Ex-radicals challenge Muslims to shun extremism

LONDON (Reuters) - Former Islamist radicals in Britain launched a “counter-extremism think-tank” on Tuesday, saying they wanted to reclaim Islam from the violent ideology of al Qaeda.

A woman protesting terrorism stands in front of the Union Jack flag near the Prime minister's official residence in Downing Street, September 11, 2007. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The Quilliam Foundation, named after a 19th century English convert to Islam who established Britain’s first mosque, says it aims to expose Islamism as a false ideology and help Muslims develop a tolerant modern brand of Western Islam.

Its director Maajid Nawaz is a former international recruiter for Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who spent four years in an Egyptian prison for membership of that organisation.

“We need to criticise the Islamist ideology and demonstrate how it’s inconsistent with traditional pluralistic and tolerant Islam,” he told Reuters.

“For the first time we have former Islamists, who trained people in the Islamist ideology, who are at the forefront of this movement to say: ‘We can critique this ideology, we understand it and can refute it.’”

Ed Husain, Quilliam co-director and a former student radical Islamist, said people tempted by militant ideology could be pulled back from the brink by family and peer pressure and by exposure to new ideas.

“The fact you’ve got Muslims being killed by the al Qaeda worldview now should force people to question where is the logical conclusion of that separatist, confrontational worldview,” he told Reuters.

“What we’re doing is producing a counter-narrative, in other words exposing al Qaeda for what it is... This is something that’s happened in Egypt and other countries but hasn’t happened in Western Muslim communities.”

Authorities say al Qaeda-inspired militants pose the gravest security threat to the country. Four young British Muslims blew themselves up on London’s transport system in 2005, killing 52 people, and the police and security services have thwarted a series of other plots.

Quilliam’s launch manifesto calls on Muslims to take a stand against radical Islamists whose rhetoric “provides the mood music to which suicide bombers dance”.

It proposes the creation of “deradicalisation centres” in key British cities, staffed by mainstream Muslim scholars capable of countering extremist arguments.

Muslim leaders should unequivocally condemn acts of terror, reject the legitimisation of terrorism as “jihad” or holy war, and support government and police initiatives against militants, the document says.

Shaikh Abdal Aziz al-Bukhari, a Palestinian who leads the Naqshbandi Sufi order in Jerusalem, told a packed launch event at the British Museum that the foundation could be a leading force in Europe to help Muslims find their identity.

“Here in Europe, Muslims have more difficulties than the difficulties we have in Jerusalem. When you are lost in identity, it’s quite difficult to find your own self and it’s very easy to be misled,” he said.