Maajid Nawaz may be one of the most compelling voices in the fight against Islamist extremism. After spending 14 years with the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group which advocates creating a global Caliphate, Nawaz re-evaluated his ideology while serving four years in an Egyptian prison.
He co-founded the Quilliam Foundation in London, a group dedicated to challenging extremist ideology in hopes of stemming the path from radical thought to violent action. "60 Minutes" recently profiled Nawaz, showing how he travels to radical strongholds to combat what he calls "the narrative." It's a potent mixture of Muslim supremacy, paranoia, conspiracy theories and religious fanaticism that fuels jihadis. As he told Lesley Stahl:
"In a nutshell, it's that the West is waging a war against Islam and Muslims to destroy Islam. And that the only way to stop this war is for Muslims to start fighting back on all fronts against the West."
He repeated the definition on "Larry King Live" Wednesday night. In a discussion about the failed bombing attempt in Times Square, Nawaz described his own awakening:
"And key to that narrative is the idea that America – this is a false narrative – but key to it is the idea that America is somehow locked in a war against Islam and Muslims. I realize that all of this propaganda was false through my studies and through those discussions. When I left prison, I then voluntarily and unilaterally resigned my position from the leadership of the group....."
Nawaz clearly is needed in Pakistan and in London's Islamist strongholds. Perhaps he can schedule a quick visit to the University of Delaware, where political scientist Muqtedar Khan just published a Newsweek column repeating the very narrative Nawaz is fighting. The column was rooted in threats against "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker for an episode that mocked what happens if someone tries to present an image of the Prophet Muhammad.
Khan calls it disingenuous to discuss the matter solely as a free speech issue:
"Every nasty episode designed to deliberately insult and mock Islam and its symbols, even as Western powers occupy Muslim lands, must be seen in the global political context. The verbal assault on Islam can be seen as an extension of the military assault that is waged everyday in Afghanistan and Palestine, and the legal assault that deprives Muslims of the right to free expression. Words and cartoons can be hate crimes too.
The West has a long history of waging military crusades and systematic demonization of Islam, always in synchrony, so masterfully exposed in the late Edward Said's classic 'Orientalism.' Malice against Islam is a cultural feature of the West no amount of levity can camouflage it."
Khan certainly is entitled to his opinion. But his approach is a striking contrast from that of Nawaz. Khan suggests clamping down on satire directed at Islam, saying "If the threat of terrorism can be used to curtail civil liberties, why cannot it also justify putting limits on the right to mock Muhammad?"
Nawaz, on the other hand, is able to point out how Muslims in America enjoy the freedom to worship as they please, that there's a mosque in every state in the union and, by and large, Muslim Americans are happy and successful.
Which message is more likely to stunt the growth of radicalism?