Will the wheels fall of Maajid Nawaz’s bandwagon now?

Picture of Maajid Nawaz, a middle-aged South Asian man, standing outside a branch of Barclays Bank with a yellow circular badge on his black jacket and leaflets in his handIn today’s Daily Mail there is a report that Maajid Nawaz, the founder of the so-called counter-extremist Muslim organisation Quilliam and Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn in the forthcoming election, was filmed in a strip club in Whitechapel last year during Ramadan, where he ‘received’ two five-minute lap dances, got heavily drunk (staff threatened to remove him several times) and tried repeatedly to touch the woman who danced for him, which is against club policy. (The report includes photos and a video of the incident.) Nawaz’s spokesman said that the incident was his stag night which he held with the full knowledge of his now wife; Nawaz himself tweeted:

The Mail report makes much of Nawaaz’s claim to be a feminist and his support for such issues as ending FGM, as if there were no feminists who didn’t regard abolishing the sex industry as a priority. In fact, there is a whole body of feminism which regards sex work — even prostitution, let alone lap dancing — as a job which women (and somen men) make a free choice to go into, and demands such things as the legalisation of brothels — although they do not encourage or condone men sexually harassing women in the industry and trying to touch them when they are not supposed to. I am not sure if Nawaz knows anything of that debate; he seems to be a feminist of the vague “women are people too” variety. Some feminists say that men cannot even be feminists.

That said, if a man wants to be an ally to feminists, he should think carefully before he attends places like this. It is not only that some (but not all) of the women do the work because they are desperate, and some may even have been trafficked, blackmailed or otherwise forced into it (if you have sex with someone in those circumstances, it could well be rape). It’s not only that they attract the sort of men who harass women in the neighbourhood before and after attending the clubs. It’s also that companies use trips to these clubs as ‘rewards’ or as social networking events, and anyone not that way inclined would exclude themselves, and thus be absent when important decisions are made that affect their future. Most women would not want to attend, and neither would most Muslims. The clubs foster discrimination; they are an even more egregious version of the Garrick Club-type all-male “backrooms”. This alone should be enough reason for anyone who ostensibly champions any minority to avoid them.

So, Nawaz dumps on Muslims, much like Quilliam always has done. We already knew that from his, and the organisation’s, antics and public statements. We knew it from Usama Hasan making a show of his belief in evolution (and the resulting ‘death threats’) to the non-Muslim media, and his family trying to treat the Leyton mosque as a family business when the community rejected him and his belief. Drinking alcohol and ‘receiving’ lap dances at strip clubs are both haraam, which every Muslim knows. Of course, we all know there are Muslims who drink, but most don’t make a big show of being a ‘moderate’ Muslim and a role model for anyone looking for a path out of extremism. Not only has he handed a big propaganda coup to the remaining extremists; he gives weight to the idea that refusing to embrace the ‘pleasures’ of the dominant culture is a symptom of extremism, even though many people in the general population regard some of these things as sleazy, immoral or socially harmful themselves.

I suspect his behaviour may have been part of some sort of personal crisis on Nawaz’s part, a rebound from the years spent in HT and in prison, perhaps, or the break-up of his first marriage. If this is the case, he should step down from Quilliam because, if they really are meant to be an organisation representing moderate religious Muslims, they should consider him to be an embarrassment. It is unlikely whether the Lib Dems, which as Julie Bindel noted in Standpoint magazine in 2013 is “overrun by lads and libertines” with a lower ratio of female to male MPs than either Labour or the Conservatives, a libertarian attitude to the sex industry and a history of sexual scandals, will consider this to be worthy of resignation, especially as it may be too late to replace him. But he ought to recognise that he is no longer an asset to the campaign against extremism, or a credible role model. Maajid, step down from your public roles, go and have your fun if you want, but leave us Muslims alone.

(More: 5 Pillars.)

Image source: Wikipedia; picture taken by Ross Frenett, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

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  • Ortega

    I think Maajid needs to start a new organisation. It’s pretty obvious that Ed Husain wanted to found Quilliam to be part of a “Traditional Sunni” (whatever the hell that means) opposition to Wahhabism. That was fairly clear with its opening event. Since he left, non-religious Maajid Nawaz has taken the organisation in a different direction that is at odds with its founding and frankly with the name of the organisation. He should probably just join the Henry Jackson Society or Centre for Social Cohesion instead of trying to play this balancing act.