Maajid Nawaz at Oslo Freedom Forum

Notes and Quotes from Maajid Nawaz at Oslo Freedom Forum:


  • #Islamism is the desire to impose any version of Islam over society. (distinct from Islam, the faith.)
  • #Jihadism: The use of force to spread Islamism
  • There is a misdiagnosis about what we are dealing with. Today, we are dealing with it like an organized crime gang: take out the leader and deal with the gang.
  • We cannot kill/shoot/legislate our way out of this problem.
  • You cannot kill an idea. (Killing Osama bin Laden did no more to kill jihadism than killing Malala did to kill her ideas.)'s not new and has support within the communities

  • How on earth is it possible that 6000 born-and-raised European citizens go to join the worst terrorist group that history has ever known if not for the fact that there was level of support within the communities for this ideology?
  • This ideology has been propagated for decades in Europe.

...and we have to give ourselves permission to talk about it, even though we fear being labeled bigots

  • The solution is to give people permission to have this conversation. (The danger lies in not wanting to appear as an anti-Muslim bigot, or a racist, or an Islamophobe.)
  • The alternative to talking is violence and conflict as we have seen for the last decade and longer.

...we can challenge intolerable acts whomever we think we are, and we don't need to be Islamic scholars to do so

  • You do not need to be black to challenge racism
  • You don't have to be gay to challenge homophobia
  • So none of you should be told that you cannot condemn stoning a woman to death or throwing gays off of tall buildings or chopping off body parts.
  • You don't need to know anything about the Quran... nor the Hadith to condemn stoning a woman to death

...and now that we are free to talk about this, here are some things we need to come up with:

  • Let's work together to build these 5 things that the civil society needs to push back against this theocratic ideology: Ideas, Narratives, Symbols, Leaders, A Goal. (The violent jihadists have all of these.)


Here's how to talk about Islamist extremism without invading countries or pretending it doesn't exist, freestyled in 10 mins at the Oslo Freedom Forum

#Solidarity #Tyranny

Tyranny: "cruel and oppressive government or rule."


"cruel and oppressive government or rule."

The opposite of a "Live and Let Live" philosophy is one of tyranny. Tyrants rarely include "tyrant" in their self-conception. They think they are doing good by changing the world according to some ideal. But neither "the greater good" nor some idea of "the will of God" transforms tyranny into liberty. Oppression can never be individual freedom.

When we consider the maxim that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", we should remember that both of the justifications itemized above are often used to force others to behave in certain ways. Entire countries have become enslaved by regimes expounding these exact justifications.

Organized religion tends toward tyranny unless specific effort is made to banish it. (Incidentally, this is true of organized government). You can see the difference between the ones that make the effort and the ones that do not. Consider the stark difference of modern day Buddhism as compared to the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages.

Political Islam, also known as Islamism, makes no effort to banish tyranny. Neither does certain variants of American Christianity. They are the forward deployments of the forces of tyranny.

They deserve our rebuke and our material opposition. These are the enemies of liberty until they work to banish every vestige of Tyranny from their ethos.

s/Islam Is (No){0,1} Religion of Peace/Stop Arguing About What Islam Is/

If you've read my thoughts on the meaninglessness of labels such as ‪#‎Islam‬, you can see through the fog of war: Islam isn't one big monolithic thing and to say "Islam means Peace" is a meaningless subterfuge about nothing in particular.

Because of my unusual ideas about labels, I find a title such as Gay Muslim: Islam Is No Religion of Peace to be guilty of inviting the wrong kind of conversation. The article is a good read, by the way. More reinforcement that Islam is a manifold of subcultures trying to find their way in the world. But the gay subculture stands in stark contrast to outsider notions of how conservative the religion looks on average.

The article also reinforces this: Ideas Kill. Not directly, but by the people who act because they are emboldened by them. Self-loathing and mortal sin, combined with a few carefully placed notions of what it takes to achieve redemption seems to be particularly deadly in consequence.

It still comes down to this for me. If I view adoption of some dangerous ideas as a problem inherent with Islam, I feel like there's some panel I have to take it to for approval. I have no standing to challenge Islam nor any standing to ask Muslims to reject things they consider their identity. No way in. Access denied.

But I don't view it like that. My view is that there are bad ideas in the Muslim zeitgeist and some that have demonstrably bad outcomes. And we don't have to ask people to reject their identities to challenge some of their notions. Identities can be revised and refined and essentialized. If enough people who call themselves Muslims reject an idea, value, or custom, then the definition of muslim changes. End of story.

Now... If we as non-Muslims are moved to try to take down the bad ideas, "Us. Vs. Them" isn't going to work.

How do we influence the other whom we hold in judgment?

Answer: We don't even try. Judgment is final.

But, say instead... I view my brother as mistaken: overtaken by a bad idea that he is acting to perpetuate and spread... do I then see an opportunity to share a different way of seeing things? Possibilities abound.


Sects and Violence — Francis Luong

Gay Muslim: Islam Is No Religion of Peace - The Daily Beast

Sects and Violence

I want to talk today about what "Islam" means. I am not a muslim and I am a complete outsider. I see danger in some ideas associated with Islam and beauty in some of the ideas. I see people saying Islam is peace. And I see mobs and violence associated with it. And so I think it's long overdue to ask whether we are all referring to the same thing when we refer to "Islam".

From what I can see, Islam means peace to most Muslims I know. And to some Muslims, it means violence visited upon other people for various different reasons: some political, some moral, always opportunistic, and always justified by some grandiose vision (a story). And the latter part is a bit sticky since the spectacle and tragedy creates a more vivid impression in the mind than the many Muslim neighbors we know and work with.

Let's Talk About Sects, Baby

Let me tell you about a trick of the human mind. It is a tendency for non-Muslims to think about Islam as one enormous monolith with complete homogeneity of belief and action. But Muslims are 1.6 Billion+ in number. And the idea of one great Islam doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Every religious or philosophical movement has within it a manifold of sects. People just can't seem to agree on things. Take any belief system and you can break it down to subgroups based on the disagreements.

To provide specific examples, I have collected here an accounting of the major religions I could think of and their sub-sects scraped from Wikipedia:

  • Chrisitanity: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical,...
  • Judaism: Rabinnic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic,...
  • Hinduism: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, Smartism,...
  • Buddhism: Therevada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen,...

And as for Islam? Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi, Wahhabi,...

There are no incidents of complete uniform belief within any belief system. Humans are messy, sloppy creatures subject to entropy. Our brains are meat-machines driven by huge variations in chemistry. Fuzzy logic? check. Non-logical leaps? check. Context-dropping? check. Mistakes of thinking? check. Hormone-driven teenagers? check.

You know why clear thinking is beautiful when you hear it? Because it is rare. Reason is slow and requires discipline and it is always impressive to hear an idea that is simple and clear and true.

Aside: Beware of Mob Think

There is a sort of situation worth mentioning where uniformity does arise... where an idea can become so loud that it drowns out other ideas. When human beings are in a mob driven by fear and anger whipped into a frenzy, we have shown ourselves to be capable of frighteningly uniform non-thinking. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind. Nazi Germany comes to mind.

People are capable of their ugliest actions when they blindly react rather than stepping back and thinking about things rationally, and acting accordingly. And, in the case of Rwanda and Nazi Germany, both resulted in the creation of cultures that slaughtered unimaginable numbers.

Labels Fail Us

Back to the main point. The labels: Islam. Muslim.

There is a visual that Sam Harris mentioned in his chat with Neil Tyson about what a Christian imagines when they find out that a person can be painted with the term "Atheist":

they think they know a lot about you based on your admission that you are an atheist... It's almost like you're in a debate with someone and they draw the police crime scene outline of a dead body on the sidewalk and you just walk up and lie down in it... that you just conform perfectly to their expectations of how clueless you must be of their context.

Don't we do this with "Islam"... just a little? We imagine Islam as one thing. We imagine Muslims as one people who conform perfectly to some expectation.

The labels fail Muslims and the labels fail non-Muslims alike. The labels expose non-Muslims to the mistake of thinking in "Us vs. Them" terms with Muslims as the other. And the labels expose Muslims to taking a defensive posture where "We are under attack" by an unjust world who will not accept them. The labels expose Muslims to having their fear and frustrations manipulated.

But these are just stories and they are divisive ones. These are the ones that deliver us into the hands of Neo-fascists. And we don't want those hands anywhere near us so it's time to abandon these stories, which divide us.


Beyond Us Vs. Them

We need some new narratives to give us hope and something to strive for.

Instead of Us vs. Them... What if we just thought of this whole mess as a bunch of people with a bunch of mixed-up ideas and some of them are poison?

Rather than considering Islam as one set of ideas interpretable only one way, we can remember that ideas are subject to fashion trends. They are subject to trending upward or downward at any given point in time.

Here are ideas I would love to see trend upward:

  • Non-Muslims reflect and realize that Muslims are our neighbors and friends and co-workers. Most of them want to live their lives and raise their families. We act accordingly. We love our neighbors.
  • The world notices that Muslims have their versions of Goebbels and Hitler. And the world will need to put these tyrants down in exactly the same way: total war ending in unconditional surrender. This is the only way to defeat evil that has decided to wage war: Force met with overwhelming force.
  • Muslims embrace freedom of speech and dissent by all, especially other Muslims, and Non-Muslims unilaterally choose to stop disrespecting Muhammad because it's nearly always a gimmicky cheap shot that is not doing anybody any good.
  • Muslims come out in support of liberal values. We will support and encourage these people because they have right on their side. Further, we work to encourage the conservatives among Muslims to respect the rights of all human beings alike (male, female, gay, straight), just as we do with non-Muslim conservatives. Live and let live becomes the universal norm.
  • "Islam means peace" becomes a statement of intention... a movement and a mantra owned by Muslims: they are defiant, vocal, and visible movement of the majority.
  • Secularism: All people of all religions work to keep their religions separate from the state. There are no state religions. Just respect and protection of rights for all beliefs and creeds.

The only way we can do this is to see the bigger "Us". We, as humans, need to see Universal principles describing fundamental rights. In other words: the conditions under which we are able to live with one another.

We don't need to be innovators who must define fundamental rights for the first time. We have the shoulders of giants to stand on. But as I said, ideas are subject to fashion and we do have to keep these ideas trending upward. It's constant upkeep... yes. There is no magic bullet to make humans respect rights for all time.

But it's good work if you can get it. And as always... Discipline Equals Freedom.

Islamism and Donald Trump: How to Shine a Turd -- From The Email Files

The following is from an e-mail I wrote this morning to a long-time friend of mine who was lamenting about the way Muslims are covered by media.  I find my friend very easy to talk to and the words flowed very easily so I thought I'd capture what I said on my blog.

I imagine your level of frustration is very high with the media.  As is mine.  I barely consume any news these days.  I scan headlines though so I can tell you that David Bowie and Alan Rickman died this week.  But that's about it.  
My tendency these days is toward long-form content by people who are intellectually honest, like the Dan Carlin episode I tweeted at you.  Yes, these people have a much smaller audience than Fox News, but their impact is much deeper I think.
As for the response to Muslims in the media, I agree that the response is utter hyperbole.  
I have to view Donald Trump as a symptom of the problem more than a prime mover of it.  Ayn Rand, for all of the ways you can disagree with her, once said that Politics is the last branch of philosophy and politicians are the people who "cash in" on the ideas that are already present in a society.  They don't as much move the ideas.
What is the root cause?
I have recently arrived at a conviction that people are hungry for an honest conversation about Islamism.  I have come to view Islamism as fundamentally no different than Communism or Fascism, all of which carry out actions to impose a totalitarian (all-or-nothing) political system upon others.  Some people are willing to carry out actions which harm others, and some are merely reformers with strong beliefs, and some are people who just "vote their conscience".
But there is one non-fundamental respect in which Islamism differs from Communism and Fascism.  People are worried about being racist or anti-religion if they criticize it.  And people definitely get smeared for valid criticism.  The result is that the level of intellectual honesty out there is low and the level bullying is fucking unbelievable.  (see also: which makes the case and presents evidence that the account @xtc_uk seems to be a smear account run by some douchebag named @MoAnsar).
So the well-meaning and intelligent people like you and me tend to be largely silent about it until something big happens in the news.
The intellectually honest conversations about what happens to individual rights under islamist policy are hard to find.  Instead there is a lot of hot air.  On the right you have the real bigots and xenophobes making noises that indicate a general disregard for anyone's rights.  And on the left, you have the reverse racism of low expectations, which, ironically supports conservative views provided that they are part of some "authentic" culture.  (A view I acquired from Maajid Nawaz's argumentation).  These people all resort to smears and bullying.
It is this vacuum which makes it possible for a tool like Donald Trump to say stupid racist shit and to come out of it seeming more honest and shiny than the rest of the yahoos on stage.  It's only by contrast that this effect occurs.  When measured on an absolute scale, he's utterly inflammatory and will have no regard for our institutions if elected President.
You may have noticed that I am somewhat vocal lately myself on Islamism.  I hope that I am not making an ass of myself.  But I am trying to make a practice of talking about hard things and sharing along the intellectually honest bits of conversation.
I think conversations of cultural change within a community are hard to have even without pressure from the outside because identity issues come into play and there's always the question of whether you are abandoning something fundamental.  Well... There are people that simply don't want any debate to happen and some of them are the bullies I referred to who do their best to smear and shout down anyone who criticizes and calls for change.
I'm acting on this premise:  What if we could influence that just a little?  If non-muslims in the west could stop their part of the smearing and shouting down... perhaps the debate could ensue among Muslims, and the loud and influential regressives in Islam could see their influence diminished.  And that might be enough for me to feel just a bit better about the direction that the world is heading.
I got on a bit of a tear there.  Hope you found it interesting.