If Canada wants to help win the global war on al Qaeda, turn back the tide of homegrown Islamist radicalism coursing through segments of its population, and protect its pluralistic, democratic, and inclusive society from terrorism, Ottawa must send an official to London, England to visit Ed Husain, Maajid Nawaz, Iqbal Wahhab, and their team at The Quilliam Foundation.
Quilliam is the "the world's first counter-extremism think tank". It was established in 2008 by Husain and Nawaz, both former leaders of British extremist organizations who came to reject and renounce Islamism, political violence, and terrorism. These guys know Islamist thought, inside-out. Husain published an autobiographical account of his radicalization (and eventual de-radicalization) in The Islamist (Penguin, 2007) and Nawaz recently retold his personal story in a Quilliam publication.
Teaming together, they attracted other like-minded British Muslims and established Quilliam to "actively challenge extremism" in the UK, Europe, and internationally. They're literally fighting the "war of ideas" with ideas.
They do so by publishing counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization research, vocally challenging extremist ideology in Britain, and exposing "the intellectual bankruptcy" of Islamist thinkers. As Wahhab, the Foundation's Chairman explains, he joined Quilliam to help "redress the distortion of British Muslim opinion and to support [the Foundation's] consistent and articulate challenges of the hardliners, exposing their activities and recruitment procedures, and pushing forward the more mainstream, pluralist set of views that British society is built on."
These guys are deadly serious.
By taking a vocal stance against Islamism and terrorism, they've put themselves at great personal risk. Western Islamists aren't known for their gentle methods and acceptance of criticism. Consider that just weeks before Quilliam's 2008 launch, its "Gulf-based donors" pulled their funding because the Foundation "unreservedly, unexceptionally condemned suicide bombing." Husain and Nawaz received the news by phone as they were being "accosted by a group of Islamist thugs" shouting at them in the streets of Copenhagen for "promoting democracy." Lucky for the rest of us, neither was cowed by these events and Quilliam is today at the forefront of Britain's counter-Islamist movement. They not only deserve our deepest thanks and gratitude, but our support, as well.
Canadians can learn from Quilliam's experience. It is a cutting edge, media savvy, and accessible public policy think tank. It's run by practicing British Muslims who advocate on behalf of the Muslim mainstream and stand up against radical fringe elements within their communities. Their goal is to build an anti-terrorism Muslim civil society in Britain. They do that by speaking out and responding to radical Islamists and organizing public roundtables and conferences. They galvanize public debate in the UK by writing columns and addressing the media, organizing speaking engagements, and delivering presentations to think tanks, NGOs, and government departments. Last March, they proactively supported the launch of an anti-terrorism fatwa by prominent Shaikh Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri in London, in which he asserts that "suicide bombers would go to hell." They've launched a counter-radicalization campaign tailored for British university students and offer a Radicalization Awareness Program for British public sector workers. They run outreach programs with local schools, mosques, and community centers and began, in 2009, teaming up with Pakistani NGOs, universities, and civil society actors to counter extremism in the region. In Britain, Quilliam briefs policy makers, addresses radicalization in British prisons, and has sought to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations. Finally, it publishing in-depth, exceptionally accessible, and free reports on a variety of subjects, including these three must-reads: A Brief history of Islamism (which introduces readers to the history and various strains of Islamist thought); Re-programming British Muslims (which evaluates and criticises Britain's "Islam Channel" for promoting rather than denouncing radical Islamism); and Unlocking al-Qaeda: Islamist Extremism in British Prisons (which addresses the phenomenon of radicalization and terrorist recruitment of Britain's prison population).
Basically, Quilliam gets right up into the Islamist's face, on a daily basis and on every conceivable topic. They've not backed down and they're making headway. This is exactly how we're going to win the "war of ideas" with al Qaeda, its regional franchises, and local Western aspirants.