Maajid Nawaz, the director of the London-based Quilliam Foundation, has a superb article in the Observer about his recent return to Pakistan to campaign against Islamism. There are a lot of ironies here — ten years ago, Nawaz, then a radical Islamist, was on his way to Pakistan to spread Hizbut Tahrir’s message in Lahore and prepare the way for the coming of a nuclear-armed Islamic caliphate.
And he wasn’t alone. We tend to think of Pakistan as a source of radicalism and terrorism. Well, it is. But pipelines can and do flow in both directions. So Pakistan’s not just a source of terror. It’s also a target. And furthermore, it’s a lot easier to get to a third country coming from Britain, and with a British passport, than it is to go direct from Karachi. So this new “British disease” has spread around the world. As Nawaz notes chillingly:
British members of HT also played crucial roles in exporting their group to Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya, Mauritius, India, Egypt and Denmark, among others. I know because in each case I know the people ho did it.
It’s easy to find parts of Nawaz’s message — and, indeed, the entire Quilliam Foundation campaign — that still raise an eyebrow or three. But some of the West’s most effective early campaigners against Communism — George Orwell and Arthur Koestler, most obviously — were defectors from the cause of the left, and all the more powerful as a result, not simply because they knew what they were talking about, but because they shattered the myth of Communism as a monolithic, impenetrable block. Nawaz has much the same merit.
Of course, fragmentation cuts both ways: the most frightening and important part of Nawaz’s article is not his dissection of Britain’s role in promoting Islamic terrorism, but his discussion of the conspiracy theories and the social, cultural, religious, and ethnic strains that have prevented Pakistan from coming together, and are now pulling it apart. Nawaz did his bit to make that happen, and to spread the virus around the world. It’s a pity that, for some of the victims, and perhaps for Pakistan itself, Nawaz’s tour — with all its obvious and commendable bravery — is coming too late.