A response to the Guardian’s piece on Maajid Nawaz

Reformist Muslims are an inconvenience it seems



Guardian opinion desk editor, David Shariatmadari, has published an interview with Maajid Nawaz that is biased and deliberately misleading. This comes a week after the Guardian published a puff piece for a leader of Islamist extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir by Peter Oborne, in which the two come across as friends who occasionally go out for dinner together.

Maajid himself responded to the interview with a Facebook post in which he itemised the criticisms David made and offered detailed responses he claims were omitted from the final cut.

In particular, he mentions David’s unwillingness to highlight the violent nature of the theocratic revolution Hizb ut Tahrir aspires to, instead taking a cheap shot at Maajid’s failure to get elected as an MP and a number of anonymous negative quotes that point to Maajid’s unpopularity in certain circles.

With regards to this latter point, I find it hard to believe that Mr Shariatmadari is not aware of the fact that a wave of ultra-conservatism has engulfed the Muslim world in recent decades. From Afghanistan to Iran to Saudi Arabia to Egypt and Libya, Muslims are more conservative now than they have perhaps ever been. Meanwhile, jihadist-inspired violence is a daily feature in many newspapers around the world and this, in turn, has created a defensive and hyper-sensitive atmosphere.

Against this backdrop, voices calling for reform and introspection are deeply unpopular – whether in the UK or in Pakistan. In fact, one of Pakistan’s leading reformist voices, Javed Ghamdi, was forced to flee the country a few years after receiving death threats. Meanwhile reformists such as Faraj Foda in Egypt have beem killed after being accused of blasphemy.

Does Mr Shariatmadari really believe it is possible to be a reformist, anti-extremist and popular?

I defy anyone to name me a single reformist Muslim who regularly speaks out against extremism who is widely popular.

Interestingly, Maajid has been accused of blasphemy and has suffered death threats issued against him after a campaign of vilification. Interestingly, at the time of the threats the Guardian gave column space to one of the instigators of the campaign against Maajid.

Bizarrely, Maajid is criticised in Mr Shariatmadari’s piece for being too close to policy makers – but isn’t that the whole point of running a think tank, to get close to and influence policy makers? Or perhaps with this line of attack the author has given away his real problem with Maajid – the fact that he is being listened to by those who matter.

My issue with this whole sorry episode is the fact that it is poor journalism. In fact, it is not journalism at all, it is activism masquerading as journalism. Reformist Muslims, it seems, are just another inconvenience which impedes a certain consensus around an anti-government worldview.

Furthermore, the attacks the author relies upon are not even original observations. They are rehashed criticisms which have been floating around for years.

Rather, it appears the interview was a front to regurgitate old attacks on Quilliam in light of Maajid’s perceived influence on government policy, a development which clearly discomforts certain people. Presumably, they would be less concerned if the government were being advised by supporters of theocracy, since they seem to have no problem publishing interviews with theocrats which are far from critical.

This episode speaks to why we as a society are finding it so difficult to grapple with Islamist extremism. We still have sections of the media which find it useful for scoring parochial ideological points. Brave reformist voices have to contend with slings and arrows from within their communities; but also from activist journalists at supposedly liberal media outlets.

In the meantime, Islamist recruitment and propaganda efforts continue unabated.

Toby Smith is a student and campaigner for secularism

118 Responses to “A response to the Guardian’s piece on Maajid Nawaz”

  1. Cassandra

    Thank you for that. I spent many years working, unpaid, for ant racist, feminist and gay groups. I’ve been a lifelong trade union supporter. I’ve happily shared kitchens, bathrooms and on occasion, bedrooms with people from all over the world. Yet I now find myself accused of racism and xenophobia because I see Islam in its rigid manifestation as a totalitarian ideology which, if left unchallenged, will pose a serious threat to democracy and to genuine diversity.

  2. Captain Caustic

    Foreign policy:

    Without guilt?

  3. Mikael Kangasvaara

    That’s reasonable. But I don’t think anyone is saying white people’s opinions aren’t as important as non-whites. In fact it’s probably the opposite in how the general public feels. It’s important to avoid the trap of right-wing rherotics: generalizing the vocal, extreme-left-SJW-whatnots as left wing politics. (The whole right-left-categorization is outdated, too) Because this is just playing right into their game. Traditionally the left wing has always held the moral upper ground (in reality as well as in stereotypes) and nowadays their politics are probably better too, even though multiculturalism (AS IT HAS BEEN PRACTISED) doesn’t work as expected and that has to be rectified (no cultural isolation) etc. etc. etc.

  4. Jon Acker

    Interesting to hear about you being a “former Chomksyite anarchist who was descending the rabbit-hole of anti-Western lunacy before I saw sense” – I feel that I have followed precisely the same trajectory. Perhaps having grown up in Israel, and now living in London, and having seen the campaign of hatred directed against Israel mainly from the left, has made me sit up and take notice.

    I’m now reading Nick Cohens book, “What’s Left”, which is very enlightening in the sense that it explains some of the things that have been going wrong with the left (namely, blind support for anyone who is anti-West, anti-American and who is avowedly “anti-Imperialist”).

    I find it heartening that, nevertheless, there *is* a Left left in England that has not betrayed us (namely blogs such as these and HurryUpHarry, more generally, as I have found out, followers of Norman Geras thought), but they seem to be in a minority.

    I’d certainly be interested in meeting other Londoners who feel similar.

  5. Woody

    “Of course they’ll spin a narrative of how this is all the West’s fault, and IS and Putin are misunderstood.”

    This seems to be a common fallacy used among the right wing. As far as I’m aware most of the left are staunch critics of the likes of Putin, and would condemn Russian imperialism. However, to then make no mention of western imperialism (which has been on a far greater scale, with far greater consequences) would be deeply hypocritical, given that we come from and contribute to the western system.

    Upon receipt of this information, the blindly patriotic and dogmatic right winger experiences cognitive dissonance, which can only be overcome by ignoring the condemnation of Russian imperialism by the left winger.

    Source: I used to be a Tory.

  6. Jon Acker

    Have having seen this video, several weeks ago, I chatted online a member of the Green party who is trying to fight this phenomenon. She pointed me to a heated email exchange which revelead that there are indeed anti-Semitic elements within the party and that several Jewish members had left it. The Green party has now declared a boycott on Israel goods (It needs to be pointed out that this is a boycott on Israeli goods in general, not just ones produced in the settler territories in the West Bank), they are the *only* UK party to have such a policy in place, and Israel is apparently the only country they boycott

  7. Steve Larson

    There is a problem in many parts of the wider left of sneaking regard for Islamists and turning a blind eye to people who they associate with that are espousing views that are at the far edge of militant fascism.

  8. Steve Larson

    Saddam deserved to die and his regime was an evil one, not that that ever mattered before.

    It was an incredible mistake and the only winners have been radical Islam.

  9. Steve Larson

    The Greens are a manifestation of the awful sepsis in the modern left, the”why isn’t everything fluffy and nice all the time” world view.

    They are not a politically coherent movement.

  10. Steve Larson

    That would be apostasy and carries the death penalty in many places, unofficially people are often killed for it. In Britain it means being a communal outcast.

  11. Steed

    Spot on. What ever happened to the left? They used to stand up for liberty and now they just seem to stand up for Islamism.

    Useful idiots is the phrase.

  12. Harry

    I agree. i didn’t really generalize about the Left. But unfortunatly the left does suffer from white guilt. in my opinion that’s the reason why those left idiots support Islamism. but then again, the Left were never able to prevent Fascism because that arises from the dejected class.

  13. Michael Malmberg

    White guilt is problematic. While I do think that we have a responsibility to help poorer countries become not as poor (especially as our ancestors were one of the main causes of that poorness), but then that is different from white guilt, which is more of a “position of no argument” so to speak. As for Islamism, people are gradually waking up to the reality that there is a large political movement within Islam that does not have benign goals. Give it a bit more time; the left will wake up to it eventually. Today everyone just knows that fascism doesn’t lead to any good – ‘the left’ obviously included.

  14. Harry

    i Agree. i think the biggest schism in the west is created because of White Guilt. SJWs suffer from it and see race/class/gender in everything (I don’t necessarily disagree with them) and the people who don’t suffer from white guilt believe in the western ideals for everyone. See: the difference between the young turks “progressives” and Sam Harris) i think it’l eventually change. The Atlantic (liberals but don’t suffer from white guilt Disclosure: i align very much with it) wrote two articles pushing back against the progressive stifling of freedom of speech) ultimately Left/ Right are the same thing (they just try to stifle different things) the real dichotomy is between freedom and authoritarians

  15. Mamata Das

    Oh my! Looks like the British Left’s mouthpiece, The Guardian of liberalism has totally lost it!

  16. John Tan

    Its simple: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”

    Although much of Islamist ideology is totally at odds with the left (women’s rights, LGBT issues, religious freedom, etc.) too many in the left are willing to overlook or even be apologists for such dogma as the Islamists echo the same criticism of Western foreign & domestic policy. It’s politically convenient.

    After all, many of the middle to upper class intelligentsia live worlds apart from the Islamists & the people who have to put up with them.

  17. SirOsis OfThuliver

    Yes. Also, yes. Stay sane mate.

  18. Frank Lithium

    The regressive left is the best gift rightist Muslims can hope for.

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