Roots of violent radicalisation - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 45-93)

Q45 Chair: Mr Ali, Mr Nawaz, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Committee. I won't repeat my introduction. This is the very first session in what will be a series of hearings into the roots of radicalism. We are very grateful that you could be here right at the start. You have obviously had the benefit of hearing from Congressman King, and his testimony covers the kinds of things that the Homeland Security Committee has been doing in the United States.

  The Committee will ask you questions. I am sure you have been through this before, especially Mr Nawaz. They will be addressed to both of you so feel free to chip in whenever you think appropriate. Perhaps I can start with you, Mr Ali. What do you think are the main causes, the roots of radicalism?

Rashad Ali: I think there are a number of things that come into mind. First, I think people tend to look at radicalism as one process.

  Chair: You may have to speak up a little because of the acoustics.

Rashad Ali: I think a number of people look at radicalisation as a single process, going from A to B or A to Z. From our experience over the last two years, we have defined it as a number of pathways. There tends to be different things that motivate different individuals. We have put it down to four broad strokes. One is the most obvious, which many people speak about, which is theologically radicalised individuals, people who embrace a very specific Salafi-Jihadi theology that justifies acts of terrorism and violence. There are those who we have come across who don't necessarily embrace it on theological grounds, but they have a certain political lens by which they view certain grievances. That shapes their world view and this makes it easier for them to embrace radical/religious protocols.

Q46 Chair: Did that cause you to join Hizb ut-Tahrir when you first joined? We are very interested in personal testimony.

Rashad Ali: Sure.

Chair: Why did you become a member of that organisation?

Rashad Ali: With regard to Hizb ut-Tahrir, their particular brand is a mixture of theology, ideology and a kind of particular world view as well. So it is a mixture of those three factors that I usually mention that actually they have a specific ideological take; a set of ideas regarding belief, regarding secularism, capitalism and criticism of those things.

Chair: Is that why you joined?

Rashad Ali: A mixture of that and also the religious motivation.

Q47 Chair: How old were you when you joined.

Rashad Ali: I was 15 when I came across Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Chair: Mr Nawaz, would you agree with that? Would you agree with the assessment that Mr Ali has made. You yourself were also a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Maajid Nawaz: Yes, I would agree with that. I would summarise it as four bullet points. I went through this process and I think it is essentially a process that involves an individual feeling a sense of grievance, whether real or perceived, and thereby leading to an identity crisis about whether one is, in my case, British or Pakistani or both or Muslim. Those grievances and that identity crisis are capitalised upon by a recruiter, usually a charismatic recruiter. Finally, that recruiter sells to the vulnerable young individual, who in most cases is educated, as we heard previously, an ideology and a narrative, a world view.

Q48 Chair: Is that what happened to you?

Maajid Nawaz: It is absolutely. I had many grievances, including experiencing violent racism on the streets of Essex as a teenager before the age of 16; being stabbed at in the street by Combat 18; being falsely arrested by Essex police authorities. I saw what was happening in Bosnia. That sense of grievance, which ordinarily one would grow out of when one moves beyond their teenage years, was capitalised upon by a young medical student who was also a British-born Bangladeshi Muslim. He sold to me an ideology and a world view that allowed me to frame those grievances as part of the Islam versus West narrative that Islamists, and Al-Qa'ida in particular, are so adept at propagating.

Rashad Ali: I would just like to add that there is some interesting research that has been done that demonstrates that it is not necessarily grievances that are the start point. There a number of perspectives. One is that grievances themselves exist—the world is full of problems—but it is often a lens or an ideology that makes you feel certain grievances, which exaggerate certain perspectives or even makes you realise things that you probably wouldn't have in the past.

Q49 Chair: Your prison sentence when you went to prison in Egypt, Mr Nawaz, did that make you more radical or less radical?

Maajid Nawaz: I think, in referring to Congressman King's testimony, I must say that, as somebody who has been arbitrarily arrested and detained without charge and witnessed torture in Egypt's jails, I would like to state for the record that I do think water boarding is torture and I register my objections to anyone attempting to justify torture as an efficient or even morally justifiable means. I note that he didn't define it as torture, but I do define it as torture. For the sake of terminology, I shall say that anybody justifying water boarding is morally on questionable grounds.

  In my own case, in Egypt's prisons, I was forced to watch one of my co-detainees electrocuted. I wasn't electrocuted myself. I was then interrogated and we were cross-examined together and my answers were used to further electrocute him before my eyes. That particular individual remains—

Q50 Chair: When you say "electrocuted" do you mean he had electrical shocks put to him?

Maajid Nawaz: On his teeth and genitalia, yes.

Q51 Chair: Did he die as a result of that?

Maajid Nawaz: He is alive still. He is a British citizen and he remains a member of the group that we were accused of belonging to. I think that is a very relevant anecdote for this Committee, because I personally wasn't electrocuted and I spent my time in prison studying from the original sources of Islam and coming to a conclusion that the ideology I had adopted, known as "Islamism", is a modern aberration, a twisted interpretation of Islam. But that particular individual, as in the case with most people who were subjected to torture in prisons, became more extreme.

Q52 Chair: Yes. Mr Ali, do you think there is a typical profile for those who are radicalised?

Rashad Ali: I don't. I don't think there is a typical profile.

Chair: It could be anybody?

Rashad Ali: It actually could be anybody. I know that sounds quite—

Q53 Chair: So the profile they say that it has to be a member of the Muslim community is absolutely wrong?

Rashad Ali: I think it is not completely off the wall to suggest that it is easier to radicalise individuals that already belong to a faith using a specifically religious trajectory. However, there are many individuals that we deal with that are converts. They are people who are from mainstream society that have then taken on board the religion and tend—as converts do—to have a more zealous perspective towards religiosity, without over-generalising, and that allows it to be easier almost to take on a more radical, political perspective.

Maajid Nawaz: On the note on profiling—you and I have discussed this before as well—the question is, what does a Muslim look like? Of course, if you are looking for a Muslim. Muslim is not a race. A Muslim can be white, as in Bosnia. A Muslim can be black, as in Nigeria. A Muslim can look like us. So a Muslim doesn't look like anything and therefore there is no effective means of implementing a policy of profiling at, for instance, airports. Also the other point to note is that if you are looking for a devout Muslim and therefore looking for, for example, on a man, facial hair, or on a woman, a headscarf, then let's keep in mind that terrorists—and we can see the 9/11 hijackers as a typical example or specimen of them—do everything possible to not look devout, so they can get through the airports. Of course the Chechen Black Widows, who are women wearing jeans and T-shirts, were successful exactly because nobody expected women wearing jeans and T-shirts, with their hair flowing, to blow themselves up. So I think it can be counterproductive to set a profile and thereby give a warning light to terrorists of exactly who we are looking for, so they can go about recruiting the opposite of that profile.

  Chair: Very helpful.

Q54 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would just like to pick up on Mr Ali's point. You started off by saying to the Chairman that there were four pathways that you had identified as the root causes of radicalisation. You gave us two, one being theology and one being through a political lens. What were the other two?

Rashad Ali: The other two typically, of the individuals that we have dealt with in the last few years, have been those who either have had personal grievances. These are individuals who are either from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq who are now living within the UK. They have had family members who have suffered indirectly or directly as a result of actions that are taking place in those countries. They have very particular emotional grievances and they don't require a particularly political ideology or even religion to be able to then radicalise them. They have certain emotions that are driving them.

  The other side of that is actually individuals who have, particularly, mental health problems. It is easier for those individuals to be then targeted, focused and separated from their communities, their families and the environments around them. We have seen that both in certain instances where individuals have tried to undertake violent acts and also in individuals who we have come across in our work, in terms of de-radicalisation activities that we do.

Q55 Bridget Phillipson: On the profile of those who may be radicalised, Mr Nawaz, you touched on what I wanted to ask you. Are we talking more that it tends to be men as opposed to women? Is there a gender split that has been identified there? It sometimes taken as an unwritten assumption that we are talking about men here, but I appreciate that it may be more complex.

Maajid Nawaz: It is more complex. There have been many cases of female suicide bombers, but more numerous are female extremists who don't necessarily go on to become terrorists. There is absolutely no gender imbalance there whatsoever. In fact, in Indonesia the particular group that both Rashad and I used to belong to has more female members than male members. So I think the case of the Chechen Black Widows does demonstrate it is perfectly possible for women. In one case, there has been a grandmother in Iraq who has been arrested attempting to blow herself up. So I think the danger of profiling is we are telling terrorists exactly what we are looking for, so that they can subvert that criteria and look for somebody else. I mean they use donkeys if they need to.

Rashad Ali: I would probably add two things. One is that, statistically speaking, when looking at the convictions for individuals who have either undertaken terrorist acts or under the terrorism legislation of the UK, it is probably about 95% to 5% in terms of women and men, but having said that we know that Al-Qa'ida is specifically launching and targeting women for violent acts of radicalisation. So we know that Al-Qa'ida specifically decided that one of the things they are going to focus on is getting women involved.

Q56 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of the UK, understanding the profile—I appreciate the difficulties of what that can lead to—and if we are talking about predominantly men who may be involved, not so much in the groups but in violent activity, is that part of the way to address the problem by working with those communities, understanding the kinds of pull that those people we are talking about, perhaps, particularly young men, may feel towards certain groups or radicalisation?

Maajid Nawaz: From the work that we are doing and the experience that we have, I think that any policy must be fluid; it must address the concerns of the day as they are. So as my colleague mentioned, the majority of convicted terrorists are men but it must also recognise that is very easy to change, so any CT policy, or counter-terrorism policy, must be coupled with a counter-extremism strategy that works to subvert the future radicalisation of potential recruits, and in that strategy it should address men and women because of course there is no gender imbalance in the number of women who join extremist organisations.

Rashad Ali: The only thing I would add is probably that if you want to prioritise resources, then statistical data is important in that regard. If you are prioritising resources to where you are going to allocate them then, yes, you are looking at men; you are looking at between the ages of 25 and 38; you are looking at those 75% who have been from an east or subcontinent background, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and so on. From that perspective, prioritisation of resources, I think the stats demonstrate there is this type of profiling as such, in terms of where the majority have come from, but it is certainly not restricted to only addressing those people.

Q57 Mr Winnick: Would it be right to say that the process of radicalisation starts with trying to persuade young people, teenagers, that Muslims are being persecuted, one way or another, particularly in many parts of the world, that it is the Western powers—United States, Britain, France—who are doing their utmost to campaign and to defeat Islam? Is that the way in which the process works in the beginning?

Maajid Nawaz: That is certainly a crucial component of the beginning stages of radicalisation, to convince the young, angry person, male or female, that there is a war against Islam going on in the world and to incorrectly present the West as a homogenous entity. We have heard just in this testimony that there are even differences between America and Britain on many of these crucial issues. The West is not a homogenous entity, just as Muslims are not a homogenous entity, but that simplistic narrative is certainly a crucial element in the primary stages of radicalisation.

Q58 Mr Winnick: When it comes to the main split, as with Christianity divided into basically two, as I understand it, main factions—Catholics and Protestants—so with the Islam world as it is, Shias and Sunnis. How is it explained away that Islam, as a religion, is so divided and has been almost from the very beginning, or isn't that touched on?

Maajid Nawaz: It is touched upon. I am sure Rashad would also like to add here something on this subject, but I—

Mr Winnick: If you could speak up a bit.

Maajid Nawaz: It is certainly touched upon. One of the important elements to keep in mind here is that Islamism—the ideology briefly defined as the desire to impose one interpretation of Islam as state law—crosses across the Sunni/Shia divide. So when we see Hezbollah, a religiously Shia organisation, co-operating with Hamas, a religiously Sunni organisation, they share Islamism as their political ideology. We also see Iran as an Islamist state, perhaps one of the only examples of one, propagating its ideology and co-operating in many cases with Sunni-based organisations.

  I think there are many ways to override those sectarian differences and they generally tend to revolve around the political debate, and that is how they can find common ground.

Q59 Alun Michael: I want to turn it around, in the sense that you talked about the approaches that make people vulnerable to being radicalised and the attraction of a religious profile, and so on. You have both referred to recruiters, and one imagines over a time they would develop methodology in the way that recruiters in any other field would do so. Can you say what you see as the methodology that is being used? For instance, is there a focus on approaching people who are subject to short prison sentences? It may well be that mental health issues arise in that sort of area. Can you give us a feel for the methods and the targets that are approached by—

Rashad Ali: I think there are a number of things that we have seen happen. As an example, in the north-west, we have seen targeting specifically of individuals who have a drugs culture. These are vulnerable individuals. We have seen individuals who have been targeted that, as I mentioned, have mental health problems. We also see within prisons a very specific type of culture, because the prison dynamic is very unique in that it is mainly focused around gangs, and therefore the embracement of particular Muslim gangs has been one of the strong ways in which radicalisation recruitment has taken place. It is not quite the same as violent extremism in the terrorist sense, but it is often criminality that is justified on religious grounds. There are probably different factors looking at it in that way.

  In terms of recruitment techniques, I think the recruitment techniques are probably divided, in the sense that they are often around theological backgrounds of a specific organisation that we are talking about. So groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, the process that Maajid outlined in terms of looking at grievances, identity, radicalisation, in terms of political viewpoint, and then filling in the theology to justify it. That is the set kind of pattern of process that groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir use.

  Again, looking at Salafi-Jihadi organisations, it is much more strictly theological. So if you look at the internet-based websites, their process is one very simplistic grievance in political outlook and then a very heavy emphasis on this puritanical theology, and this is the religious justification.

  Chair: Mr Nawaz?

Maajid Nawaz: I agree with what Mr Ali said.

Q60 Alun Michael: Could I take it on from that in terms of the reference to gang culture. How important is that? It is an interesting one because we found in a recent visit that in Los Angeles this was an avenue that was being used to recruit foot soldiers. Is that important in your experience in the UK, too?

Rashad Ali: I think what we found with prisons is that it is a very specific social reality. In order to survive within a prison framework, you have to belong to a particular gang to give you that, so this is some of the problems. On top of that, there are structural deficiencies, which are normal and to be expected. We have a situation now where we have hundreds of individuals that have been convicted for terrorism-related offences, and we have a prison guard that is completely not capable of dealing with this, and they shouldn't be expected to be capable of dealing with this, because they are very unique in reality. They are unaware, in terms of the lack of training and awareness of how to differentiate between religious conversions and convictions that happen within a prison framework, the social dynamics of joining gangs and differentiating that and between radical extremist political preachers who are also placed within prisons.

Q61 Steve McCabe: You said at the beginning that some of the groups provide an ideology and framework for people to make sense of the grievances and the injustices, and so it develops. How much do you think foreign powers like Iran are deliberately building and creating that sense?

Maajid Nawaz: I think there are certainly cases of two particular Governments that are funding the growth of two very different types of Muslim-based extremism in the world. The Salafi-Jihadi brand is being funded by one particular Government and Islamism—the political form of this ideology—is being supported by the other. That has a significant impact on the growth of these organisations around the world, and even where they are not funding organisations, it has a significant impact on the mood music or the environment that is created from which these organisations stem. That is particularly pertinent to the Home Affairs Committee here because by comparison we have a completely, I suppose, incomparable level of non-funding going to the alternative counter-message. That is a serious problem because there is no real investment, whether from the third sector or from Governments, that I am aware of at least—and I run one of the main organisations in this field—going to organisations that are attempting to promote the counter-message.

Q62 Chair: That includes yours?

Maajid Nawaz: It does indeed.

Q63 Chair: Do you get funding from the Government?

Maajid Nawaz: No, we don't at the moment, and we are struggling.

Q64 Chair: Did you get funding in the past?

Maajid Nawaz: We did until last December. Austerity measures and many other matters that come to the—

Q65 Chair: Why did they stop your funding?

Maajid Nawaz: December 2010.

Chair: Yes, why did they stop your funding?

Maajid Nawaz: Oh, why? What we were told is a combination of austerity measures and priorities in the Government's CT strategy. Now, what I would be very interested in, again stating for the record, is the revised Prevent Strategy that the Prime Minister has devised, one of the key questions I have is, that is all well on paper, but where is its implementation? That is something I would urge the Select Committee to look at very closely.[1]

Chair: We will.

Rashad Ali: Can I just come back to the question regarding Iran for a moment?

Chair: Yes. Very quickly.

Rashad Ali: There are organisations that are operating within the UK. One specifically is the so-called Islamic Human Rights Commission. This is an organisation that is funded primarily through Iranian sources. It acts both to deflect attention away from activities that are happening in Iran and downplay them, but also politically to agitate so as to try and further this narrative of: West versus Islam; the UK has an anti-Muslim agenda. Even given the ironic name, they have articles as to why human rights aren't universal. That is just one example of organisations that are furthering the extreme narrative.

Maajid Nawaz: Very briefly, sorry, may I add that Pakistan is a country, in particular, that suffers from this geopolitical struggle with two Governments in particular using Pakistan as a playground?

Q66 Chair: Which Governments?

Maajid Nawaz: If I may name them I would say Saudi Arabia and Iran, using Pakistan as a playground for sectarian warfare on the streets of Pakistan.

Q67 Dr Huppert: Both of you sat back and became de-radicalised. Can you tell us a bit more about what were the critical steps in that happening for you, and hence what we can learn to try to encourage other people to take the same steps?

Rashad Ali: I think for myself it was a number of things that I think are important. First, there was a kind of moral realisation that with regards groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, and all extreme Islamist groups, they are built on an amoral framework, which is to take away your natural sensibilities of right and wrong, good and bad, and replace them with a very extreme theology, which is, "There is no such thing as good and bad; it is only what God says." So if God says, "This is good," then this is good. If God says, "This is bad," this is bad. That, coupled with a political point of view, you realise is quite ludicrous and unrealistic, so the idea that we should establish a global supreme leadership for a caliph to run the whole world at his disposal, according to his religious proclivities, it is not easy to convince somebody of that idea unless it is religiously grounded, so unless it is absolutely grounded on religion. The third thing is, as you can probably imagine, it is only tenuously linked to religion. When you can break the link to the religious proclivities to say, "Hold on a second, you can be a Muslim, you can maintain your religious convictions, even conservative religious values, in terms of mores and ethics. This has nothing to do with the idea that you need to impose your brand over the whole world through a political system. It is ahistorical." So, once you realise that it is ahistorical—it wasn't even the case in Muslim empires, which were more kind of communalist in their outlook; they had different religious trajectories, different religions, even had their own courts and so on—that actually this is something that is a modern hybrid of politics and mediaeval theology.

  Chair: Mr Nawaz?

Maajid Nawaz: Nothing to add to that.

Q68 Dr Huppert: If I may, Chair, I am just very interested because, in the answer you have just given, there was a very intellectual analysis. I am not sure it gives me a comfort that I would know how to take what you have just said and use it to persuade other people. Could you perhaps say a little bit more about how one could persuade other people emotionally?

Chair: Basically translate that into street language.

Rashad Ali: I think in the submission I gave I tried to break it down. It does depend on the individual. Just to give one example to elaborate. I had one individual who we were working with who had again this kind of political narrative and a religious justification for it. So the first part of our engagement was not talking about theology; it was talking about the politics, making him realise that, "Hold on a second, fine, you are against the Iraq war. Half of Parliament, more or less, was against the Iraq war. There was a final speech that Tony Blair gave and then this swung the Parliament. Actually, millions of people in Britain marched against the Iraq war. So when you are looking at it, it is not simplistically that all the people are against, it is just the West who are against the Muslims. Similarly, Tony Blair and the Government went to war in Serbia against the Serbian Christian Orthodox people on behalf of the Kosovans, who were Muslims."

Over a gradual process you start to break down the political narrative, and if life is a bit more nuanced, it is then easier to say and your religion is a bit more nuanced, too. Your religion also differentiates between those people who are anti-Muslim, anti-Islam, those who are anti-Muslim and violent, those who just have this ideological point of view and how do you engage accordingly. Over a period of time, you can then build in the theology to start addressing all the details.

Although the presentation I gave you is just to encapsulate, these are the key things, I think when you break it down on an individual level it really depends on the individual, but it can be broken down accordingly.

Q69 Lorraine Fullbrook: I have two completely unrelated questions. Has your safety, each of you, been in jeopardy since you left Hizb ut-Tahrir?

Maajid Nawaz: I do a lot of work in Pakistan on the grassroots. In fact, we founded a grassroots social movement in Pakistan called Khudi. Its aim is to challenge extremism and promote the democratic culture through civic engagement. In that country, we are very worried about not just my safety but the safety of everybody who challenges extremism. There have been assassinations and kidnappings of very high-profile individuals who have had the audacity to speak out against discrimination of the minorities in Pakistan, for example. In that country there is a serious concern, but I must emphasise, not just of myself, anybody who speaks out is in danger.

Q70 Lorraine Fullbrook: Have you had that in the UK?

Maajid Nawaz: Yes, we have had threats, but I think that, again, I would underplay the seriousness with which threats coming from Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters should be taken because Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a terrorist organisation; it is an extremist organisation. The real danger would come from those on the peripheries who support their view. We have had bomb threats; we have had physical intimidation. I have been attacked; I have been punched, but again I want to take the focus away from myself, because I think that many others have suffered far worse.

  Lorraine Fullbrook: Mr Ali?

Rashad Ali: Yes, the same.

Q71 Lorraine Fullbrook: My question follows on from Dr Huppert's question. Can you explain exactly what each of your organisations do to facilitate counter-radicalisation and what are the successful components of that?

Maajid Nawaz: I will try and be as brief as possible because we do quite a lot.

Chair: We have your brief of what you do, but if you could summarise for Mrs Fullbrook that would be great.

Maajid Nawaz: Sure. In essence, we believe that the model that was initiated in America after 9/11, known as neo-conservatism, is upside down. What I mean by that is rather than bringing in a supply for democracy, by going in with force, into Muslim majority countries, what needs to be done is a demand for democratic culture needs to be built on the grassroots where the people themselves demand change. The Arab uprisings are an early indicator of that, although it is yet to be seen how that turns out.

  On the supply side, i.e. policy, we mirror that with policy advice given from Quilliam as a think tank. So we have two organisations working, one addressing the demand on the grassroots on the ground with youth in Pakistan called Khudi, and Quilliam addressing Government policy across the West. We are trying to tweak both the supply, i.e. policy, and the demand for democratic culture on the ground. That is a one paragraph summary of what we do; there is much more.

Q72 Chair: Mr Ali, a one paragraph summary of yours.

  Rashad Ali: Sure.

Lorraine Fullbrook: What have you found that has worked for you as well?

Rashad Ali: In terms of the work we do, we do a number of different things, but basically one of the key areas of our work is de-radicalisation efforts with prisons, probations, police, community-based organisations, and through channel referrals. This involves working with individuals who are either very close to terrorist organisations, people who have been caught up with individuals who have been monitored, and therefore we seek to remove them from them and engage with them and de-radicalise them, and also work with those who are convicted of offences.

  The other areas of work include research, which looks at theological writing primarily and theological rebuts towards extremist ideology. We also do a number of other activities that fall under that kind of remit.

Q73 Michael Ellis: What are your views—if you can expand on these—as to the theory that the solution to countering radicalisation lies within the Muslim community itself, as opposed to Governments and organisations? For example, do you think there is a role for non-violent extremists in working with the Government and the Muslim community to counter radicalisation? What do you think would be the most effective methods of countering radicalisation?

Maajid Nawaz: In terms of radicalisation, if we recognise that it is caused by more than just Muslims, meaning policy affects radicalisation, whether it is foreign or domestic. Wars affect radicalisation, although may not be the only cause or perhaps even the main cause, but there are factors more than just policy, more than just ideology, more than just Muslims and more than just theology—then our solution must also be as holistic as the causes are.

  In that sense, it is dangerous to just look at Muslims, though we must look at Muslims as part of the overall strategy. I think that historically, with the UK strategy, and the UK is far ahead of many other Governments in this regard, that the reaction of Muslims has been not looked at well enough, so of course there does need to be more focus there.

  With regard to the second part of your question on non-violent extremists and their role, I think we need a more nuanced approach to this. I think it is dangerous for Ministers and for Government to legitimise those who say, for example, that homosexuals should be killed, although they don't take action themselves; in their Utopian state homosexuals should be killed or that Jews are an inferior race or that women can't be heads of state or that adulterers or those who have sexual intimacy before marriage should be stoned to death. If they aspire to these aims and they are physically recruiting people from the armies of Muslim majority countries to initiate coup d'état, so they can bring these aims into power, that is not strictly terrorism but it is certainly extremism.

Q74 Michael Ellis: You think those people with those views should be treated as pariahs?

Maajid Nawaz: No, absolutely not.

Michael Ellis: You don't think so?

Maajid Nawaz: Coming back to the beginning of that sentence: nuance. What I would suggest is we need to distinguish between counter-terrorism, disengagement, de-radicalisation, counter-radicalisation and integration and, if I may, what I mean is CT is clear. Counter-terrorism is clear for everyone, what that means. It is the actual law enforcement operations to stop the next bomb going off. Disengagement is to convince serving terrorists that they should put their arms down. Now it is a very narrow and limited objective that occurs in, for example, cases of terrorists who are serving in prison, to convince them simply of a ceasefire. In that context, in a very low-profile way, it may be okay to use extremists. I say "may", we have to be very careful as to who is used and we have to be very careful as to how they are used and what level of public legitimacy they are given.

  De-radicalisation, the third element, is to convince them to disavow the theory of violence, not just to put down their arms—

Q75 Michael Ellis: How do we convince them of that?

Maajid Nawaz: Again, those who are well-versed with the extremist narrative could be utilised in this process. They have been in Egypt; they have been in Libya. Where I was serving time in prison in Egypt, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the largest terrorist organisation in that country, went through a process of de-radicalisation. It is shocking to this day that their literature and the literature that came from Libya in this regard still has not been translated into English and distributed in our prisons.

  Chair: Thank you.

Rashad Ali: Can just comment on that?

Chair: Yes.

Rashad Ali: I think the differentiation of violent and non-violent is somewhat arbitrary. As an example, we describe groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, commonly they are described as "non-violent radicals", which is just completely false.

Q76 Chair: Is that the Muslim Brotherhood here or in Egypt?

Rashad Ali: The idea is differentiating the organisations and separating them as where they are.

Q77 Michael Ellis: Do you see them as one?

Rashad Ali: They are one. As an example, Hamas in its charter describes itself as a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. So effectively what they have done is they separated out which activities which organs of the same body do. We are seeing this alignment taking place now within Egypt, with Hamas and so forth, and some of the problems that are accruing.

  Similarly, we see individuals who will be supportive of Hamas violence in the UK. Just to give an example, Azzam Tamimi who will quite openly speak about why he supports suicide bombing, why he supports the actions of Hamas, which are terrorist actions. We are talking about killing children, women, and targeted actions against hospitals, and so forth. Essentially, it is not a non-violent organisation; it is an organisation that does not believe in domestic violence. If you like, "We want to talk about people who don't particularly want to kill us, but Jews in Israel; perfectly fine. Americans in Iraq is an example; perfectly fine," and I don't just mean American soldiers, these people talk about—

Q78 Michael Ellis: So it is impossible to do business with those people?

Rashad Ali: I think it conflicts with our laws and statutes that dictate where terrorism is illegal abroad and at home; it conflicts with our objectives in context, which state very clearly we are not just talking about domestic terrorism; we are talking about terrorism across the world. I think on a moral basis it is fundamentally flawed. On a strategic perspective, I can't see how moving somebody from not undertaking violence here to only undertaking violence abroad; okay, from a tactical point of view, it may lower the risk element for domestic violence and it may contain them but it is not de-radicalisation. They have the same radical point of view, which leads to violence in—

Q79 Michael Ellis: Just to go back to the initial premise of the question. What do you think is the solution?

Rashad Ali: I think what we have seen in our experience is that, first of all, you have to analyse specifically on individual cases what are the motivating factors, what are the cognitive factors, what are the environmental issues. On the individual case-by-case basis, you can then develop, alongside the administering authorities, how to engage with those individuals, groups or organisations. That is on the kind of grand level of de-radicalisation.

  On a societal level, we just have to define what it means and then stick to what it means as to how we view individuals. If we turn this around and we look at a right wing organisation with far right, because this is another area we work with, we would never send in somebody like Nick Griffin or somebody from the BNP to go and convince them that, "You know something, these blacks, Pakistanis, Muslims, they are really bad, but maybe undertaking some violence against them is not a great idea. We should take power and then once we take power we can deal with them." I mean that is probably not the best de-radicalisation strategy, but, ironically, this is what is suggested.

  To give one final example, when looking at some of the literature of some of the Salafist organisations, you have them quoting scholars, like Shaikh Uthaymin, who say, "Britain, France and America are too strong for us to launch Jihad against. So once we're strong enough, and the leadership declares jihad, then we can." That is not a de-radicalisation message. That, at best, is a containment message, but you still have a massive risk that you are containing there.

Maajid Nawaz: May I add very quickly we simply don't have the capacity? One of the bigger problems to implement this is we don't have the capacity on the ground, or enough people that are working in this field, for a national grassroots strategy implementing what Mr Ali has just said, and that is one of the key issues that this Committee should look at. Secondly, I think another point is, as well as a lack of strategy, in the new Prevent document there appears to be no criteria for engagement as to who should be engaged in this agenda, and this is an area that requires some serious thinking.

Chair: We are coming on to that.

Q80 Nicola Blackwood: I was interested that you said, Mr Ali, that there are four pathways to radicalisation; theology, politics, personal grievance and mental health issues. I believe the Communities and Local Government Committee were of the opinion that the previous Prevent Strategy placed too much emphasis on theology as a pathway. I wonder if that is your opinion. I was also interested, Mr Nawaz, that you said that it was a particular study of the Qur'an that de-radicalised you personally. I wonder if your opinion is that there should be more emphasis on other pathways for de-radicalisation and whether the emphasis in the new Prevent Strategy is correct in this.

Maajid Nawaz: I think there are some dangers exploring theology as Government policy. One of them is that we are in danger of subsidising sectarian conflict within Muslim communities by supporting one religious sector over another, and we need to be aware of that. I think also, again, there is simply no capacity in Government to understand the theology. It simply does not exist on a capacity level.

  I think that there is a way around that to avoid both of those dangers, and that is not to address theology insomuch as to address a pluralism within theology. One does not need to be a qualified theologian to be trained by those who have that knowledge to say, "Look, what you are insisting is the only way to interpret texts. I have it as a matter of record it isn't correct because here are 10 other ways to interpret texts that are in these books that you also respect and that are grounded in historical study from traditional scholarly sources." So it is simply displaying the level of pluralism that does exist within theological contest. But that does require training and it is not a theological discussion. I suppose that is simply a science of interpretation that needs to be explored.

Q81 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but I suppose my question is more, do you think there is too much emphasis on a theological cause of radicalisation rather than other causes of radicalisation within Prevent in the new strategy?

Maajid Nawaz: I am in danger of disagreeing with my colleague. I am not sure if he would agree, but let's see. I think there is too much emphasis. I think that it was correct to shift away from theology and focus more on political narratives, which of course use theology to justify themselves, but I think the key thing is the ideology and the narratives as distinct from religious theology.

Q82 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think that the new strategy has a better balance and is getting the emphasis right, or do you think we are still not getting the analysis right?

Maajid Nawaz: There is room for improvement, but it is good to move away from theology and look towards ideology and political narratives, of course. But there is much room for improvement in the current strategy.[2]

Nicola Blackwood: What do you think, Mr Ali?

Rashad Ali: No, I agree. In the submission I have given, there are a number of cases where theology is primal and there are many cases where theology acts as a reinforcement for the political narrative. So the political narrative comes first and then the strands of theological justification have come to rebuild on that. They are the two things that I think.

  Similarly, I think in the de-radicalisation process, often it can be just merely demonstrating—as Nawaz has mentioned—that a number of alternatives, just to demonstrate, so you don't have to embrace this narrow point of view, but you have to motivate someone to abandon that narrow point of view first, which often is the political de-radicalisation after the ideological aspect has been moved away.

  Where there is theology, though, you can't replace it with something else. So where it is the case if someone has embraced a Salafi-Jihadi theology, you have to tackle that theological strand. Should Government be doing that? Obviously not; Government is not in a position to be able to do so, which is why I think in the past what Government has done is started to embrace a certain theology as a countermeasure. For example, the previous Governments—the Home Office at least, if not the Government—had taken on board a very distinct brand of Saudi Salafism as a means of de-radicalising Salafi-Jihadism without realising that is one half of the theological framework of Salafi-Jihadists.

Q83 Mark Reckless: Could you explain to us what role, if any, you believe there is for the policy of proscription of particular organisations?

  Maajid Nawaz: Yes. I have been quoted by the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in Parliament when this question was asked of him by the then Leader of the Opposition, Cameron—who had promised to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir and has since not done so—about proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir. But I am glad the current PM has—

Q84 Chair: Would you remind us of the quote, because some of us may not have been there.

  Maajid Nawaz: He was asked why the Government has not fulfilled Tony Blair's promise to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir and he responded, Mr Brown, as Prime Minister—who was asked by David Cameron—so Mr Brown, as Prime Minister, responded and said, "We have taken stock of the views of people like Maajid Nawaz, who have advised that it is counterproductive to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, and therefore we will not do so." I am pleased to say the current PM has come to this view, or seems to have come to this view, himself and has not gone through with proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir in this country. I would agree that Hizb ut-Tahrir should not be proscribed.

Q85 Chair: Sorry, has he come to this view? When did he come to this view because, the last time he was asked in the Commons, he said he was still of the view. He is communicating with you?

  Maajid Nawaz: I think, yes, he has.

  Chair: He has?

  Maajid Nawaz: Yes.

  Chair: Oh right, when did he tell you this news?

  Maajid Nawaz: I think that I probably quoted something that is not on official records, at least—

  Chair: That is all right; it is now. The Prime Minister has now come to the view that Hizb ut-Tahrir should not be banned?

  Maajid Nawaz: May I retreat somewhat and say that he is veering towards this view and is—

  Chair: Veering?

  Maajid Nawaz: And is inclined not to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, may I say as caveated as possible?

  Chair: Don't worry.

  Maajid Nawaz: I am sorry?

  Chair: Don't worry; we will write to him and ask him.

  Maajid Nawaz: Yes, please do, but I have to add that I support the ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir in Pakistan, and the reason I make the difference is that in Pakistan they are actively seeking to recruit Army officers to overthrow the democratic regime. It is illegal to overthrow a democratic regime via a military coup by Pakistani law as well as international law. The organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir inside Pakistan makes it clear that it is their objective to instigate a military coup, so I think there they should be proscribed.

Q86 Mark Reckless: Just to clarify briefly, please, what is it that makes you think it is a bad thing to proscribe this organisation?

  Maajid Nawaz: Right, so I think legally and practically it is not workable. So legally, if we were to proscribe organisations that operate in this country with no direct provable involvement in illegal activities abroad, then we would have to also look at banning the BNP just for their extremism, because Hizb ut-Tahrir's form of extremism, though slightly incomparable to that of the BNP, would fit within that category of extremism that does not directly advocate the use of violence within Britain. So it would cause us legal problems, but also I think practically the level of support that this organisation has had in the UK has been on the decline. In the early 1990s, they were able to muster somewhere around 12,000 supporters for a conference. This year, at their annual conference, they struggled to gather 3,000, so they have been in decline in this country.

  Chair: Yes, Mr Ali.

  Rashad Ali: If I could just add, first of all, in terms of proscription, obviously with groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, there isn't a legal basis to do so. It has been looked at exhaustively by various other people.

Q87 Chair: But moving away from Hizb ut-Tahrir to the whole issue of proscription, do you think this makes people more radical when they are proscribed or less radical?

  Rashad Ali: Well, this is the point I was going to make. I think the proscription practice we have has been, for want of a better word, ineffective. So for example, we had Al-Ghurabaa banned initially. Al-Ghurabaa was the group which was part of al-Muhajiroun. Al-Muhajiroun was not banned and then it was banned.

Chair: Sorry, could you repeat the name of the group?

  Rashad Ali: It is Al-Ghurabaa. Then we had al-Muhajiroun banned. Al-Muhajiroun then reformed as Islam4UK and then Islam4UK was banned. They have now reformed as Muslims Against Crusades and there is nothing there to ban them again.

  

Q88 Chair: So we need to look at the proscription issue and see why they are banned and in what form.

  Rashad Ali: I think, despite the promises of the Home Office and the Government in the past to make sure that they will ban them, irrelevant of the change of name, that has not been done. The second thing is what is probably more effective is prosecuting individuals for violating laws. As opposed to just merely putting a ban out, which then allows them to reform, reshape, what we should have done is prosecute individuals who have violated laws and have the law be effective.

  Chair: Mr Winnick and Miss Blackwood have a quick supplementary.

Q89 Mr Winnick: Yes, on radicalisation, which I asked you previously, but because of time, the Chair was rather understandably keen to press on, but just one question. Is anti-Semitism an essential element of radicalisation—the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, Jews dominate and control America? Is that absolutely essential with trying to indoctrinate people?

  Maajid Nawaz: It is a key part in what I call the narrative. The world view that is propagated is a war between the West and Islam, and the West is defined in most cases as being controlled by the Jews. It is a key part of that narrative and then Israel is put at the pinnacle of that conspiracy. Even the Sunni/Shia divide, by the way, is blamed on the Jews.

Q90 Nicola Blackwood: It was interesting to hear the evidence of Congressman King that in the United States they do not proscribe any extremist groups. I wonder if any analysis has been done, by either of your organisations, to look at the impact which that has on counter-terrorism or any of the extremist activity in the US and whether we could look at a comparative study between the UK and the US?

  Rashad Ali: I think the only conversations I have had is with American researchers, and from their perspective, it is just something that culturally is so unfathomable for them to even consider banning an organisation.

  

Q91 Nicola Blackwood: But does it cause more problems for law enforcement that they cannot proscribe organisations, because we proscribe these organisations, but it obviously doesn't quite work if they reform and reform, so is it an effective means of enforcement in the UK?

  Rashad Ali: I think what they do is they will mention organisations which they wish to proscribe, but not on the basis of banning their ideas, but those who are taking part in funding or organising terrorist activities. So in the past, they have prosecuted organisations like the Holy Land Foundation group for funding Hamas, and what they will do is they will take legal measures, stop their funding, disrupt their activities, and so forth.

Q92 Chair: Very quickly, 30-second answers to this question. Who funds you now if the Government no longer funds you, Mr Nawaz?

  Maajid Nawaz: Quilliam is struggling. It is funded by one or two non-third-sector foundations. We have had to lay off 80% of our staff and reduce 80% of our costs, and are currently, I must admit, inefficient.

  Chair: Mr Ali?

  Rashad Ali: We have private donations of individuals who wish to support us in what we do. We also engage in research alongside academic institutions.

Q93 Chair: In terms of radicalisation, very quickly, is it on the increase or decrease, Mr Nawaz?

  Maajid Nawaz: I think non-violent extremism is on the increase, ie the ideology of Islamism, and in many cases it is in danger of trying to hijack the Arab spring in some of those countries. I think the appeal of Al Qa'ida is on the decline, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has been defeated.

  Chair: Mr Ali?

  Rashad Ali: I think it is on the increase, and it is not that Al Qa'ida is on the increase, because I think as an organisation we have fairly come to the conclusion it is less influential, but we are having is a growth in lone terrorism and also further radicalisation.

  Chair: A brief, very quick final question from Lorraine Fullbrook.

  Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you, Chairman, but you asked my question about funding anyway.

  Chair: Okay, excellent. Mr Nawaz, Mr Ali, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to help us begin this very important inquiry. We will be in touch with you again, and if you have any other areas you think we should look at, please do let us know. Thank you.


1   Note by the witness: The comments on funding were made with regards to government grants from the Prevent strand of funding. Quilliam did not receive any Prevent funds from the Home Office or Foreign Office, and these are the funds that were terminated last December. Quilliam have received one grant from the Department for Education to fund a series of linked projects investigating schools' experiences of extremism and how they are responding to the challenges created by those experiences. Back

2   Note by the witness: For the sake of clarity, I was praising the new prevent strategy's shift away from theology and criticising the old strategy's emphasis on this aspect." Back


 
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