A former extremist finds himself in bed with a new set of extremists as links between US money and UK-based think tank emerge.
As a self-proclaimed former “Islamist radical,” Maajid Nawaz built a career off his conversion away from extremism towards moderation. The pendulum, however, probably swung a bit too far.
For years Nawaz, a British citizen of Pakistani heritage has extolled rich tales of his turn away from extremism to become a voice that advised the former British Prime Minister David Cameron on counter-extremism.
The wider Muslim community in the UK, however, has largely viewed Nawaz’s evolution with a degree of skepticism.
Nawaz’s family has accused him of either exaggerating, embellishing or outright lying about his past stories of extremism.
His friends have been even more scathing, “He is neither an Islamist nor a liberal. Maajid is whatever he thinks he needs to be,” said one.
Since then Nawaz has written two books about his experiences and now boasts a primetime spot on London’s biggest radio station, LBC, where he is able to project his views.
Now researchers say that they have found that the same donors funnelling money to the likes of US President Donald Trump have been sending millions to Nawaz and the Quilliam think tank he helped to co-found and which pedals and piggybacks on the alleged expertise and personal backstory of its founder.
The UK-based human rights organisation, Cage, which aims to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror, was not surprised at the finding when TRT World asked them for comment.
“Leaders of the global Islamophobia industry in the US and UK have long been reported as being involved in the funding of Maajid Nawaz and his Quilliam Foundation,” said a Cage spokesperson.
“Maajid Nawaz and others have been exploited for their Muslim identities and have provided cover for anti-Muslim policies of their enablers. Nawaz’s voice, in particular, has enabled fears and prejudices towards Muslims to be exploited and gain consent for the almost annual rise in laws and policies relating to terrorism and extremism that target Muslims.”
In the past, Nawaz has had to contend with being called an anti-Muslim extremist, while he has denied being one, the label has stuck.
The Quilliam Foundation and Nawaz have in the past been criticised for defending groups and individuals that form an ecosystem of far-right propaganda that targets Muslims. That association has led him to become a pariah within the Muslim community.
The latest investigation reveals that Nawaz and his foundation have benefited to the tune of $3 million from groups that form this wider ecosystem.
More worryingly, as the right in the US has become more extreme with QAnon gaining popularity among many Americans, the Quilliam Foundation, an ostensibly anti-extremism think tank finds itself in bed with some of the most outlandish conspiratorial voices in the country.
For Cage, that association between Nawaz and Quilliam raises questions about what the impact could be on Muslims in the UK but also the increasing proliferation of such characters.
Nawaz’s “agenda is to serve power,” says Cage but more widely the real questions must be to “assess how the culture wars against Muslims, bankrolled by a few billionaires has led to the capture of power by white nationalists in Washington, London and other Western capitals.”
Trump’s Muslim ban early on in his presidency emboldened far-right forces around the world. But over the last few years, there has also been a dearth of information that the same people funding Trump are making overtures to the European right with millions of dollars being used to lobby and build links.