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By Dominic Casciani BBC News
Discussing hardline Islamist ideologies and violent extremism isn't exactly the stuff of fashionable London parties.
But the British Museum is on Tuesday the surprising venue for theologians, thinkers and socialite Jemima Khan, all coming together to support the launch of a new think tank to counter Al Qaeda's world-view.
And this seemingly bizarre gathering exposes the question at the heart of the whirlwind romance between the Quilliam Foundation and policymakers.
Is the launch of this campaigning organisation a step forward in the battle of ideas - or just another group with some kind of official pat on the head - but no credibility on the street?
Since the London bombings of July 2005 a whole string of Muslim organisations have come forward, claiming to have the answers to violent extremism.
Search for answers
The Muslim Council of Britain, the main umbrella body, has been marginalised in an ongoing political row - but two others touted as significant players have had little impact.
Vast sums of money are being spent on research into violent extremism, and entire government teams have sprung from nowhere to try to find answers.
Then into this mix came Ed Husain. Last year he published The Islamist, his story of a life in hardline community politics.
He was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a global body calling for a single Islamic state across the Middle East.
Husain says the hardline rhetoric of organisations like HT took him and other British teenagers to dark places - places which are the starting point on a road that leads to suicide bombing in the name of al-Qaeda.
It's an alluring argument and the book is a compelling read. One government official e-mailed scores of colleagues inside Whitehall late last year, effectively instructing them to read it.
Now Ed Husain and another, less well-known, man, Maajid Nawaz, are launching Quilliam (named after a 19th century British convert) as the counter-argument to extremism.
They say Islam in its purest universal form, as the last message of God to mankind, sits perfectly well in modern multicultural societies - providing that Muslims find the right way to express their faith.
And if British Muslims rediscover the purity of the faith, they argue, they can cast off the political and cultural baggage that would see Islam as the enemy of the West.
This is, however, an argument fraught with danger - which is why Quilliam's progress will be interesting to watch.
Ed Husain's book has annoyed many people who would otherwise be on his side, including serious Muslim thinkers who were once of the same radical mindset as him.
Some Muslims who advise government have raised eyebrows over his links with Conservative thinkers. The author himself is a Labour supporter who says the challenge is not party-political.
Supporters say he has been the victim of community sniping because he has had the guts to stand up and be counted and to reveal, warts and all, what lies beneath the surface.
This is where Maajid Nawaz comes in. For years, Essex-born Nawaz was one of the most influential figures in Islamist politics in the UK.
And he paid for it by being jailed in Egypt for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir - witnessing the torture of other prisoners and fearing for his own life.
But before finding himself in a Cairo cell, he personally recruited to the cause the very men and women Quilliam is now targeting.
He is known among communities around the country and delivers talks rooted deep in Koranic theology, rather than the writings of the ideologues who provided al-Qaeda's intellectual foundations. In short, he has street credibility.
The two men and Quilliam's other founders form an attractive package - effective communicators who believe they can join the dots between communities, counter-extremism strategy and young Muslims.
But it's this determination to influence government which will be the most challenging issue for Quilliam.
Islamist political groups will use any kind of association between the think tank and policy makers as an attack, accusing it of doing ministers' bidding.
If Quilliam is to have success with its message it will need to manage this relationship very carefully.
Another organisation, the Radical Middle Way, delivers fascinating lecture tours by progressive Islamic thinkers - but it is dismissed by hardliners because it received Foreign Office funding.
Other schemes involving government cash have also struggled to avoid accusations of "state-approved Islam".
So can Quilliam reach the young men and women who need most to hear the message?
Quilliam's strategy is to bathe in the media and political spotlight - but to back this up with a coherent grassroots campaign of rigorous ideas.
And so it hopes to become a rolling ball gathering the moss of former Islamists - and the more moss it gathers, the greater its momentum in communities.
Its founders have deliberately avoided using the difficult theological term of "reformation" - but the think tank is determined to sell the idea of a "Western Islam".
The organisation initially in its sights is Hizb ut-Tahrir.
By coincidence, it sent out an e-mail on the morning of Quilliam's launch, calling on supporters to "Stand for Islam" against the onslaught of Western values. It appears to be feeling the heat.
* Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent * The Guardian, * Wednesday April 23 2008
This article appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday April 23 2008 on p7 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 00:08 on April 23 2008.
Potential terrorists should be sent to rehabilitation centres and deradicalised by exposure to intense and substantial periods of genuine piety, Britain's first counter-extremism thinktank said yesterday. The recommendation came from the Quilliam Foundation, established by former activists of radical Islamist groups to challenge their ideology.
At its launch at the British Museum in London, the deputy director and author, Ed Husain, who used to be in the radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir, said there was a sense of Muslim unity in the fight "to rescue our faith from those who have hijacked it".
The foundation's inaugural policy document suggests identifying potential terrorists, with support from family members and visitors to mosques, and exposing them - "hopefully voluntarily" - to genuine religiosity through mainstream imams. Another tactic is to encourage students to wear clothing suitable for mainstream society and not "Pakistani ethnic attire suitable for a different climate".
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A good effort by Radio 4 last night to create an issue out of nothing much:
Could I Stop Being a Muslim?
Tuesday 22 April 2008 20:00-20:40 (Radio 4 FM)
Repeated: Sunday 27 April 2008 17:00-17:40 (Radio 4 FM)
Former Muslim radical Shiraz Maher spent his student days campaigning for an Islamic caliphate in which execution for renouncing Islam would be written into the constitution. Now Shiraz is calling for moderation and greater Muslim integration into British life, a stance which has meant he himself is now labelled an apostate by some Muslim radicals, for which the penalty is death. He asks whether such an extreme punishment is really justified by the Qu'ran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad.
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Shiraz Maher's father, Ehsan Ullah Maher, used to work for the Saudi government.
Developing a nationwide network of land scouts Birmingham Post (Birmingham); Nov 18, 2005; p. 22 Full Text: (Copyright 2005 Birmingham Post and Mail Ltd.)
The first deals are being done under a new scheme to let individuals turn 'land scout' and share in development profits.
Taylor Skelton Walters (TSW) is a new type of property company which paves the way to potentially high earnings in land development, usually the province of professionals.
Launched in the summer, the scheme recruits licensees whose goal is to identify and secure planning permission on development opportunities.
Training is provided, funding available for the land purchases and the successful licensees stand to earn 30 per cent of the 'planning gain', the profit made on the increase on a site's value after planning consent is granted.
Licensees pay a pounds 10,000 enrolment fee up front which covers training up to accreditation and administration support.
Already the planned network of licensees totals 44 members and TSW is deciding on land deals at the rate of nearly one a week.
John Skelton, managing director of TSW said: 'We now have an effective, operative licensee network across England and are reaping the rewards in terms of incoming land development proposals. We are currently negotiating land purchases in Birmingham, Reading and Surrey.'
The concept goes well beyond what a determined amateur might achieve on his own.
The specialist training tailored by the property professionals behind TSW heralds a good success rate. And the commercial initiative is aimed at meeting real market need.
'We need more creativity to meet demand. Furthermore, many of the developments we identify and process will go towards accommodation for people working in the essential services like nursing, transport or education.'
The chance to make a career out of land deals has attracted a broad range from all walks of life, reports John Skelton.
To date, licensees include a pilot, a teacher, train driver, ex fireman as well as management types and property professionals.
Attractions include flexible hours, being based near home and the potential income, average land deals said to bring some pounds 30,000 to each individual.
For that they need to identify potential development sites and secure the planning permission, exploiting their skills obtained during the specialist training.
TSW's first Birmingham licensee land buyer is Ehsan Maher, a chartered accountant who lives in Harborne.
He said: ' Following my training at KPMG, I have followed a career in chartered accountancy for most of my life, latterly working for the Saudi Government. I have dabbled with stock market investments and more recently, have been attracted to property investment.
'TSW allows me now to take this to its logical conclusion and do it full time on my own.'
r Skelton added: ' Licensees will not only gain the expertise and financial backing to move into a sector of the property market that was previously only accessible to large or significant developers, they will also live close to their appointed region and have complete autonomy over the hours and the way they work.'
TSW believes that the time is ripe for identifying new land opportunities. As housebuilding rates lag behind the desired figure, negatively compounded year on year, there is pressure on planning authorities to speed up approval rates, particularly in high density, already developed areas.
Typical identified sites are garden land, providing development plots in acceptable locations. Also, larger properties for conversion and redundant commercial or agricultural premises.
Recent deals done under the TSW banner include a residential plot in Newbury, negotiated by the first TSW licensee in the area.
Other Midland areas now covered by the TSW network include Walsall, Nuneaton and Atherstone, East Birmingham and Nottingham.
Five land investments, worth more than pounds 2 million, are currently going through the purchase process.
The TSW management team includes a range of expertise including business consultants, accountants, chartered surveyors and independent planning consultants.
The company has been running a series of seminars.
Details from the websites: www.profitinland.co.uk and www.education.tswplc.co.uk.
Illustrating how much Britain needs the Quilliam Foundation:
Jemima Khan receives death threats from Muslim extremists
By Sophie Borland Last Updated: 10:36am BST 23/04/2008
Jemima Khan has received death threats from Islamic extremists for supporting a Muslim group which preaches tolerance of other religions.
Mrs Khan, 34, is a patron of the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that was recently set up by two reformed members of the extremist organisation Hizb ut Tahrir.
The group has received death threats by phone and email that are intended for all members involved in the organisation and it has been reported that one even referred to Mrs Khan by name.
During the launch of the think tank yesterday, Mrs Khan, the former wife of Imran Khan, who previously captained Pakistan’s cricket team, admitted she had been nervous about voicing her support for the group.
She said she had been “a little wobbly”, adding, “if there was no response from the dark side, then we would be failing.”
The organisation is named after William Quilliam, a 19th century convert to Islam who founded England’s first mosque and Islamic centre.
It was set up by Maajid Nawaz, 30, a former extremist who spent four years as a political prisoner in Egypt.
Both Lord Ashdown, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and Tory MP Michael Gove are supporters of the organisation which says it aims to reflect mainstream, moderate and British Muslim opinion.
It has received criticism on Muslim websites however and one site even labels Mrs Khan as a “fujiar”, an Arabic word describing someone who un ashamedly and publicly commits sin.
The website has posted pictures of Mrs Khan wearing a bikini and says “This is the same 'socialite’ Jemima who is regularly pictured in chick mags in mini skirts and low-cut dresses hopping in and out of nightclubs - and she is going to be lecturing us on true Islam?!”.
It adds: “Getting unmarried, public fujiar, clad in miniskirts and bikinis, to lecture us on true Islamic values, man what has the world come to?”
The site also criticises Mr Nawaz for engaging in what it terms “un-Islamic” behaviour, such as visiting nightclubs and socialising with a former girlfriend.
To lionise former extremists feeds anti-Muslim prejudice
It is a mistake to fete these repentant members of Islamist cults. They are part of the problem, not the solution
o Ziauddin Sardar, writer and broadcaster o The Guardian, o Thursday April 24 2008
This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday April 24 2008 on p32 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:05 on April 24 2008.
When one sinner repents, says the biblical adage, there is much joy in heaven. So the angels, along with the government, must be rejoicing at the launch of the Quilliam Foundation. The thinktank has been established by not one but two repentant sinners: Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz, ex-members of the extremist Islamic cult Hizb ut-Tahrir.
On earth, however, I would suggest a greater degree of caution. In the here and now, it's not the repentant sinners we should celebrate but "the 99 righteous persons who need no repentance", those unmentioned Muslims who refused to be seduced by the dark side. I know I am going to upset many of my Muslim friends who are quite ecstatic about the foundation. After all, as its website declares, Quilliam "rejects foreign ideologies of Islamism and jihadism" and upholds "Islam as a pluralistic, diverse tradition that can heal the pathology of Islamist extremism". What could be wrong with such a message?
The answer is the messenger and the message. When erstwhile sinners gain the limelight, the support of neocon luminaries and the backing of respectable Muslim leaders, sinning acquires a certain cachet. We prove again that radical extremism is the way to get attention. We make flirtation with violent ideology the way to be heard and become acceptable.
The embrace of former extremists is a slap in the face for Muslims who have worked tirelessly to build a British Muslim identity and foster inclusion by constructive community activity. It's another attempt at the marginalisation of the overwhelming majority who never had a moment's doubt that Islam gives no sanction for such murderous and misguided perversion of belief.
I am troubled by the fact that former extremists are seen as the only people who know how to deal with extremism. Just because you have been an inmate of a mental hospital does not mean you are an expert in clinical psychology. But former extremists are being lionised because they confirm the basic tabloid prejudice that violence is a natural part of being a Muslim. So whose ignorance is being vindicated? Certainly the potential of an open, unapologetic belief in Islam as a valuable part of British society is not on the agenda.
At every stage of dealing with extremism, the government has made the wrong choice. First, only British-trained imams were to be promoted, though how and what they were trained in was not examined. Then there were to be roadshows at which religious scholars selected for their moderation and tractability, rather than an understanding of the problems of young British Muslims, would explain the error of extremist ways. Then Sufism was touted as the solution, and the Sufi Muslim Council was created as the voice of moderation. Now the way forward is with sinners who were once mouthpieces for jihadi propaganda and advocated the violent rejection of all things western.
The thing nobody has suggested is engaging the silenced and diverse majority of Muslim communities. If the debate of the mainstream is ignored, there is nowhere for those rescued from extremism to go. The silent majority is supposed to be groomed to embrace quietism - which explains why Sufi mysticism is in vogue - and, most important, to be put off politics for life.
At the launch of the foundation this week, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz al-Bukhari, a "master" of the Naqshbandi Sufi order in Palestine, rightly pointed out that Islam is not an ideology. He went on to say Muslims should love, obey and respect the government. It's exactly what I would expect of a neocon Sufi order that supported Bush and his war on Iraq. Islam is not an ideology, but it is no more devoid of politics than Christianity. Far from "obeying" this government, Muslims are duty-bound to challenge it. Extremism is not only a religious issue; it is also a product of our politics. And tackling extremism requires changing politics as much as changing religious outlook.
Within the British Muslim community there are pockets of underachievement, under-employment and high unemployment. There are problems of education, health and social provision. All are festering ground for extremism; all are political facts. Then there are problems, which too few Muslims are prepared to acknowledge, that they share with sections of white British society: problems of family disintegration and drugs, of an existence devoid of opportunities to share in consumer culture. An escape from this existence is gang membership and drug culture, a kind of glorying in the indignity of one's existence. These, too, are political problems.
Most of all, British foreign policy has a direct bearing on nurturing extremism. The occupation of Iraq, the byproducts of the "war on terror", the perpetual suffering of the Palestinians are not amenable to Sufi solutions or deprogramming techniques. So we don't need neocon ex-extremists to tell us what extremism is about. They are part of the problem, not the solution. But we do need a viable politics that tackles the root cause of extremism. Whatever the joy in heaven, we cannot allow former lunatics to take over the asylum.
· Ziauddin Sardar blogs on a different verse or theme of the Qu'ran weekly at blogs.guardian.co.uk/quran
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