Quilliam Foundation Chairman, Maajid Nawaz, warned that the activities of extremists groups will continue to grow in a post-Bin Laden world.
Speaking at the second of the University’s ‘Security and Conflict’ lectures at St George’s Hall, Maajid spoke about how the issue of identity plays an important role in how extremist views arise. He discussed his own personal struggle as part of a global Islamist group and his shift in beliefs after being ‘adopted’ by Amnesty International as a ‘prisoner of conscience’.
Maajid said: “Four years of study in prison, looking at the original sources of Islam and coming to the conclusion that what we now call Islamism, which has been inspired by post-world war European fascism, has little to do with the traditional faith of Islam.”
Discussing the difficulties of setting up Quilliam, during George W Bush’s campaign against global terrorism, Maajid explained that although many activists from within Muslim circles were outspoken on the dichotomy that the former US President presented – ‘with us or against us’ – the alternative they presented to the Muslim community was exactly the same – ‘us or them’.
Maajid said: “Some of the people we speak to are unable to see that you can be critical of neo-conservatism and you can be critical of Islamic extremism and agree with neither.” He warned that the death of Bin Laden does not mean the death of an ideology and therefore it is important to continue to work hard at educating young people that division between societal groups only increases mistrust and suspicion.
He said: “We have taken our eye off the ball after US President Obama, said we need to move on following the death of Bin Laden and put it behind us. But when young men in Birmingham are joining groups to plan to recreate the atrocities of the London bombings, the cycle of extremist behaviour begins again.
“These groups are highly educated and organised; they have ideas, a narrative to communicate them, leaders and symbols to promote themselves.
“If we look at the democratic movements, however, in Egypt for example, they did not have the skills to create their own narrative or promote a recognisable face in the fight for freedom. In the absence of this, extremists fill the void.
“Until we realise that policy needs to promote other narratives, the agenda of terrorism will not go away.”
As University of Liverpool said, the Security and Conflict series, ‘What Does 2020 Look Like?’, also features David Milliband, British Labour Party politician and former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Colonel Tim Collins, the military commander best known for his speech on the eve of the Iraq war; General The Lord Dannatt, British Army Chief of General Staff from 2006-2009; and Rageh Omaar, the Somali-born British writer and world affairs correspondent.