Countering Extremism. Interview with former terrorist leader

Belgian journalist Andy Carling interviews Maajid Nawaz, founder of the Quilliam Foundation, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank.” Nawaz founded an extremist group and spent four years in prison before renouncing terrorism.

You were previously an extremist, what was the appeal? It’s claimed that poverty is part of the motivation.

It’s not necessarily poverty, but it it can play a role. There are push and pull factors. The push factors include poverty, lack of education etc, but this is not enough. There are more poor or uneducated people in the world than there are extremists. Push factors are only part of the equation. It’s disingenuous to focus on the grievances and to think that by fixing grievances around the world we will somehow eradicate extremism because we have to recognise the pull factors. They are the ideology. This catches people’s anger, freezes it and re-frames it and institutes the mind to reorganise those grievances through an ideological framework and henceforth everything becomes about how to further the ideology and interpret things through the lens of the ideology.

The growing euroskeptic movement is growing more extreme and the current parliament has some people with quite disturbing backgrounds, including the BNP

Of course. In the UK we’re worried about this as we have the rise of two polarisations. We have Islamic extremism on one hand and far-right extremism on the other and these are two sides of the same coin and they feed each other.


  1. This is absolutely brilliant! Not only does he understand that enemies need each other, but he has introduced push-pull factors into the equation. What he says can be applied not only to conflicts around the globe, but to our increasingly polarized society right here at home.

    Want to end conflict? First we have to understand what it is really about. Logical refutations will get you nowhere, because it’s never about the public issues.

    • Maybe you should contact the foundation. You’re absolutely working the same ground and they might find your Sri Lanka experience invaluable.

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