Page last updated at 23:03 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 00:03 UK

Think tank to counter extremism

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Ian Nisbet, Maajid Nawaz and Reza Pankhurst
Maajid Nawaz (centre): Imprisoned with former colleagues in Egypt

Former radical Islamists are launching a think tank to counter the ideology they blame for violent extremism.

The Quilliam Foundation says Muslims can discover a form of "Western Islam" by returning to the heart of the faith.

Its founding members are all reformed hardliners who say British Muslims should be pioneering a renewed vision free from foreign ideology.

The foundation is backed by popular progressive scholars - and is supported by a string of non-Muslim thinkers.

The foundation is the brain child of two men who have begun a battle against the Islamist political movement they once belonged to, accusing it of being part of a conveyor belt towards terrorism.

The foundation's director is Essex-born Maajid Nawaz who was jailed in Egypt with two other British men for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical party which recruits young Muslims across the world.

Ed Husain, the deputy director, has become a key influence on government thinking after writing a controversial expose of his life as an Islamist.

Both men have remained committed Muslims since leaving the movement.

British example

The think tank is named after William Quilliam, a 19th century Liverpool solicitor who became a prominent early convert to Islam and is thought to have opened the first British mosque.

The think tank argues his example of Islam through learning and reflection, rather than one dependent on "cultural baggage" from south Asia demonstrates a way forward.

The founders say that they want to confront what they call a radical, intolerant ideology which has been spread among young Muslims, often from abroad and based on flawed understandings of Western values.

The launch at the British Museum will see the founders publish recommendations for government action to marginalise extremist thinking.

In particular, they say they will campaign and debate among British Muslims to shift thinking back towards a centre ground of moderation and integration with the rest of society.

The foundation hopes it can effectively target the debate on critical issues such as Al Qaeda's ideology by demonstrating that the Koran and other sources say the opposite to what is claimed by extremists.

The government has been overhauling its strategy to both prevent extremism and to deradicalise those seen as a potential danger - although there are divisions among policy makers and communities over how best to do it.

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