PART 2: Maajid Nawaz: How Our Elites Destroyed Public Trust and Created a Recruiting Ground for Extremism
In this two-part episode with Maajid Nawaz, a counter-extremism activist and former Islamist revolutionary, he breaks down the parallels he sees between the methods he used to radicalize young Muslims and the tactics he saw deployed to urge societies to adopt far-reaching COVID mandates. You can watch part one here.
In part two, we discuss why totalitarian regimes despise spirituality, and how state and corporate power were merged together in the age of COVID-19.
As once-trusted sources of information are becoming increasingly suspect, how do we discern what’s true?
“Trust is at the lowest it’s ever been. And what happens when you no longer trust democracy? … That’s when people like I was when I was 16 come in and recruit you to an extremist organization for authoritarianism. So that’s the damage they’re doing by undermining trust.”
If you missed part one, you can find it here.
Part one review
Jan Jekielek: Previously on American Thought Leaders.
Maajid Nawaz: I was anti-democracy. I was a 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.
Mr. Jekielek: In part two of my interview with Maajid Nawaz, now a leading anti-extremism activist, we dive deeper into the ideological war he sees gripping the Western world, and how bad actors are using propaganda and obfuscation to radicalize society.
Mr. Nawaz: How do you oppose tyranny? How do you hold the government to account if you don’t know what 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: And why communist regimes feel so threatened by spirituality.
Mr. Nawaz: If you don’t have that spiritual grounding, then there’s a void, and that void is filled by the state, and your morality then gets defined by the state.
Part two transcript
Jan Jekielek: So what do you think happened in Canada? I mean, this Emergency Powers Act was invoked, for all intents and purposes. Some people even expected it might be a while, while it’s in place. It was, I think, authorized for a month by Canadian Parliament, in fact, and then within a day or two it was gone.
Maajid Nawaz: Suddenly it was treated, right?
Mr. Jekielek: It was gone.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Just a couple of thoughts. This truckers movement was actually a lot more than just truckers. It started with truckers basically being against cross-border mandates. I mean, shortly after that, or at least strong correlation, maybe not causation here, but a number of provinces—and it goes Saskatchewan and Alberta very quickly—decided we’re dropping mandates. UK shortly thereafter, everything opened, or at least England.
Mr. Nawaz: Right, England, yes.
Mr. Jekielek: And frankly, and also in a number of states. There’s a whole truckers’ movement began in the U.S. and similarly, a lot of shifts happening as we speak there. So I don’t know, I’m seeing this whole picture. My thesis is that the truckers actually did have a profound impact.
Mr. Nawaz: Heroes, yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, suffered for it. At least the Canadian people in Ottawa. So what do you think happened?
Mr. Nawaz: I think Trudeau, and I think his various allies in government, in his party in power, I think they overplayed their hand. And they underestimated the power of these truckers and the people’s power. They underestimated the global resonance that would have, and the mood, the appetite around the world for that, and the focus on it.
That’s why I believe that soon after, as you alluded to, soon after extending the emergency law, there was this sudden collapse, and he just retreated from it and canceled the whole thing. It was unsustainable for him. Though that doesn’t mean the struggle is over.
The introduction of the central banking digital currencies will continue. They will keep pushing for that. I think the only option we have, paper money is on the way out because we don’t control that part of it. So that’s where I think you’d agree. Paper money will go. I don’t know when, but eventually, and maybe soon it will go.
The only question becomes, will there be anything that competes with central banking digital currencies in the form of crypto, or will we all be bound to the central banking voucher system? And if we are, how do we protect our privacy and our rights within that system? That will become the next conversation.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so it’s interesting that you mentioned that because not too long ago, I had Erik Bethel on the show. Eric was the U.S. stakeholder for the World Bank. And now he’s developed, he believes as you do that some sort of digital currency is what is going to be in the future. There’s no way around that, and that these central bank digital currencies are going to be a thing.
So he’s come up with a set of principles. He calls them the Mercator principles. He’s trying to get to, he showed them to a number of very high profile people. A lot of people don’t necessarily want to sign up to these principles; of course, which talk about privacy and so forth.
But I guess the question I always have is it seems like every one of these systems that we try to devise, there’s always the people who have this authoritarian impulse, who have this desire, always find a way. The U.S. system—and I’ve spent the last three years discovering this—was structured very specifically to be inefficient to create all sorts of problems for people who have that impulse, have the system correct itself, and allow for the people to continue to have a voice.
Mr. Nawaz: You’re very lucky.
Mr. Jekielek: But everything’s being thrown at it, especially recently, for quite some time. It’s just fascinating to watch.
Mr. Nawaz: You’ve got people these days questioning democratic and open society. I mean intellectuals wondering whether it’s time that we copied the China model and became a bit more authoritarian.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a lot of people, right?
Mr. Nawaz: Yes, they have no idea. I mean, look, you have some personal experience with your family history in Eastern Europe and with totalitarianism. I have direct, they have no idea how lucky they are to have this system. And I promise you even in England, so the United Kingdom, a lot of Americans are surprised when they hear this.
We still have elements of medievalism in our system, as we do in our architecture, which is a beautiful thing, but in our political system, right? So our second chamber, the equivalent of your Senate, until this date is unelected, unelected. Now under Tony Blair, there was a problem here. He realized he was going to be a progressive PM. So he said, Okay, you know what? We’ll reduce their power a bit.
They’re still unelected. But he said they can only delay legislation for a year, which is what the current situation is. Of course, the problem then is that means that the lower chamber, what we call the House of Commons has this power because you’ve got an unelected second chamber.
So they don’t have the democratic mandate to oppose the elected lower chamber, which is the House of Commons. They can only delay legislation therefore for a year. And people supported that because they said, you guys aren’t even elected in the first place so why should you have the right to delay anything?
But that means that if you’ve got the majority in the lower chamber, as Boris Johnson currently does with an 80-seat majority. Think of the size of that majority. You can get anything through you want, which is how all of this COVID abuse came through the mandates, right?
Now, while we’ve been here, in the UK they’ve passed other bills. The policing bill now that was rejected by the Lords; but again, they could only block it for a year, which has passed again in the Commons. This bill seeks to prohibit protest if it’s too noisy, which is the point of a protest is to make some noise.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, this was the issue—the truckers—too much honking. Frankly, there was too much honking.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes, but this is how you ban it. So it’s now a law brought in. So the problem we’ve got is we don’t have a check on our lower chamber. And the upper chamber, as I say, is unelected. And of course, how you get appointed to this upper chamber. The Times in the UK ran a piece that apparently, and this is a proper article in a proper newspaper. It’s not, I mean, I’ll say it because it’s open in the press.
Three million pounds were donated to the Conservative Party by roughly 16 donors, all of whom then became chairmen of the party. And then after they gave, that’s after 2.5 million, when they gave the final half a million, they were awarded with peerages, which means they were appointed to the House of Lords.
It’s all corrupt because if it’s by appointment and not by election, then think about how you get that appointment. Whose palms do you have to grease? So this is why I say, and that’s not even in a tyranny; it’s not even in a totalitarian state. I’m talking about the mother of parliaments in England.
So Americans are very lucky. This inefficient system with this separation of powers allowed for Florida, Tennessee, and Texas to do what they wanted while California and New York did what they wanted. That’s democracy. I don’t agree with what California and New York did. What I do agree with is states having that right to choose their course, and then let the evidence indicate what the right way was.
And the Constitution, the written Constitution which we don’t have in England, guarantees your right to say, free speech, and all of the other rights that you have in that Constitution, which makes it incredibly hard for a president, even if they have the intention to violate some of those basic civil liberties that are guaranteed for you in that written Constitution on a federal level.
It’s hard, even though maybe not impossible, but very, very difficult to do. Whereas in the UK, we have none of those protections. So I think that those young, usually it’s Silicon Valley types that question democracy. And at the same time, while they’re openly questioning democracy and openly advocating for a more efficient technocratic Chinese model, the funny thing is, the irony is that they talk a lot about privilege when it comes to, say, workplace white privilege.
They talk a lot about that. They don’t realize how privileged they are to even have this ability to question democracy in that way and advocate for an idea such as technocratic tyranny implemented in China.
I mean, these are honestly, this is like the epitome where if they knew what happens in those kinds of systems. The privilege to believe that if you give that much power to one man, that only good will happen is the kind of naivete that somebody who’s never seen the dark side of life would advocate.
And they think they’ve seen the dark side of life because they’ve had some, I don’t know, they had a fender bender in their car and somebody’s come out and threatened to hit them because they were driving wrong. And that’s oh, a difficult life—unbelievable.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s frankly hard to understand. And this is, you’re right, my family came from communist Poland. Effectively, had to escape at a certain time when Poland, frankly, was pretty light communism, if you can say that, compared to China or the Soviet Union in a lot of ways. I knew what happened to my family members, both from the Soviet side and on the Nazi German side. I was aware of these stories.
I was growing up in a free society, and it was only after I really started working with people who had suffered at the hands of the Chinese regime that it all clicked. I got, oh, okay, I understand. But you don’t, it’s just very hard to imagine. I mean, I think we must live in the freest society in history, probably, and it’s just kind of hard to imagine what it would be like to live in a society where you’re always looking over your shoulder.
Well, frankly, a lot of us are starting to. I think a lot of people are starting to realize what it’s like.
Mr. Nawaz: Right, and I think it’s no coincidence that the freest society in history also happens to be one of the most successful, by all material metrics at least. But I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think that the freedom granted to explore spirituality, religious communities, I think that’s crucial in an open democratic society. It’s why it remains protected. And if you think about it, why is that so important?
In a communist society, materialism is a doctrine going back to the idea of there’s no such thing as truth, and it’s all relative. And that you and your values and your morals are all a product of society and circumstance. Therefore, if I can define that circumstance, I can define morality. That is materialism. Communism is built on the materialist doctrine.
Now that’s why a totalitarian state despises any community, in particular communities, but also individuals that believe that a moral hierarchy can exist outside of the state. A totalitarian state wants to be the beginning and the end of morality. If you have a moral hierarchy that is independent of that state, it means you have your own moral compass.
And it means that there will be some red lines for you because you have a, let’s put it in a religious context, it doesn’t have to be formal religion. It could be spirituality. It could be Buddhism. It doesn’t have to be like a strict fundamentalist thing. Let’s just call it a spiritual belief.
Now, if you have a sovereign relationship with your higher power, your spiritual relationship, that’s a sovereign relationship in religious terms with God. That means that there are elements of your morality and view on life that are outside of the state’s control, which means they can’t shape those elements in terms of morality. And that means they can’t shape your reality.
You have an independent source for how you view the world. That’s why totalitarian states like China hate religious communities so much. The Uyghur genocide; it threatens them; Tibetans, Christians in China; it threatens them. It’s why communism has the phrase that religion is the opium of the masses.
They’ve declared war on having this moral hierarchy with all of its flaws, by the way. I’m not saying it’s good; there are flaws there too. But in principle, they feel threatened by that idea that you could exist outside of the state with your own morality because they believe that actually only the materialist doctrine defines morality and that’s the state that gets to choose what that reality should be.
So in that context, back to America where you’ve got this open democratic society with the separation of powers and the written Constitution; it’s no coincidence for me that during the COVID mandates where we, for the first time in history, we began seeing that abuse of our civil liberties in that orchestrated and global way, that a lot of the religious communities were among the first and foremost to oppose those mandates.
Because they immediately saw the dangers of the state dictating in those areas where they already had a sovereign relationship with their spiritual or God or their spiritual being. Whether that’s the pastor that was repeatedly arrested in Canada, whether it was the Muslim communities and the mosques in the UK who were the least compliant when you looked at the surveys.
When among the lower end of the compliance to COVID mandates was on the Muslim side, the trust was stronger with their imams and their priests and their sense of a moral hierarchy that didn’t need the state to validate it. Those that didn’t have that, a void and a vacuum are filled by the state, and the state steps in where religion used to be.
It’s why if you think about the opposition to the USSR in history, if you think about the role religion played in that, in particular the church, you start seeing some of this. And that’s why I think that when you say in open and democratic societies with all their imperfections, it’s why religious pluralism is a strength. It’s for this reason why religious diversity is a strength.
Because the more diversity you have in doctrine and spirituality and culture, the harder it is for the state to monopolize. And the harder it is for the state to monopolize, the harder it is for the state to become authoritarian. That’s the unique thing that you have in the United States of America, because of the separation of powers. They can’t get a grip on that diversity. It’s a strength.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. I’ve been thinking about people who have called it public private partnership, a kind of collaboration of the state or agencies, health agencies, and then also big tech.
Mr. Nawaz: And pharmaceuticals.
Mr. Jekielek: And big pharma to push particular narratives, which you mentioned, ultimately didn’t make a lot of sense. They certainly weren’t based on actual science, they were based on “The Science,” which is something different entirely. How does this fit into your picture here that you’re drawing?
Mr. Nawaz: Yes. So back to the idea that the state would seek to define your morality, it requires an array of tools to do that. When you look at fascism as opposed to communism, the distinction, so the communist would want to seize the means of production and have the state own all of them.
Fascism is that partnership you spoke of. It’s the, so a better word for fascism is actually corporatism. It’s the merger of state and corporate power, but rather than the state seizing the means of production, it begins a partnership with corporates for the purposes of profit.
And that’s what we began witnessing happening under the COVID period—huge, powerful, some of the wealthiest companies on the planet, big tech companies, big pharmaceutical, Pfizer, right? If you were to look up who paid the largest criminal fine in history, the results that pop up is Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, two big pharmaceuticals.
The assumption that these companies in Violation Tracker, you can go to the website—it lists all of the fines, and fraud, and all of this stuff that they’ve had to pay huge fines, huge, largest of fines that you find. The assumption that these companies exist for your benefit is one that really must be interrogated. They exist for profit, and you are the product. You are the thing that needs to be exploited for the purposes of profit.
So when the state began a partnership with these corporates, I took the view that during the COVID mandate period, in particular, our states, whether it’s here in the U.S., in the United Kingdom, were no longer serving their people; but rather they were serving vested interests for the purposes of maximizing profit. That’s fascism. That’s what Mussolini did.
It’s how you utilize industry for the purposes of maximizing profit to deliver a certain goal. And in that process, people are simply cogs in the wheel. The individual no longer matters, and it’s incredibly, incredibly dangerous. And again, if you don’t have that spiritual grounding, then there’s a void, and that void is filled by the state, and your morality then gets defined by the state.
You have no psychological ability to oppose the purpose the state is saying you exist for, which is as a commodity to maximize profit because there’s nothing outside of that purpose that the state has set for you that you aspire to. It’s why it’s so important to have that higher aspiration that exists outside of the context of the state. But in a short answer to your question, that is fascism. And it’s what I believe we became perilously close to, unfortunately.
Mr. Jekielek: So what’s really interesting to me and I’m going to use this war, the Russia-Ukraine war as an example. So being from the region, I’m a Pole, right? And I’ve been acutely aware, it’s almost like we’re intrinsically aware of the threat of Russia and frankly, Germany on the other side, having been rolled over however many times.
All the countries on the periphery of Russia that are free countries feel that there’s a certain threat that always exists there because Russia may have these imperial ambitions, and certainly has repeatedly; whether on the Soviet Union or previously.
So I’m incredibly supportive, in this situation, to the Ukrainians. All this is happening in a context where I’m seeing, I guess the same actors—the same corporate media, the same Twitter accounts. Probably because I spend way too much time there that was early on, for example, promoting Black Lives Matter.
Mr. Nawaz: Before that, war on terror first, invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Jekielek: Okay, interesting.
Mr. Nawaz: Same crowd—then Black Lives Matter, then COVID mandates—same crowd.
Mr. Jekielek: All sorts of things. There’s this perceived unanimity; that there’s this correct narrative that you must adhere to. And frankly, the thing; I’m going to comment a little further here because I found myself with my judgment clouded. Because I’m seeing these same actors that are basically pushing with ostensible unanimity, this particular position.
I’ve been thinking about what is the cost of media and trusted organizations—information organizations—switching from pursuit of truth, which is I think what journalism’s supposed to be, to narrative reinforcement, narrative creation, narrative reinforcement. I think it hurts all of us in profound ways. This is what I’ve been reflecting on.
Mr. Nawaz: Well, you have just summarized, you are the case study of the quote that you opened this interview up with. If you can no longer define reality because you don’t know who to trust, so you don’t know where to stand on any given topic, how do you oppose tyranny? How do you hold the government to account if you don’t know what 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 any more.
And if you look at the genius of George Orwell in “1984,” he perfectly demonstrates why that serves tyranny. And the examples he uses in “1984” where the news can be changed from day to day—yesterday’s headline and the opposite in today’s headline—and everyone just has to believe it. So you have no basis, no grounding that under your feet, it’s just mud.
You can’t stand firm so there’s no basis to hold the government to account on anything they’ve said or done; because anything they’ve said or done yesterday, they’re saying, they’re doing the opposite today. So how do you say, you lied! “I didn’t say this. I’m saying this now.” But you said that yesterday. “No, I didn’t. Look!” And it’s just changed. So this Ukraine situation is a classic case in point.
From a Muslim background, whether it’s the genocide in Bosnia perpetrated—the arms embargo—the Russians armed the Serbs, and the Bosnian Muslims weren’t able to arm themselves. Before that, Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
My family’s from Pakistan. It messed up the whole region, and the war on terror, and the rest is history. I’ve got emotional reasons to hate Russia, a bit like people from a heritage, Polish heritage. I’ve got emotional reasons to hate Russia with a passion.
My life trajectory was impacted by the Bosnia genocide; the Russians were arming the Serbs. So I’ve got every visceral emotional reason to hate them. But the interesting thing is that the current media narrative is counting on that. Now, if I need to be able to understand what’s going on, the first thing we have to keep in mind is that foreign policy is never two-dimensional. It’s never two-dimensional. And we should have learned that from the mistakes in Iraq. It’s wrong for Putin to invade Ukraine.
We also know that Ukraine has this gas pipeline that feeds Germany. So something is a bit more complicated. We also know that there was a uprising in Ukraine in 2014 and that the government that was previously pro-Russian in that Maidan uprising then switched, and became pro-American. And then because the previous pre-2014 government had disassociated formally from the EU and leaned toward Russia, this new government post-2014 wanted to join NATO.
So we start looking at this from an analysis perspective rather than from an emotional perspective. And we can still maintain our principles and say it’s wrong to invade a country just as it was wrong for Iraq; it’s wrong for Putin to invade Ukraine. But if I’m playing in a game of chess against you, even though I’m saying it’s wrong to invade Ukraine, I’m playing a game of chess. I need to understand what your strategy is to beat you.
So if in that context of the game of chess, if you’re writing notes about what you are planning your next move, and your strategy, what’s happened today is the equivalent of me seeing those notes and then saying, “You know what? I don’t need to see that. And I’m just going to pretend I don’t. I’m not interested in how you are planning to play me. And I think I can still win.” Whereas actually, I could look at that and realize how you’re playing and beat you.
Now we’ve banned “Russia Today.” We’re going off the Russian citizens who had nothing to do with any of this in the first place. We’re reacting in a way that’s reinforcing this control over the narrative and banning any opposition voices. I’d rather know what the opponent is doing so I can beat them in that game of chess.
Mr. Jekielek: So here’s the thing in war, and I mean, the information war is actually an incredibly important part of war.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes, that’s right.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s always, each side wants to have effective propaganda. When I see the pro-Ukraine narratives, clearly war propaganda. I even understand that, and I understand why you might want to censor the opposing side, in this case, the aggressor’s war propaganda.
At the same time, I fear that exactly the same system, which frankly has been used, will be used further domestically for political purposes. This is the challenge, right? So I’m asking myself, am I really a free speech absolutist? I thought so but in wartime.
Mr. Nawaz: So it is being used. Not that it will be or has been. It actively is right now, because not only do we know that we are being told not to look at the Russian narrative here. We’re also, we know that we are being fed a propaganda narrative on the Ukrainian side. We now know that because it’s been exposed. What used to work, this idea that in war, the first casualty is truth and you have to have propaganda to win, that is only relevant if you think about it in a centralized media world.
So the problem now is what you’ve got is you’ve got people running the show who still think they’re in that world. And the truth is look how quickly it became exposed that Zelenskyy wasn’t on the front lines wearing camouflage and that they were photos from a year ago. It took a couple of days.
Mr. Jekielek: The Ghost of Kyiv and everything else.
Mr. Nawaz: All of that was wrong. It was false. Now the problem is what does that do? So you’ve got people running the show who still think they’re in the Iraq war days where they can actually get away with this. It took seven, eight, nine years for it to come out. But it took two days this time.
And so what that demonstrates is that the old rules can no longer apply because now we’re in this decentralized narrative where they haven’t adjusted. They’re still playing by the old rules and what they’re really, actually, in effect then doing, thinking they’re doing good. Look, I’m never about intention. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t want to say they’re evil people. They think they’re doing good, but we know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?
So they think they’re doing good. But the net result is that people have stopped trusting in the system. They’ve stopped trusting in the media. Trust is at the lowest it’s ever been. And what happens when you no longer trust democracy? This is the problem.
People end up, when you don’t trust the system, that’s when people like I was when I was 16 come in and recruit you to an extremist organization for authoritarianism. So that’s the damage they’re doing by undermining trust.
And they don’t realize it because maybe they’re still stuck in that old world, in the centralized narrative world where they think they still have control. They don’t have control. The solution to that is they need to let go of power.
They need to let a generation that is digitally native that has been raised with this idea that narratives are decentralized; that is able to and comfortable with looking at multiple perspectives; that is able to have two thoughts in its head at the same time, and yet still get through it and do good.
They need to relinquish power and let that generation step forward. This is part of the problem. Call it the boomer problem, whatever word, some friends of mine like Eric, Bret’s brother, Eric Weinstein. He says the boomers need to step aside, whatever word you want to use. There’s a group in power who are in their 70s and 80s. Think about who’s running this show at the moment, right? So they’re Pelosi’s age. They’re Biden’s age. They are Soros’ age and that’s people.
I think I’m old because I remember a time before there were mobile phones. I remember a time when, if I want to meet you tomorrow, we’d have to agree right now where to meet—the location—and if you don’t turn up, I wait 15 minutes. Then I go to the next place and you have to guess where I’ve gone. And if you find me, you’re lucky. If you don’t, well, you got stuck, right?
I was 15 when I got my first mobile phone. So my primary socialization was in an age where there was no YouTube, no Twitter, no Facebook, no mobile phones. I think I’m old and I’m 44. These guys—the Pelosis, the Bidens, the Soroses—they’re in their 70s and 80s. So they’ve come from a world, and it’s difficult, Klaus Schwab, it’s difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that’s not the world anymore.
That you can’t just put out these stupid stories of Ghost of Kyiv and think people aren’t going to realize. And of course, what does that do? It undermines everything. And the most important thing it undermines—trust in the system.
Mr. Jekielek: Fair enough. At the same time, one of the things that I’ve realized over the last however many years is that there seems to be some portion of our population, and I don’t think it’s a small portion, that’s ready to believe whatever the megaphone says. I find this to be a profoundly disturbing realization.
Again, and I’m not judging the people that are doing the listening to the megaphone, for lack of a better term. There are these nudge units, I think. I don’t know if that term is from the UK, but there are people that are running in government, in these agencies that are running, effectively, psychological operations to push people in certain directions. This has been exposed.
Laura Dodsworth, who’s going to be on the show soon, people in the UK that were part of this, looked at what they’d done and thought, I think maybe went a little bit too far on the fear thing here. My point is that I think that I’m not sure it’s as simple as people clinging to old ways of viewing things. I think there are also people who have realized that using psyop tools, they can profoundly influence a significant portion of the population, and maybe that’s enough.
Mr. Nawaz: That is an odd way of doing things because that’s wartime propaganda that Hitler used. So propaganda, psychological abuse through messaging is what totalitarian governments have always done. And when you question that common narrative, you’re gaslit. You are the one that has a mental health problem. That’s what totalitarian regimes do. And so it’s an old way of doing things, but adjusted to modern technology.
So you’re correct. It’s in the UK; it’s SPI-B. It’s a government unit that’s colloquially called the nudge unit, but it’s a pandemic—scientific pandemic influenza. Behavioral is the B part unit. And then there was a SPI-M, the modeling unit. Now we know about modeling and how bad that was, but Laura Dodsworth has done fantastic work on this as was done under Nazism. And I don’t mince my words on this.
During the COVID mandate period, the government abused psychology to manipulate people through messaging. That was the point of fear, and it is against all ethics of psychology. We established that because we studied World War II. We knew this was wrong, but it was being done.
Now the people, by the way, who were involved have written columns, like one of them who was one of the key figures; the founder of the team. If you go to Unherd, U-N-H-E-R-D, it’s a web platform, news platform, commentary platform in the UK. He’s written a column saying we went too far; this was wrong. That’s because they got caught, but that’s a different story.
But it is correct that the majority of people are not leaders in this regard. Now your realization; all that really means, and you’re correct. Again, thank you for saying, it’s not, you’re not looking down on people. What it really means is you have some leadership traits.
So we know that with human nature. Some people have leadership traits and others perhaps aren’t interested in that, right? The other key thing is that most people don’t have the privilege or luxury to study these events and formulate their opinions because they’re on minimum wage.
You know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? They’re trying to put food on the table. So they don’t have that privilege to study. And so they outsource their thinking to trusted voices, but that’s why it becomes so important to control those trusted voices.
That’s what happened during the COVID mandate phase. Media voices that people outsourced their thinking to and trusted were misleading them because they themselves had become corrupted by the nudge unit and this psychological abuse of the population.
Now, what’s the solution to that? Have you ever seen these phrases on t-shirts that say “choose love?” It’s really profound and it’s not what people think it is, even though it looks quite corny and haha, yes, of course, choose love. I love my wife. I love my kids.
In this context of the conversation, it actually has a profound meaning. If you have the ability to look, to rise above narratives and to look at them from above and realize and see them from a blue sky perspective, that’s the leadership traits I’m talking about. If you have that ability, you also then have a choice that you now know that people will follow because you see what they don’t see from a blue bird’s eye perspective, blue sky perspective. So you have, therefore, a position of power.
You can either manipulate them and do good, or you can do bad. So that’s where now think of that phrase, choose love. And Laura is great on this. If you’re in that position and you can see how easy it is to mislead the masses who don’t have the luxury, not the IQ. They don’t have the luxury because of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to pursue the truth that you’ve had the privilege of arriving at.
Then in that position, we can either do good—choose love actively and choose not to harm people—or we can pursue the objectives of the state by manipulating their psychology to deliver profit.
That’s the choose part in choose love, and that’s why you have to have a moral hierarchy outside of the state to have the strength or the moral courage or the internal moral compass to navigate through that. Because that level of power where you know you can push people in a direction with all the tools of the state, it’s very tempting.
To go back to pop analogies, it’s why in “Star Wars” they talk about the dark side, and you can’t play with it because that’s what the dark side is. And that is a beautiful commentary, even though it’s popular fiction, it’s a beautiful commentary because the whole idea of the Jedi is that they can manipulate you through their words.
So if you remember the scene with Obi-Wan Kenobi, “you don’t want to do that.” They can manipulate you through their words and they’re warning of the dark side because they know that there’s a way to do that and do evil. That’s what I mean by choose love in that context, where you actively have to make a moral choice not to harm people, even though you have the power to.
That’s the process I had to go through when I left Hizb-ut-Tahrir, right? And unfortunately, governments aren’t good at making that choice in the right way, because of course they don’t have that kind. They’re not in that sovereign relationship with their spiritual higher power. It’s a very personal, intimate, moral relationship. The government doesn’t have that. Government is this machine and it’s there to deliver objectives.
So it’s so easy for the government. In fact, it’s impossible, I’d say, for government to do anything other than that because it’s an objective-oriented, efficient-seeking organization. It will seek to deliver its aims. So it will seek to do that by any means necessary that are legal or ostensibly legal.
It’s why you end up with a realization that actually big government may not be a good idea. That’s why we end up with that realization. You realize actually, it can harm people because that machine only ever grows. That monster, the more you feed it, the bigger it gets.
And you see these institutions that end up with this kind of, we know that with “Darkness at Noon,” “Catch-22,” Joseph Heller; Arthur Koestler, “Darkness at Noon.” We know the stories are, “The Gulag Archipelago.” The whole idea of these books is to tell us what happens when the beast gets too big and how you get lost in that Leviathan.
So it’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that big governments are not a good idea and that what we really need is to restrict and contain that power. And we need community. Leaders in the community with strong moral compasses and individuals that have their relationship with their higher moral hierarchy, who can guide people to good, as opposed to relying on government.
I noticed on the way in here that quote from JFK and again, I see it in this context. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” is this point here, to actually forget what the government can do for you. What can you do for your country? How can you in a community, as an individual, as communities, do good and make things better for people? In that context, choose love isn’t some corny phrase on a t-shirt. It’s a political philosophy in that context.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s this other thing that I’ve been thinking. I want to still go back to this idea of this ever present narrative pushing the big narrative, a narrative reinforcement. I’ve been wondering how much folks that are involved in this, even ostensibly for good reasons; we’ve heard about activist journalism, where it’s again, we’ve left truth-seeking. Now we know that there are certain narratives that must be maintained because they’re good, they’re right. Then that’s the mandate that journalists have. Very often you might choose something that isn’t quite true or maybe isn’t true at all, but it fits the narrative. Can you get caught up in sort of a vicious cycle and doesn’t this affect everybody’s thinking?
This is what I’ve been thinking to myself recently because I’ve found myself affected by this kind of thinking, being a particularly skeptical person. Whereas people that are inside of this system, or I don’t know if you call it an echo chamber exactly, even if it starts out as being something, that someone out there knows is maybe supposed to be a noble lie?
Mr. Nawaz: Yes. It starts always with a noble lie, right? And then it ends up with evil. But it’s amazing that people are, to be expected really, but people are unable to see they are caught in a matrix. And the funny thing is they fetishize rebellion and they fetishize individual thinking and being a rebel. They fetishize it. So the same people will be listening to Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall.” “We don’t need no education.”
And the very same people will be listening to that song while working in a government machine, trying to push this critical race theory through the system. And meanwhile, they’re listening to that music. So they’re not living the message that they’re revering. They’re fetishizing it, which tells me something, that they have this fantasy that they wish they could be that. They know they’re not it.
At the same time, when they see somebody that is questioning, that insecurity kicks in, and that’s when they start basically hating that person, because that insecurity kicks. They know they’re not rebels. They know they’re not thinking for themselves that they are doing. They’re taking the easy path. I’m talking about the people in the government machine.
They know it’s their job and that causes this kind of internal conflict. And so it’s really unfortunate that you point these things out, and you’re met with ridicule, and you’re met with mockery, and that’s what totalitarianism does. If you think about people that question communist regimes—and it happened under Nazis, it happened under USSR, happens in China now. The person questioning is the one that’s considered; that has the mental health problem.
The Uyghurs are put in reeducation camps because they’re Muslims. So they’re the ones with the problem rather than celebrating that diversity and actually accepting the fact that people think differently, which is a strength as I try to go into earlier. So how do you break through that? That’s when you’re stuck in it. You need shocks. And part of our messaging, we trained in that. The shocks are what wake people.
So this COVID thing, that’s a big shock. And it’s woken a lot of people up that were previously perhaps in slumber; and a lot more, certainly, than pre-COVID. We see now there’s a broader audience for this kind of conversation that didn’t use to exist and that’s good. I’m optimistic.
And though I think we’re in for some really hard times, like the Thirty Years’ War, I think eventually we’ll come through the other end and hopefully we’ll be in a better position and the human community would have learned from it.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, one of the things that keeps striking me is this idea that there would be a technocratic elite that governs everything that will work. It’s like I don’t think you could have better evidence of the failure of such a model than what’s happened over the last few years. It’s almost unbelievable how many times, at least for those that have choosed to look, have seen it fail.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes. So when I say to you now that big government might not be a good idea, you see it’s falling on receptive ears, because suddenly you’re like, “Oh yeah, I just saw what big government tried to do to us.” That’s the shocks. Those shocks, they wake people up.
And I think that’s part,when we say our privileged societies, that’s what we mean. You have to have these shocks that people realize they are fragile, that they are vulnerable. And when you feel vulnerable, you start thinking. That’s human nature.
Mr. Jekielek: They say that freedom isn’t free, right? That’s the part I think we’ve forgotten.
Mr. Nawaz: Precisely, yes. Yes, and it’s that vulnerability we need to feel sometimes to begin questioning our assumptions so we can begin solving our way out of them.
Mr. Jekielek: So I can’t help but think that you spent the better part of the last 10 years working in a anti-radicalization organization; you created it for this purpose. But now you’ve closed up shop and you’ve moved on to something else. What is that and why? Is this part of everything we’ve been talking about right now?
Mr. Nawaz: It is; it’s intimately connected. So during the COVID period, I shut Quilliam down. Mainly it was difficult, as you can imagine through lockdown, to raise funding for a nonprofit. We were a 501(c)(3) and everything. The other thing, though, is that I began seeing that, what was the last decade’s main big topic of the global war on terror? The weaponization of those ideas to serve political purposes, as I discussed. I wanted no part in that.
And I realized that, well, actually a lot of, not just the experience in that decade, but the decade before, when I was with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, could be used in a way to address some of these broader topics, because actually, the topics did broaden out themselves.
COVID mandates affected the world, and it was a conversation around authoritarianism versus liberty which we were having on a micro level inside Muslim communities in the context of Islamist autocracy or theocracy versus liberty.
So it was the same drive, but on a global scale to have that conversation. So for me, it was a natural transition, even though people looking at it were thinking, how did this guy go from a; how does he go from an extremist organization to being a broadcaster, to being a vocal critic with some success on the world stage, a vocal critic of COVID mandates? Sticking my head above the parapet.
For me, it was a perfectly natural thing because what I saw in COVID mandates were exactly the mindset that I was opposing when it came to opposing Islamist theocracy, that authoritarian mindset. And, by the way, the psychology behind it and the levers behind it are identical. That’s just human nature. What’s different is the words used in the narratives. But even the fact I’m identifying narratives, we’d done all of that before.
So for me, it was very natural to see those patterns and to say, “Hang on a minute, something’s not right here.” And also to know that actually, it was consistent for me to say, just as I gave up a heck of a lot—family life, friendship circle, position, sense of self to abandon Islamist theocracy—I gave all of that up to defend something—open democratic societies, right?
I saw that what I had given up to defend open democratic societies, and now that was under attack. I’m like, why did I give all of that up if this very thing you people don’t even believe in the first place? That wound me up.
Mr. Jekielek: So that’s okay. That’s really interesting. Do you think, you went from Islamism to embracing liberalism. Do you think that the seeds of this, you didn’t believe it in the first place. That’s what I just caught on.
You mentioned, you know, I think in reference to liberalism and democracy, you seem to not have believed some of these things in the first place. That’s the phrase that you said. So what I’m curious about is do you think that this illiberal charge that we seem to be seeing right now, do you think that’s inherent in liberalism or it’s something that came from outside?
Mr. Nawaz: When I say you people didn’t believe it in the first place, I mean those in power that attempted to undermine it. Clearly, there’s a bunch of people that do believe in those values and that’s the ones we rallied in the protests.
But what I took personally is if I’ve given up everything for this value set that is now being betrayed by the people that were in leadership positions that were meant to be defending that value set, and I’ve given up a hell of a lot to join that value set, that winds me up. And you guys, I’ve sacrificed for this value set, and now you guys are the ones attacking it, not those guys that I used to criticize.
So I’ve always, to put it in a simple way, I’ve always wanted to be with the people that value those values. So whether it’s the Islamist theocrats that were attacking them, or now in this case with the mandates, the state that was actually assaulting those values; for me, I see a consistent transition to say those values are what matter.
If you are attacking them from the Islamist side or from the state, I’m going to defend those values. So it was a seamless transition for me to then jump into that COVID space.
Mr. Jekielek: So liberalism, frankly, and secularism actually have gone hand in hand, right?
Mr. Nawaz: Right. Yes. Small “l” liberalism.
Mr. Jekielek: Right. But you’re talking about the sort of the importance of this connection to God or spiritual element. I guess again, what I’m trying to get at here is do you see there being something inherently problematic that has created this? It’s not just the leaders that are going at this.
There are all sorts of people that whatever narrative that you’re picking that are going for, there are people vilifying unvaccinated people. There are people vilifying Russians at the moment. I mean, it’s unbelievable. In Italy, they almost banned Dostoevsky from a course or something like this. There’s this kind of—yes.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes. That element that’s missing there. So why were people able to, why were people so tempted to follow the state even where it went against their own interest and their own value system. And that’s the lack of spirituality. I think that if you take spiritual connection away from society, and we’ve seen how it’s been eroding of late; whether it’s religious adherence, I’m not interested. What I really care about is that there’s a moral hierarchy you believe in; in some higher purpose, right?
If you take that away from society, then you end up in a situation where there’s a void and the state fills that void and your moral hierarchy becomes the state. And so you’re blindly following the moral compass the state sets for you. So what I realized, and that was actually, let’s call it a pivot even within myself, the importance of jealously guarding, not only the value set, but the connection you have to that moral hierarchy.
It’s that latter part that I think there was a refocus in my mind. And I have a teacher on the Sufi Islam side, Sheik Khali and myself and my friend Usman, who we did a lot of work on the Muslim prisoner rehabilitation with convicted, high-level convicted terrorists. Part of the mentoring is to get that connection, that spiritual connection in place; so that you have that strong moral compass and grounding, because you need a motivation to learn that value set.
When that value set comes under attack, why still even then, what is it that’s going to drive you, to get you through the hot and the cold winds that you face when you’re doing that work because it’s difficult? People turn on you, they call you all sorts of things; they cancel you. It’s happened to, for legal reasons, all I’m going to say is I had a show on the largest commercial radio group in the UK, and my contract was ended.
I happened to also have been spending months criticizing COVID mandates. So what’s going to get you through that? You have to have some connection that gives you that strength. And that’s the element there, the spiritual grounding. I think we’ve missed in, or we’ve underestimated in our open democratic societies.
It’s why I said earlier, it’s a strength and it needs to be preserved. It needs to be valued properly and protected. It needs to be encouraged—meditative practices, wellness, a connection and an understanding of you inside—and then your relationship with the world and a constant search inside for improvement and learning from your own mistakes and others’ mistakes to better because you aspire to something better.
That connection I think, it’s so dangerous for that to be undermined. It’s so dangerous for that, let’s call it antitheism as opposed to, I don’t care what people believe. So I say the idea that you mustn’t believe that is what I have a problem with, antitheism. Because then all you’re left with is materialism. When you’re only left with materialism, it’s inevitable you’ll end up at relativism.
If you think about it, materialism will end up at relativism because it states by definition that there is no such thing as external morality, that you are 100 percent a product of your circumstances and your environment. And that will mean that everything’s relative.
As circumstances change, you need to change your idea of even what it means to be human, which is what we are being told now with transhumanism; that even the idea of what it means to be a man and a woman; what it means to be human even; it’s all up for debate. And you end up in a position where then anything’s allowed as long as power tells you it’s okay to do. I’m worried about that. I think there needs to be some, we need to have some guidance about life and what it means to be human.
Mr. Jekielek: You just reminded me of this comment. I had someone wrote to me after I shared that clip of you that we started the episode, the first part of this episode with. Bruce Pardy’s a law professor in Canada in Queens, has been kind of watching this whole trucker situation. I was talking with him about that. But he reached out to me and he said, “I think that there’s something missing from the comment.”
Of course the comment I’m going to remind everyone was 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. So his comment, it was, “It’s not just a battle of whether truth is relative or absolute. It’s about something even more fundamental, if one can believe there is such a thing.” He says, “For me, it’s about their rejection of consistency. They mean there’s no truth except ours.” I thought that was really interesting.
Mr. Nawaz: Yes, that is. And it’s why if we insert the word pursuit of truth, we arrive at that. If we are pursuing truth, we will be seeking that consistency to arrive at truth. If you’re not even bothering to pursue it, that’s where you end up in that situation where it doesn’t matter what. What I say is what’s going to happen. It’s what’s going to, and I have the power to enforce what I say, and you’re just going to do it.
We heard that during the COVID mandate period; like we ended up in a position that this is how it’s going to be, and you’re going to do it, or I’ll lock you in your home. Scary. No one was interested in whether that was science backing up. Nope, that’s what we are telling you you’re going to do.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts?
Mr. Nawaz: I think it’s been a great conversation. It’s lovely to meet you, and I really encourage what you are doing. And it’s a pleasure to have this in-depth conversation with you. I encourage people to explore this idea that actually, we can aspire to something higher than ourselves.
And that idea that, actually, a connection among each other that binds us that is greater than simply, our material day-to-day transactional pursuits—to have that human bond and understand deeply on an intimate level the value of being human and the value of community and of appreciating our human relations and community around us—is where our strength will lie.
I encourage people to seek that in community and in relations and not to seek it in the machine, which is the system or the leviathan. It will not give you that intimacy. It will invariably and inevitably betray you because it doesn’t exist to solve your problems. It exists to deliver its objectives.
It’s a necessity. We have to have it. Let’s have a small version of it, a toothless version of it. But the size of it at the moment, and its kind of goal-oriented organizational setup, won’t give you that intimacy that we’re looking for. I believe that people have a sense that’s been missing. It won’t come from the state. It has to come from our relations with our loved ones, with our communities.
So I think that localism, grounded communities, connections with teachers who have an understanding of human nature and what it means to self-correct and have an aspiration to some higher purpose and recognize that there is something worth exploring as to why we’re here. I think that is so important as a guarantee that we don’t go that down this path again.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Maajid Nawaz, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Nawaz: Thank you. Look, Jan, it’s fantastic I’m here because, in London, I don’t know if you know, I don’t know, I subscribe to The Epoch Times. I get the physical newspaper delivered to me in London and I have the digital subscription. And what I like about you guys is this idea that you are trying to rediscover and bring back this idea of journalism for its sake as a profession, as a pursuit.
And I encourage, and I will encourage people, the first thing you do when you walk into my living room, you see your newspaper there. So I’m delighted to be here with you and have the opportunity to see your offices.
And as I say, one, when I set my own show up in the UK, which will be on the Odysee platform, O-D-Y-S-E-E; I’d love to have you on and comment as somebody that’s working on The Epoch Times, because I think you guys are really attempting what I value and that’s the pursuit of truth in journalism; so thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: Wonderful and we’ll have you on again as well.
Mr. Nawaz: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Jan. Thank you very much.
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 onto the show, onto American Thought Leaders. So to stay up to date on the most recent episodes and our exclusive content, you can actually sign up for our newsletter at theepochtimes.com/newsletter. Just hit the check box for American Thought Leaders.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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