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Quilliam Foundation: A Muslim Think Tank to Counter Extremism

Set up in May by former members of the Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Quilliam Foundation sees itself as an anti-Islamist think tank. Security services in Europe see people who have renounced radicalism as the new hope in the fight against extremist Islamism. Albrecht Metzger explains why.


The Quilliam Foundation, under the guidance of mainstream Muslim scholars, is a counter extremism think tank, created by former activists of radical Islamist organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir


 How can Islamist extremism be undermined? This question is currently preoccupying security officials throughout Europe. The fear of renewed attacks, as experienced in Madrid and London in recent years, is great.


In the UK alone, the internal intelligence agency MI5 has around 2,000 individuals in its sights allegedly prepared to carry out terrorist attacks on British soil. And two dozen Islamist extremists are said to have travelled from Germany to Pakistan where they are being prepared for the Jihad by al-Qaeda organizations.


New directions in dealing with Islamists


How should we challenge Islamist extremism in Europe ideologically? Ideally with Islamists who have either abandoned extremism or speak out clearly against the Jihad: this is certainly the conclusion many security authorities have come to. Here too the UK is playing a leading role.


Thus in May the so-called Quilliam Foundation was established: an anti-Islamist think tank, created by former members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned a few years ago in Germany for stirring up anti-Semitic hatred.


Maajid Nawaz, one of the Quilliam Foundation's founder members, left Hizb ut-Tahrir because he saw no future for an organisation which failed to allow for conflicting views. He is now an advocate of secular, democratic states.


Pioneer in the "war of ideas"


The Quilliam Foundation aims – and its founders' intellectual acumen should guarantee it – to be a pioneer in the so-called "war of ideas".


This is a term which now seems hackneyed, but serves however to illustrate what is at stake and why the Quilliam Foundation will certainly be more successful than institutions set up with US money to convince Muslims of the United States' purported altruism (such as the Arabic language TV station al-Hurra).


| The US concept of the "war of ideas" was flawed from the start. PR strategists at the Pentagon seriously wanted us to believe that this "war" was solely about the perception of Muslims, rather than the reality. US Middle-East policy was said to be fair and balanced, it just had to be presented better and then the anger felt by Muslims, especially Arabs, would vanish in a puff of smoke.


Any halfway neutral observer must admit that for forty years US policy towards the Middle East has been biased towards Israel – which many Germans can understand – and that this has reached its climax under President George W. Bush.


The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was not an act of charity either, and the resulting chaos and daily terror has touched many Muslims, driving some to extremism.


Humiliation and discrimination


Maajid Nawaz knows this feeling of powerlessness. As a teenager he experienced racism at first hand. He had white friends who were stabbed by far-right vigilantes simply because they were involved with a "paki".


But it was the war in Bosnia, with the massacre of thousands of Muslim women and children which finally drove Maajid Nawaz to Islamism. In the Hizb ut-Tahrir he learnt to see himself as a as a first-class Muslim rather than a second-class British citizen, as a member of a world-wide community, all suffering from the cruelty of the malicious West, but with God on their side, prepared to defend themselves and certain to win in the end.


Ed Husain's withdrawal from radical Islam


Maajid Nawaz was detained in Egypt in 2002, subjected to witnessing of torture, and then convicted to five years imprisonment for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir | Asked what he found so attractive about the extreme form of Islam, Ed Husain, the other intellectual force behind the Quilliam Foundation, replied with six adjectives: elite, exclusive, stimulating, contradictory, authoritative and confrontational.


Today Ed Husain attacks Hizb ut-Tahrir for its global conspiracy theories, which allow no grey tones, acknowledging only good and evil. Yes it is true, he says, that western Middle East policies have contributed to radicalization, as has the constant, visible discrimination of citizens with darker skin.


But if neither of these problems existed, the Islamist rat catchers would look for other subjects around which to stir up young Muslims. He believes that as long as Muslims such as himself do not acknowledge that they have a serious problem with extremism, they can do nothing against it.


On the Quilliam Foundation website is an audio file of a debate between Ed Husain and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They agree on many things, both for instance calling for more self-criticism from Muslims. On one point, however they disagree fundamentally: in their attitude to Islam.


Polarization instead of self-criticism


Ayaan Hirsi Ali has abandoned her faith and now attacks it forcefully, unafraid to risk causing insult. She is fully entitled to do this, but because of it, she only reaches a white audience, who see their aversion to Islam confirmed.


The Somali-born former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes use of clichés about Islam and demands that Muslims be tested as to their convictions. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is touching a deep wound which many practising Muslims carry around with them: what does it feel like to hear people say every day that your religion is reactionary, violent and repulsive? Many people in Europe now seem to see Islam simply as a disease and Muslims therefore as patients who need to be cured.


This is humiliating and it is why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is part of the problem; she is will never spark self-critical debates among Muslims, simply provoking defensive reactions.


Ed Husain is different. Asked why Islam seems so resilient in times of godlessness, he states that he finds spiritual comfort when he hears lines from the Koran and feels warmth in the presence of Muslim clerics.


In a secular country which fails to set examples and has no sense of truth, Islam provides most believers with peace of mind and offers them moral orientation, he says: Islam is an experience, a taste, a scent.


This is not only an invitation to all Islamists to re-think their rule-fixated faith; it is also an invitation to all non-Muslims to recognize the spiritual power of Islam which they may never themselves be able to feel.

Published: 07.08.2008 - Last modified: 07.08.2008

Albrecht Metzger


© 2008


Translated from the German by Steph Morris




A Background Story


Britain is focal point for terrorism, warns Europe's police force


Bleak report portrays EU under siege, with terror plots soaring and the UK fertile ground for jihadist recruiters


By Brian Brady, Whitehall Editor

Sunday, 18 May 2008


Britain is the focal point for Islamic terrorism across Europe, and its controversial military campaigns overseas are putting the entire continent at risk, a disturbing new report has warned.


An analysis of the terrorist threat by Europol, the European Police Office, has concluded that the dangers posed by militant groups rose to unprecedented proportions in 2007, with steep increases in the number of arrests, plots and attacks.


But Islamic terrorism, particularly through a rejuvenated al-Qa'ida, was highlighted as the most significant security threat to the authorities in the UK. At least one person is arrested every day across Europe under suspicion of involvement in Islamic terror conspiracies or attacks. Europol warned that the UK was recognised as fertile ground for radical Islamists seeking recruits to their jihadist campaigns, with "young, radicalised British citizens" often used to mount attacks.


The bleak warning came as the Government prepared for a battle over its plans to allow the police to detain terror suspects for up to six weeks without charge.


The EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report revealed there were 203 terror-related arrests in the UK last year, when the danger was demonstrated by abortive attempts to detonate bombs in London and at Glasgow airport in June. Europol said the British figure was 30 per cent up on 2006, with the "vast majority" relating to Islamism; 201 Islamist-related terror arrests were made across the 26 other EU member states.


Europol experts identified the lawless tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan as troublesome, as they hosted training camps for some of the most committed jihadists. But the report also warned of other areas emerging as threats: in Somalia, "dozens" of British passport holders were fighting alongside the Islamists. There are also indications that terrorist training and attack planning, with a focus on the UK, is taking place in Somalia.


British sources said that further attacks on the UK were "highly likely", with the number of terror suspects being monitored rising from 500 to 2,000 since the start of the Iraq War.


The report also warned that British foreign policy presented critical dangers for all Europe: "The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have a large impact on the security environment of the EU."


Professor David Capitanchik, a terrorism expert at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, said: "We certainly face a greater threat, partly because we have such a large immigrant population which is more vulnerable to radical Islamic thinking... We are paying the price of giving political asylum for so long to individuals who were wanted for terrorist-related offences in their own countries."


Europol, which co-ordinates law enforcement information across the EU, warned that al-Qa'ida was stepping up its campaign against Britain and its European allies, after "rebuilding its capabilities". Europol's investigation portrays Europe as a continent under siege, with conspiracies cropping up in a wide range of member states.


A Home Office spokesman confirmed that most of the Europol findings tallied with official figures, and underlined the Government's consistent warnings about the scale of the terror threat facing the nation. But he insisted that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had no bearing on the level of the security threat in the UK or in the rest of Europe.