What do you stand for?

Quilliam, as an organisation, aims to challenge extremist narratives while advocating pluralistic, democratic alternatives that are consistent with universal human rights standards. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy. We believe that representation should not be through self-styled ‘community representative’ organisations but as citizens through Parliament. We hope to promote these values and concepts by challenging extremism, promoting pluralism and inspiring change.

What kind of organisation are you?

We are a think tank; we are not a ‘representative’ body, we are not a mass movement actively seeking mass support nor are we a religious organisation seeking to preach. Our aspiration is to inspire new thought-trends for existing grassroots bodies. We cooperate with Muslims and non-Muslims at grassroots level in order to achieve this. Furthermore, Quilliam is an independent organisation that is not aligned to any particular political or religious group. Individuals within Quilliam have a range of political, religious and other beliefs.

What kind of work do you do?

In order to achieve its objectives Quilliam targets and works with numerous audiences: Muslim and non-Muslim, social and governmental, domestic and international. Quilliam works consistently with these audiences to address each of the four key contributors we have identified as responsible for an individual’s radicalisation: a range of perceived grievances, a crisis of identity, the existence of a legitimising ideology, and the exposure to those who advocate such an ideology. Firstly, we direct our work towards governments in the UK and globally with the aim of devising policy and influencing existing policy related to extremism, integration, and terrorism. Quilliam publishes research, constantly monitors Islamist trends, and consults to anyone wishing to understand the phenomenon of extremism and how to respond. Secondly, we seek to guide and work with the media to better inform the debate around extremism and terrorism. Thirdly, we aim to empower and educate non-Islamist civil society – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – by emphasising the difference between Islamism and Islam. Finally, we target those who adhere to Islamist narratives and far-right extremist narratives themselves by seeking to undermine their networks, communication strategies and their political ideologies without compromising their civil liberties, and by leveraging the differences that exist between the various factions of Islamism.

How can you measure Quilliam's effectiveness?

Quilliam’s success is measured by whether our recommendations that deal with the causes of radicalisation are adopted by the various target audiences listed above: government, media and civil society networks. By addressing all four of the factors that can lead to radicalisation, Quilliam shows that there is far more to measuring our success than simply pointing to a decline in political violence.

  1. Concerning grievances – Quilliam has taken a firm stand on a number of emotive issues such as the war in Gaza, attacks on mosques in the UK, the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the profiling of plane passengers, all of which have the potential to alienate or to stigmatise ordinary Muslims with the possible result of making them vulnerable to the exploitation of such issues by extremist propaganda. Moreover, we have publicly challenged representatives of the government on these issues with the aim of affecting government policy. Our success here is not only seen in our influence in effecting government policy, but also in showing the public that it is possible to express legitimate grievances with social and political issues without having to adopt simplistic narratives of there being a ‘war on Islam’. Furthermore, our Radicalization Awareness Programme sees Quilliam trainers regularly address the grievances felt every day by young Muslims as part of our outreach work. Our success here lies in enabling a large number of students to directly express their grievances, and in allowing teachers and concerned citizens to appreciate how such grievances can be exploited by extremists to slot into a simplistic and divisive narrative.
  2. Concerning identity crises – For policy-makers, Quilliam’s research on mosques in the UK has furthered understanding of how an inter-generational disconnect between religious leaders and Muslim youths can create anxiety over identity, which itself may render an individual vulnerable to extremist influences. On a party-political level, Quilliam’s research on ethnic and religious minority involvement in UK politics carries a number of major policy recommendations for all three political parties on how to avoid institutional racism, by introducing greater transparency in the selection process for candidates, for example. Likewise for the media and the general public, Quilliam’s work has demonstrated how divisive language that contrasts ‘Islam’ with ‘the West’ can alienate ordinary Muslims. In doing so, we have consistently argued against language that divides ‘us and them’ by referring to ‘the Islamic world’, ‘Muslim countries’, and ‘the Muslim community’, and has praised language that avoids stigmatising ordinary Muslims. Quilliam’s success in this area can be seen in a language-shift witnessed in the way that many public debates concerning Muslims and Islam now adopt a more inclusive tone that sensitively distinguishes Islam from the ideology of Islamism, and that avoids polarising and suggesting that Muslims are somehow not fully Western.
  3. Concerning extremist ideology – For public sector workers and for society at large, Quilliam’s outreach training workshops and briefings have helped many people to understand better how Islamism differs from Islam and how far-right extremism can bolster Islamist narratives. Likewise for policy-makers and academics, Quilliam’s research work has highlighted the role that internet discussion forums, television channels, prisons, and the leadership of university societies can play in promoting extremism, even if they do not break the law. In each report we have made numerous policy recommendations that have lead to action. For example, following the revelations detailed in our report on extremism on television, OFCOM launched an investigation and later vindicated Quilliam’s work when it deemed the Islam Channel to have breached the broadcasting code. In terms of civil society, Quilliam’s advocacy has contributed to the proliferation of a large number counter-Islamist blogs, demonstrations, and civil society organisations that have sprung up since Quilliam’s establishment.
  4. Concerning extremist recruiters – To those in government, to the media, and to the general public Quilliam’s work has highlighted the danger posed by organisations that promote such extremism and by individual recruiters such as Anwar al-Awlaki, long before he received general recognition as being an extremist recruiter. Not only does Quilliam raise the alarm, but we also challenge Islamists publicly and confront their arguments directly in order to undermine their ideology and their supporters. For those seeking it, Quilliam provides a public counter-argument to the rhetoric and narrative of extremism. For Islamists, or those tempted to embrace Islamism, Quilliam’s vocal promotion of refutations and renunciations of extremism undermines their ideology by shaking their confidence in it. As with Islamists, Quilliam has also publicly challenged far-right extremists in order to undermine their arguments and their supporters. For extremists on the far-right, Quilliam’s promotion of vibrant alternatives to extremism and campaigns to challenge misconceptions about Muslims undermines the racist narrative that Islam is a religion of terrorism and violence.
What is your perspective on radicalisation?

Our analysis suggests that radicalisation of all varieties (Islamist, far right, violent, non-violent) is made more likely where an individual is exposed to an ideology, often justified in reference to a fabricated narrative about recent history and current affairs; where the individual encounters an individual or group (either in real life or virtually) who can articulate that ideology and relate it to the individual’s personal circumstances and context; where an individual doubts their British identity or sense of belonging in this country; and, fourthly, where an individual perceives a grievance (real, imagined or exaggerated) to which there seems to be no suitable response. These four factors, which interact with one another and are mutually reinforcing, help to explain why some individuals are more at risk from radicalisation than others.

Isn't radicalisation simply a result of foreign policy?

Foreign policy grievances are among the most common grievances for recruiters to manipulate to further their own ends, however, other grievances are also important – such as experiences of racism and discrimination. Ultimately, for somebody who has adopted an Islamist ideology, foreign policy and other grievances are merely consequences of a perceived wider grievance that is the absence of an ‘Islamic state’. Poor foreign policy decisions may, therefore, provide more material for recruiters to manipulate. This is why Quilliam has criticised certain aspects of British foreign policy, for example Britain’s inaction over the 2009 Gaza crisis.

Does Quilliam believe that civil liberties have to be compromised in order to prevent terrorism?

No. Civil liberties are an intrinsic part of being British and Quilliam has and continues to oppose their erosion in the name of ‘making Britain safer’. Measures such as airport profiling, targeting CCTV in largely Muslim areas and unjustifiable stop and searches can be counter-productive and bolster the Islamist narrative of there being a ‘war on Islam’. Quilliam is proud of its track record consistently defending human rights in news interviews and debates that are widely available on the internet.

What is Islamism?

It is the belief that Islam is a political ideology, as well as a faith. It is a modernist claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that Shari’ah should be used as state law, that Muslims form a political rather than a religious bloc around the world and that it is a religious duty for all Muslims to create a political entity that is governed as such. Islamism is a spectrum, with Islamists disagreeing over how they should bring their ‘Islamic’ state into existence.

Some Islamists seek to engage with existing political systems, others reject the existing systems as illegitimate but do so non-violently, and others seek to create an ‘Islamic state’ through violence. Most Islamists are socially modern but others advocate a more retrograde lifestyle. Islamists often have contempt for Muslim scholars and sages and their traditional institutions; as well as a disdain for non-Islamist Muslims and the West.

Are all Islamists terrorists?

No, and not all terrorists are Islamists either. One can be a radical without being violent, or advocating violence. However, some who follow an Islamist agenda do use their political/religious beliefs in order to justify acts of violence, including violence that deliberately targets civilians. As such, Islamists often provide a narrative in which Islam as a faith is portrayed as being under attack. Such an interpretation can play into the hands of those who argue that Islam is in need of self-defense, even if it includes attacking civilians, including Muslims. Non-violent Islamists can champion this narrative, providing the mood music to which suicide bombers dance.

Are all politically active Muslims terrorists?

No. Many Muslims are involved in politics without seeking to introduce the Shari’ah as state law or claim political sovereignty for God. There is a difference between being inspired by religious beliefs as an individual, and seeking to impose those beliefs on society as a collective. We encourage Muslims to engage in democratic politics as citizens – who happen to be of a certain faith – not as ideologues with a Muslim-centric approach.

What is Jihadism?

Jihadism is the use of violence to bring about Islamism; it is a framework for interpreting and justifying political violence around the world. Instead of understanding any given conflict as a product of local and regional contexts (social, political, economic etc.), jihadism interprets all conflicts involving Muslims through the lens of a narrative which perceives Islam as a religion to be under attack, and therefore in need of a violent defense. Jihadism has been used both to justify acts of violence targeting combatants and acts of terrorism targeting civilians. Jihadists rarely concede that targeting civilians is terrorism though, often disputing either the victims’ civilian status or the idea that civilians were deliberately targeted.

Are all conservative Muslims extremists?

No. Despite raising a host of other social questions, most conservative Muslims oppose Islamism. Indeed, in spite of numerous references to Islamic scripture, pre-modern authors, and classical Islamic history, Islamism is largely a product of urban politics in the 20th century. Conservative Muslims’ opposition to aspects of modernity often includes an opposition to Islamism.

Is there any proof that extremism leads to terrorist violence?

Certain factors, whether they lead to terrorism or not, are highly problematic in themselves in terms of social and national cohesion. It is our contention that ultimately, seeking or demanding empirical proof for complex human behaviour patterns is unhelpful. Just as there is no direct proof that the spread of neo-Nazi or fascist ideas in society leads directly to violence against Jews or other minorities, we would nevertheless find it extremely problematic if such views were to spread, and would be concerned from a common sense approach about the danger of this rhetoric provoking violence. It goes without saying that all violent neo-Nazis were at some stage non-violent neo-Nazis before they commenced to attack their victims. The same is true of Islamism. To our ears, it is somewhat strange that people readily accept this premise for ideologies indigenous to Europe, yet not for ideologies whose origins lie elsewhere.

Who provides Quilliam's funding?

Quilliam’s ideas, projects, and output are all made possible by the support of private individual donations, private philanthropic foundations and trust grants. All funding is accounted for responsibly, and we are externally audited annually.

Does that affect your independence?

No. Quilliam sets its own agenda. Indeed, it has turned down funding offers from potential donors a number of times in the past precisely because of concerns that the donors would try to influence Quilliam’s agenda. Quilliam is not affiliated to any political party, and its staff and board members are politically diverse. Quilliam is concerned with issues beyond the level of party politics. Likewise, although Quilliam advises the government and advised the previous government, it remains objective, and often critical.

Setting the record straight

A detailed response to specific allegations that have been made about Quilliam can be found here: Setting the Record Straight.