Quilliam’s chairman, Maajid Nawaz, was invited to 10 Downing Street to address the Task Force on Countering Extremism that was set up after the Woolwich attacks. The meeting was attended by:

Prime Minister David Cameron

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

Home Secretary Theresa May

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling

Education Secretary Michael Gove

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

Minister of State for Schools and Cabinet Office David Laws

Minister of State at the Cabinet Office Oliver Letwin

Religious Affairs minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

Director-General of the British Security Services Andrew Parker

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe

Maajid Nawaz briefed the Task Force on the following points:

From 7/7 to Woolwich attacks

President Bush merged the imposition of democratic values with the military option. President Obama has dropped the values element only to increase the military response. Obama’s policy rested on the assumption that the problem of jihadism was organisational not ideological and thought that decapitating the Al-Qaeda leadership would reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.

Obama’s policy has failed to curb the lateral appeal of jihadism globally. We can see evidence for this in the jihadist killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, the attack on the gas plant in In Amenas in Algeria, the jihadist upsurge in North Nigeria, North Mali and South Yemen, the attack in Boston, the Woolwich attack and now the Al-Qaeda-influenced insurgency in Syria.

Jihadism is now a global brand. In some areas, such as Mali, Yemen and Syria, jihadism has become a fully-fledged insurgency and by controlling physical territory, Al-Qaeda achieved what it never could while Bin Laden was alive. Brands do not require hierarchical structures in order to attract followers. We need a suitable brand to challenge the global jihadist brand. 

UK Policy

We are merely scratching the surface of what could happen in the coming years. Austerity affects our youth, and a disproportionate number of newborns are Muslim. These youth will grow up angry and vulnerable.  A disproportionate number of prisoners in the UK are Muslims, and a disproportionate number of these are converts to Islam. Like both the Woolwich attackers, a disproportionate number of jihadist terrorists also happen to be converts.

By ignoring the ideological element of Islamism, we have idly sat by and watched it grow. Last January, gangs of young Muslim men (affiliated to the banned terrorist group Al-Muhajiroun) marched in the streets of London enforcing their version of Shari’ah on unsuspecting passers-by. As predicted[1], these street patrols led to ‘maiming or killing’ on the streets of London. In May, the Woolwich attackers struck, also hailing from al-Muhajiroun. The emergence of the ‘pop-up’ mosque culture is of particular concern. Extremists, unable to gain traditional permits to operate, hire out halls for Friday prayers to preach their views.  Abu Qatada, Al-Qaeda’s ambassador to Europe, shot to prominence in this very way.

The symbiotic relationship that exists between Islamist extremists and far-right extremists is hugely worrying.  In June 2012, 6 jihadists attempted to bomb a far-right English Defence League (EDL) rally. Security forces estimate that we have up to 200 fighters who have joined jihadist groups in Syria, and up to 800 from across Europe. When these fighters return, will they take up arms against the far-right and former soldiers such as the murdered Lee Rigby? These fighters in Syria have already demonstrated their willingness to attack their fellow British citizens inside Syria, as demonstrated by their shooting of photographer John Cantlie by British jihadists with “South London accents”.

However, when compared with the 7/7 attacks, prominent Muslim community groups responded to the Woolwich attacks without any or very little moral equivocation between foreign policy and terrorism.

What to do?

The government is correct to split its ‘Preventing violent extremism’ strategy from its integration strategy, where the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism deals with hard-end counter-terror and countering violent extremism work, and the Department for Communities and Local Government deals with integration. 

However, it is not clear who handles the ‘countering non-violent extremism’ portfolio, which deals with the ideological and brand element of this debate. Extremism must be challenged before it becomes violent.

We must be careful that our own actions do not end up simply reinforcing the jihadist brand and narrative. The solution lies not in tougher laws or increased military response, but in challenging the jihadist brand by a combination of adhering to and promoting our political values, better political communication and better political positioning. Democracy must defeat the jihadist brand by killing it softly, not by mimicking it. 

To do this requires a civil society machine that operates together to reclaim democratic values for young disaffected Muslims across the world.

Questions and Answers

After Maajid presented the above points, the Prime Minister led the questioning by asking him about whether he felt we should change the law, policing techniques and how the Charities Commission have responded to recent complaints that extremism is rife in certain mosques that are registered charities. 

Maajid Nawaz said:

The branding angle I conveyed implies that the law must remain focused on civil liberties and that the police must not ethnically profile. There has been some improvement noticed in how the charities commission deals with extremism in mosques.

Maajid was thanked for his invaluable contribution on this topic of crucial importance and was thankful to the Prime Minister for Quilliam’s opportunity to give insight to the Task Force on Countering Extremism.

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