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 also believe that preventing radicalisation and counter extremism are not merely the preserve of states, but need a whole of society approach. We hope to promote these values and concepts by challenging extremism, promoting pluralism and inspiring change.
We are a counter-extremism organisation. Founded as a think tank, we now lead the way in advising others on counter-extremism strategy and policy, develop and communicate research to shape a public conversation about extremism and terrorism, and build counter-extremism programmes to build the capacity of others to get involved. 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 a grassroots level in order to achieve this. Furthermore, Quilliam is an independent values-based organisation that is not aligned to any particular political or religious group. Individuals within Quilliam have a range of political, religious and other beliefs.
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 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. In the UK, we direct our work towards government departments, and to to sectors of society who can make a difference against extremism. Globally, we operate with the aim of devising policy and influencing existing policy related to extremism, integration, and terrorism, as well building the capacity of civil society to proactively deal with radicalisation, extremism, and terrorism. Quilliam publishes research, constantly monitors extremist trends, and provides consultancy to clients wishing to understand the phenomenon of extremism and how to respond. We seek to guide and work with the media to better inform the debate around extremism and terrorism. We aim to empower and educate non-Islamist civil society – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – by emphasising the difference between Islamism and Islam, and to understand the phenomena which create environments conducive to radicalisation. We also 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.
Different elements of Quilliam’s work are measured in different ways for their effectiveness. Success is broadly measured by whether our recommendations that deal with the causes of radicalisation are adopted by the various target audiences we work with. Each of our programmes have rigorous monitoring and evaluation methodologies that are suited to the programme and measured against the objectives and milestones in the programme.
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.
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.
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.
Islamism 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.
Not all Islamists are terrorists, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. Governments are right to empower and fund civil society to carry out counter-extremism work, and we are not opposed in principle to receiving public funds, as long as our values-based approach is not compromised.