It’s a Small World? — UPDATED

I recently discussed former Islamist extremist Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam think tank in the UK — dedicated to combating Islamist extremism.  The column is also posted at The Daily Caller website.

An interesting Comment was posted to my Daily Caller column, from “RashadZAli.”  Here it is:

The problems with this is that Mr. Nawaz and the Quilliam “thinktank” are British govt. and British taxpayer funded:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5549138.ece

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2009/11/quilliam_founda.html

they are the mirror image of Anjum Chowdhury. Like al-Muhajiroun they have NO community support nor standing of any kind, are given disproportionate media coverage (predominantly by an approving, patronizing white, conservative audience) and have dubious backgrounds and views that are rarely called into question.

It was/is designed and promoted to whitewash the British govt. for any responsibility in terms of creating the grounds that feed extremism within the UK i.e. discrimination in housing, employment, and education:

Spying “Morally Right” Says Thinktank:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/16/spying-morally-right-says-thinktank

Govt. Spying on Innocent People:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/16/anti-terrorism-strategy-spies-innocents

It would be the equivilent of the U.S. govt. funding and creating the NAACP to rubber stamp Jim Crow and slavery as inherently due to the laziness and political views of Black people

Just a simple point in question, Mr. Nawaz believes that Islam is fully compatible and subservient to dictatorships (conveniently helping to affirm support for the dictatorships in the middle east) here:

“Islam, on the other hand, is ENTIRELY COMPATIBLE with not just democracies, but monarchies and dictatorships. Islam did not invent any of these, but can survive in all of them. This may come as a surprise to many “moderate” Muslims who claim that Islam is inherently democratic. However, again, I believe that such “moderates” make the same mistake as Islamists by imposing their own very modern political ideals on centuries-old religious scripture.”

source: http://www.thenutgraph.com/leaving-religious-extremism/

RashadZAli

I checked out all the links, and posted the following reply:

Rashad,

Thank you very much for such a thorough review, including sources.  I’ve read all of your linked sources and have the following thoughts.

First, “government funding” is not per se bad, any more than government subsidy of community projects here in the US is automatically bad or suspect.  I remember in one of Nawaz’s debates I watched, he said he was not in principle opposed to public funding as long as there were no strings attached.  I think that is reasonable.  It bears noting that “government funding” is not the only source of contributions to Quilliam.

Second, the fact that the British government, which obviously has a significant interest in combating Islamist extremism, believes Quilliam may be one effective forum for that policy, tells me Quilliam may indeed help combat extremism.  Certainly Nawaz’s personal story is a compelling one, and he is very effective in dialogue, from the clips I have seen.

Third, what you call “disproportionate media coverage” is, in my opinion, exactly appropriate media coverage because Nawaz’s message is one the West has been desperate to hear from the Muslim community: a frank and courageous condemnation of Islamist extremism and the perversion of the Koran that promotes that extremism.  In fact, if such a message as Nawaz’s did not get media coverage, it would suggest a very disturbing determination to portray Muslims uniformly as sympathetic to extremism — and that would be a media distortion.

Fourth, your reference to a “patronizing white, conservative audience” is itself a bit disturbing, as it suggests a racially-charged intention to diminish or trivialize Nawaz’s message by associating him with “patronizing white conservatives” — as if only this plainly benighted subset of the population could possibly approve of Nawaz’s condemnation of Islamist extremism.

Fifth, from what I have seen of Nawaz and the pronouncements of Quilliam, they do not “whitewash” the British government.  Indeed, part of Nawaz’s personal story — how he became extremist in his teenage years — has to do with his bitter experience with racism, both personal and institutional.

Sixth, the spying point is minor. People will differ as to the extent of appropriate government surveillance — but the basic principle that governments will inevitably undertake surveillance of some people who have not yet been arrested for criminal activity is, I think, a common-sense and appropriate exercise of government power.

Seventh, as to the compatibility of Islam and dictatorships, I think you misunderstand Nawaz’s point.  He is saying simply that Islam — like most religions — is compatible with a wide range of governments, including democracy and dictatorships.  Nothing incendiary about that — in fact, I think it sort of belabors the obvious.

Thanks again for your review.

After posting the reply, I got randomly curious about RashadZAli (yes, admittedly out of sequence).  I did a search — which yielded this blurb (maybe or maybe not the same person) from UK newspaper The Guardian:

Profile: Rashad Ali lectured and taught in Saudi Arabia and has an interest in Islam related issues. He was also involved with non-violent extreme political parties for several years, after being indoctrinated by Hizb ut-Tahrir. He subsequently renounced Islamist extreme political ideas for a more traditional version of Islam that he believes promotes harmony and tolerance. He currently works at the Quilliam Foundation.

Wow.  Rashad Ali posts a Comment to my column about Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam, Islamist extremism — and there is (another?) Rashad Ali who, like Maajid Nawaz, was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, and then recanted and went to work for Quilliam?

The Quilliam website does not list Rashad Ali among the staff.  So if he did work there, and it’s the same person, he evidently no longer does.  Disgruntled former employee?  Double-recanting Islamist?  Different person altogether?

I sent an email message to Quilliam asking for clarification.  I may or may not hear from them.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting Guardian column by Rashad Ali, disputing research purporting to show that Islamic radicalism is not a serious problem at British universities.

UPDATE (Monday, August 2nd): Turns out “RashadZAli” — the person who posted a Comment to my Daily Caller column — is a poser.  I heard back from Quilliam this morning.  Here is their reply to my inquiry about “RashadZAli.”

Dear Kendrick,

 Thank you for your email and for writing a very interesting piece about Maajid Nawaz’s appearance on ’60 Minutes’.

 I would like to reassure you that the individual writing comments on your blog under the name RashadZAli is not the same person as Rashad Zaman Ali who used to work at Quilliam. However, it is not a coincidence that this commenter should be using Rashad’s name.

Rashad Ali was indeed a former high-ranking member of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain and, after leaving Hizb ut-Tahrir, he then went on to work here at Quilliam. He has since left Quilliam and is working on other projects (albeit ones working towards similar goals).

Over the last year or so, there has been a pattern of individuals (or it may just be the one person) who oppose Quilliam’s work in challenging extremism, using the name of Rashad to write critical comments on various blogs, now including yours. They are presumably using Rashad’s name as a way of showing their enmity towards Rashad and Quilliam (and, obviously, a desire to hide their real identity).

The criticisms which ‘RashadZAli’ levels at Quilliam have been answered many times before.

Firstly, on the question of government funding, we have never hidden this fact that we receive public grants, although we are actively working towards reducing the amount of money we receive from public funds. We also receive funds from a variety of other sources and we are very careful to ensure that all funding is non-strings-attached, as we are not prepared to have our independence compromised. Indeed, we have turned down some offers of funding because it came with ‘string-attached’.

We have responded to the question of whether Quilliam supports spying on our website, here.

Thirdly, you are correct in your response to Maajid’s statement to the idea of Islam not pre-defining any single political system and therefore being compatible with various forms of government, just like other religions. To some this may be ‘belabouring the obvious’, but in other audiences (as shown by ‘RashadZAli’’s comments), this is a point which continues to need to be made.

I hope that this clarifies the situation for you. If you have any other enquiries about Quilliam, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you again for your email and article and I look forward to staying in contact with you and reading any articles that you may write in this area in the future.

Kind regards,

George

George Readings
Communications Officer & Research Fellow

Mr. Readings later sent me an email message from the real Rashad Z. Ali, saying that he had cleared up another instance of posing at a much bigger blog than mine.  Hats off to Quilliam and George Readings for such a prompt and thorough response to an unknown blogger across the pond.

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