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PART 1: Maajid Nawaz: The Levers of Ideological Warfare—From Islamist Extremism to Covidian Dogma

“I was anti-democracy. I was an Islamist revolutionary that wanted to establish a caliphate. And I was imprisoned in Egypt and sentenced to five years … because I was attempting to overthrow the Egyptian government.”

A former Islamist revolutionary, Maajid Nawaz would later become a leading anti-extremism activist, founding the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam.

In this two-part episode, Maajid Nawaz explains how he radicalized other young Muslims, and why he became a vocal critic of COVID-19 mandates and lockdown policies.You can watch part two here.

“What I saw in COVID mandates were exactly the mindset that I was opposing when it came to opposing Islamist theocracy, that authoritarian mindset … The psychology behind it and the levers behind it are identical.”


Jan Jekielek: Maajid Nawaz, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Maajid Nawaz: Thank you for having me. I’ve always wanted to come and sit here with you. We’ve been speaking for a while. I’m glad it finally happened.

Mr. Jekielek: Same here. Not too recently, you were on the Rogan podcast and you said something that really captured my attention, and inspired the theme for what we want to talk about today. I’m going to read it briefly. “When there’s no such thing as truth, you can’t define reality. And when you can’t define reality, the only thing that matters is power.” How does this work?

Mr. Nawaz: Well, I’m glad you began with that quote, Jan. I think that’s the heart of the problem of modern ideological warfare that we find ourselves in. So let me be very clear. I do believe we, as citizens of open democratic societies, are in a war. 

But what people understand by the term war isn’t necessarily the traditional meaning that people would ascribe to it. When I say we’re in a war, I don’t mean you and I are right now in the trenches shooting guns, though the word “hybrid warfare” would cover that aspect too.

But the element of that hybrid war that we are in is the ideological element. It’s an ideological warfare that we are involved in against ourwe didn’t choose to be. It’s been imposed upon us. Call it ideological warfare, call it information warfare. 

It’s a war over narrative, and the reason is because I believe whoever gets to define narratives around world events, gets to define how those world events are perceived, and therefore how we respond to them. And this is what I meant by the quote that you’ve just read there.

If you notice around us, over the last few years in particular, this effort has heated up. There is an almost concerted effort to destroy this idea that there is any way of agreeing upon truth. Now it’s important here to mention that nobody can claim a monopoly on truth. That’s not my intention. That’s why I say we have to seek the truth. It’s the pursuit of truth that matters.

Because if you are a truth seeker, if you are engaged in the business of pursuing truth, you’d be willing to adjust your position as and when the evidence becomes available. If you have succumbed to this concerted effortI believe almost concerted effortthat there’s no such thing as truth. Then there is no point in pursuing truth. 

Everything is relative and is defined by the material circumstances that you find yourselves in and, including you and your personality, is purely a product of society and the conditions you were subjected to as you were raised.

Now, what that means on a philosophical level is there’s no such thing as truth, everything’s relative, and reality around us has been shaped by the circumstances we find ourselves in. But if that’s the case, if you think about it, justice relies—for justice to exist as a concept, for us to pursue justiceit relies on the pursuit of truth.

If you aggressed against me and I seek justice, I need to be able to establish the facts. Which means I need to be able to have some form of commonality or common understanding between us as to how we establish those facts that we and a third party who’s arbitrating between us can arrive at. And then say, yes, Jan aggressed against Maajid; that was an injustice. Let us deliver justice by delivering a verdict that that was an aggression.

Now broaden that example out. If there is no longer any such thing as truth, and everything’s relative, and we have no common basis that we can engage with each other on to define reality, then you don’t have that pursuit of truth to deliver justice. In that instance, how do you get your way? 

Well, if everything’s relative and there’s no grounds to stand upon, the only way you can get your way through is through force. Because there’s no more reason involved, right? And that’s why power becomes the only thing that matters in the absence of the pursuit of truth.

If you notice those people that push relativism heavily through the media narratives, through their educational programs—those who push this ideology of materialism, and that our morality itself is defined only, and purely, and solely by our material conditions, and we are products of that—it’s why they’re so obsessed with attaining power. Because for them, it’s power that is the ultimate aim. 

If they could take power, they could then shape the reality that they find objectionable into their own interests. And it’s why I believe we’re in the middle of this power struggle as we speak. It’s been imposed upon us. It wasn’t our choosing. And that explains the ideological war I believe we’re in.

If you look to any event, we’ve just been through two years of COVID mandates. Look, again, I’ll mention this just so we don’t get distracted. I don’t want anybody to hear me say this and go off on a tangent. I wouldn’t be here with the Capitol behind me if I wasn’t double-jabbed. I have to be to get into America, right? 

This is, for me, not aboutthough, it’s an interesting conversationit’s not about the pros and cons of the vaccines. I’ve had that conversation out of interest, but what matters more to me are mandates.

Now, in the context of mandates, what we’ve just been through in the last two years, you saw how the goal posts kept shifting. And you saw how, one thing we were told yesterday, suddenly the opposite was true today. You can see that now, even post-Omicron. On the back end, hopefully, of COVID, and hopefully it’s in our past now. Let’s see. 

But again, you see how the narrative keeps changing. People that were saying something yesterday are, it’s almost as if they never said it. And now they’re saying the exact opposite, and we’re expected to believe it. The reason is because their objectives were met.

Narratives were deployed during the COVID mandate. Two years of imposing mask mandates, and vaccine mandates, and no jab, no job policies. Narratives were deployed. Science was weaponized to achieve a policy objective. Once the policy objective was met, the resistance to the narrative; people saying, for example, “the science doesn’t support your position,” there was no longer a need to resist those who were correcting the unscientific stance that the officials took because the policy objective had been met.

Just as soon as that was the case, they stopped defending the unscientific. They achieved what they needed to achieve. Whether that was the infrastructure for vaccine passports being set up like in New York. Whether that was a vaccine rollout with, in the UK at least, over 90 percent of adults in the UK having acquired antibodies. Once the aims were met, the narrative was no longer needed.

What we see therefore is whether it’s science, academia, political conversation, geopolitics, journalism, what were traditional disciplines and professions that relied on their own set of standards in the pursuit of truth in their own fields, were weaponized to simply achieve political objectives for those in power. 

And that is, I believe, whether it’s on the COVID mandates topic, whether it’s on foreign policy, whether it’s on US domestic left-right shenanigans, that’s what I believe we’re witnessing. We’re witnessing the weaponization of traditional disciplines in the pursuit of power.

Mr. Jekielek: So many things I want to talk about now.

Mr. Nawaz: Take your pick.

Mr. Jekielek: I think I want to start with something a little bit different though. You’ve had a very interesting life path that I think helps you look at all this through a very, I guess, maybe a wise lens. I don’t know if that’s a fair way of describing it.

Mr. Nawaz: Experience. Life experience.

Mr. Jekielek: Life experience. So why don’t you tell me about that from the beginning?

Mr. Nawaz: Well, in fact, the first time. So I was blacklisted from entering the United States of America. The first time I came was to testify at the Senate. I think it was 2007. I was the lead witness in the radicalization hearings at the Senate in 2007, as somebody that had left a Islamist revolutionary organization. The reason I had been blacklisted is I was opposed to all of this. The entire system. I was anti-democracy. 

I was an Islamist revolutionary that were wanted to establish a caliphate. And I was imprisoned in Egypt and sentenced to five years for that ideology because I was attempting to overthrow the Egyptian government. I was sentenced to five years, and then adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience being blacklisted.

When I was invited here to testify at the Senate, they had to, I couldn’t get a visa. So they had to find an exception to get me into the country because they needed to hear from me. At the time, in those days, I was the only one willing to speak about these ideological debates from the Islamist side. So they found this loophole to get me in. It was a visa that’s called a parole visa. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this thing.

Imagine you’re working in the federal government, and you’re in crime, and prosecutions for criminal offenses. And you have a mafia boss that you need to bring into the country from Italy, but that mafia boss has already been convicted of crimes, and therefore can’t get into the US through traditional means. 

A parole visa, if that person’s in prison, and you need them as an expert witness to testify, allows that person in, but it says what it does on the tin. It’s a parole visa. They are here under parole, and they have to be under 24/7 armed guard as if they’re on parole coming out of a normal prison.

So they got me this parole visa. I entered the United States for the first time to testify there in that building. I was under 24/7 armed guard. I had snipers in the roofs of my hotel room watching out for any attempts. I don’t know if they were protecting America from me or me from America. 

I mean, it’s interesting because the guy that was running the team on behalf of ICEthe Immigration Customs Enforcement—on the last day after the testimony, and as they’re seeing me out, and they were with me, I mean, 24/7. So if this is my hotel room, they were in the room opposite. As he’s seeing me out, and we’re in different days now, but that was the peak of war on terror.

Bush was president. Blair was prime minister. Everything was kicking off. Everyone was really paranoid. On the way out, he said, “You know, when I first met you, Maajid.” His name was, I think it was Brian, actually, if I remember correctly. He’s a lovely guy. 

On the way out, he said to me, “When I first met you,” he said, “I thought we were protecting America from you. After I heard your testimony, I realized we’re actually protecting you from what they might do to you if they hear what you have to say,” the terrorists. So he ended up changing his view a bit. But that’s how I first got into the US.

To cut a long story short, then, in answer to your question, from the age of 16, I’ve been engaged in ideological debates. And have been on the opposite side of this ideological war. Have long attempted to undermine open democratic societies from within by ideological critique. 

But not for the purposes of establishing a caliphate here in the US or in the UK where I was born. But for the purposes of recruiting Muslims who are born and raised in these countries, and doing what I did. Which was then to go to Pakistan, as I did, go to Denmark, go to Egypt, and export this ideology.

I traveled to three countries. I helped to set up the Islamist revolutionary group that I joined in the UK, helped to set it up in Pakistan. Then I helped set up the Danish Pakistani branch, and then in Egypt is where I was eventually detained. I arrived one day before the 9/11 attacks, and a few months after that, because the rules of the game had changed. That’s where I was detained.

Mr. Jekielek: You talk about this so casually, right? I think to people watching, it’s kind of like, what? What were you doing? I mean, how did you get to doing that in the first place?

Mr. Nawaz: There was a lot of heartache and pain. I joined at 16. I had to be looking for an alternative. As a 16-year-old born and raised in the Jersey equivalent of the UK; it’s called Essex. There’s a show called “Jersey Shore.” 

That actually was a rip-off of a show in the UK called “The Only Way is Essex.” Or maybe the other way around, but we have a very similar show because where I’m from in Essex, it’s that kind of community. It’s a working-class area on the outskirts of London close enough to the city. But how does a 16-year-old from there end up on that path? Well, it’s interesting.

The Bosnia genocide, which today I don’t think impacts the current generation in the way we were. Imagine in our continent, in terms of flight time, it’s like we’re here now in DC. You’re flying to California. Imagine, just for the American audience, there’s a genocide against, let’s say, Hispanics, God forbid, in California. And you are here as a Hispanic in DC. And I mean a genocide. I mean, there’s no.

Srebrenica massacre. Six thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys were put in a mass grave. You’re on the east coast, and it’s happening on the west coast. That’s what was happening. I was in the UK and, in Bosnia, a couple of hours flight. I mean, the Olympics had just been held there. Muslims who looked European were being genocided.

So why that mattered for us was because we’re in the UK, ostensibly, and visibly looking non-European and being Muslim. We felt, if they didn’t stand a chance, and that was going to happen to them, what could happen to us here? 

That’s what began the process of Islamist revolutionary groups seeking that opportunity to recruit out young, angry Muslims like me, who felt that we were being attacked on our own continent. And it was true, by the way. The genocide was happening, and also nobody was doing anything about it.

If you look back to the news, you’ll remember Dutch UN peacekeepers were there, but they weren’t allowed to intervene. So the blue helmets were standing, and they were literally observing the Srebrenica genocide because they didn’t have orders to stop it. 

That’s what enraged us. We felt that if we had been there, we could have defended the community, so we had to organize. That was the beginning of that journey of anger. Seeking an alternative paradigm because the current paradigm we felt failed us.

That alternative paradigm was this idea that a caliphate. Now, again, to my 16-year-old mind, that made a lot of sense. How did Islam get to Bosnia in the first place? Oh, the Ottoman Caliphate. Well, that was destroyed after World War I in 1924 so there’s no more protector. 

There’s no more patriarch to protect Muslims in Bosnia. That’s why that happened. Look, the UN didn’t care, the Dutch peacekeepers didn’t care. There was an arms embargo, which meant Bosnians couldn’t arm themselves. Meanwhile, Russia was arming the Serbs. 

We knew all of this. That’s part of the recruitment process. We were given this information, given the news, and we were able to then verify that all of that was true. Of course, it being true doesn’t mean your conclusion is true. And that’s where narrative comes in.

But we arrived at the conclusion that we had to have an Islamist ideological state. We took the word caliphate from traditional Muslim theology, which is a legitimate traditional Muslim concept, but of course we modified it for our ideological purposes. That began the journey of organizing Muslim communities to try andand it was very specific, by the way. We weren’t vague in any way. 

The purpose was organizing ideological hierarchical groups. Very much like a Bolshevik structure and recruit from the armed forces. Recruit Muslims from Muslim majority societies who were serving officers with the purpose of eventually, once we had enough recruits in the armed forces, inciting military coups to take over in those countries, and establish this ideological caliphate. That was what we were seeking to do.

Mr. Jekielek: And then you were imprisoned in Egypt while you were trying to do exactly what you were just saying.

Mr. Nawaz: Spread the group to Egypt from, yes. I had succeeded in helping to co-found this organization in Pakistan. I had then set up the Danish Pakistani chapter. I was 19 years old. By the time I got to Egypt, I would’ve been 21. As I say, one day before the 9/11 attacks. That’s when the rules of the game; if you remember, Tony Blair said the rules of the game changed after 9/11. 

We were acting with impunity because we knew we weren’t directly breaking any laws. The only time it would become illegal is in the minute you are planning the actual military coup; not just spreading the ideas or proselytizing. So we had continued to act with impunity thinking, I’m just proselytizing for this grand idea of a caliphate. But of course in a dictatorship, because as you know that doesn’t matter. 

So Hosni Mubarak, all he needed to know we were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was the name of the group that I subscribed to. My house was raided around 3:00 AM in Alexandria. I had a wife who was also affiliated at the time. I’m no longer with her, and we together had a child and he was one. I remember it was roughly 3:00 AM and I was comforting him. She was asleep and I was taking my turn to try and help him go back to sleep in the middle of the night.

That’s when they busted through. They ripped him from my arms. They basically blindfolded me, tied my hands behind my back with rags, and then put me in this van. Then the journey from there was quite a nightmare, to be honest. You can imagine in their dungeons, in the underground dungeons in a dictatorship, there’s a lot of abuse that happens. And we were subjected to quite horrific treatment until we were eventually sentenced to five years in prison.

The prison was Tora Prison in Cairo. I was held there with a whole array of political prisoners. Like the who’s who of Egypt political opposition across a range of ideological persuasions were all there. From the assassins of the former presidentAnwar Sadat was killed in 1981 by this group called Jihadi Islami, which was the precursor to Al-Qaeda. The assassins of that president were in jail with me. Those who hadn’t been executed, but instead those who had been given life sentences.

Then from that end of the spectrum all the way through to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership through to, on the other end of the spectrum, Egyptian communists, and those accused of being Israeli spies. Those that had converted to Christianity. Those who had converted to Islam from Christianity. 

I mean, we had a running joke in Egypt in prison in those days. Under Hosni Mubarak, if you change your mind from anything to anything, he’d throw you in jail. Because what he wanted of course was the status quo.

Mr. Jekielek: Then you mentionedand I think I know a little bit of the story, but maybe you can reprise this for usthat somehow Amnesty International taking an interest in you started to tweak your thinking, even though in these years of jail, they also did. Because you talked to a lot of different people.

Maajid Nawaz: It was a great education, but you’re correct. Amnesty’s campaign for me was, I think what I’d say, the beginning of my change of heart. What I’ve said in my autobiography “Radical”it’s available in a US edition as wellis that where the heart leads, the mind can follow. 

Up until that point, Amnesty I had considered were to be very precise. A soft power tool of Western colonialism to colonize the minds of Muslim majority societies. Human rights, we believed, had been weaponized and we rejected. Though they are weaponized, human rights, by the way; regularly. 

But that doesn’t mean you reject the principle of civil liberties. We rejected the entire package. So Amnesty for me were ideological foes. Then, here they were, adopting us as prisoners of conscience at the peak of the war on terror after 9/11. That’s what moved me because we knew there was this hybrid war context. There was an actual war going on. Not just the ideological element; 9/11 had happened. There was an actual war going on. 

We were, in that context, on the other side of the war, and yet here was Amnesty saying, actually these guys hate our guts, but they deserve some rights. They don’t deserve to have gone through torture in Egyptian dungeons. And they certainly didn’t deserve to be put in jail just for their ideas. Even if we disagree with their ideas. 

There was no, even by the way, in terms of the charges, there was a suggestion whatsoever of anything other than ideas being propagated. That was the actual charge in Arabic. I’ll quote it for you. I memorized it. [Arabic quote, 21:35]which was what we were formally charged with under the suspended Constitution of Egypt under their emergency law. 

The Constitution prior to the assassination of Sadat did protect belief, but the assassination kicked in, and then they had a state of emergency that lasted way beyond our imprisonment.

By the time of my imprisonment, it was 20 years until the Arab uprisings. By that time, it was 30 years they stayed in that state of emergency that was originally declared in 1981. So we were convicted under a state security [Arabic, 22:09], state security emergency court [Arabic, 22:13]. And the judge and the state prosecutor were members of the security services. 

So we were tried under the security apparatus as a foreign, whatever, assets of whatever they decided we were. The charge in that context was [Arabic, 22:29], the propagation by speech and writing, [Arabic, 22:32], for an organization that is prohibited. The second charge was possession of literature. It’s those two charges that we were given five years for in prison, and that’s what moved Amnesty.

When Amnesty adopted us and began campaigning for our release; not that it worked. We had to serve our full sentence, but it worked on me. It made me feel, hold on, these guys are. They’ve stood on principle, which is what I was doing, right? Imagine. You go through a torture dungeon. And I say this literally. This is not figurative. We went through a torture dungeon. You know what it means to stand on principle, and you appreciate that somebody else who you disagree with stands on principle. 

It’s why I got on with the communist prisoners in Egyptian jail, as well as the jihadi prisoners. Even though we disagreed with communism. We hated communism. I still hate communism as an idea, by the way; not the people. But it’s why I got on with all of these prisoners, because they were making principled stands. That’s what earned my respect and that’s what Amnesty did.

So it softened my heart. It began the process of looking at why they did it. Considering a relational human bond, human-to-human bond, as opposed to an ideological bond. Then I began debating in prison with the who’s who of that political spectrum. Liberal political prisoners, communists, jihadis, Islamists. And I began reading. I just read everything I could get my hands on. 

Over the course of that five years, I was still a student, so I was in that study mode. I hadn’t finished my degree yet in university. So I just read everything I could get my hands on, debated with whoever I could debate with.

One of the most interesting debates I had, actually, was with these Chechen Dagestani friends of mine who were in prison for bomb-making. They had gone from; well, that was what they were convicted for. Let’s not say they did it or didn’t do it. I don’t want to get into trouble with them. I mean, they were charged and convicted for bomb-making. They went from Dagestan through Afghanistan, maybe a bit of Pakistan in the middle, through Egypt. 

They tried to go through the Rafah crossing into Gaza to teach Hamas how to make bombs that they learned from the Taliban in Afghanistan. They got convicted. One of them, 17 years. I had a long debate with this guy, the Dagestani guy, Omar. We’re really good friends.

Because when the 7/7 bombings happened in London, the bombings happened right outside my university, and that made me feel, hold on. I could have been in class when that happened. And do remember, the group I belonged to was a Islamist revolutionary organization, it didn’t believe in terrorism. 

Though we shared the ideology, we didn’t share the methodology of Al-Qaeda. We didn’t believe in blowing things up. And the group until this day, it’s why it remains legal in America, legal in the UK, legal across Europe, legal in Australia, Canada. In any open democratic society, it hadn’t been banned, and still hasn’t because it didn’t subscribe to violence.

So there I was with the same ideology as this guy but with a fundamental disagreement on how to achieve it. Then people he supported blew up two bombs outside my university. One was Tavistock Square, which is one block from my university, and the other was on Russell Square, where SOAS where I studied Arabic and lawthe School of Oriental and African Studies, one of the world’s leading Western colleges for studying the Arabic language. 

There was a bomb on the tube on Russell Square, and on the bus on Tavistock Square. That made me feel sickened because these could have been my classmates, it could have been me. It could have been my family.

So I began this debate with him in prison. It lasted about four days. And this guy was a big; think Chechen, Russian wrestler. Big, stocky guy. Their wrists are like their ankles. Big guys. And it got quite heated at one point. I remember him leaving the cell. He went back. 

The next morning, I was asleep and I had a knock on my cell door, and it was Omar. I opened the thing and he said, “I’ve been sleeping a lot.” He said, “I think you’re right. It was wrong to attack civilians.” What got him in the end was, his justification had been that in democracies, we vote for our leaders, and our leaders invaded Iraq, and therefore we’re culpable. That was the jihadi logic.

If you vote for that leader, like Tony Blair, who was elected four times or whatever it was, and he’s invaded Iraq, you chose that leader so you take responsibility for the consequences of that act of war. The argument I gave him was that Turkey is a member of NATO. 

I said, “Look, does that mean you can go start blowing up Turkish Muslims now as well? Your logic, where does it stop?” It was that, getting into the consequences of his logic, that made him realize that, actually, he was arguing from a pragmatism that could lead to evil.

It was those kinds of debates, and that kind of open conversation, and reading, and discussing with the liberal political prisoners, the communists, those accused of being Israeli spies, to jihadists who had abandoned their violent ideas and had written books about why they had abandoned them. With that kind of softening of the heart that Amnesty caused, and eventually over the course of the five years, led to me no longer being able to subscribe to this ideology. 

I had been 24 years old when I was thrown into the dungeons; 28, 29 when I was released. I often say that it’s when I was released. I never left the group as a prisoner. I didn’t want anyone to think it was because I was in jail. I left as a member, served my full sentence, got back to the UK. It was roughly a year afterwards that I; in fact, it was a week after they asked me to become the leader of the group in the UK.

I knew that I couldn’t sustain it because I no longer believed in the ideology so I unilaterally declared not only my resignation from their leadershipI was sitting on their leadership committeebut also that I could no longer subscribe to the ideology of what I call Islamism. I should probably just in one sentence say what I mean by Islamism. 

Not the religion of Islam. I still am a Muslim. When I say Islamism, I mean the desire to impose one or any version of Islam over society. I don’t mean a Muslim who follows Islam. What we had subscribed to was this desire that we would enforce a version of Islam over society, and that’s what I could no longer justify.

Mr. Jekielek: So a couple of things strike me from everything you just said. One of them is that you were an information warfare specialist. 

Mr. Nawaz: That’s what I was trained to do.

Mr. Jekielek: You were trained to convert people to the cause. I think we have to talk about what you did, how you operated. Because I imagine that you started seeing some of these same things happening in the broader society.

Mr. Nawaz: Yes.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s one piece. And the second piece is somehow you launched yourself on this alternate path that led you to the Capitol in 2007.

Mr. Nawaz: Yes. That part was easy because in the, if you think 2007, there wasn’t anybody that had left the leadership of those groups that had been through the journey I’d been through that was prepared to speak about the dangers of totalitarian thinking. So the invitation to the Senate was people needed to hear that, because it was the peak of the war on terror. 

The hard part wasn’t that. The hard part was leaving in the first place, and having that ability to self-correct, and go through your own thinking process, and work out where you’ve gone wrong and how to correct it. Keep in mind, that alone sounds; okay, he had to go and think through his past mistakes. 

But if you think about peer pressure, if you think about the fact that, if I was captured as I was, my entire realitysocial circles, marriagewas surrounded by people that subscribe to those ideas who would consider that it was heresy and treachery to question that ideology.

So now you are incentivized not to question it. Even if you get as far as saying, “I need to have this conversation,” then there are obstacles because your wife is going to say, “Well, we married and you want to leave this group? Why am I with you then?” So then you have emotional reasons not to question it. That was the really hard part. It was having; because everything fell apart. As I say, the wife I was with, I’m no longer with her. That’s heartbreaking in itself because I don’t blame her. She waited five years for me while I was in Egypt as a loyal, committed wife and also committed to the cause. And I come back, and I’m not the same person anymore.

So the hard part was getting through that fundamental reinvention of self. Then the only thing you have to latch onto, because they recruited me at 16, is the period that you are aware of. From roughly 11 to 15 and a half, to 16 years old. That’s your sense of self before you join that organization. How do you reconstruct yourself from that very brief period? 

Luckily, the teenage years are quite impactful on your psyche, and on your sense of self. The hard part was finding and reinventing my idea of self outside of that organization. That journey, and it has to be a journey, is the pursuit of truth. And it’s a really difficult thing because it comes with a lot of sacrifices.

Mr. Jekielek: Tell me about your arsenal here that you used. I mean, maybe.

Mr. Nawaz: You want some trade secrets.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, I frankly; sometimes when you verbalize these things, you can start seeing them where you didn’t see them before. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to get at. Because this helped you see the picture that you started our conversation with, right? I imagine, greatly.

Mr. Nawaz: The best way I can describe it, because it’s; what I don’t want to is lose people in the conversation. So let me give an analogy that may sound very simple, but actually, genuinely, I think it will help. Think of martial arts. And think of how you use in martial arts, how you use your opponent’s strength against them as a weakness by pivoting on that. A bit like jujitsu, where you’re using your opponent’s weight against them. 

Now, when you come to ideological war, that’s what you have to be able to do on an intellectual battlefield. You have to be able to use the strengths of the arguments of the society you’re attempting to subvert against that society. And that’s what I mean by the weaponization of ideas.

So if you takeone of the things we used to do often in Muslim majority societies, and communities in the West isif you take the idea of, say, democracy, and you want to unpick that, you would look at the various angles, whether they be politicalwhat we’d say, intellectual and scriptural. 

How to break democracy down so that the person you’re speaking to no longer reveres this idea. Because if you want them to work with you for a caliphate, you don’t need them subscribing to some open democratic idea. And so there you then look for world events, news stories that would confirm the idea to weaponize democracy, you want to confirm that it’s not good for that person.

Take the example of democracy, and say, well, you think this is a democratic society. Why was dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt the second largest recipient of US foreign funding after Israel? Now Israel, internally at least, has this kind of idea that it’s a democracy. But Egypt certainly doesn’t even—under Hosni Mubarakdidn’t even pretend to. 

So you’d say, you believe in democracy, but you’re funding these dictators in the Middle East. So do you really believe in democracy or is it only because it’s convenient for you when it suits you? You get into those sorts of conversations to shake the conviction of the person you’re speaking to. To get them to begin believing that, actually, democracy is a convenient tool for colonialism. 

Now you can make that case, actually very easily because there will always be a reality you can point to demonstrate that. I call it half truths in my autobiography “Radical.” The best narrative is the one that doesn’t rely on lies, but rather relies on truth. But then the way in which the truth is packaged serves an ideological agenda. So that’s what you could do very easily with democracy. That would be the political assault.

Then you got the intellectual attack on it, which would be a very different one. Looking at the history, and the kind of origins of the idea, and discussing what does a demos mean and how. Did you know that the slaves didn’t use to be able to vote in Ancient Greece? The people that invented democracy didn’t even believe in it. 

You have these kinds of conversations. What does that mean? Direct democracy? Swiss referendums? What about during the COVID mandates? The majority of people wanted to lock you in your home. Is that democracy? You start having these.

Now, imagine I’m a 16-year-old Muslim having these conversations with another 16-year-old Muslim, and the genocide in Bosnia is happening. You can see how it becomes very easy, if you’ve got that relationship already, to begin influencing that person in the context of a broader genocide going on. 

Then of course the scriptural is eventually, if that would resonate; in the case of a Muslim, it would. To talk about God’s law and how do you know if God says don’t eat pork, even if 99 percent of the people voted that you should eat pork, who’s right? The people? And you’re talking to a Muslim who takes it seriously that you don’t eat pork.

So there were; this is how you weaponize arguments for the purposes of serving an agenda. You have to destroy before you build. So you undermine the belief system that the person already has to a point where they don’t know who they are anymore, and then you package an alternative for them. 

Now that can’t begin; that whole process can’t begin unless there’s a grievance. Now we’re stepping back a bit and we’re seeing; we’re talking of the process of radicalization. It relies on a grievance.

You have to have something that the person is so agitated by, and they want a solution to, to be able to demonstrate that the status quo doesn’t solve the problem you’re trying to fix. Bosnia genocide, classic case in pointthe status quo failed. The UN troops stood by and 6000 Muslims were killed. So now you’ve got a grievance you want a solution to, and the solution isn’t in the democratic set-up, so you need a solution that exists outside of that. And that’s where we brought in the idea of a caliphate.

Now I can adapt that today, and I can talk about any given number of circumstances. But if you look at the COVID mandates, you can see how legitimate grievances, like Bosnia was, like being locked in our homes, I believe a legitimate grievance. A deprivation of our civil liberties. You can see how nefarious actors could use those legitimate grievances to radicalize society.

Now the problem, of course, is that, if you don’t want that to happen, then we have to make sure those grievances are fixed as well. This is where people get; they get a bit too simplistic and they think the problem is the extremist. That’s a very one-dimensional approach. Before Islamist extremism rose in Europe, the problem was the Bosnia genocide.

If people are worried about people becoming, and I use my words carefully because I’m very upset with the way in which radicalization has been weaponized by this administration against Trump voters. It’s important because I take these ideas seriously. Trump voters are not domestic terrorists. 

It’s very important because we are talking about people that will blow civilians up—that’s terrorism—blowing up a hotel with civilians in it. It’s an abuse of ideas that I’ve spent over a decade talking even to people in that building. To take those ideas for political purposes, and apply them onto Trump voters.

However, radicalization can occur where there’s a grievance. So part of that is, if you don’t want to abuse that process, we have to look at not just making sure that people don’t start subscribing to dogmatic ideas which leads to extremism, but a holistic approach also includes making sure that the grievances that we’ve brought about through our own actions are addressed. 

If they’re false grievances, then the perception needs to be addressed. If they’re real grievancessuch as the invasion of Iraq, the Bosnia genocide, COVID mandates, real grievancesthen we need to work out where our mistakes have been to make sure that we don’t perpetuate those grievances. Because then you end up with this reciprocal radicalization process and that’s what we call the cycle of violence.

Mr. Jekielek: Cycle of violence. You said that you have to destroy first before you.

Mr. Nawaz: Before you build.

Mr. Jekielek: Before you build.

Mr. Nawaz: Build Back Better. Ring a bell?

Mr. Jekielek: Well, okay. Why are you saying that?

Mr. Nawaz: Well, the Great Reset is actually this process in action. It’s why I have been able to recognize it. It’s why I warned against it. If you’ve got the World Economic Forum saying that we need this opportunity, and this global crisis, and the COVID emergency for a Great Reset, that’s the destroy part. Because a reset is “let’s get rid of it and start again.”

Mr. Jekielek: Until recently, this is really, everyone just said this is some conspiracy theory stuff, right?

Mr. Nawaz: But look, Fourth Industrial Revolution. They are telling us it’s a revolution. Now I take people seriously. If bin Laden says he’s going to blow up something, take him seriously, man. He’s not alive anymore, but; and not that Klaus Schwab is bin Laden, no. 

People that are committed to a cause, when they say, “I am in a revolution,” obviously, unless they’re amateurs. I don’t think the World Economic Forum are amateurs, right? They’re telling us they believe this is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. You don’t have a revolution without a reset.

In other words, you can’t build something before you destroy something. The other thing you need in a revolution, as we realized we needed, which is why they tend to have hierarchical structures, is you can’t change unless you have control, and you have chaos. That’s the reset part. 

But to build back better, which is their phrase not mine, and he’s got a book called “The Great Reset,” right? So this is not; this is what they’re telling us. To build back better after the chaos, to build order from chaos, you need control. That’s why you see a lot of an authoritarian power grab happening. Because the building back part requires control, and that requires centralization.

Mr. Jekielek: And so Build Back Better. That’s often associated with the Biden administration here, but you’re saying it originally started with the World Economic Forum?

Mr. Nawaz: If you do a quick Google search, it’s fascinating. All of the world leaders use that phrase, not just Biden. Johnson used it. Trudeau used it. You look in Australia and New Zealand. They all used it in very, very similar timeframes. It’s a World Economic Forum phrase. 

Then you start realizing they’re all graduates of the same World Economic Forum Young Leaders program. Then you start hearing clips of Klaus Schwab, the leader of the World Economic Forum, saying, direct quote, “the graduates of our Young Global Leaders have penetrated the cabinets of the world.” And then he goes on to say, “Half of Canada’s cabinet are members of our World Economic Forum.” He’s particularly proud of Trudeau and Macron. This is what they’re telling us.

Forgive me for studying what they’re telling us, and saying take that seriously. Because they’re organized, and they’re wealthy, and they’re powerful, take it seriously. If I were talking to you about Hizb ut-Tahrir, my former group, and I were to present to you their literature, you’d take it seriously. You’d say, “Okay, yeah, these guys want a caliphate. They tell us there and, look, they’ve got groups in the world trying to get the caliphate.”

It’s the same thing except for a different cause. I’m able to spot that very easily. Spot the ideological element of this, and realize what it requires. When you say you are penetrating the cabinets of the world, and half of Canada’s cabinet are members of your World Economic Forum, that’s literally what we did. I just said it to you. We tried to recruit officers from the military. We penetrated governments with our ideology. I have been doing that for a large part of my life. I know what that looks like.

Mr. Jekielek: I mean, it may be just an ideology, not some sort of grand master plan. I mean, this is; of course, Klaus Schwab has written the book “The Great Reset.” It’s not a secret. He’s written the book “The Great Narrative” subsequent to that. I think the question people have is are these people ideologically aligned or is there some kind of command and control structure like there might have been in your organization? Those are, frankly, profoundly different things, right?

Mr. Nawaz: So when you are; see, you’ve got the ideological element, and that’s contained in his book “The Great Reset.” The ideas are there, but we know that there’s an administration behind it. We know there were annual meetings in Davos. We know that the Young Global Leaders had meetings outside of Davos, and we know that the purpose was to send those Young Global Leaders into various positions of office to bring about change. 

We know that because they’ve told us that. Whether you call that a conspiracy or an ideology, I mean, I don’t really mind what word you use, frankly, as long as you agree that’s happening. And if you-

Mr. Jekielek: It could just be bluster. Bragging. Look, look what we’ve accomplished.

Mr. Nawaz: It could be. If we hadn’t just been through two years of what just happened, then great. Two years ofagain, remember this, and your viewers will remember this because we’ve all just lived through itof synchronized measures applied in multiple countries at the same time that didn’t make sense. And we’re now off the back end of it. Thankfully, the narrative crumbled a bit so we can now have this conversation, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to.

Off the back end of this, we can say, hold on. This passport idea that made no sensevaccine passports—because the vaccine didn’t stop infection or transmission. It reduced infection for a period of 12 weeks, now we know, and the booster about six to eight weeks. So this vaccine passport was illogical, and unscientific, and discriminatory. 

Despite the fact that it was illogical, unscientific and discriminatory, these global leaders, all of whom coincidentally were members of this organization were so insistent on enforcing this around the world, even against all evidence, that they were prepared to face the shutdown of their country to achieve itas Canada and Trudeau demonstrated.

So now, listen. Call that a conspiracy or call it an ideology or call it a coincidence. The fact is it doesn’t matter what their intentions were. I look at actions, and I look at what I see in front of me and I say, whether or not you think you’re doing good, that’s bad and it needs to stop. 

The fact that you’re all doing it at the same time in multiple countries around the world, and you’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, that’s actually even worse. You’re reinforcing each other, and it needs to stop. Thankfully, it did stop. And we’re in another crisis now, which is another story.

Mr. Jekielek: Right. It is remarkable, the apparent coordination of ideas. You imagined, at least early on, that the reason for people assuming similar measures was that it was a good idea. But actually whatand it took some time even for myself, a deeply skeptical person to understand this—that this is actually a huge departure for many normal pandemic policy. Frankly, just using normal pandemic policy would’ve been a much better idea, right?

Mr. Nawaz: Unprecedented. I think, again, let’s zoom out, and look at the forest for the trees. Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. It’s historically unprecedented Jan. It’s never been done before. And it began in China. This lockdown I’m talking of. Never been done in history in this way. A global lockdown, think about it, synchronized across the planet for what we now know was an illness that had the infection fatality rate, according to official UK figures, of 0.96 percent quoted in UK Parliament. 

That’s a factual figure that they have there officially quoted in the Hansard documents, you can look it up0.96 percent infection fatality rate for COVID. That’s similar to the flu. It’s an unprecedented assault on our civil liberties for something that has an IFR similar to the flu, which they knew because this IFR was public and open knowledge.

Then you add to it Trudeau with the trucker situation—that when England began realizing, when, like you saw in Florida, in Tennessee, and in Texas where they didn’t enforce these vaccine passports, and they were relatively similar results to those that did. In fact, California and New York probably fared worse. If you look at the figures, we know that Scotland and Wales, where they had these passports fared worse than England that never enforced them. 

We know that Texas, Tennessee, and Florida never enforced them, and you compare the age-adjusted data. Florida has an older population. You adjust it, and you realize actually they fared better than California. So you start looking at this, and the evidence was clear. When England started abandoning this stuff, and ditched the whole idea before even enforcing it because of the fierce opposition of the people, Trudeau is what exposed all of this. 

Because Trudeau got to a point where the Five Eyes nations: the Anglo-Saxon, five English-speaking countries of the worldNew Zealand, Canada, Australia, UK, US—they went over the edge on this to the point where they’d reached the peak, and were descending down the other side, saying, we’re going to retreat from these mandates because of the opposition.

Trudeau had already gone too far, a bit like New Zealand and Australia, and that’s what demonstrated that this was something a bit more suspect. Because he could have very simply done what Boris Johnson did and say, okay, you know what? We’re going to let go of this now. This protest, these truckers, they want their rights back. The majority of whom were vaccinated by the way, right? They just didn’t want mandates. If you look to Canada, the majority of those truckers were vaccinated. It’s not anti-vaxx thing. And definitely not a racist thing either, which we can talk about. That really winds me up; the abuse of this phrase “racism” for people that are asking for their freedoms.

So he had a chance there of retreating, but they overestimated their hand. Keep in mind, Klaus Schwab says half their cabinet had been penetrated by the World Economic Forum, and that was a particular stronghold for them. They overplayed their hand. Instead, what they did, rather than retreat, is cancel. First of all, the GoFundMe money that was sent for these truckers, that was canceled. And then GiveSendGo, a Christian alternative to GoFundMe, they received money. That was then. 

Legislation was brought and said it would be criminal for you to distribute this money. Once the charitable side was dealt with, they then started freezing the bank accounts, the corporate accounts, of those truckers. Started saying all manner of things. We’re going to take your licenses. 

You ended up in a situation like China. The social credit system, where a political opponent is punished merely for peaceful protest by having their accounts frozen, having their social credit damaged, having their livelihoods jeopardized simply for speaking against a policy. Now, we know what that is. There’s a word for that. It’s called tyranny. 

That’s exactly what we criticize Putin for. It’s exactly what we criticize Xi Jinping for, and yet we were doing it in open democratic societies. Then the worst part of it is the minute that narrative switched, now all of a sudden in Canada, look at Canada now. Suddenly protest is good again because it’s against Putin. 

When it was against Trudeau, it was banned and he was seizing accounts. Now that there’s a thing that Putin’s done, everyone needs to protest again, and the narrative switched again. This is what tells you that these ideas were being weaponized; that something wasn’t right. And what is that thing? If Trudeau got his way, the vaccine passports would be used to put an infrastructure in place for the QR code checking in and checking out system. 

Now, once you have that in place, the fiat money paper currencies are on the way out. We’ve been printing our way out of economic disaster, quantitative easing, and our money system is just, it’s falling apart. Inflation is through the roof in the UK. I know it’s 5.4 percent. Here it’s going up as well. Energy prices are spiking.

So you need to have some form of solution to the problem of money and how we keep having these boom bust cycles. So if you’ve got that passport infrastructure in place domestically and then you switch from a paper money system, which is already; we have historic precedentBretton Woods agreement. We went from gold standard to paper money with no backing apart from a government guarantee. Now that’s come to the end of its shelf life.

So now, as we know because we’ve been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK, Rishi Sunakas leader of the G7 nationshas given an open speech saying that they want to bring central banking digital currencies. If you replace paper money with digital money that is controlled by government, the central banks, that sits on a ledger. The difference being that this digital money, as The Telegraph in the UK reported, is programmable. 

That’s where you end up with a Chinese social credit system because I can say to you, I’m going to send you a universal basic income, X amount per month, to meet your basic necessities in the Maslow context. Then I’m going to say but if you, like in Canada, if you oppose me, I can switch that off. I can say you can’t even use your digital money to get on the bus, to get on the train, as is in China. 

That’s why I don’t call it money. What they’re calling the central banking digital currencies, it’s like food stamps; they are vouchers. Because if a government, as they’ve told us in the Telegraph, if a government can program these digital vouchers to tell you what you can and cannot buy, and this week you’ve met your quota in meat, you can only buy bugs and locusts, then that’s a voucher. That’s how you get total control over society.

Why would you want total control? Why would you destroy your own open democratic societies? It’s because we’ve come at a crossroads. And the crossroads I believe we are at is analogous to the Gutenberg press moment—the invention of the printing press. 

The crossroads we are at is what the printing press did to democratize access to the Bible, and thereby undermine the authority of absolute monarchies in Europe, which led to a 30-years war and disruption, but eventually led to the end of those absolute monarchies. 

We’re in a period today where, because of the advent of the modern day printing press, which is the internet, we’ve democratized access to information and to money supply. What’s the money supply part? Crypto. And what’s the information part? Online information gathering.

So the narrative through the traditional, what I call corporatist legacy media, you can no longer control the narrative. Remember the beginning of our chat. Whoever controls the narrative controls your perception of reality. Because the state can no longer control the narrative, because access to information has been democratized through access to the internet, add money supply to that because of crypto, and you’ve lost control. 

When you’re losing control, as any abusive husband will tell you, you get violent. You get controlling. You clamp down. You try and maintain your grip on power. I think we’re in that 30-years war moment in historic terms and that’s why I think we are in for a bit of a rough ride, unfortunately, until the dust settles.

Mr. Jekielek: Coming up next on American Thought Leaders.

Mr. Nawaz: How do you oppose tyranny? How do you uphold the government to account if you don’t know where the truth is? That’s the purpose of it, so that we’re all confused, and in disarray, and we don’t know where the truth lies anymore.

Mr. Jekielek: In part two of my interview with Maajid Nawaz, we dive deeper into what he sees as an ideological war ripping the Western world, and how bad actors are using propaganda, and obfuscation to radicalize society.

Mr. Nawaz: If you don’t have that spiritual grounding, then there’s a void. That void is filled by the state, and your morality then gets defined by the state.

Mr. Jekielek: We live in an age of censorship and disinformation where some of the most prominent voices, most important voices, aren’t actually being heard because they’re being suppressed. I invite some of these people on to the show, on to American Thought Leaders. To stay up to date on the most recent episodes and our exclusive content, you can actually sign up for our newsletter at Just hit the checkbox for American Thought Leaders.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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