Hanif Qadir is the co-founder of the Active Change Foundation in London. A former islamist extremist, he oncer joined Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Deterred by the crimes he saw being committed against civilians, he came back to the UK to launch Active Change, dedicated to supporting youth exposed to extremism. He tells euronews reporter Valerie Gauriat about the ideological drift that led to the surge of ISIS, and gives his views on the way the western world should deal with the situation.
“The landscape has changed. The rationale and the narrative have changed. Before we had Al Qaeda, we had the old way of terrorism. Old kinds of argument, in terms of Afghanistan and the Iraq war. Since we’ve seen ISIS coming up and establishing a caliphate, the narrative, the ideological narrative thats coming out, is a misconstrued version of Islam. Not many people understand the truth behind that, or the legitimacy of this caliphate. They believe it’s a religiously driven war, or it’s a jihad for them. Because its a prophecy that things would change before the last days, and they need to be on board. This is very challenging. It’s a very powerful and potent brand that ISIS is using. And our job, when that kind of thing comes about, it’s an ideology. So thats’ when we have to fight ideology with theology. Because the truth will always prevail over the falsehood. And after looking at the foundations of ISIS, which are very weak, the foundations of ISIS are founded upon falsehood. And we will apply the theological understanding in an authenticated way. Which moves young men and women away. But we have to have the space to engage with them. And that space is everywhere. That’s what I always argue about. When we’re fighting this battle, this war with extremism and terrorism, we have to define what the battlefield is. And ISIS, Al Qaeda, and all the other extremist groups, they know where the battlefield is. And the problem is our leaders don’t. And we do the same thing over and over again. Which since 2002 until now, has created more terrorism than we can ever imagine before. A global threat of terrorism, unlike ever seen before. Because we are fighting on the wrong battlefield. and the space that we should be fighting is in the hearts and minds. In our communities, in our institutions. These are the battlefields we need to be fighting this war on. Not through military campaigns. That will kill the terrorist. It won’t kill the idea.
There’s nothing in common in some of the returnees. Some of them are quite clearly here because they feared for their life. Or they feared that they’d been involved in something they didn’t understand beforehand. They saw it for themselves, just like I did. They’ve been exposed to the reality of these people and their ideology, and realised its very far from Islam, and they returned. But some of them returned for obvious reasons. Because we know, some of the people have been radicalised to an extent that the art of deception has become second nature to them. And they will apply that, to meet their objectives, and the objectives of the network. We have to be cautious, it’s a very fine balancing act. When you are engaging with people like that, you have to be clever, to differenciate between the deceptive ones, and the genuine ones. And let’s not be fooled. There are both. There are genuine people who are coming back, who i think we should be engaging with and use as assets and tools, to prevent others from going.And there are others coming back to Europe for an obvious reason.
At the moment there might be a lot more who want to come back because of what’s happened, with the aerial bombardments from all the different nations. But are the intentions genuine or not ? This is something we need to understand. And I’m pretty sure that there will be quite a few, that are genuinely wanting to come back because they’ve seen the brutality of these people. But I’m also pretty concerned. I think we need to be really careful there are many who want to come back because it’s another way of deceiving people.. To come back for an ulterior motive.
We know there are people that want to leave, that have been instructed to leave for different reasons. But we have to take the good with the bad. We have to look at the genuine ones. And let’s help them. We need to go through the process of engagement assessment. And safeguarding. But ultimately I think we need to be able to work with those people who are genuinely coming back. Because we need more people like that in Europe, across the western world, to engage with their communities, to show them what they’ve seen, what they’ve been exposed to. To show the brutal nature, the lies and the deception. And we also need to look at those who are coming back here for a different purpose, and assess them clearly.”