Maajid Nawaz was once an extremist Islamist—a recruiter for terrorist groups who spent years for his activity in an Egyptian prison. Nawaz then realized the dangers of Islamism is pernicious, became a liberal, and founded the London think tank Quilliam, dedicated to countering extremism. Nawaz has criticized, as he does in the following video at the recent Oslo Freedom Forum, the invasion of Iraq, the use of drones by Americans, and the execution of Bin Laden. I agree with him on all these points. We should not be murdering people without a trial—if we’re able to capture them safely.
Despite Nawaz’s criticism of U.S. and British policy, he’s still demonized by Regressive Leftists, and for reasons I can’t fathom. He’s a Muslim, not an atheist; he was once part of a terrorist network, so he’s seen it from the inside; and he’s espousing a peaceful, discussion-oriented solution to the problem of Islamist terrorism. What’s not to like?
Yet Nawaz is constantly criticized by the Regressive Left; they’ve called him a “porch monkey” as well as Sam Harris’s “Muslim validator” and his “lapdog.” The odious Nathan Lean, for whom I have nothing but contempt, took him apart in The Atlantic for, among other things, being too well dressed. I am beleaguered on email by nutjobs trying to convince me that Nawaz is a plant: a spy for terrorism who really intends to further the Caliphate! How dare Lean, or other Regressive Leftists, presume that they know better than Nawaz how to deal with the terrorist mentality.
Actually, even Nawaz’s solutions, discussed below, are problematic, for though I think he’s correct in arguing that we can’t shoot our way out of the problem, his solutions seem unworkable. Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he calls for “galvanizing the grassroots and working with civil society activists”—trying to change the Islamist narrative into one in which Muslims develop constructive goals and accept democratic values. Yes, that’s the solution, but it seems far beyond reach. How can you persuade a faith whose adherents (not all of them!) accept the literal truth of the Qur’an to abandon the narrative of worldwide domination, to accept women and gays as equals, and to stop demonizing nonbelivers, apostates, and those of other faiths?
So although I’m energized by Nawaz’s talk, I am also pessimistic about his solutions. Nevertheless, one thing he says not only makes eminent sense, but is actually workable. And that’s this: “The solution lies in giving people permission to have this conversation. The problem with President Obama was that it was anything but wanting to have the conversation.”
The conversation, of course, is about the influence of a pernicious religious ideology on people’s behavior. We recognize how Catholicism and Christianity can erode people’s empathy and humanity, but we’re loath to do that with Islam. Instead, we’d rather blame the U.S. for the entirety of terrorism, with the ridiculous assumption that if we just pulled out of the Middle East (we’re largely out of there anyway), every bit of terrorism would stop.
Nawaz is right: we need to start having the discussion rather than avoiding it. Believe me, if a million Catholics started killing gays, subjugating women, and trying to establish the Pope’s reign over the entire world in the name of the Church, we wouldn’t have a problem criticizing the religious dogma causing that behavior. Nor would we claim, as does Bill Donohue, that Catholics are simply marginalized as persecuted. No, it’s only with Islam that we bridle. That’s partly because we’re scared of criticizing the faith (we all know the consequences of that), and partly because we consider Muslims, unlike Catholics, as oppressed “people of color.” But pigmentation doesn’t equate with virtue.
It’s time to have that conversation.