Authors@ Maajid Nawaz | Radical | Google London | 2012

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 27.07.2012

>>Presenter: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks very much indeed for coming. I'm delighted
to welcome our guest today, Maajid Nawaz, who has just published this book, Radical.
Maajid's story is a fascinating one in that he got involved, as a young man, in radical
Islam and then ended up in prison in Egypt for his views, then, subsequently, had a conversion
and rejected political Islam, although he remains a Muslim, and now campaigns around
the world in favor of democracy and nonviolent methods.
I'm particularly interested in sharing this discussion because I've actually met Maajid
in both his incarnations. When I was at Newsnight a few years ago, we did an item about Hizb
ut-Tahrir, which was the organization that Maajid was a member of. He came into the program
and complained long into the night about the film. We discussed that until well after midnight,
I think. Then, when he decided to take a new path, he phoned us up and said, "I am converting
and I'm going to [man coughs] change my approach completely." He asked if he could make a film
about that change on Newsnight, which we very quickly said, "Absolutely." The film went
out. So welcome, Maajid.
>>Maajid Nawaz: Thank you.
>>Presenter: It's great to have you here. I'm really-- Let's go back to South End. How
did you get involved with extremism in the first place?
>>Nawaz: First of all, thank you for that introduction. I mention Peter in the book
because of the story that he's just mentioned. It was very kind of you to actually give me
the opportunity to come back and set the record straight. Thank you for agreeing to chair
this event today. My journey to an Islamist organization began--
I was born and raised in Essex. My journey began in my teenage years. I grew up in a
very-- with a very integrated background. In fact, all of my friends were white Essex
boys. We had little problem with racism until I became a teenager. But when I hit the age
of around 14 years old, because of a phenomenon that was called "white flight"-- Now if any
of you are not from England or London, white flight was something that was used as a term
to describe white people moving from East London to get away from increasing immigration
and moving as far east as they could go. Now, of course, the furthest east is South End,
because beyond that, there's the sea. When they went as far east as they could go to
get away from the immigration, they found me in South End, which is where I was born.
They didn't expect that. In those days, I think South End was about
99.5% white. So I had-- All my friends were English and white people. I basically didn't
know anything else. I became-- I experienced a rude awakening. I became suddenly aware
of my skin color. I describe it in Radical as a way that when I look at people, when
I look at you, when I look and talk to people, I don't see my own skin color. I see people
in front of me. I see them as human beings. The racist is forever seeing me and defining
me by the color of my skin. And would view the color of that skin as a target.
In those days, there was a phenomenon-- Now, I'm saying all this-- This is the beginning
of the story. Please don't get me wrong. Racism is no longer as severe a problem in the UK
as it used to be. I have to say that point. Things are much better than they used to be.
But in those days, there were people that would engage in what they call Paki bashing.
What this is is that they would ride around in white vans and they would randomly jump
out the back of these vans to attack any one of a brown complexion that they saw in an
unprovoked and totally without warning attack. These attacks would usually be with hammers
and with screwdrivers and with kebab knives. At the age of 14, I began experiencing or
being a target of this sort of Paki bashing on the streets in Essex. It would occur on
many occasions. One of my friends called Moe Giddings was chased down the seafront with
a hammer. Had a hammer attack to his head. We were targeted on many occasions. On many
occasions, I had to watch my friends stabbed and slashed at with knives by these racists.
This was all happening at the same time while Essex police authorities, before the days
of the Stephen Lawrence murder, before the days of the Macpherson Report that exposed
a level of institutional racism in the police forces in this country, we were living that
type of institutional racism. On many occasions, we were the target of police discrimination
as well as targeted on the streets of Essex for our skin color.
On time, my brother, who was 16, was playing with a toy gun in the park. A lady saw him
and decided that he must be about to rob a bank, and reported him to the police. I joined
him later on in the evening, as a 15 year old, and we went to play snooker. We were
on the way back home in our friend's car, who was 17 and therefore old enough to drive.
The police had blocked the roads, and there was a police helicopter flying above us. They
shone a spotlight onto our car. Suddenly, from either side of the car, came these armed
policemen with sub semi automatic machine guns. The put guns to our heads and they dragged
us out of the car and said, "You're being arrested for suspicion of armed robbery."
I was too young to be interrogated without the presence of an adult, so they called my
poor mother at 3 am in the morning. They woke her up and said, "Both your sons have been
arrested for suspicion of armed robbery. You have to come down to the station because we
can't interview-- interrogate the younger one without your presence.
>>Presenter: And your response to that was then to turn to extreme Islam, was it?
>>Nawaz: One more thing happened. That was Bosnia. With the genocide in Bosnia, what
I had previously associated as racist violence, I began seeing as something a bit deeper.
Because of course, in Bosnia, there were white, blond-haired, blue-eyed Muslims who were being
targeted by the Serbs because of their faith. What all of this led to isn't me joining Hizb
ut-Tahrir. It led to me becoming very disenfranchised and disconnected from society. What then led
me to join Hizb ut-Tahrir, once I was already primed, is the final ingredient that you need
to join the dots of the grievances that one experienced. That's the ideological narrative.
I met a recruiter who joined those dots and basically gave me an alternative discourse
to explain away all of these grievances.
>>Presenter: Tell us a little bit about Hizb ut-Tahrir, because they are an organization
who effectively want to overthrow governments right around the world and impose an Islamic
>>Nawaz: Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, Hizb ut-Tahrir has three names. But first of all,
I'll say it's an Islamist organization. What is Islamism, and how is it different to Islam?
Islam is a religion, it's a faith. Every Muslim has the right to practice their religion,
whether in its conservative form or in its reformist form. Islamism, on the other hand,
is the desire to impose an interpretation of that faith over society as law. That's
the difference. The desire to impose an interpretation of Islam over society is the politicization
of religion. That's why we add the suffix -ism to the end. So it's called Islamism.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamist organization. It seeks to overthrow every single Muslim
majority regime so it can impose its interpretation of Islam. It also seeks to create, as a result,
a pan-Islamist superstate, an expansionist state that will rule the world. The final
aim is to destroy the state of Israel. How they aim to get to power: there's three
different groups of methodologies within Islamist organizations. We have the Muslim Brotherhood
variety in Egypt. They aim to get to power through competing in elections and participating
in the political system. Then the second category are those who are the revolutionary Islamist
organizations, like the group I belonged to. They aim to recruit army officers, serving
army officers, from the armies of Muslim majority countries so they can incite military coups.
They've done that and I've participated in that level of incitement across a couple of
countries in the world. The third type, the third category are the terrorist Islamist
organizations. I joined a revolutionary Islamist organization.
>>Presenter: It treaded a fine line, didn't it, this organization? This is where we got
into heated debate, because it's not a terrorist organization. But is it a violent organization?
>>Nawaz: There is a level of violence that is not defined as terrorism. For example,
a military coup is inherently a violent act. When you attempt to overthrow a government
using an army, the fact is, the army is threatening force if the government doesn't comply. Now,
if that's a democratic regime, then it's an illegal act to even encourage that. In that
sense, they're encouraging violence. But they're not encouraging terrorism, meaning they will
condemn, and not condone, attacks on hotels, nightclubs, and these sorts of things. It's
a more focused level of violence. Once they come to power, they then aim to use the fact
that a state has a monopoly over violence to engage in a very aggressive and violent
foreign policy of war. They appropriate the term jihad, which is a Koranic concept which
means "struggle", and they apply it to their foreign policy.
>>Presenter: And it's all based on sales, isn't it? And you were actually a sale recruiter,
weren't you? What does that involve?
>>Nawaz: I went through the ranks. I started off as a recruiter at Newham College. I became
president of the students' union and was involved in a heavy recruitment drive for the group.
My entire student union committee were members of my organization and were elected on the
same slate as I was. We ratcheted up and poisoned the atmosphere to such an extent that sadly,
though we didn't encourage this directly-- but it's a natural consequence of what I believe
is is if you boil a kettle enough, eventually the water will boil over. One of our supporters
called Sayid Nour ended up murdering a non-Muslim student on that campus by stabbing him through
the heart with a machete. He was convicted for murder and is serving a life sentence.
He was not a member of the group. He was a supporter who-- As I said, when you ratchet
up the atmosphere-- It's like if racism spreads unchecked in society. Don't be surprised if
Combat 18 and other racist groups start engaging in violence.
That's the fine line you mentioned. That was the debate we had when I was still a member
of the group. They don't directly encourage violence, and that was the point I was pushing
and was bound to push. When you were editor of Newsnight. I was arguing a legal point.
But they don't necessarily encourage violence directly. But what I was conceding was the
fact that this point, that just like with racism, if you spread an extremist idea and
if you spread hatred and bigotry in society, then the natural consequence-- Don't be surprised
if people then allow that the spin over and take matters into their own hands.
>>Presenter: Then this led to you going to Egypt and to getting into trouble there.
>>Nawaz: Before I went to Egypt, I was co-founder of this group in three other, well, two other
countries apart from Britain. I went to Denmark and helped establish the Danish-Pakistani
branch. When Pakistan tested it's nuclear bomb, we got a message from the global leader
saying that the superstate that they wanted to create would really benefit from a nuclear
bomb. He sent a message to all British Pakistani members, and asked us to leave our studies.
At the time I was doing law and Arabic at University, at Soas. We could leave our studies
and go over as quickly as possible to Pakistan to recruit from the Pakistani Army and recruit
from the population, so prime Pakistan as being the starting point for this so-called
caliphate. Again, another appropriation of an Islamic term, a historical term that they've
now used to call their superstate. I left in 1999. I moved to Pakistan and began
recruiting there. I tried to-- Well, I co-founded the group there and set up cells in Lahore
and Rahim Yar Khan and other cities, and also helped recruit Pakistani Army officers to
the group, who were discovered in 2003 by General Musharraf in a purge, because they
were plotting a coup. Even this year, they've discovered a third cell of my former group
in the Pakistani Army. Brigadier Ali Khan and four other officers who are currently
facing a military tribunal, again, for plotting a coup. Media reports state that, in fact,
there was a recruit from the Air Force who was even considering bombing the Parliament
as a distraction when they attempt to engage in this coup.
After my activities in Pakistan, I ended up in Egypt. In Egypt, I was head of the Alexandria
chapter, and was attempting to resurrect and recreate this group in Egypt. I was in Egypt,
after 9/11, that the authorities-- or my activities caught up with me and the authorities arrested
me. On the 1st of April in 2002, I was arrested in Alexandria. I was blindfolded. I was taken
to the dungeons of the state security headquarters in Cairo in a building known as al-Gihaz.
My hands were tied behind my back with rags. I was given a number. My number was 42. The
numbers went into the hundreds. It was there, in the building of al-Gihaz, that they began
torturing everybody by electrocution, going up from number 1 to number 2 to number 3,
all the way into the hundreds. We were eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
I wanted to actually read an extract--
>>Presenter: Sure.
>>Nawaz: --from-- Could I just borrow your book, please?
>>Presenter: Sure. [laughs] With pleasure.
>>Nawaz: I thought that what I'd do is just read from that section of my time in al-Gihaz.
It's not long, just a page. Because it just gives you a feeling. It's very difficult to
describe walking towards your torture, to your own torture. I wasn't electrocuted, thankfully.
I need to make that point clear. I was instead subjected to having to witness other people
electrocuted. And then my questions were being played off them and vice versa. But at the
time that I was walking towards the torture cell, to the interrogation room, I didn't
know. Because of course, they had tortured another British citizen who was with me. So
I didn't know if they were going to electrocute me or not. This is-- What I try to do is explain
how that feels, in the book, when you're walking towards what could be a very difficult situation
to deal with. This chapter-- It's from chapter 20. It's called "As-Salamu Alaykum, You've
Just Come Out of Hell" because al-Gihaz was a building infamous throughout Egypt. During
the Egypt uprising, the revolutionaries in fact stormed this building. They ransacked
it and they took the files. There are two buildings that are infamous in Egypt for torture,
and they were, respectively, the Cairo headquarters, Amn ad-Dawla, or the State Security, and the
Egypt headquarters. Al-Gihaz was the national Egypt headquarters, and Lazoghly was the building
that was the Cairo headquarters. Just merely mentioning the names, if anyone is Egyptian
in the audience, you'd know. Merely mentioning al-Gihaz and Lazoghly would be enough to send
a shiver down the spine of any Egyptian. They were truly dark and despicable places.
If you bear with me, this is a very difficult passage. When I wrote this, it was actually--
I had a bit of a breakdown. I'm just going to read it for you because it gives you a
sense of what it feels like to be in that situation.
"To be asked to voluntarily walk towards your own torture is the cruelest of expectations.
Why can't they just carry me? Each step is a personal betrayal. My body is convulsing
in revulsion against my commands. Every instinct is screaming at me to turn the other way.
[pause] But I'm expected to walk on. Try standing in the middle of a highway, watching an oncoming
bus, without flinching. That's hard. Now try voluntarily walking towards that bus instead
of stepping out of the way. Impossible. That's what it's like walking towards your own torture.
My legs are buckling under each step, but I force compliance and walk on. God, your
chaperoning hand that helps me walk blindly to my own torture feels perversely merciful.
For how could I avoid stepping on my brothers in the corridor, were it not for you? Alas,
without sight, I cannot help but feel so disgustingly dependent on you.
Now it is hard to breathe. Fighting to stay hidden away deep within me, even my breath
fears coming out to face my torturer. My heart is attempting to escape the cage that is my
chest, and my mind is beginning to shut down. I'm in shock.
Oh, God, I need you right now. If any mercy I've ever shown to anyone has amounted to
any value in your esteem, then send me your angels now to shield me from these monsters.
I'm trying to be brave for you, my Lord, but the truth is, I'm scared. Help me, my Lord,
for I am very scared." As I said, that's from chapter 20. That's
just before my number was called, number 42. It's just before I was called to the torture
cell. After four days, we were then put into solitary confinement in a concrete cell with
no sanitation and no-- and that means no toilet. And no bed and no light and no sink. Eventually,
we were sentenced to five years in prison.
>>Presenter: And did you spend five years in prison?
>>Nawaz: I spent my full sentence, which was meant to be three years and nine months. It
took them an extra three months to sort their paperwork out, so I returned after serving
four years. The prison was Mazra Tora Prison. Anyone who follows the Egypt uprising will
know that Hosni Mubarak's sons and the former Minister of Interior, Habib El Adly, and Hosni
Mubarak himself, are currently serving in that very same prison. I thank God that they
weren't tortured and that what happened to Gaddafi didn't happen to them, because of
course, as Nietzsche said, "Beware of becoming the monster you're attempting to fight." When
I became an Islamist, I did become somewhat of that monster. I'm happy that I've managed
to pull myself back from that level of anger.
>>Presenter: So then how did you start to change your mind? Was it around this time?
>>Nawaz: You can have your book back.
>>Presenter: Thank you very much.
>>Nawaz: Two things happened to me in Mazra Tora Prison that had a profound impact on
me. One of them was that Amnesty International, to whom I owe a great deal of thanks for their
support, they adopted me as a prisoner of conscience. If you keep in mind the way in
which we spoke earlier, that there are three categories of Islamist organizations, and
my one was a non-terrorist organization, and specifically, in this case, there were no
charges of violence, that the charges in Arabic were-- They're quite comical, actually. [speaks
Arabic] which means, "Propagation by speech and writing for the ideas of a banned organization."
We were charged for ideas. The charge in itself was a known goal. That spurred Amnesty on.
There was a man called John Cornell, who is a part of the Amnesty's Buckingham branch.
He began writing letters to the headquarters, asking them to adopt us as prisoners of conscience.
He had an impact, and they did. As soon as we were charged by these dodgy
charges-- Now I've got to say, again, we were extreme. We did believe in unpalatable and
reprehensible ideas. But that's different to actually doing something illegal. It's
also different to being a terrorist. Part of the reason I'm doing the work I'm doing
now is to make amends for the extremism that I spread. I just want to make that point clear.
When Amnesty--
>>Presenter: But when did you realize that what you were doing was reprehensible? When
did that dawn on you?
>>Nawaz: This was a-- There was no sudden moment. There was a four year process, and
one year after prison. As I said, the two things that really helped change my mind is
Amnesty working to campaign for my release. That began a rehumanization process. I began
defining the other no longer as my enemy, because of course, they were defending me.
There's a lesson there in the importance of adhering to human rights. The war on terror
decade I think had it the wrong way around. They basically started cutting back on human
rights and going in heavy with the military, whereas what should have happened is a heavy
civic response to extremism and a protection of civil liberties. But anyway, that's another
subject. But that had a profound impact on me.
The second thing was that I was in prison, at the time, with some of the leading jihadists
and Islamists of their day, in Egypt. Everything from, on the one end of the spectrum, the
assassins of the former president, Anwar Sadat, through to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership,
Dr. Mohammed Badie, who's their current Masul, their general leader. That's the party that's
now-- Their candidate won the presidential elections in Egypt. They're now in power.
All the way through to liberal political prisoners, such as Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour,
the former presidential candidate. Essentially, the four years in university,
it was a political university. Everything I've told you that I did, I did before the
age of 24. I was imprisoned at 24. I'm now only 25, believe it or not. [laughs] No, I'm
34. At 24, I was imprisoned. So I was still very young. It was those four years that basically
was my political maturity, political awakening. From 24 to 28, the Amnesty's work, and my
political discussions in prison, and my studying from Islam's original sources-- I became fluent
in Arabic, not only because I did the law and Arabic degree at Soas, but also because,
by that time, obviously in prison, I had to speak Arabic every day.
I began studying from the Koran and the original sources of Islam. I realized that this distinction
between Islam as a religion and Islamism as a modern political ideology inspired by European
fascism, ironically enough. After my release from prison, it took me a further 10 months,
and I could no longer justify-- You met me during that 10 months.
>>Presenter: Yes.
>>Nawaz: And I could no longer justify believing in those ideas.
>>Presenter: You changed in your mind, but you hadn't changed publicly.
>>Nawaz: That's right.
>>Presenter: You were still representing Hizb ut-Tahrir.
>>Nawaz: On their leadership. Yeah.
>>Presenter: But you knew you were on the wrong path.
>>Nawaz: Yeah. I had a BBC HARDtalk interview with Sarah Montague while I was still a member,
during the time I met you. I toed the party line as far as I could. It's still on the
internet, if you wanted to watch it. You'll see me speaking as a Hizb ut-Tahrir member.
But I was roundly criticized inside the group for that interview because they said it was
too soft. That was me struggling with my own-- For example, I used the term-- I said, "We're
calling for a representative caliphate." They basically took issue with my use of the word
representative. "What do you mean, 'a representative caliphate'? It's God's law! God's the one
who represents us." It wasn't-- They weren't happy with that. That was like-- They could
see that my views were changing a bit. Like we've met again, I'm actually due onto HARDtalk
again next week, the first time since leaving.
>>Presenter: Aha. So then, how did you make the break, and how did that go down with Hizb
>>Nawaz: They asked me to-- They pretty much were preparing me to take over the leadership
of the group in the UK. The man who originally recruited me was, by this time, the leader.
He needed to go to Bangladesh to [pause] help found the group in Bangladesh. Incidentally,
there's also been an army purge in Bangladesh. They found a cell in the Bangladeshi Army
plotting a coup. They offered that, and I was forced to make a decision: either become
the leader of the group in the country, and I no longer believe in the group, or leave.
I unilaterally resigned. I guess the only other question is, "Why didn't I keep quiet
after my resignation?" I think that what drove me to join the group in the first place was
a desire to see justice and fight the injustices that I saw around me. I now came to believe
that the ideology of Islamism is as big an injustice as racism and all the other grievances,
including foreign policy grievances, that are out there. I believe that the ideology
of Islamism is one of the biggest obstacles standing before Muslims and their progress.
That sense that the Islamism is creating more injustice than it's solving meant that my
original motivation was still there. I needed, I wanted to fight injustice. The target had
just shifted towards this ideology now, as well.
>>Presenter: Did that put you at risk, do you think, when you came out? You did a, I
think it was a 70 minute film on Newsnight denouncing Hizb ut-Tahrir and then obviously
doing speaking programs and so on. Have you had threats or intimidation as a result?
>>Nawaz: There were threats, there were intimidations. Yeah. Just today, someone on Twitter said
they wanted to shoot me. If they saw me in the audience, they'd come up and kill me,
because I did a talk yesterday. We get threats all the time. But I don't know how serious
they are. I have been attacked in Pakistan by a member of the group. But keep in mind,
this isn't a terrorist organization. The bigger danger is, it comes from-- Because I'm not
just criticizing Hizb ut-Tahrir. I'm criticizing the entire Islamist project that I no longer
agree with, and separating it from Islam. That's very dangerous for them, because Islamists
believe that they have a monopoly over Islamic discourse. The minute you separate their ideology
from the faith, you're removing that monopoly. You're breaking that monopoly. It upsets all
Islamist organizations. The bigger danger is from the violent ones.
We do a lot of work in Pakistan now to try and challenge the Islamist narrative and inoculate
young people against the extremist narratives, and instead advocate the democratic culture.
I've found in a movement, in Pakistan, mirroring my founding of Islamist movements. I've used
the same tactics and the same organizational techniques to set up a social movement that
advocates, instead, democratic culture. A leading member of that movement is here
with me today. He's Imran Khan who's on the leadership. Just stick your hand up, Imran.
If anyone wants to ask him about Pakistan afterwards, he's on the leadership of the
movement we founded there called Khudi. He's here for a week, just to see how things are
in the UK. But we travel around and hold workshops in universities with students. We inoculate
them against the extremist narratives. We train them in how to distinguish between Islam
and Islamism. We're trying to popularize the counter narratives and rebrand democratic
activism in Pakistan. Of course, it is dangerous, but I think the bigger danger is facing people
like Imran who are out on the front lines every day. I'm just providing my consultancy
services, if you like.
>>Presenter: That's the Quilliam Foundation?
>>Nawaz: Yes.
>>Presenter: That's interesting, because there's a number of people, Ed Husain and some others,
who had conversions round about the same time, and banded together. Why was it that these
guys all came to the same conclusion around the same time, to found Quilliam?
>>Nawaz: There was some-- Ed and I founded Quilliam together. We brought, as you said,
a number of guys on board. There was something of a perfect storm in those days. The perfect
storm was that the public appetite to understand the difference between Islam and Islamism
was at its peak. It was post 7/7. Policy makers were hungry for this distinction, and to understand
the debate. There was funds available, in terms of public funds, to try and address
some of these subjects. Ed had just written his book explaining his views around these
things. All of that came together. I had just got released from prison, and of course, my
story, being out of the group, being the only one who had gone on the be a bit of an international
Islamist and imprisoned and stuff. It added the extra spice, if you like, in the masala,
to create that background, backstory. It was a perfect storm. I don't think we could replicate
it today. I don't think we could replicate founding Quilliam. We could probably replicate
founding Khudi in Pakistan, but founding Quilliam in the UK as a policy-based institution dealing
with, addressing some of these issues on a policy and media and public diplomacy level.
I don't know if that same level of opportunities that we found would present themselves today.
>>Presenter: Are you succeeding? Do you think the threat of radical Islam is receding in
>>Nawaz: That's tough to say. Jonathan Evans, the head of the Security Services just gave
a speech two weeks ago, if you caught that, warning that the security vacuum from the
Arab uprisings could be exploited and is, in his view-- I'm sure he'd know-- is being
exploited by British Muslims going over to train with al-Qaeda.
Now, the Arab uprisings were great news. I believe-- Not only because they were personally
cathartic-- Hosni Mubarak was brought to justice-- but I believe that in the long term, this
is a step to the right side of history. I believe that closed societies breed closed
minds. And open and democratic societies will, in the long run, breed open and democratic
minds. But how to make sure they remain open and not become elected dictatorships?
To have that, we need to have the democratic trinity I often refer to. That's the need
for a democratic culture, meaning the ideas and values that underpin democracies, just
human rights and freedoms. The democratic institutions, such as Parliament and the Senate.
And the democratic processes. If this democratic trinity can be rooted within societies just
as Egypt or Pakistan, they will act as the strongest check against any one party dominating
politics, even an Islamist party. That's what we're trying to seed in Pakistan, this democratic
trinity. It's what we're trying to seed in Pakistan with our social movement Khudi. But
Egypt doesn't have an equivalent level of social organizing for democratic values. It's
quite disparate at the moment. Jonathan Evans gave a speech saying that British
Muslims may exploit the security vacuum from the Arab uprisings in countries like Yemen,
Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Especially Syria because of its proximity to Iraq, and former
militants coming from Iraq into Syria to fight Assad. He said there's a chance, and they're
aware of, some people coming back and potentially trying to attack Britain.
Now, it's not a huge leap of the imagination to remember that 7/7 occurred during the week
we won the Olympics bid, and that now we're about to come into the Olympics. It would
be hugely symbolic if there was a terrorist strike in London. I don't think it's a matter
of if, I think it's a matter of when and where. I hope and believe that it wouldn't be successful,
but I definitely think that there will be attempts. In fact, there have already been
arrests. A couple of cases. One non-Olympics related terrorism arrest, a group of six.
And one Olympics related, a Somali who had 14 Somalia with al-Shabaab. I think it's not
about if, but when and where, sadly.
>>Presenter: Okay, thank you. Now, should we throw it in to the audience? Who would
like to ask some questions? [pause]
>>Female #1: Hi. My name is Eleanor Davis. I'm Israeli. I've been shaking most of the
time while you were talking. I have to collect myself. I have two questions for you. The
first one is: I've read that you went to meet Israeli families, bereaved families, that
are victims of terror attacks that Israel, unfortunately, has a lot of. I wanted to ask
you how you were received, how it made you feel, and also ask you what your thoughts
are on terror organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, who are very focused on destroying
Israel? Then, my second question to you was regarding
the Muslim Brotherhood. As you said, Arab Spring is something that brought a lot of
hope. But from an Israeli perspective, looking at the Muslim Brotherhood, who have very difficult
opinions. There's been a lot of quotations recently in the Israeli news about whether
to keep the peace with Israel or not, and calls to destroy Israel and so on, which isn't
very hopeful or Spring-like for us. I was hoping to get your opinion on that, as well.
Then, I just want to end by saying thank you, so much, for being who you are. I just wish
we had more like you.
>>Nawaz: Thank you. Indeed, you're correct. You probably read it in the Jewish Chronicle.
>>Female #1: I actually read Israeli News.
>>Nawaz: Oh, was it in the Israeli paper? Ah, okay, I didn't know that. I wrote that
in the Jewish Chronicle. I didn't realize the Israeli press covered it, which is good,
I suppose, as well. I've just returned from both Israel and the West Bank. In Israel I
met with Mark Regev, the spokesman for Netanyahu. I also met with our own ambassador there,
Matthew Gould, and met with Husam Zomlot from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank
in Ramallah. We did a full talk. I was part of a parliamentary delegation that went. As
you correctly said, I met with victims of terror. The experience was very fulfilling
for me. The whole rehumanization process is what I, because of Amnesty's work, is what
I put a lot of emphasis on. I think rehumanization of the other is crucial. Face to face contact
is one of the best ways to do that. But not only face to face contact. What is also needed
is to actually start, respectively, to start challenging some of the extremisms that exist
within one's own communities. That's why, to take responsibility for some of the ideas
that I've put out there, I'm doing the work I'm doing now.
Hamas and Hezbollah. There is absolutely no excuse and no justification, no matter how
angry somebody is, to deliberately target civilians and non-combatants in revenge or
to achieve any foreign policy objective whatsoever. I spoke in Israel, I say the same here, when
an individual or non-state actor targets civilians or non-combatants, I define it as terrorism.
Whoever they are, even if it's Hamas and Hezbollah. When a state does so, I describe it as a war
crime. Because of the position I'm in, you'll understand, I have to be very-- I have to
try and be perceived to be very fair. I regularly write in the newspapers against Hamas. I consider
Hamas a terrorist organization. I believe the true chance for peace in the
Israel-Palestine conflict is by strengthening the successes of the Palestinian Authority.
I saw some of the projects they're involved in, such as the new development site called
Rawabi, which is the first time in history that they're building a planned city in the
West bank. It's a Qatari funded project. It's a great project. [unintelligible] It's a hugely
successful thing if they pull it off. I think that that's the solution, in strengthening
the Palestinian Authority. So I write against Hamas' and Hezbollah's
terrorism in the papers. But I also, I won't make any qualms about it, was critical of
Israel's Gaza Operation, the one where they were bombing Gaza, I think a year ago, whenever
it was. I believe-- yeah, two years ago. I think the reaction was disproportionate. But
I do draw a distinction between terrorism and a disproportionate state reaction, which
in international law is called "disproportionate reaction." I hope that answers your question.
But thank you, as well, for your kind comments.
>>Female #1: Just about the Muslim Brotherhood, as well.
>>Nawaz: Okay. Because of all the questions, what I'll say is that the democratic trinity's
what's needed to be rooted in the Egyptian society. If we can do that, then there will
be a check on any one party taking over or having an undue influence in Egyptian politics.
Finally, there is some cause for hope. Don't forget, only 25% of the population voted for
an Islamist party. That's 75% that did not vote for the Brotherhood. That's a 50% drop
from their parliamentary results. If you remember, in Parliament, they got 50%. In the presidential
elections, they only got 25%. Within the space of a few months, their percentage dropped.
That's because the majority of Egyptians realized the difference between Islam and Islamism,
because they have to live it.
>>Presenter: Next question.
>>Male #1: Hi. First of all, thanks for coming. It's great to have you here.
>>Nawaz: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.
>>Male #1: I have three questions. [laughter]
>>Nawaz: Is that okay with our chair?
>>Presenter: Yeah. Be quick, though.
>>Male #1: You were a recruiter. What would you say to one person that you recruited?
Because I guess you used some arguments, something to convince these people. What will you say
to those people now? This is my question number 1.
My question number 2 is: are you afraid-- do you think your life is in danger after
these changes in your life and publishing, writing this book?
And the third question is: where do you think the Arabic Spring will come out, will end
up? And also, one thing is that your book is available in Playstore, which is great.
>>Nawaz: Okay. What's Playstore? Forgive my ignorance. [laughter]
>>Presenter: A very good online store.
>>Nawaz: Ah! Fantastic. Thank you, Playstore. Thumbs up to that.
I think it's easier to deal with the second question first, my life being in danger or
not. I mean, it may be or it may not be. Everyone's life's in danger in that sense, because anything
can happen. But the reason I'm sounding slightly flippant, forgive me, about that question
is because when you are a member of an Islamist organization in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, facing
potential torture or death for your Islamist activities, you're already pretty much desensitized
to that level of danger. I'm not doing anything more dangerous now than I was when known systematic
torturers were hunting me down in Egypt. Anything that terrorists could do to me now is what
the State Security could have done to me before. In that sense, I've pretty much reconciled
myself to it already 13 years ago. Your first question about what I'd say to
somebody. I don't think we have the time, but I am involved in that. I am engaged in
that. Just recently, I managed-- I have some good news: I managed to convince a member
of an Islamist organization from a leadership position to resign and step down and also
denounce the Islamist ideology. Because they're not the same thing. You can leave the Communist
Party and still be a communist. The key is to actually convince them to leave the ideology
as well. I am engaged in that. As for your third question, I'm optimistic
in the long term about the Arab uprisings. I think Libya, for example, in the elections
that just happen there. It's great. The Islamists didn't win in Libya. And even in Egypt, as
I said, only 25% voted for the Islamist candidate. That was because they were actually rejecting
Hosni Mubarak's last PM, because the final runoff ended up, ironically, being between
the old order and the new order. And there's no surprise there. They happened to be the
most organized blocks within a disorganized majority: Mubarak's cronies and the Muslim
Brotherhood. This election was actually a rejection of the old, and nothing more. So
I'm optimistic in the long term.
>>Presenter: Next question.
>>Nawaz: Forgive me, I'm trying to rush through the questions. I hope you don't mind.
>>Presenter: Just one at a time is preferred.
>>Male #2: I saw you at BBC Interview, I think it was 2006. I didn't know it was when you
were going through the transformation. But I want to just ask a quick question on that.
>>Nawaz: Which BBC interview do you refer to?
>>Presenter: The Sarah Montague, is that right?
>>Nawaz: The HARDtalk one?
>>Male #2: HARDtalk, yeah.
>>Nawaz: Okay.
>>Male #2: In that one, you had mentioned-- maybe it was you being "soft"-- but you had
mentioned you were trying to encourage to Islamic governments to unite. I didn't see
much wrong with that. You had defended that idea. I was in agreement with that specific
idea. I just wanted to know if you are against that idea now, because that seems not--
>>Nawaz: Are you from Pakistan?
>>Male #2: No, I'm not. I'm from India.
>>Nawaz: From India. It's a good question. The reason-- What I did is I remember the
analogy I drew is with the EU. I said, "If the European Union can come together, why
can't Muslim countries come together and form a caliphate?" I'd like to tell you, now, that
that analogy is false. You'll understand why it's false because you're in London. The reason
it's false is if you look at me, I carry a British passport, and I have a Pakistani identity
card as well. I can go in and out. That's called citizenship. Now, as a Muslim of Pakistani
origin, born in Essex, I'm a member of the EU citizens and I'm a member of-- I'm a citizen
of Britain. Britain didn't say to me, "Because you're not a Muslim, you can't be a citizen."
Britain said, "You're a British citizen." In this country, we have a Muslim in the Cabinet,
serving in the Cabinet. Regardless of one's views about her. I'm not a Tory and-- But
Baroness Warsi's in the Cabinet. In the opposition, we have a Muslim in the Shadow Cabinet. That's
Sadiq Khan, who, incidentally, by the way, or for the record, was my lawyer campaigning
for my release from prison. So I need to thank him for that on the record. And in the Lib
Dems as well. Muslims serve in all three parties as citizens of this country.
Why am I telling you this? Because there's a difference between the citizenship model
that doesn't look at ethnicity and that doesn't look at religion, but rather looks at your
rights, yeah? You can be American Italian, you can be American Jewish, you can be American
Muslim, you can be American Christian. But you're American. Likewise with Britain. You
can be British Muslim, British Sikh, British Hindu, British Indian, British Pakistani.
However you define yourself, the fact is, you're a citizen of this country.
The EU is not a Christian club. That's the point I'm coming to. The analogy, to say,
"Why can't Muslim countries unite under a Muslim banner?" is a false analogy because
we have moved out of the medieval era where nations were basically bonding on religion.
We have moved into what I called the "citizenship era". If there is a regional cooperation between
Pakistan, it should be-- and that's why I asked you where you're from-- it should be
a South Asian regional economic cooperation with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka,
and the region. It should not be based on religion. That's the point why the analogy
is wrong. Likewise with the Middle East. There should
be a regional cooperation. There are many, many Christians in the Middle East. Egypt
is not a Muslim country. It's not. It's a Muslim majority country. That's why I'm very
careful with my terminology. Egypt does not belong to Muslims. It belongs to Egyptians.
It's a republic. 20% of Egypt are Coptic Christians. They've been there before Muslims ever got
there. Likewise with Lebanon. Lebanon is not a Muslim country. It's a Lebanese country
for Lebanese people. We have to stop defining nations by their
religious denomination, otherwise, we will only reinforce the Islamist narrative that
defines people by their faith alone. When Google people, senior Google people like Peter,
see you, they don't say, "You're a Muslim" and then only treat you as a Muslim. They
see you as a man, as an Indian, as a Google employee, as whatever else you are. If you're
a father, you're a father. If you're a husband, they see you as a husband. They see all of
your identities together. They don't stereotype you, put you in a box, and then patronize
you just for that one identity of your faith. I think it's dangerous if we, as Muslims,
try-- Inadvertently, reinforce the Islamist narrative by insisting that we are only defined
as Muslims and as nothing else. Because if you think about it, I will be self excluding
myself from British society if I do that. If I insist that I'm only a Muslim, then I'm
not British. Then I won't be allowed to participate in the democracy of Britain and make things
easier for other Muslims in this country. Does that make sense? I spent a bit of time
on that answer just to make sure that-- because it's important to make that distinction.
>>Male #2: It does make sense--
>>Nawaz: Yeah.
>>Male #2: --but I don't think you're-- If I can take more?
>>Presenter: One more.
>>Male #2: European identities: they're not just European, they are many things, right?
Muslim identity: we can be Muslims as well as other things. So what's wrong with having
unity between--?
>>Nawaz: Right. In which case, if it's multiple, it's done by economy and geography, isn't
it? It's not done by religion alone. That's my only point, yeah? If there is regional
cooperation, then there are more Muslims-- you know this-- there are more Muslims in
India then there are in Pakistan. Numerically. There are more Muslims in India than there
are in Bangladesh. Right? In fact, there are more Muslims in South Asia than the entire
Middle East put together. If there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan,
but India's not defined as a Muslim majority country, because it's not, then where does
that leave the Muslims in India? We need to be-- We need to stop defining it just by religion.
India needs to cooperate with Pakistan on an economic and geographic level, not on just
a religious level. That's my point.
>>Presenter: Next question.
>>Female #2: Hi. Thank you so much for coming.
>>Nawaz: Pleasure.
>>Female #2: It's been absolutely fascinating. What I was really interested in was you talked
about the three different facets, I suppose, of Islamism, and how each of those builds
towards their goals.
>>Nawaz: The methods, you mean. Yeah?
>>Female #2: So, for example, the terrorist. Then you've got--
>>Nawaz: The revolutionary and the political. Yeah.
>>Female #2: Exactly. I completely understand that you draw a distinction between what each
of them does activity-wise. But I would say is that, the way I see it, is that although
you may not have been involved in terrorism, you're still involved in the incitement of
a huge level of hatred, and all the things that lead, in the end, to terrorism, as you
described in your time at college when one of your supporters stabbed another pupil.
I see you draw a distinction between their activities. But what I was wondering was:
do you, then, draw a distinction between how we should deal with each of those three tenets
of the building towards Islam-- or sorry, towards Islamism? And if you do see a distinction
between how we should be dealing with them, what do you think is the most effective approach
for each? Or are they all as inherent in creating that hatred in each way-- I mean, do you believe
that they're all equally inherent in creating that, or do you see some as less-- I don't
know, I guess more excusable than others?
>>Nawaz: That's a very good question. Let me begin by saying I disagree with the ideology
per se. That means regardless of one's methodology, whether you're political, revolutionary, or
military Islamist. I disagree with Islamism on a base level. I believe it's an intellectually
flawed, a-history, and un-Islamic ideology. Sorry for the hyperbole, but it's important
to make that point because I don't want anyone thinking that I have any level of sympathy
for the ideology. It's intellectually flawed, it's ahistory, and it's un-Islamic. It's not
the same as the religion of Islam. As for the distinctions within the ideology,
that happens even within communism. If anyone who knows their communist history, Stalin
killed Trotsky with an ice pick. Well, he sent his henchmen to kill Trotsky with an
ice pick in the South Americas. Because every ideology, every dogma-- If anyone has seen
the film Life of Brian, because it's hilarious. It's actually a great film. Monty Python's
Life of Brian. They satirize this. It's true. Every dogmatic cause will end up turning in
on itself. Islamism has the same. The political Islamists
hate the terrorist. And the terrorists hate the revolutionaries, and likewise. They all
hate each other because they're competing. They're competing, essentially, for the same
audience, which is the average Muslim. To convince the average Muslim that they have
their true salvation in their hands, and that the methodology that they're adhering to is
the true way to go forward. Now, if you know that they're competing and that they hate
each other, as a strategist who is dealing on a government level with policy responses,
or as a civil society activist like we are with Khudi in Pakistan, who's working on the
grassroots to push back that ideological narrative, you can exploit those fault lines as weaknesses.
And you can play their differences off against each other to weaken them even more, to encourage
that hatred, to encourage the level of disagreement and sectarianism within Islamism so that the
average Muslim realizes that these guys can't even get it right themselves. They're fighting
each other.
>>Female #2: Do you think that happens?
>>Nawaz: Oh yeah, definitely, it does. Definitely. I've been involved in some of it.
>>Female #2: They do work off of that?
>>Nawaz: Yeah, yeah. They do. It's clever. But you have to do it in a way that doesn't
legitimize the ideology itself, yeah? That's important. For example, we've been involved
in advising governments, including the British government, that ministers should not share
platforms with senior Islamists, even if they're nonviolent. Just like they would not share
platforms with racists, even if the racist was a nonviolent person. Because racism can
also be nonviolent. But Islamism believes in homophobia, anti-Semitism. It believes
in stoning people to death. It believes in all sorts of human rights abuses, anti women
views. It's worse than racism in many respects. Because white people are generally comfortable
with not cooperating with white racists, and they're uncomfortable with telling brown people
that there are elements of their views which are bigoted, because they don't want to be
painted as racist, and it's a form of reverse racism, because of course, our culture is
bigoted anyway. The more bigoted we are, the more authentic we are. That sort of perverse
reverse racism colonial view needs to change and needs to stop. That's part of what we're
involved in, trying to challenge.
>>Presenter: Hizb ut-Tahrir isn't a prescribed organization, is it? It's not illegal?
>>Nawaz: This is the second aspect of the relevance of your question, that we do need
to draw a distinction between values and where we stand morally towards these groups and
the law. I would never endorse the BNP, for example, but I would defend their right to
exist as a legal entity, as long as they're not violent. The BNP is legal in Britain,
as is Hizb ut-Tahrir, and they should both remain legal because they're nonviolent, even
though they both preach hatred.
>>Female #2: This is what I wanted to get at, actually. It's kind of like-- I understand
that it's legal, but it seems like the activities that you carried out when you were part of
that organization were as damaging, well, in my mind, they're as damaging and they have
as much impact as the terrorist cells, and someone would have-- It might not be quite
so obvious upfront, but it seems to be just as negative. I mean, it's the same with the
BNP here, like their activities and what they do and what they encourage is so negative
that you create--
>>Nawaz: Brevicks.
>>Female #2: --an atmosphere of
>>Nawaz: Yeah, you create Anders Brevick, in Norway.
>>Female #2: Yeah, and you create more violence. I mean, you may not be the one carrying out
the violence, but you're still creating a huge potential for it. It's not that it's
legal to have these organizations, but that's the crux of the matter, is, should it? I mean,
it's a very complex question. But should it be, when you are part of an organization that
incites so much hatred and can cause so much damage, should that be viewed as legal?
>>Nawaz: The question is: where do you draw the line? Currently, it's illegal in Britain
to directly incite violence, to directly incite it. It's not illegal to incite extremist thought,
which is what the BNP and my former group do. I think the line has been drawn correct.
I'm a fan of Orwell. I've read 1984. I think it's dangerous territory. I think Google believes
this as well. It's dangerous territory if you start censoring ideas. What you need to
do instead is empower alternative ideas. I think part of the problem in the Middle East,
and why the Arab uprisings happened, is because secular dictators were trying for to long
to shut down ideas and justify their own dictatorships by saying, "If you don't support us, the extremists
will come in power." We know what that leads to in the end. It leads to torture, it leads
to oppression and tyranny, and it leads to the Islamists gaining credibility, because
they're the only credible opposition left, as a result. I think that the wiser course
of action would be to draw the line where British law currently stands, and that's to
say, "We won't tolerate inciting, directly inciting violence, but as for extremism, we
would encourage and support those civil society initiatives through industry, technology,
third sector organizations, that try and build capacity to challenge extremism within civil
>>Female #2: Thank you so much.
>>Nawaz: Thank you.
>>Presenter: I think we're getting close to the end. But time for one final question.
>>Male #3: First of all, brilliant conversation. Appreciate it as a New Yorker that was in
New York at the time that-- This just tremendously insightful. I appreciate it.
>>Nawaz: Thank you.
>>Male #3: I wanted to get your feelings on torture. Do you feel it actually brings out
the truth? Is it demeaning? I would just love your insight on that.
>>Nawaz: Okay.
>>Male #3: It's a very hot topic in America. I'm sure it's worldwide.
>>Nawaz: Yeah. Can I borrow your book again?
>>Presenter: Sure.
>>Nawaz: In this book, being from New York, there's a chapter that's called The Polemic.
I encourage you to read it. But please read it and remember what I'm like now, so you
don't hate me, because The Polemic is simply my initial gut reaction to 9/11. As an Islamist,
even though we weren't terrorists, my emotions, of course, were still fully in line, emotionally,
with the cause and the struggle. I had defined America as the "enemy". This chapter, The
Polemic, begins-- It's chapter 16. I just wanted the chapter number. It begins with
three pages of, essentially, a polemic. It's a rant. But it's the rant I would have said
when 9/11 happened at the time. It's how I would have felt. It's how I did feel. I remember
feeling this, and I remember actually preparing this type of a speech in my own mind. So do
read that. As for your question on torture, I suppose
there are a few things here that make me somewhat biased. But hopefully in a good way. Being
an Amnesty adopted prisoner of conscience, being a victim of torture, and being a law
student who studied these issues from a legal perspective, I could never endorse torture
in any condition for any justification. The red herring of a ticking time bomb scenario
is often used as a-- What if you have someone who definitely knows where a bomb's going
to go off, and unless you torture them, you won't get the answer? Is, in the real world--
Essentially, when it translates into the real world, is only possible when you're in a courtroom
and you've got an agent who's accused of torturing somebody. His defense is "It was a ticking
time bomb" defense. We're expected to believe him. And there's no guarantee that he's telling
the truth. He's a torturer. There's no guarantee that that's the real reason that he was torturing
somebody. In the real world, you don't know what's in that person's head, and you don't
know what's in the tortured person's head, which is why legal checks exist. It's to stop
an abuse of power. Because of course, any abuse of power is justified. If I saw somebody
about to murder my loved ones in front of me, I would use serious and severe and sustained
violence to stop them. But that doesn't mean I can justify that violence in the courts
of law. There's a difference between what's a personal defense and a personal justification,
and what must be put up to public scrutiny. I don't believe torture can ever be-- can
ever pass that public scrutiny test. In this book, the prologue begins with a conversation
I had with George Bush about this in his house in Texas. He was quite funny, actually, because
he ended up suiting that caricature that I am-- that the people generally have of him.
We were talking, and he said, "Tell me about your story," and I said everything I've just
said here today. When I go up to the Egypt dungeon bit, and I said, "We witnessed torture
in Egypt", he went, "Stop right there." That's a very bad American accent, but forgive me,
I have to carry on with it, because it was so funny. I looked at him, I'm shocked why
he stopped me midway through a sentence when I used the word "torture." He looked me right
in the eye, and he said, "How do you define torture?" Now, of course, this is George Bush
who legalized waterboarding. So obviously, you know what he's getting at. I thought,
"What do I do here? Do I insult him in his own house? How do I respond to that?" It's
in the prologue. The answer, you'd have to read the book to find out what I said. [laughter]
>>Presenter: Which is the perfect cue to say that there are a few books available. I don't
know if there's enough for everybody, but it's first come, first serve here at the front.
We're out of time. Thank you so much, Maajid.
>>Nawaz: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.
[applause] [applause fades] [more applause]