Last Saturday the Quilliam Foundation held its inaugural Summer Ball in central London, highlighting past successes, current work, and future plans. This was a fantastic event, attended by over 300 people, and reflected the diversity of support for Quilliam. There were students, politicians, journalists, academics and artists, as well as many activists, representatives from Muslim organisations and people whose own lives had been touched by extremism.
Maajid Nawaz and Haras Rafiq both gave very personal accounts of why the goals and values of Quilliam were so important to them, and Hazel Blears spoke about her experiences as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and her determination to hear more from women and young people in Muslim communities.
Another speaker, Sohail Ahmed, is a former Jihadist; he explained the factors which led him to adopt extreme views, radicalising others and becoming involved in a hardline Islamic society while studying at university – and then described how he began to question such ideas. In a recent interview he analyses some of the tensions facing young Muslims:
He says there are many like him, who find themselves torn between mainstream British culture and their Islamic roots and find refuge in extremism.
He said: “I really liked some parts of western culture but had to say I hated it.
“I liked freedom of speech, freedom to practice religion, equality, legal protections, freedom to vote, music, films, TV, sport.
“I think many Muslims do too and some feel guilty about that. So they become more extreme. People are committing these horrific acts because they are running away from themselves.”
Another speaker, Sally Evans, described the anguish of losing her son to extremism. Thomas Evans, a Muslim convert, joined Al Shabaab and died in Kenya in 2011. She was accompanied to the ball by her son Michael. In a statement he gave earlier this year he described how his brother changed after exposure to extreme views:
Michael told the committee that his brother changed after a trip in 2010. “A big tipping point was when he did a charity trip to Palestine called Road to Hope, and after coming back from that, he was quite angry at everything, saying how they were oppressed,” he said.
“When he changed mosque, the way he practised Islam changed completely… We were told numerous times we were going to burn in hell because we are not Muslims.”
We also saw four short films produced by the Quilliam Foundation. Readers may already have seen the powerful NotAnotherBrother, designed to discourage young people from being drawn to ISIS. I can hold my breath, by contrast, was a creative celebration of people’s different identities – and their individuality –written by a student at the LAE.
Thanks again to Quilliam for putting on such a great event – I hope it’s the first of many.