A concise and clear film on the challenges that Reformist Muslims and their allies face in order to modernize Islam. Sam Harris notes that Maajid Nawaz’s reformist movement is likely the toughest job of them all. The ultimate message of the film is that we, the public, can help with criticizing bad ideas such as in internet forums, twitter, facebook, and other places. This film is recommended for those who want to help reformist and Ex-Muslims into changing the conversation and getting liberals and centrist conservatives to help regain the narrative on the problems of Islam. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz go into the concentric circles and differences between Jihadism (violence in the name of Islam for a political goal of imposing an Islamist order), Islamism (a movement trying to impose an Islamist order, but not all do so by violent methods), Conservative Muslims (Muslims who don’t want Sharia as the law of the land, but want to maintain their own Islamic conditions in their families; potentially including hatred for Jews, hatred for Gays, and honor killing), and then the smallest group would be the Reformist Muslims that Maajid Nawaz is a part of.
The majority of the film centers around Maajid’s early life, how he was mistreated in British schools by his classmates at a very early age, and how his isolation became more pronounced when Neo-Nazi groups had a resurgence in Great Britain. The immediate consequence of which resulted in numerous beatings, racial epithets hurled at him daily, and witnessing his friends severely injured by Neo-Nazis using knives to stab his friends in the neck or other areas throughout his early life. His safety was constantly threatened and he witnessed the bloodied bodies of his friends far too often. His parents were actually quite normal and did their best, but the political climate of the youth during his time resulted in him withdrawing from others. He spent his time listening to rap music and that’s when radical Islamic recruitment organizations were able to exploit him.
I have to say that this explanation made way more sense than the tripe he had said in the Bill Maher interview. I had been interested in his viewpoints, but I had thought he was lying when he mentioned how rap music got him into an Islamist group. That explanation made absolutely no sense to me and I had assumed that Sam Harris had been duped by a man who was clearly a dishonest actor. It wasn’t until much later – after listening to the Ex-Muslims of North America panel – that I decided to give him a second chance. While Ex-MNA seemed like legitimate actors, I was still unwilling to believe that Maajid Nawaz was until they had mentioned his work in one of their panels because his explanation about rap music was the silliest thing I had ever heard as an excuse to join an Islamist group. His more detailed and honest explanation here seems far more believable and reasonable. To my own chagrin, Maajid Nawaz clearly has difficulty speaking openly about his early life because it was so painful for him. Considering the conditions he lived in and what he witnessed due to the Neo-Nazis of Britain, it’s not surprising or unreasonable to expect that he was easy pickings for an Islamist group at the time.
These next few portions are tidbits from the film and I’m going through them in a messy manner. The film organizes itself coherently and all these details make complete sense within the film, but it’s too much for me to go through in a few paragraphs. He went to college and used the idea of cultural tolerance to his advantage for the Islamist group’s purposes with the administration too flimsy to challenge him because they didn’t want to look like racists. It should be noted that it was not the professors who neglected this, but specifically the college administration that Maajid Nawaz highlights in his explanation. After a brutal murder caused by one of his fellow organizers who killed a black youth at the campus, he and his buddies were all expelled from the college. As an adult, he speaks of his regrets and how the college should have challenged them on a sexist picture they distributed around the campus, but the college administration never did due to fear of being referred to as racist. He mentions how, if they had, that murder may never have happened since they were given free access to do as they pleased in their student organization using the charge of racism as a shield. He speaks of the horrifying experiences in an Egyptian torture prison and how it was Amnesty International’s kindness and activism for his human rights that led to the first cracks in his belief in a Sharia-enforced society. Later on, in an interview on the BBC, when he was challenged on the sexist views of the Islamist group he was a part of where his views on the organization truly started to slip. Eventually, he became a former Islamist and founded Quilliam and joined with Sam Harris for both the book and the film after they had a scathing first encounter.
Sam Harris details the troubles he’s gained for differentiating religions by doctrines and how singling out Islam’s has caused wave after wave of criticism within the atheist community and the Left with clips of his debates with Hedges, Aslan, and the infamous incident with Ben Affleck. Harris explains the issues he’s had and how difficult Maajid Nawaz’s position is in reforming Islam. In fact, Ex-Muslims seem to gain higher yields in getting people to outright leave Islam than Maajid’s own activism and I’m firmly in favor of their cause. However, Harris and Nawaz are still allies in trying to change this dynamic as reforming 1.6 billion people is going to be decades of hard work. Even in the more atheist tolerant countries like the US, atheists are still discriminated against, the Christian Right continues to try to destroy women’s rights, and the Christian Right doesn’t acknowledge the targeted murders of transgender people.
Overall, this film is a 5 out of 5. It’s highly recommended if you want to learn more about the problems of Islam and how to help Ex-Muslims or Reformist Muslims.