Maajid Nawaz, 2018 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award
UN Watch Gala Dinner, Geneva, Switzerland, May 7, 2018
Thank you very much. I just wanted to thank UN Watch and Hillel, in particular. And also Ambassador Alfred Moses for the lovely lunch he bought me this afternoon. It was a pleasure to lunch with you and to meet you and to get to know you as well.
I don’t have much time to thank you all, but it’s an absolute honor to be here. I will very briefly summarize how somebody caught up in the war on terror, imprisoned in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, and sentenced to five years in jail ends up receiving, in a rather unlikely turn of events, this award, this evening.
I was born and raised, and I’m very proud of the fact, and my regular listeners on my LBC radio show will know, I am very proud of the fact that I was born and raised in Essex. Essex for those of you who know in the United States of America, Essex is a bit like our Jersey, and it doesn’t often get the credit it deserves.
Being born and raised in that area, I faced a lot of very severe violent racism. From an organization known as “Combat 18,” a far-right Neo-Nazi, paramilitary organization, that made it their business to hound people who looked like me through our streets, and attack us using hammers, and machetes, and knives, and screwdrivers.
And so on more than one occasion at the young age of fourteen to fifteen years old, I had to witness more than one friend of mine either stabbed or hit with a hammer or with a machete or with a screwdriver, because of the color of his skin. Or even worse, something that riddled me with guilt, a young white friend of mine being subjected to the same treatment for being considered a race trader for having the audacity to befriend people that look like me.
Now during those early days while that was happening, of course, the genocide was unfolding in Bosnia against people that were white, that did have blue eyes and blonde hair, but they were Muslim. And the combination of that genocide in Bosnia, and the treatment that I received at home from the Neo-Nazis, as well as from the police, and the severe discrimination that we suffered growing up, in what I call the bad old days of racism in the United Kingdom. It’s not like that anymore, thankfully. But this is before the landmark case of Stephen Lawrence, before the murder, in fact, the historically significant murder of Stephen Lawrence. We were all facing police harassment as well.
The combination of all of those incidents and examples, led me as a willing recipient into the arms of an organization that was seeking to recruit, in those days across Europe, to popularize the notion of resurrecting a Caliphate. This organization is called Hizb ut-Tahrir, it was interestingly founded in Jerusalem in 1953. And is the first, and remains globally active, the first organization to popularize among Muslims the fact that we must make it our business to resurrect an Islamic State or a Caliphate in Muslim-majority countries in this world, and then from there, using Jihad, spread it to the rest of the world.
I joined this organization at sixteen. Its modus operandi to come to power isn’t like Al Qaeda or ISIS, after them through terrorist activities, but rather through infiltrating the militaries of Muslim-majority governments and inciting military coups.
So I joined at sixteen and very quickly ascended through their ranks. I ended up in Pakistan in 1999 when that country tested its nuclear bomb. Because my organization said to me “That if we are to resurrect a Caliphate then what better place to start than in a country that already has the atomic bomb, so go to Pakistan and help recruit both people from the society, but also from the army for our cause.”
Which I did, I left my degree in SOAS in London, and I went to Pakistan. I was one of the first British Pakistanis there to recruit for this organization, and subsequently, there have been about three or four coup attempts by my former organization in Pakistan, and some of the army officers involved in those remain in jail, to my knowledge, till this day.
Nevertheless, after I succeeded in doing what I needed to do there, I moved back to the United Kingdom to finish my degree, which at the time was in Law and Arabic, as I said at SOAS. And it was that degree that took me to Egypt.
Ostensibly for the third year of my degree, the Arabic language gap year. I traveled to Alexandria, I enrolled in the University of Alexandria, in their language college, and began to study Arabic, but at the same time as was my want, I continued while I was in Alexandria to try and recruit to the message of Hizb ut-Tahrir and encourage them to join us so that we could work to establishing a Caliphate in Egypt.
Now, what I didn’t know, is that I arrived in Egypt one day before the 9/11 attacks, and of course, the 9/11 events changed the global security climate everywhere. The Egyptian authorities soon got wind of my activities in Alexandria, and probably with some intelligence cooperation and sharing, understood who I was and knew that I had been to Pakistan, and on the first of March 2002, they raided my home in Alexandria. Took my baby boy who was one at the time from my arms, blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back with rags, and then took me to Egypt into their dungeons in the headquarters of the state security in Egypt, in a building known as Al Gihaz.
There were two buildings, that if you were a political activist or even an Islamist in Egypt, that would make you shudder just upon hearing their names. One was La sogli, which was run by their foreign military intelligence, and the other was Al Gihaz, which roughly translates to “The Apparatus,” which was run by their internal security services. Because everyone who went through those buildings was tortured, systematically without mercy.
And so on the second day of me being held blindfolded in their dungeons, the electrocution began of all of the detainees. There were hundreds of Egyptians in these dungeons held in the building of Al Gihaz, all of them suspected for being affiliated to the organization that I was a member of.
They began electrocuting people on various body parts, I’m sorry if some of you are eating, but we were forced to listen to them as they were tortured. And they numbered everybody from number one in ascending order into their hundreds, and I remember to this day because of course how could I forget, my number was forty-two.
And so as the roll call began, I would have to hear 41 people tortured before my turn and my number was called, and then I was expected to walk to my own interrogation and face my torturer.
Now through an act of God or a miracle, or whichever word you wish to use, I wasn’t electrocuted. Instead, it’s not too much solace, they electrocuted somebody else in front of me, and then they took me to solitary confinement, but on that fourth day the British Embassy intervened, and we were, those who were British citizens, removed from those torture dungeons, and instead put into a prison known as Mazrah Tora, where I was held for roughly four months in solitary confinement with fifteen minutes a day for a toilet break.
Eventually to cut a rather long story short, you can read about it, it’s the subject of many interviews but also a book called “Radical,” but eventually, I was sentenced to five years in jail. And my turn around, and my own internal de-radicalization and reform towards the man you see standing here before you today, was a result of two factors.
One was that it was for the first time in my life at this age of 24 years old I was, that people I defined as my enemy, people involved in Human Rights activism, an organization you would have heard of, known as Amnesty International, adopted me as a prisoner of conscience.
And the second factor involved in my own change was that I began to study and debate with the “who’s who” of the Jihadist leadership inside this Egyptian prison. And a bit like Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” I came to realize that if these people ever came to power, they would be far worse than the Arab dictators that have put us in this jail.
So upon my release from Egypt, when I completed my full sentence, I came back to the UK and found Quilliam as an organization set up to challenge extremism and make sure no young 16-year-old Muslim, went through the same journey I did and had to go through all of those experiences to realize that problem.
But little did I know, that upon attempting to challenge extremism, I was expecting resistance from the Islamists, and I was expecting resistance from far-right extremists who have always hated me and people like me and our presence in the west. But little did I know that Europe would soon face what I have come to call a triple threat. That triple threat, I define as the extremes, not just of the far right of the political spectrum and not just the Islamists from the heavens above, but the far left of the political spectrum. And these extremists on the far left, made it their business to undermine my work, to undermine my credibility, and to engage in character assassinations of my counter extremism work.
That was an attack from a direction that I wasn’t expecting because they are meant to be on the side of human rights, they are meant to be on the side of minorities, and they are meant to be those who stand for the universality of human rights.
Some of you may be confused if this is the first time you are hearing this. How can left-wing activists be undermining counter-extremism work? Well, and I’ll end here, it’s easy to detect. Because though every sentence they utter, and every step they take has its own internal logic, is justified by their own rhetoric, and makes sense when they say it in every single example, the conclusions they come to at the end, are glaring and cause a huge cognitive dissonance. So you look at the conclusions and I’m going to give you three examples.
Standing before you here is a man who was prepared to die for his belief, his cause, and his religion. Who was prepared to face a torturer and say no, because I believed in my religion so much. And yet, those activists have listed this man who stands here before you today, as an anti-Muslim extremist, for daring to challenge the extremism within my own communities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, up until now that has a historical significance and glorious track record, took it upon themselves, to list myself and my dear friend Ayon Hersiali, who campaigns against female genital mutilation, both of us having survived through our communities and challenging our communities to face our own bigotry, they have listed us as anti-Muslim extremists. Now if that’s not jarring, if that doesn’t stir you to think something’s going wrong here with the thought process, then nothing will. And the point is, that every step of the justification may make sense internally in their own minds, but I’m beseeching you to look to the conclusions because a huge cognitive dissonance has emerged.
The second example is of the example you saw on your screens thereof Raif Badawi. How on earth could Saudi Arabia have been elected to the Human Rights Council in the United Nations while they are literally as we speak, lashing and flogging people for writing blogs. So it’s the conclusions you should look at to identify, where the far left have infiltrated our institutions, and they result in absurd results.
And the third I’d like to bring your attention to is I suspect, what brought my attention to Hillel here. And that is that this man you just heard speak, was boycotted, no-platformed, and that his character maligned in the United Kingdom, by the same organization that adopted me as a prisoner of conscience, Amnesty International.
They boycotted UN Watch, they boycotted Hillel, and they refused him the possibility of the chance to speak in my own country. That enraged me because I’ve been through the same thing. If organizations like Amnesty International can no longer tell the difference between Human Rights Activists and Anti-Semites, then something has gone wrong with the discourse on the left of our political spectrum. Something has gone terribly wrong. And the problem here is that the extremism on the far left can be even more sinister than the far right extremists, that we have become accustomed to recognizing and running from because they’re attacking us with machetes, and knives, and screwdrivers, and hammers.
And the reason is because a long march through the institutions is far easier to accomplish when done in the name of human rights, respect for diversity, and a championing of minorities. And that is why those on the far left of the extreme, have managed to overtake our Human Rights organizations, whether they are Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, from within. That’s why they sit in councils in the United Nations, that’s why her Majesty’s opposition in the United Kingdom, a country I love and that I was born in, has been hijacked by far-left extremists. And the official opposition party in the United Kingdom has a huge problem with anti-Semitism.
And that is why the far-left extremists are far more sinister because they operate in plain sight in the name of human rights and that is why somebody like myself here at UN Watch, somebody like Hillel, all of you, must call them out wherever we see them. Thank you very much.