>Female #2: So, for example, the terrorist.
Then you’ve got–>>Nawaz: The revolutionary and the political.
Yeah.>>Female #2: Exactly. I completely understand
that you draw a distinction between what each of them does activity-wise. But I would say
is that, the way I see it, is that although you may not have been involved in terrorism,
you’re still involved in the incitement of a huge level of hatred, and all the things
that lead, in the end, to terrorism, as you described in your time at college when one
of your supporters stabbed another pupil. I see you draw a distinction between their
activities. But what I was wondering was: do you, then, draw a distinction between how
we should deal with each of those three tenets of the building towards Islam– or sorry,
towards Islamism? And if you do see a distinction between how we should be dealing with them,
what do you think is the most effective approach for each? Or are they all as inherent in creating
that hatred in each way– I mean, do you believe that they’re all equally inherent in creating
that, or do you see some as less– I don’t know, I guess more excusable than others?>>Nawaz: That’s a very good question. Let
me begin by saying I disagree with the ideology per se. That means regardless of one’s methodology,
whether you’re political, revolutionary, or military Islamist. I disagree with Islamism
on a base level. I believe it’s an intellectually flawed, a-history, and un-Islamic ideology.
Sorry for the hyperbole, but it’s important to make that point because I don’t want anyone
thinking that I have any level of sympathy for the ideology. It’s intellectually flawed,
it’s ahistory, and it’s un-Islamic. It’s not the same as the religion of Islam.
As for the distinctions within the ideology, that happens even within communism. If anyone
who knows their communist history, Stalin killed Trotsky with an ice pick. Well, he
sent his henchmen to kill Trotsky with an ice pick in the South Americas. Because every
ideology, every dogma– If anyone has seen the film Life of Brian, because it’s hilarious.
It’s actually a great film. Monty Python’s Life of Brian. They satirize this. It’s true.
Every dogmatic cause will end up turning in on itself.
Islamism has the same. The political Islamists hate the terrorist. And the terrorists hate
the revolutionaries, and likewise. They all hate each other because they’re competing.
They’re competing, essentially, for the same audience, which is the average Muslim. To
convince the average Muslim that they have their true salvation in their hands, and that
the methodology that they’re adhering to is the true way to go forward. Now, if you know
that they’re competing and that they hate each other, as a strategist who is dealing
on a government level with policy responses, or as a civil society activist like we are
with Khudi in Pakistan, who’s working on the grassroots to push back that ideological narrative,
you can exploit those fault lines as weaknesses. And you can play their differences off against
each other to weaken them even more, to encourage that hatred, to encourage the level of disagreement
and sectarianism within Islamism so that the average Muslim realizes that these guys can’t
even get it right themselves. They’re fighting each other.>>Female #2: Do you think that happens?>>Nawaz: Oh yeah, definitely, it does. Definitely.
I’ve been involved in some of it.>>Female #2: They do work off of that?>>Nawaz: Yeah, yeah. They do. It’s clever.
But you have to do it in a way that doesn’t legitimize the ideology itself, yeah? That’s
important. For example, we’ve been involved in advising governments, including the British
government, that ministers should not share platforms with senior Islamists, even if they’re
nonviolent. Just like they would not share platforms with racists, even if the racist
was a nonviolent person. Because racism can also be nonviolent. But Islamism believes
in homophobia, anti-Semitism. It believes in stoning people to death. It believes in
all sorts of human rights abuses, anti women views. It’s worse than racism in many respects.
Because white people are generally comfortable with not cooperating with white racists, and
they’re uncomfortable with telling brown people that there are elements of their views which
are bigoted, because they don’t want to be painted as racist, and it’s a form of reverse
racism, because of course, our culture is bigoted anyway. The more bigoted we are, the
more authentic we are. That sort of perverse reverse racism colonial view needs to change
and needs to stop. That’s part of what we’re involved in, trying to challenge.>>Presenter: Hizb ut-Tahrir isn’t a prescribed
organization, is it? It’s not illegal?>>Nawaz: This is the second aspect of the
relevance of your question, that we do need to draw a distinction between values and where
we stand morally towards these groups and the law. I would never endorse the BNP, for
example, but I would defend their right to exist as a legal entity, as long as they’re
not violent. The BNP is legal in Britain, as is Hizb ut-Tahrir, and they should both
remain legal because they’re nonviolent, even though they both preach hatred.>>Female #2: This is what I wanted to get
at, actually. It’s kind of like– I understand that it’s legal, but it seems like the activities
that you carried out when you were part of that organization were as damaging, well,
in my mind, they’re as damaging and they have as much impact as the terrorist cells, and
someone would have– It might not be quite so obvious upfront, but it seems to be just
as negative. I mean, it’s the same with the BNP here, like their activities and what they
do and what they encourage is so negative that you create–>>Nawaz: Brevicks.>>Female #2: –an atmosphere of>>Nawaz: Yeah, you create Anders Brevick,
in Norway.>>Female #2: Yeah, and you create more violence.
I mean, you may not be the one carrying out the violence, but you’re still creating a
huge potential for it. It’s not that it’s legal to have these organizations, but that’s
the crux of the matter, is, should it? I mean, it’s a very complex question. But should it
be, when you are part of an organization that incites so much hatred and can cause so much
damage, should that be viewed as legal?>>Nawaz: The question is: where do you draw
the line? Currently, it’s illegal in Britain to directly incite violence, to directly incite
it. It’s not illegal to incite extremist thought, which is what the BNP and my former group
do. I think the line has been drawn correct. I’m a fan of Orwell. I’ve read 1984. I think
it’s dangerous territory. I think Google believes this as well. It’s dangerous territory if
you start censoring ideas. What you need to do instead is empower alternative ideas. I
think part of the problem in the Middle East, and why the Arab uprisings happened, is because
secular dictators were trying for to long to shut down ideas and justify their own dictatorships
by saying, “If you don’t support us, the extremists will come in power.” We know what that leads
to in the end. It leads to torture, it leads to oppression and tyranny, and it leads to
the Islamists gaining credibility, because they’re the only credible opposition left,
as a result. I think that the wiser course of action would be to draw the line where
British law currently stands, and that’s to say, “We won’t tolerate inciting, directly
inciting violence, but as for extremism, we would encourage and support those civil society
initiatives through industry, technology, third sector organizations, that try and build
capacity to challenge extremism within civil society.>>Female #2: Thank you so much.>>Nawaz: Thank you.>>Presenter: I think we’re getting close to
the end. But time for one final question. Sir.>>Male #3: First of all, brilliant conversation.
Appreciate it as a New Yorker that was in New York at the time that– This just tremendously
insightful. I appreciate it.>>Nawaz: Thank you.>>Male #3: I wanted to get your feelings on
torture. Do you feel it actually brings out the truth? Is it demeaning? I would just love
your insight on that.>>Nawaz: Okay.>>Male #3: It’s a very hot topic in America.
I’m sure it’s worldwide.>>Nawaz: Yeah. Can I borrow your book again?>>Presenter: Sure.>>Nawaz: In this book, being from New York,
there’s a chapter that’s called The Polemic. I encourage you to read it. But please read
it and remember what I’m like now, so you don’t hate me, because The Polemic is simply
my initial gut reaction to 9/11. As an Islamist, even though we weren’t terrorists, my emotions,
of course, were still fully in line, emotionally, with the cause and the struggle. I had defined
America as the “enemy”. This chapter, The Polemic, begins– It’s chapter 16. I just
wanted the chapter number. It begins with three pages of, essentially, a polemic. It’s
a rant. But it’s the rant I would have said when 9/11 happened at the time. It’s how I
would have felt. It’s how I did feel. I remember feeling this, and I remember actually preparing
this type of a speech in my own mind. So do read that.
As for your question on torture, I suppose there are a few things here that make me somewhat
biased. But hopefully in a good way. Being an Amnesty adopted prisoner of conscience,
being a victim of torture, and being a law student who studied these issues from a legal
perspective, I could never endorse torture in any condition for any justification. The
red herring of a ticking time bomb scenario is often used as a– What if you have someone
who definitely knows where a bomb’s going to go off, and unless you torture them, you
won’t get the answer? Is, in the real world– Essentially, when it translates into the real
world, is only possible when you’re in a courtroom and you’ve got an agent who’s accused of torturing
somebody. His defense is “It was a ticking time bomb” defense. We’re expected to believe
him. And there’s no guarantee that he’s telling the truth. He’s a torturer. There’s no guarantee
that that’s the real reason that he was torturing somebody. In the real world, you don’t know
what’s in that person’s head, and you don’t know what’s in the tortured person’s head,
which is why legal checks exist. It’s to stop an abuse of power. Because of course, any
abuse of power is justified. If I saw somebody about to murder my loved ones in front of
me, I would use serious and severe and sustained violence to stop them. But that doesn’t mean
I can justify that violence in the courts of law. There’s a difference between what’s
a personal defense and a personal justification, and what must be put up to public scrutiny.
I don’t believe torture can ever be– can ever pass that public scrutiny test.
In this book, the prologue begins with a conversation I had with George Bush about this in his house
in Texas. He was quite funny, actually, because he ended up suiting that caricature that I
am– that the people generally have of him. We were talking, and he said, “Tell me about
your story,” and I said everything I’ve just said here today. When I go up to the Egypt
dungeon bit, and I said, “We witnessed torture in Egypt”, he went, “Stop right there.” That’s
a very bad American accent, but forgive me, I have to carry on with it, because it was
so funny. I looked at him, I’m shocked why he stopped me midway through a sentence when
I used the word “torture.” He looked me right in the eye, and he said, “How do you define
torture?” Now, of course, this is George Bush who legalized waterboarding. So obviously,
you know what he’s getting at. I thought, “What do I do here? Do I insult him in his
own house? How do I respond to that?” It’s in the prologue. The answer, you’d have to
read the book to find out what I said. [laughter]>>Presenter: Which is the perfect cue to say
that there are a few books available. I don’t know if there’s enough for everybody, but
it’s first come, first serve here at the front. We’re out of time. Thank you so much, Maajid.>>Nawaz: Pleasure. Thank you for having me. [applause] [applause fades] [more applause]

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