Maajid Nawaz on extremists of all stripes

When you read Maajid Nawaz’s new piece at at the Quilliam website (reprinted from the Times), “Islamists and anti-Muslim bigots are two sides of the same coin,” remember that this is the same man who’s been labeled an “anti-Muslim bigot” by the increasingly irrelevant Southern Poverty Law Center. For what Nawaz is criticizing is extremism in all forms.  He makes the point, which may be obvious to many of us, that both the anti-Muslim right and the Muslim extremists are locked in both a death grip and an embrace: they need each other to thrive, even though they hate each other. Each Islamist attack empowers the Right; each emission of anti-Muslim bigotry by the Right strengthens Islamism.  I’m reminded of the opening section of Paul Scott’s underrated novel The Jewel in the Crown:

This is the story of a rape, of the events that led up to it and followed it and of the place in which it happened. There are the action, the people, and the place; all of which are interrelated but in their totality incommunicable in isolation from the moral continuum of human affairs.

In the Bibighar gardens case there were several arrests and an investigation. There was no trial in the judicial sense. Since then people have said there was a trial of sorts going on. In fact, such people say, the affair that began on the evening of August 9th, 1942, Mayapore, ended with the spectacle of two nations in violent opposition, not for the first time nor as yet for the last because they were then still locked in an imperial embrace of such long standing and subtlety it was no longer possible for them to know whether they hated or loved one another, or what it was that held them together and seemed to have confused the image of their separate destinies.

That’s not a completely apposite description, but it’ll do. Regardless, Nawaz, the demonized extremist, has this to say about extremist enabling:

Anti-Muslim bigots and Islamists are often viewed as two opposing groups on opposite ends of a line, when in fact they are but two sides of the same coin. Yes, jihadist terrorism poses a far larger global threat, but according to our government anti-Muslim extremism has been the fastest rising of late. Muslimphobes and Islamists have much in common: both groups insist that Islam is a totalitarian political ideology at odds with liberal democracy, and hence both insist that the two will inevitably clash. While one group often calls for the Koran to be banned, the other calls to ban everything but the Koran. Together, they form the negative and the positive of a bomb fuse.

Anti-Muslim extremism and Islamist extremism exist in a kind of twisted symbiotic relationship whereby each props up the other, and both together create the optimum breeding ground for their respective ideologies to not only persist but thrive. The desire to impose Islam and the desire to ban Islam are simply twin ideologies that, if left unchecked and unchallenged, have the potential ingredients to cause havoc.

His plea is Kumbaya-ish, saying that “civil society must stand up to extremism in all its different configurations, whether it takes the form of a flawed argument or a violent manifestation, but it’s worth pondering. To me, that goes for Muslim extremists, Antifa, the authoritarian thugs at Evergreen State, and the Trumpites who want their Big Wall. We have no difficulty criticizing Trump, and little problem with criticizing extremist Islam, but why is it so hard for us to call out the two groups in the middle?


  1. sensorrhea
    Posted June 20, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s also notable how similar many of the basic principles of Muslim & American right-wing extremists are. Anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-abortion, etc.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Maybe you need to say ‘American CHRISTIAN right wing-extremists’ or even without the ‘American’. The difference between American Fascism and Islamic fascism is that traditional Fascism normally asserts a nation-based superiority, whereas the Islamic variety is not nation based, but its tribal identifier is religion. ISIS does not need to identify itself as fascist, though that is what its is. German and Italian fascism were not particularly interested in religion, though they had to compromise (to a certain degree) and in some cases exploit the religious prejudices and views of their populace.

      If it is called what it is, Islamofascist, it is not surprising that it resembles the largely Christian derived fascism of the West.
      Maybe Middle Eastern fascism might be a better term, as in my view, the role of Islam itself is overplayed as an ideological justifier for an intrinsically fascist mindset.

  2. Posted June 20, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “Muslimphobes”; good word. I’ll adopt it. Free from the toxic ambiguity (confounding criticism of ideas with bigotry towards people) of “Islamophobes”.

  3. Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Nawaz is not an apostate or converted atheist like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. His position echoes that of other “reform” Muslims: that the religion is reformable and that extremists have taken it over. He also persists in changing “Islam” as in Islamophobia to hatred for Muslims, when in fact it is precisely the religious foundation of extremism that is responsible for jihad and terrorism. I personally, like many people, have no animus towards individual Muslims (unless they try to curtail my civil liberties and speech) but I despise the religion of Islam…not because of what terrorists and jihadists do but because it hates women, is intolerant of other religions, kills gays and apostates, commits honor killings, and tries to impose its own “religious” values on everyone else. I am a proud Islamophobe,m and those who try to underplay or alter the presence of Islam, the religion, are hypocrites or people like Nawaz, who have not yet had the guts to rebel against their religion and its war against secularism and the nonMuslim world.

    • rickflick
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      “…Nawaz, who have not yet had the guts to rebel…”

      You may be right, but I’ve always thought he positions himself vs Islam for increased political influence. Change from within.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I think you are wrong, and unnecessarily insulting towards Nawaz. What do you want him to do? Completely abjure his religion? How would that advance the cause that you – and he – support of reducing the malign influence of extremist religious views in our society?

      Like it or not, we are stuck with religions, including Islam, for the foreseeable future. The best we can hope for is that their destructive impulses can be contained and, hopefully, nullified. For that we need critical and articulate friends like Masjid Kawasaki.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Wow, predictive text! Maajid Nawaz, of course.

    • Matti K.
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      Nawaz: “Muslimphobes and Islamists have much in common: both groups insist that Islam is a totalitarian political ideology at odds with liberal democracy,…”

      Well, I must then be a muslimophobe. Well, maybe Nawaz excuses me, as long as I keep such thoughts inside my head.

      I think the claim of Islam beeing compatible with liberal democracy is similar to the claim of evolution beeing compatible with the christian belief. The aim with such claims is not to search truth, but to seek peace and avoid controversy. There are many who prefer the latters to the former.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    When I was a kid there was a story in one of the superhero comics – I think it was Superman – in which he was going through all sorts of angst. He decided his existence created the need for super-villains to keep the world balanced. He thought maybe if he wasn’t there, maybe the super-villains would go away too.

    In the last few panels he went back to fighting them, of course.

    Maybe the writer of the time had just read Jewel in the Crown.

    However, that comic story has often made me see exactly what Maajid Nawaz is saying here. Extreme groups that are in opposition to each other are often two sides of the same coin, feeding off each other. The much more difficult question is whether either would exist without the other.

    Extreme movements inevitably become more moderate. We see it with religion all the time. Then there’s always a group that wants to reform, which often means going back to the original interpretation. They demonize those who’ve changed. Then the cycle starts again.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      This was non-trivially mentioned by Vision in the latest CaptainAmerica – Civil War.

      As an advanced technology rises, like Iron Man, who initially can defeat enemies, subsequent confrontations provide threats of equal or greater power. This type of fictional outline mirrors reality very well.

      It will not be long (a few centuries at most) before most of the world could assemble weapons of mass destruction to purge their nearest neighbors.

      One of the best services we can do for humanity is to remove or minimize ideologies, namely religion. It is the most pernicious motivator for one person or thing to want to destroy another person or thing.

    • Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      That’s similar to the argument in some Batman comics. When Batman first appeared he was fighting generic gangsters. The costumed villains arose in response to a costumed hero.

    • Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Well, he was right of course. The super villains in Superman comics were brought into existence to create a narrative otherwise the comics would be quite short.

    • Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      I fear that the history of Christianity shows that a religious movement may need more than a millenium to become more moderate.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        It took at least 5,000 years for the Egyptian gods to lose sway. We coukd be stuck with Christianity et al for a long time yet.

  5. Posted June 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Anti-Muslim extremism and Islamist extremism exist in a kind of twisted symbiotic relationship whereby each props up the other

    That sounds profound and insightful but I think on inspection its wrong. Anti-muslim extremism is clearly a reaction to militant Islam, but militant Islam existed prior to and independant of, any reaction of the West

  6. Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Right-wing extremism in the West might well be a reaction to, and dependent upon, Islamism, but global Islamism is a largely a response to more secular forms of Islam. I think Nawaz has made this point himself: that there’s a civil war raging within Islam and the rest of us are being caught up in it.

    • Craw
      Posted June 20, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      “there’s a civil war raging within Islam”

      Yes. I have been saying this for a long time. The two sides are the “back to basics” crowd and the modernizers. The back to basics crowd can win prestige by attacking, and especially by humbling, the khafir (us). Our main goal should be to not give them easy or low-cost victories.

      The implications of this insight are quite the reverse of the usual “root causes” nonsense.

    • Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      And Americans are gambling the future of their country by hoping that the right side of the Islamic civil war wins.


  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 20, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    His plea is Kumbaya-ish …

    I dunno, I kinda like “Kumbaya,” especially when Pete Seeger sings it. I like Maajid Nawaz, too. A lot; his is one of the sanest voices out there on this topic.

    • Discovered Joys
      Posted June 21, 2017 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      I have trouble with phrases like

      civil society must stand up to extremism in all its different configurations

      because while it may contain a lot of truth it is the beginning of stirring up the middle against the two ends. Newspapers don’t help by using forceful words and hyperbole to sell their entertainment (it’s hardly news any more).

      There’s an argument that civil society should ‘merely’ prosecute criminal activity without fear or favour – but whether civil society can be disciplined enough to do this without becoming emotionally charged is a weakness in this argument.

  8. Posted June 20, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    “why is it so hard for us to call out the two groups in the middle?”

    I assume by this you mean the Radical or Far Left (by your term; the Regressive Left)?

    I think the reason for that is that their agenda is mostly seen as defensive and altruistic. The Far Left is all about defending the disenfranchised and socially helpless. To criticize them in some instances may appear to be an attack on an oppressed minority…even though that may not be the case. I think if the criticism is logically presented and fair-minded there’s less chance of that.

    Of course some people will still call you a bigot…but that’s the price you pay for staking out a position. There will always be those who misunderstand, honestly disagree or just want to pick a fight with you to elevate their status.

  9. Posted June 21, 2017 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    Since Finsbury Park, there has been an attempt to butcher dozens of people in Brussels Central Station.

    Maajid Nawaaz should ask himself who the real extremists are.

    People he can invite onto his talk show to discuss things with or the people who have to be shot on sight by police?

  10. Joe Lykins
    Posted June 22, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Boy, it’s a good thing neither side has access to nuclear weapons. Oh, wait….

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