A former leader of a radical Islamic organization told Congress extreme Muslims are motivated by an ideology similar to Marxism and that Islamism has much in common with the former Soviet Union.
Maajid Nawaz, a native of England and once prominent figure in the London-based extremist group Hizb ut-Tharir, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the root cause of Islamic terrorism was its fanatical ideology, not poverty or discrimination.
“There is a common misconception on the left in the UK that only grievances can lead to Islamism,” he said.
Nawaz drew parallels between socialist Marxism and Islamism, contending that both movements see everything as a global ideological power struggle. He said Islamists wished for the world to be ruled under a single caliphate state, “like the Soviet bloc.”
“There will always be a conflict between Islamism and capitalism, just as there was once conflict between communism and capitalism,” he said.
This runs counter to the opinion held by many liberals that Islamic extremism is a theocratic product of the far-right.
A problem with the West’s approach to terrorism, according to Nawaz, was that many viewed Muslim terrorism as a problem with the religion of Islam rather than a result of the political ideology of Islamism.
Nawaz had been involved with Hizb ut-Tharir since he was 16 when he was arrested in Egypt in 2002 for his membership in the organization. Amnesty International offered to assist him legally, which led him to revise his conceptions of the West. Upon returning to London, he renounced his former extremism and is now a director at the Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank dedicated to countering Islamism.
Dr. Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed Nawaz, saying that Islamism had far more to do with politics than religion.
“The ideology that motivates these terrorists today has very little to do with the religion of Islam. It’s the difference between a religion and a radical ideology,” he said.
There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world, although only a small percentage is believed to be Islamist. These extremists have been moving west, however, with recent Muslim immigrations into Europe.
Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said while Britain has a more vibrant Muslim community, American Muslims are more likely to be radicalized. Most Islamic organizations in the United States – such as the Council on American Islamic Relations – have ties to an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood which promotes an Islamist ideology.
“I’m worried about raising my children in this country because I don’t know where to send them to teach them Islam. I’d have to teach them at home,” she said.