In all my years reporting on British Muslims I’ve never come across a Muslim organisation which is more reviled by all strands of the community than the Quilliam Foundation, with the possible exception of al Muhajiroun, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Put ten British Muslims in a room together and you’ll get ten different opinions, that’s what happens when a community is comprised of so many sects and political inclinations. And therefore, every group seems to have its fair share of supporters and haters.
But the Quilliam Foundation has achieved something rare in British Muslim circles – it has united Muslims in condemnation and disdain.
If it had been any other Muslim organisation that had brought Tommy Robinson in from the cold yesterday perhaps the Muslim reaction to the EDL leader’s defection might have been less harsh. But because it was Quilliam everyone went on a mocking rampage.
“From one extreme to another,” yelled some; “QF is making Islamophobia mainstream,” shouted others. And my personal favourite from a Facebook post: “EDL and QF: Two cheeks of the same arse.”
Founded in 2007, Quilliam styles itself as a Muslim counter extremism think-tank with the explicit goal of removing the “poison of Islamism” from British Muslim discourse and promoting a peaceful, spiritual form of Islam which is at ease with the modern western world.
It was fronted by two “ex extremists” and Hizb ut Tahrir activists Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz but initially struggled to make any impact because of a lack of funding.
But the pair soon spotted an opportunity to secure government backing because the state was looking for a “Muslim partner” that would deflect attention from its wars abroad and their role in fomenting growing British Muslim radicalisation. Instead the government wanted a credible partner to put the focus on the Muslim community itself. Quilliam obliged.
In the following years QF pocketed around a million quid a year, Husain and Nawaz paid themselves handsome salaries, expanded the organisation and were a regular feature of BBC studios and right-wing newspaper columns.
During their heyday they managed to annoy virtually every strand of British Muslim opinion from the salafis to the ikhwaanis and other Islamists, but also the Sufis and the apolitical.
They did this by attacking virtually every active Muslim group and harping on relentlessly about Muslim extremism, while ignoring or minimizing the impact of British foreign policy. And they did this while pocketing a hefty cheque from the British government while implausibly claiming to be maintaining a distance from it.
But by 2010 the British government funding had dried up because of the necessities of economic austerity but also, I suspect, because Downing St realised that Quilliam’s message wasn’t gaining traction with Muslims (and especially those vulnerable to radicalisation) and its impact on the ground was zero or minimal.
So with the dosh no longer readily available Ed Husain buggered off to the right-wing Council of Foreign Relations in America and Quilliam had to cut back on its staff and projects.
Meanwhile, Maajid Nawaz had time to pen a rather naff and vain autobiography and has announced he will stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate at the next general election.
Yet Quilliam soldiered on, with less media attention and less obvious fanfare, but with the occasional blitz of publicity like yesterday’s fun-and-games with Tommy Robinson. It’s no longer the constant, offensive in-your-face presence it once was, but it’s still occasionally bloody annoying.
So why did Quilliam fail?
Firstly, Muslims don’t like seeing other Muslims going on national TV and the right-wing media constantly criticising their own while sucking up to the establishment. Even Muslims (like myself) who believe it’s necessary for us to look in the mirror quickly get turned off with relentless self-hating.
Secondly, the facts that Quilliam had no grassroots support, were hardly seen at community events (probably for their own protection), and were artificially created and amplified by government finances made them transparent frauds in the eyes of the community.
Thirdly, they probably annoyed a lot of “sell-out” Muslim organisations who were also after government money but couldn’t get it because Quilliam had cornered the market.
In many ways this was a shame because the Muslim community is getting more radicalised and insular as the years pass by and its relationship with the British state is getting more problematic.
And there is a need for an organisation which has roots in the community, is loyal to it, is critical of the government and Islamophbia, yet also still seeks to address the real problems that exist in the community itself.
But Quilliam – which is unrepresentative, disloyal and compromised by government finances – certainly ain’t that organisation.
So I found myself watching the “Tommy and Maajid” show yesterday with a permanent ironic smile.
Here were two people who were theoretically polar opposites but who in reality are basically the same – extremists posing as moderates who should be given a medal by the Queen for services to Islamophobia.
But you know what, I think I prefer Tommy Robinson’s blatant, ignorant retarded form of Islamophobia to Maajid Nawaz’s subtle, suave and sophisticated version.