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Khudi: a social movement to eradicate extremism

Khudi: a social movement to eradicate extremism

Khudi is a groundbreaking social movement that aspires to actively counter the spread of extremist ideology within Pakistan, predominantly amongst younger generations of Pakistanis, who now constitute a staggering 63% of the total population. Khudi has been established as a response to the current situation in Pakistan, where a vast majority of peace-loving citizens have found their country being used by a small minority of extremist groups to further their own radical agendas. Khudi was founded on the belief that a credible solution can be found through a civil society response that will challenge extremist arguments in the ideas domain.
Founded by seasoned social activist Maajid Nawaz, Khudi seeks to promote openness, unity and respect for difference within society. Indeed, at its very core, Khudi works to reinforce pride in the history and identity of Pakistan, while striving to uphold the legacy of pluralism, progress and democratic values as bequeathed by Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Maajid Nawaz himself is well placed to spearhead Khudi due to his in-depth knowledge of the ideology, tactics and recruitment techniques of extremist organizations.

His vast experience stems from his own past involvement with the global extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a group with which he was associated during his earlier years. His initiation into this organisation was a result of increased feelings of alienation during his teenage years and the lack of intelligent guidance and information from figures of authority. As a result of his involvement in propagating the group’s message, Maajid was arrested and subsequently jailed for four years where he devoted his efforts to studying Islam, which culminated in his full understanding that the message being propagated by extremists had nothing to do with the Islamic faith, but was in fact a flawed ideology that was abusing the name of Islam. Immediately after his release, Maajid disassociated himself from this group and its violent ideology and dedicated his life to speaking out against the extremist indoctrination that had misled him and others like him for so long.

Khudi has various long-term initiatives, which are aimed at encouraging the use of dialogue and discussion as the primary tools for dispute resolution, and to foster a culture of healthy debate within society. To this end, Khudi organises regular workshops, conferences and debates, as well as partaking in public services and civil society associations and engagements. Khudi has also launched a student magazine under the name of ‘Laaltain’ (Lantern), which provides a platform for young people across Pakistan to comment on issues of social and political relevance. The key issues that Khudi wishes to address through such initiatives are those of identity, nationalism, democratic governance, women’s rights and regional stability, as the Khudi team believes these areas are integral to the prosperity and progress of Pakistan.

Q&A Session with Maajid Nawaz, Noman Benotman and Oscar Morales

Khudi opened its doors to conversation and dialogue on the 9th of October, 2010 at an event in Islamabad. The evening featured talks from Khudi’s founder Maajid Nawaz and two prominent international activists, Noman Benotman and Oscar Morales. In their conversations and presentations, Noman Benotman, Oscar Morales and Maajid Nawaz shared their views and experiences in dealing with international and national level extremism. Noman Benotman is a former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) who has rejected militancy upon his realisation that the concept of Jihad had indeed been perverted.  Noman Benotman has also served as a mediator between the Libyan government and LIFG members, playing a key role in the disarmament of the militant group. Oscar Morales is an activist best known for organising the largest anti-terrorism demonstration in the world, which mobilised over 12 million people in 200 cities against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Having founded the One Million Voices Foundation, which works with the support of ex-kidnapped and demobilised members of FARC, Morales currently serves as its Executive President and Manager of Communications making speeches at various forums around the world on the use of social networks to promote and leverage social causes and their real impact in the world.

Speaking at the launch, Khudi founder Maajid Nawaz said: “When a group of us got together to form Khudi, we  felt that Pakistan currently lacks a social initiative that would boldly challenge extremist ideology as well as support the democratic values so passionately advocated by the Quaid. In this initiative, we hope to work with as many like-minded people and organisations as possible, not just to collectively strengthen our efforts but to be an example of the unity we wish to see in this country.”

Equipped with Maajid’s in-depth knowledge of the ideology, tactics and recruitment techniques of extremist organizations, Khudi is driven by a counter-extremism strategy based on the crucial principle that the prevention of extremism is far better than simply tackling its symptoms. Through its diverse initiatives and with support from the media and the public, Khudi seeks to empower the nation’s youth to reject extremism and to stand firm for the values of progress, pluralism and human rights – values on which the foundations of Pakistan were built.

About Maajid Nawaz

As founder of Khudi, Maajid is well-placed to take on the challenge of spearheading this movement. He is a seasoned social activist with his work as co-founder and co-director of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank based in the UK.

With a Degree from SOAS in Arabic and Law and a Masters in Political Theory from the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE), Maajid often engages in counter-extremism efforts through thought-generating workshops, writing, debating and media appearances. He has interviewed on and debated at coveted forums around the world, including the Washington Institute, the White House, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s University, the BBC Doha Debates, the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C., on BBC’s Hard Talk and CNN’s Larry King Live. Maajid also continues to engage audiences across a diversity of forums, ranging from student workshops in Pakistan to the US Senate in Washington D.C.

Maajid’s in-depth knowledge of the ideology, tactics and recruitment techniques of extremist organisations stems from his past involvement with the global extremist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir [HT], a group with which he was a member and recruiter for 14 years. His initiation into this organisation was a result of increased feelings of alienation and experience of racist abuse whilst growing up in Essex, a predominantly white area of Britain, during the 1980s. Like many young people, Maajid initially dealt with his questions on identity, race and religion by turning to the underground scene of rap music, which provided a voice and character to those who felt they were in some way different and on the edge of mainstream society. As a result of his experiences and his exposure to rebellious forms of expression, Maajid became increasingly politicised and consequently, anti-establishment. At the time, there was no one from within Maajid’s religious community who could help him intelligently discuss his confusions. Indeed, many mosques, including Maajid’s own, housed imams who were from abroad, poorly educated in religion, unfamiliar with British culture, and were ultimately ill-equipped to assist young people with overcoming their confusions over faith and identity.

During this period of vulnerability, Maajid was approached by a member of HT – a man who seemed to be able to address all his questions and to provide clear-cut political solutions to current dilemmas faced by Muslims around the world. It was HT’s political rather than religious ideas which were the primary attraction for Maajid, and soon he began participating in their ideological and political discussions – part of a process which effectively constituted indoctrination. Involvement at this early stage has been described by Maajid as being ‘cult-like’ in that individuals were force-fed biased and ill-founded information in a way that convinced confused or simple minds that the ideology being propagated was worthy of total devotion. With the passage of time, Maajid became increasingly involved in campaigning, distributing leaflets, and recruiting and radicalising students. Whilst studying at university, Maajid’s radical activities proliferated and he was selected by the organisation’s global leadership to establish the first cells for HT in Pakistan and Denmark. In 1999, Maajid took a year out to travel to Pakistan, and in 2000 he began travelling to Denmark on the weekends to spread HT’s ideology. As a result, he successfully managed to initiate HT within these two countries.

In 2001, Maajid moved to Egypt to study Arabic as part of his university degree. While there, he was arrested along with two others for belonging to HT, which was and still remains a banned organisation in Egypt. He was interrogated for twelve weeks in Cairo’s State Security Intelligence building and subsequently sentenced to five years in an Egyptian jail, although he only served four years. Maajid’s time in prison proved to be a life-changing experience. He devoted his time to studying and bettering his knowledge of Islamic theology, history, jurisprudence and Hadith historiography. He also had the opportunity to debate his ideas with a variety of Muslim minds. In the prison cells of Egypt, his fellow debaters were some of the world’s first-known ‘jihadis’ (people such as the assassins of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadaat) who had since renounced their extremist ideology and urged Maajid to do the same. Gradually, through his research and continuous discussion, Maajid came to discover the vast amount of scholastic disagreement within Islam, even upon issues where he had been told there was no dispute. Eventually, he began realising that it was not Islam that he had been propagating as a member of HT, but an extremist and obscurantist ideology falsely presented to him as the Islamic faith. As a result, Maajid was forced to confront, review and gain perspective on the violent ideology to which he had devoted his early life.

In 2009, Maajid decided to start work in his native Pakistan to contribute towards undoing some of the damage he had helped to create and to also address the lack of intelligent debate and discussion, a shortcoming that had initially prompted his own turn to extremism. As the son of Pakistani parents, Maajid’s work has also been of huge personal significance.

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