Quilliam Founding Chairman took the stage at JW3 last night with renowned political leader, women’s rights advocate and Islam reformist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It was the third time the two had met in public to debate radicalisation and Islam.

The packed house at the Jewish cultural centre in Finchley Road in London listened to a conversation between Nawaz and Hirsi Ali and engaged in a Q&A. Historically, the two have clashed on whether Islam can be a religion of peace, with Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, calling for a rejection of Muslim society, while Nawaz advocates for reform within the religion.

“Our friendship is built on the dialogue of how to move this debate forward, ” Nawaz said Tuesday. “No idea is beyond scrutiny, no person beneath dignity. ”

Nawaz outlined three threats to modern, liberal values: the far right, Islamism and the regressive left, which he said adopts the ‘bigotry of community context’ and silences necessary criticism in the name of cultural diversity.

“When people are homophobic, it’s taboo. When they are racist, it’s taboo, when they are anti-Semitic, it’s taboo, when they are Islamist, it’s ‘authentic and real.’” Nawaz said. “We need to make this form extremism taboo through civil society discourse, the institutions catch up last.”

Hirsi Ali called for a  “free, fair and frank conversation about the prophet Mohammad,” with criticism of his Medina period, when he began legislating and waging war, as opposed to simply preaching. In her most recent book ‘Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now’, she labels Muslims who look to establish a caliphate ‘Medina Muslims,’  and writes the expansion of a culture of misogyny is dangerous.

Herself a refugee, who fled Somalia and gained asylum in the Netherlands before emigrating to the US, Hirsi Ali urged reform should happen faster because challenging issues within Islam will become more difficult the more refugees expand to Muslim minority countries. Reform is necessary, she said, to protect women from rape and genital mutilation.

Nawaz claimed Islamism has been providing a sense of empowerment and belonging for years, and that civil society needs to do the same for enlightenment values of free speech, freedom of conscience and equality before the law. His assertions about protecting civil liberties and women’s rights, even while respecting cultural diversity to an extent, were met with cheers from the crowd.

Nawaz argued that it is important to respect minorities within minorities in communities and allow for cultural coexistence and liberal values to flourish.

Both the main hall and cinema screening room were sold out.

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