British ex-jihadis form ranks for tolerance
The Quilliam Foundation was launched Tuesday as a counterweight to political Islam among young Muslims.
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"They will have a hard time reaching out to people who are actively involved in extremist organizations," says Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. "But they probably do have the capacity to go into schools and certain other environments and have some leverage there because they are Muslims who were involved in radical activities."Skip to next paragraph
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"Therefore if there are people that have the platform and the ability to challenge and expose myths that Al Qaeda purveys then that is very important and significant," he says. "It is pivotal to win hearts and minds and to prevent new generations of young impressionable people from joining terrorist groups. The language of hate has to be countered with the language of moderation and reason."
But he adds that Quilliam, which is funded by private donations, will have to prove its financial independence to keep its integrity intact.
The initiative comes at a crucial time in Britain's struggle with radical political Islam. A spate of arrests, terrorism trials, and convictions may give the impression that the authorities are coming to grips with extremism, but security services still warn of at least 2,000 dangerous Islamists on their radar.
The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, signaled last week that Britain could not arrest its way out of the terrorism threat. "We need to prevent people from becoming terrorists and supporting terrorists in the first place," she said. "That means challenging the sort of ideology that supports terrorism."
Mr. Neumann says the government is disillusioned with established groups like the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for failing to combat extremism – both vocally and effectively.
Quilliam says it can succeed where the MCB has failed because of the personal narratives of its leaders. Nawaz spent 12 years in Hizb ut-Tahrir after turning to the movement out of disaffection with the racism and discrimination that poisoned his teenage years in southeast England.
His story is typical of the drift into radicalism that overcame many young British Muslims who rejected the conformity of their parents and turned to firebrand rhetoric and intoxicating ideas of ideologues.
There were secret meetings, conversion missions, evangelistic forays to university campuses and foreign countries. But after more than four years in an Egyptian jail, Nawaz says he had the time to reflect on the true meaning of his faith.
"I began to realize that what I had subscribed to was actually Islamism sold to me in the name of Islam," he wrote recently. "And it is with this realization that I can now say that the more I learnt about Islam, the more tolerant I became."