In defence of Maajid Nawaz

Is Nathan Lean calling Nawaz a closet radical or a Westernised lapdog? He can’t possibly be both.


In Saudi Arabia, the ‘mutaween’ serve as a police force ‘for the prevention of immorality and vice.’ Orwell’s 1984 had the ‘Thought Police.’ Sadly, Islamist extremists are yet unable to call on the services of a similar group to control against blasphemy, so honorary members of the Regressive Left step up to do so.

Nothing is wrong with speaking against anti-Muslim-hatred, but by tearing down moderate Muslim activists, the Regressive Left takes the wrong approach. In the name of multi-culturalism, they indirectly aid and abet the Islamist propaganda campaign by seeking to delegitimise those that stand against extremist ideology.

A most deadly form of political correctness, the Regressive Left perpetually shoots itself in the foot. 

“For many of the Regressive Left, the only authentic Muslim is a bearded Kalashnikov-wielding, grievance shouting victim. Anyone who deviates from such a stereotype is a ‘native informant’ said Amir Pasbakhsh of Unsafe Space.

In a recent apparition, pseudo-journalist Nathan Lean, a researcher at the Saudi-funded Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, launched an ad hominem attack against former Islamist and prominent anti-extremist advocate, Maajid Nawaz.

Founder of the UK’s leading counter extremism policy think tank, The Quilliam Foundation, Nawaz describes his personal, transformative journey in his best-selling autobiography, ‘Radical.’

Calling into question Nawaz’s motives for turning from radical Islam to anti-extremist research and advocacy, Lean’s piece for the New Republic makes three errors: It relies on an imbalance of incredible, pro-Islamist sources.

It employs a sneaky style of seeding suspicion through unreasonable means, then attempting to rationalise them. Finally, it faults the product of Nawaz’s work for its own strengths, such as sparking dialogue among individuals of a variety of political and religious beliefs. 

Those quoted who question Nawaz’s genuine conversion from Islamism to activism include a cast of characters with strong allegiances to Islamism – and nobody else.

Every source in the piece is or was an Islamist fundamentalist with plenty of interest in discrediting anti-jihadist activists. Lean tastelessly exploits the emotions of an Islamist older brother against the sibling who broke away – petty family drama.

Incorporating sources with controversial opinions is expected, but balancing these voices with experts from other ideological viewpoints and backgrounds is irresponsible.

Second, and reminiscent of tabloid journalism, Lean falls into a pattern of throwing out accusations, then stating his suspicions are insufficient in order to appear rational.

After a tirade with regard to Mr. Nawaz’s motivations to turn from radicalism, Lean admits that it is ‘impossible to know with certainty what compelled Nawaz to leave Hizb ut-Tahrir and espouse his current agenda’, then continues to berate his subject.

The article examines the sum of Nawaz’s associations, picks out the most glaringly offensive, name drops them shamelessly without explanation, then adds, “He’s not guilty by association.” This ploy to come off as judicious is weak. Lean might as well be arguing, “Don’t trust Tweolde Egziabher. He once used a toilet next to Donald Trump.”

Finally, the piece perverts the strengths of a successful, non-politically affiliated, secular research organisation in order to reflect poorly on its leader.

There is nothing shady about accepting funding from a government for work delivered, from paying consultancy fees to guest activists and speakers, or participating in events and debates with public figures of differing viewpoints.

Successful policy advisers, and more broadly human beings, must often work with people they do not support and allow for dialogue among individuals with diverse viewpoints.

In fact, these issues can bring disagreeing parties to the same table, as evidenced by numerous bi-partisan security legislation in the United States, when the American Congress seems to agree on nothing else. Nobody wants to see their neighbours killed in violent acts of terror, and people become willing to work together.

Lean’s argument boils down to faulting Nawaz for being charismatic, founding a successful counter extremism research think tank, and working effectively across the political spectrum. It simultaneously questions the conviction of Nawaz’s conversion from radical Islam while accusing him of being too Western, or in Lean’s Twitter feed, ‘a lapdog’.

To be clear, Mr. Lean, are you calling Nawaz a closet radical or a Westernised lapdog? He can’t possibly be both.

Curious what Maajid Nawaz really believes, or how he turned from radical Islam to found the UK’s leading counter extremism research organization? Pick up a copy of his memoir, ‘Radical.’ There are 378 pages describing Mr. Nawaz’s journey from a Pakistani minority community in the UK, to Egypt and back. 

Countering extremism is about debunking myths and discrediting radical ideology. By casting a shadow of doubt on the most compelling voices against extremist ideology, members of the Regressive Left such as Lean are allowing ISIS to play the same game.

Perhaps modern society is simply fed up with heroes. We reject stories of triumph over adversity because we are afraid to face our own demons, and modern culture no longer requires us to do so.

We would rather tear down others than risk the pain and disappointment of aiming for higher ground ourselves. But for those willing to be inspired, Nawaz’s story is the real deal.

After all, Maajid Nawaz is just like any of us — an individual ‘who yearned for a platform of empowerment’, in Lean’s own words.

Nawaz’s work has helped thousands find positive alternatives to violent extremism.

He is able to empower others because in seeking empowerment himself, he was not afraid to try, to err and, ultimately, to find his platform. 

Tala Knight is an independent researcher

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40 Responses to “In defence of Maajid Nawaz”

  1. Bradley B.

    Saudi funded leftist? I must be having visions.

  2. Bonnie W

    Lean’s entire article skirted very closely to an ad hominem attack. I’m not sure if it would have influenced anyone interested in the issues, but perhaps that doesn’t matter to Mr. Lean. His main objective seemed to be an attack on Mr. Nawaz.

  3. Ethan P.

    There’s very little practical difference between authoritarian leftists and authoritarian rightists.

  4. Alon Marcus

    You just can’t disturb the regressive left fantasy world, they live in their own movie

  5. Bradley B.

    You are so clever.

  6. Dr_Eigenvector

    Perhaps modern society is simply fed up with heroes.


    We’re sick to death of Muslims and Islam.

    We don’t want you in Europe and we want you go go home.

  7. WhittakerWalt

    Well, you’re certainly not helping.
    What about Muslims who were born in Europe? What “home” are they supposed to go back to?

  8. WhittakerWalt

    I would say it did a lot more than skirt.
    The worst bit was where he said George W. Bush “picked” Maajid’s brain re: torture. As if Maajid went to Crawford TX just to give Bush advice on new ways to torture Arabs. That was one of the most despicable bits of yellow journalism I’ve ever seen.

  9. Dr_Eigenvector

    Their ancestral home.

    I’m not the one trying to destroy Europe so good luck trying to guilt trip me.

  10. eccles11

    It’s called a “useful idiot”.

  11. gunteman

    And we’re sick to death of idiots too. Please search your roots and find somewhere else to go.

  12. Dr_Eigenvector

    I know my roots.

    This country is mine.

    If you want to force me to leave come and make me.

  13. Dr_Eigenvector

    We are going to deal with the Muslims and at the same time we will be coming for you.

  14. Dr_Eigenvector

    You can give it the big one all you want.

    Watch your back, leftist scum.

  15. Dr_Eigenvector

  16. gunteman


  17. Bradley B.

    Like the Republican-voting working-class to the wealthy ruling class?

  18. WhittakerWalt

    Oh, I’m under no illusions that I could cause you to feel guilt.

  19. eccles11

    That would be one example, yes.

  20. Dr_Eigenvector

    So you admit your White guilt shinola only works on the mentally feeble?

    That you are nothing but a snake oil peddler and con man?

  21. Luke Glanford

    I had not heard of Nathan Lean before, and hope I never have to again. The guy seems to be as dishonest as they come.

  22. WhittakerWalt

    No. I just realize you’re beyond hope.

    Good day.

  23. Dr_Eigenvector

    Burn in Hell, beta leftist coward.

  24. WhittakerWalt

    Cool story bro.

  25. SarahAB

    Another example is his assertion that Maajid told Muslim women to take off their hijab. MN supports free choice and only said that if non-Muslim women were wearing hijab in solidarity against anti-Muslsim bigotry perhaps hijabi Muslim women should consider taking them off in solidarity with those forced to wear them.

  26. Mohamed Hassan

    I have read Lean’s article about Nawaz, and haven’t seen at all nothing wrong about Majid, but instead it discovered and showed me more positive aspects rather than negative side. It also revealed me more about the tactics and techniques that regressive leftists use when speaking on behalf of Muslims.

  27. josh

    the lean piece was strong on smear, light on facts, as is the recent trend of lefty anti-intellectualism. you may also note that at no point does Lean actually address ANY of Maajid’s arguments. and on the question of sincerity, he doesn’t figure into the gambit the fact that he’s risking his life to confront a difficult subject, or that he could have just as easily found ‘fame’ as an islamist (sans regular death threats). his lifestyle suggests that he is obviously sympathetic to western values, if not a closet atheist. finally, observe the fact that of roughly 50 “moderate” Australian organizations he reached out to for dialog, only 1 agreed to speak with him. so we should not be surprised that there are more westerners volunteering to fight against isis than muslims who, you’d think, felt more compelled since Isis was “corrupting” their message and their honor.

  28. SurfaceKrystal

    Sounds like a complete fool

  29. Bonnie W

    I agree. You clearly read this article more carefully than I did. That statement comes close to libel.

  30. Telh

    If he supports Islam he is perpetuating an invalid religion which will spawn terrorists no matter what he says or does. It’s the ‘religion of peace’ that needs to be abandoned by all its followers if they are truly intent of peaceful co-existence

  31. Adis Duderija

    Well argued.

  32. Sid

    Religion + Politics = Social Poison


    Islam should expunged itself and look up to the sky. Perhaps others should follow and stop the killing for something that does not exist,

  34. octagon<3

    The Far Left have been courting the “Jerry Falwells” of Islam when they should have been supporting people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Nawaz. Appeasing the most totalitarian, theocratic, homophobic and misogynistic elements of Islam has been a slap in the face to the women, children, gays, and skeptics that suffer in Islamic countries every day.

  35. JackieHolt

    Were such shocking polemicism confined to obscure people writing in obscure magazines, that would be one thing, but the sad fact that even papers of the mainstream Left indulge in character assassination is revolting. Here’s the response to a Guardian article on Nawaz which dispensed with any pretence of fairness –


    Nawaz’s own response to the article is fantastic –

    Thankfully LFF remains a defender of progressive values.

  36. Patrick Nelson

    He is a moron, disliked by Muslims of all stripes and spectrums and disliked by non-Muslims of all stripes and spectrums. The only people who like him are those for whose particular agenda he works, and to be fair I can’t imagine that they particularly like him.

  37. Patrick Nelson

    You do realize that this is a birthday party? : )

  38. Bonnie W

    I’ve only heard this sort of criticism from Omer Aziz before. Clearly Nawaz is not a moron; he’s well educated and articulate. I’m not sure what liking someone has to do with their ideas. I got a lot out of his dialog with Sam Harris in “Islam and the Future of Tolerance.”

  39. Patrick Nelson

    He is a moron and he isn’t what he claims to be either.

  40. Bonnie W

    I’ve read the Lean article. Perhaps Nawaz’s narrative is not a completely accurate account. What difference does that make? He would not be the first public figure to embellish his history. There are a lot of personal attacks aimed at people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Hirsi Ali etc who criticize political Islam. I don’t really care who someone “is”. I care about their ideas, and to me, Nawaz’s ideas are similar to Hitchens’: for those who want to practice their religion, the best system to guarantee religious freedom is “a secular democracy with a godless constitution.”

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