Maajid Nawaz decries the hypocrisy of the British Left toward Islam

If anyone has the street cred and chops to comment on radical Islam, and on the shameful capitulation of Western liberals to the canard of “Islamophobia,” it’s Maajid Nawaz. Born in England, Nawaz became a radical Muslim early on, dedicated to establishing a caliphate with nuclear weapons. To this end he traveled in the Middle East to get converts for Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Muslim group. And for that he was ultimately jailed in Egypt. During his five years in prison, he became de-radicalized, and ultimately returned to England to found Quilliam, a think tank dedicated to fostering humanism and eliminating extremism. (I’m not sure whether Nawaz is still a believing Muslim, though I think he is.) Quilliam’s statement of purpose is this, and is largely instantiated by countering the narrative of extreme, radical, and violent Islam:

Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity, and belonging in a globalised world. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.

Challenging extremism is the duty of all responsible members of society. Not least because cultural insularity and extremism are products of the failures of wider society to foster a shared sense of belonging and to advance liberal democratic values.

I admire him immensely.

So when Nawaz, who’s walked the walk of radical Islam, writes an article for The Daily Beast called “The British’s Left’s hypocritical embrace of Islamism,” it’s best to pay attention. He defines “Islamism” as “an ideology that seeks to impose any version of Islam over society.” (When violent, he calls it jihadism.)

Nawaz calls out the Left for ignoring the frequent and violent abrogations of civil liberties by Islamists, and for the way that liberal British organs like The Guardian ignore these, or, when they pay attention, blame them all on Western colonialism. For instance:

But for those who I have come to call Europe’s regressive-left how could Islamist tyranny—such as burying women neck deep in the ground and stoning them to death—possibly be anything other than an authentic expression of Muslim rage at Western colonial hegemony? For don’t you know Muslims are angry? So angry, in fact, that they wish to enslave indigenous Yazidi women for sex, throw Syrian gays off tall buildings and burn people alive? All because… Israel. For Europe’s regressive-left—which is fast penetrating U.S. circles too—Muslims are not expected to be civilized. And Muslim upstarts who dare to challenge this theocratic fascism are nothing but an inconvenience to an uncannily Weimar-like populism that screams simplistically: It is all the West’s fault.

It is my fellow Muslims who suffer most from this patronizing, self-pity inspiring mollycoddling. And just as American Muslims, with some reason, fear becoming targeted by right-wing anti-Muslim prejudice, British Muslims are being spoon-fed regressive-left sedatives, encouraging a perpetual state of victimhood in order to score their petty ideological points against “the West.” In the name of cultural diversity, aspiration is being stifled, expectations have been tempered and because Muslims have their own culture don’t you know, self-segregation and ghettoization have thrived.

In the first paragraph, Nawaz is referring indirectly to himself, for he’s not an angry Muslim, but a conciliatory one—a Muslim who challenges theocracy. As he notes in the piece, the Guardian misled him a while back by flattering him with blandishments, praising his work, and then sabotaging him in a new hit piece that paints him as David Cameron’s lap dog. (Given what Nawaz does, the piece is pretty vile.)

He goes on to fault the Guardian further for not only publishing (apparently with approval) the rants of Islamists, but marginalizing liberal Muslims, adding this:

Like the Daily Mail of old, which to its eternal shame appeased the rise of Nazism, the Guardian is blinded by its infantilizing approach to minority communities, promoting the most regressive of theocrats, simply to “stick it to the man.”

It’s perhaps understandable that Nawaz, whose ideas the Guardian neglected in favor of his dress and taste in coffee, is a bit defensive about his credentials, and reiterates his background, though I would have preferred him to leave out the snarky comment about “champagne socialists”:

The great irony is that, unlike many of today’s champagne socialists and shisha-jihadists my entire life has been a prototype of their archetypal aggrieved Muslim. Unlike the Guardian’s private school, Oxbridge-educated journalist David Shariatmadari, I am a state school-educated Muslim and racial minority. I have been stabbed at by neo-Nazis, falsely arrested at gunpoint by Essex police, expelled from college, divorced, estranged from my child, and tortured in Egyptian prison, and mandatorily profiled. I’ve had my DNA forcibly taken at Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 Laws, which deprive terror suspects of the right to silence at UK ports of entry and exit, among much else. I’ve been blacklisted from other countries. I am every grievance regressive leftists traditionally harp on. Yet their first-world bourgeois brains seem to malfunction because I refuse to spew theocratic hate, or fit their little “angry Muslim” box. Yet they talk to me about privilege, and non-fat lattes?

To defuse the unfair charge that he’s a lackey of the Conservatives, Nawaz also reprises his activities. And, I have to say, the man is trying to do good work:

There is a natural fear among Europe’s left, that challenging Islamist extremism can only aid Europe’s far-right. But the alternative to this fear must not be to instead empower theocratic fascism. There is a way to both challenge those who want to impose islam, and those who wish to ban Islam. It has not escaped me, nor other liberal Muslims, that while challenging Islamist extremism we must remain attentive to protecting our civil liberties. We are born of this struggle, after all. Over the years I have opposed past UK government ministers on ethnic and religious profiling, opposed Obama’s targeted killings and drone strikes and opposed Senator King in the UK Parliament over his obfuscation and justification for torture. I have been cited by the UK PM for my view that though Islamist extremism must be openly challenged, non-terrorist Islamists should not be banned unless they directly incite violence. I have spoken out against extraordinary rendition and detention without charge of terror suspects. I have supported my political party, the Liberal Democrats, in backing a call to end Schedule 7. It is due to this very same concern for civil liberties that I vehemently oppose Islamist extremism and call for liberal reform within our Muslim communities, for our Muslim communities. We believe civil liberties cut both ways, for and upon minority communities, and it is due to this same passion for human rights that my organization Quilliam put out this anti-ISIS video only a day after the Guardian’s unfortunate sting. We chose to let our work speak for itself.

Here’s the long version of Quilliam’s anti-ISIS video; the thick British accent is a bit hard to understand to American ears.


Two addenda:

1. Read Nick Cohen’s new piece (ironically, in the Guardian), “Islamism prevails even as we suppress free speech.” An excerpt:

Compare the bravery of Bangladeshi intellectuals with the attitude of the bulk of the western intelligentsia. Whole books could be written on why it failed to argue against the fascism of our age – indeed I’ve written a couple myself – but the decisive reason is a fear that dare not speak its name. They are frightened of accusations of racism, frightened of breaking with the consensus, frightened most of all of violence. They dare not admit they are afraid. So they struggle to produce justifications to excuse their dereliction of duty. They turn militant religion into a rational reaction to poverty or western foreign policy. They maintain there is a moral equivalence between militant religion and militant atheism.

2. I’m reading in page proofs the exchange between Sam Harris and Nawaz that will come out as a short book in October, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a Dialogue. It’s very good, and is already the #1 New Release in the “Islam” category of Amazon books.


  1. Posted August 11, 2015 at 10:54 am | Permalink


  2. Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I actually appreciated the snipe about “champagne socialists.” IMO, that phrase perfectly captures the inconsistency and vapidity of the post-modernist, pseudo-liberal, left.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2015 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Me too, but I think that’s because I have a proletariat background & am snarky by nature. 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 12, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I’ve got prole roots myself, but I still enjoy an occasional flute of the bubbly. Hell, when I’m feeling beat on the way home from the airport, I’ll sometimes even spring for the price of stretching out in the back of a limo. 🙂

  3. GBJames
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink


  4. Sastra
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Sometimes it seems to me that self-designated ‘liberals’ who nevertheless support conservative and repressive Islamic ideas in the name of diversity and tolerance are falling for a modern version of the Noble Savage fallacy.

    Before they were contaminated by the capitalist, colonialist, controlling West, Muslims all lived peacefully in simple harmony and mutual respect, children of nature uncorrupted by the need to own things or tell other people they were wrong. Then we came in and brought in all the bad things.

    • eric
      Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      That could definitely be a part of it. AIUI, the “peaceful stone-age” concept – with organized warfare being thought of as a bronze-age western cultural invention – was a predominant or at least very popular left-academia position in the 70s and 80s. Proponents of it ignored or downplayed the evidence of violent conflicts. Then starting in the 90’s there was counter-push in academia to acknowledge the significant evidence that these cultures were in fact very violent. Books like Pinker’s being the end result (and benefitting from the tons of work done on the subject of ancient violence in the past 10-20 years).

      Keeley talks about this in War Before Civilization. About how in the 70s and 80s they’d find the ancient remains of a city wall with literally thousands of arrowheads embedded in the outside surface or scattered around the base of the wall – and how most of the professors at that time would claim this indicated everyone in the settlement must have gone outside to practice their deer hunting skills.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 12, 2015 at 2:35 am | Permalink

        …the “peaceful stone-age” concept … was a predominant or at least very popular left-academia position in the 70s and 80s.

        Yeah, especially in the 1770s and 80s, when J-J Rousseau took to waxing philosophic about the perceived egalitarianism of the primitive tribes then coming to the attention of the West as a result of colonialism — in reaction against Thomas Hobbes’s views, expressed a century earlier in Leviathan, that Man in a state of nature tended toward the nasty and brutish.

    • TJR
      Posted August 11, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      The Arab Empire was of course famous for not being at all violent, imperialist or colonialist.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 11, 2015 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget the Yanomami in the Amazon. These “noble savages” have been documented as being damn violent, both toward outside tribes and within their own communities. I Have not read Pinker’s recent work on the reduction of violence over time, but I suspect some evidence to support that must come from current native cultures. Certainly Jared Diamond’s descriptions of the inter-tribal violence among the natives of Papua New Guinea are a counter example.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 12, 2015 at 3:14 am | Permalink

        It’s difficult to know what to make of the Yanomami, what with all the revisionism and counter-revisionism that’s flown back and forth since Napoleon Chagnon began publishing his controversial ethnographic studies claiming they were a fierce people living in a chronic state of warfare. The whole megillah has as much to do with the perfidy of Western academics as with the warlike nature of Amazonian tribesmen.

        • reasonshark
          Posted August 12, 2015 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          But it’s not an equal comparison. Chagnon also documented the peace-keeping strategies and non-violent aspects of the Yanomami, showing a more nuanced understanding of their culture than “Dey Are All Fee-urce”. By contrast, his opponents Tierney, Turner and Sponsel, who couldn’t stand the idea of violence in pre-industrial peoples for ideological reasons – and that’s not an interpretation, they lay their cards on the table for all to see – tried a scandalous attempt at blood libel, blaming him for Mugabe-level experiments on the Yanomami. And while it was an extreme example, there was a lot of picketing and bullying of academics like Wilson and Neel who didn’t adhere to the Noble Savage leftist myth.

          Whatever the issue is with the details of such academic work on violence in tribal societies pales in comparison to the ideological drive to suppress it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2015 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and the sad truth, however, is these liberals support radicals, people who oppose all that has been historically considered core liberal values, at the expense of more liberal Muslims. How can we expect Muslims to stand up against radicals when we, outside their community, support them?

    • Posted August 13, 2015 at 3:03 am | Permalink

      Perhaps this is a difference between American and British usage; but the kind of people in Britain who are leftist apologists for any misdeeds associated with Islam would never describe themselves as ‘liberal’. They hate liberals. They regard liberals as hypocrites who, under the pretence of preaching universal values, seek to maintain the dominance of the western powers. The kind of people we are talking about would describe themselves as of the ‘progressive left’. It seems to that this split between the liberal left (which is where I’d place myself) and the ‘progressive’ left has become much more pronounced in Britain in recent years.

      • Sastra
        Posted August 13, 2015 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Interesting; thanks.

  5. Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    I asked once what characteristics one has to have to count as having an “identity” for identity politics purposes. I was never given an answer. As a socially awkward sort as well as an Anglophone Quebecer I too have encountered prejudice. Not that should matter if I am carefully criticizing a viewpoint if it is worthy of such. If I miss something, *tell me* ; that’s what I am trying to do with the viewpoint, after all.

    On the other hand, do *not* make the mistake of thinking that because some segments think that somehow the link *between* smashing the state, supporting horrible client regimes and brutality somehow disappears when the uninformed make it sound more simple than it is. But the connection is real, and must be explored. After all, this too is taking victims (and victims of the victims of another kind, those taking advantage, etc.) at face value too!

  6. Sigmund
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The term “champagne socialist” has a very specific meaning in the UK. It refers to a specific type of hypocritical middle-class lefty who mouths support for the poor while all the while doing nothing that might threaten their own financial security. I think Tony Blair and his ilk are probably the best known examples.

  7. Posted August 11, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we should start wearing football shirts with “Leftist” written on them before criticizing Islamic extremism, to make it easier for the Left to see that we’re still, in fact, on the side of the good guys.

    (That really seems to be what upsets them the most — the feeling that we’re letting the team down, and if only we would come back to the fold, everything would be alright.)

  8. Cindy
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    What a brave man.

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I am !*especially*! impressed with the paragraph that begins “There is a natural fear among Europe’s left, that challenging Islamist extremism can only aid Europe’s far-right.”

    During the 60s and 70s, liberals were afraid to talk about the genuinely sinister elements of Soviet Communism because of a fear of aiding and abetting the spirit of Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society.

    In a sense, someone who thinks Obama is a secret Muslim is !*genuinely*! Islamophobic. But that sort of hysteria is no excuse for ignoring the real threat that ISIS opposes.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 12, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I really appreciated that sentence as well. In response to its premise one should ask the regressive left (love that term), “how?” Aid them in what way?

  10. keith cook + or -
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    The pacification of Islam is long overdue, liberal left relativism is part of the process.. but the frustration of it all is maddening.
    The ‘west’ is certainly part of the big picture and can be held accountable ( if only in history) for it’s part in the confusion and lack of resolve.
    It stinks of big business, military contracts political posturing tribalism, the list goes on.
    Islam has it’s own agenda and the catholic church is a good example of what that might be.. hanging on by hook or by crook.
    Get a haircut and a real job as the saying goes. Fairytales are for children.
    Nawaz is a bit of light penetrating the Islam wall I hope he has a long and fruitful life prising it open.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 11, 2015 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I really like Nawaz and I’ve donated to Quillam because they do good work and write sensible, intelligent posts.

    I think Nawaz is a believing Muslim and I seem to recall Sam Harris saying that he has changed his opinion about some aspects of Islam so I’m really looking forward to reading the book they collaborated on together.

  12. Mike Brogan
    Posted August 12, 2015 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    “Like the Daily Mail of old, which to its eternal shame appeased the rise of Nazism, the Guardian is blinded by its infantilizing approach to minority communities, promoting the most regressive of theocrats, simply to “stick it to the man.”
    The Daily Mail of the present is not much better, believe me.
    As for Islam the trouble with Islam is Islam itself, you can find within the Q’uran justification for everyone of the Atrocities of ISIS.

  13. Mike Brogan
    Posted August 12, 2015 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Prof Ceiling Cat wrote
    “Here’s the long version of Quilliam’s anti-ISIS video; the thick British accent is a bit hard to understand to American ears.” A fine example of two Nations seperated by a common Language, but remember we invented it, so our Version is the correct one ! lol

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