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Maajid Nawaz was very actively involved in Islamic extremism for 13 years before he ended up in an Egyptian prison at 24 years old, blacklisted in three countries for attempting to overthrow their governments and sentenced to 5 years.

Nawaz describes how people’s self-identification has changed since medieval times, when people considered themselves as being “from” a particular religious group to, in the 19th century being “from” a nation or ethnic group to, more recently being a “citizen” of a given country, regardless of ethnicity.

He says that identity is now moving into the “Age of Behavior,” which he describes as a period of identification with ideas and narratives which affect allegiances and behavior – and he says that this is not necessarily all good news, as those who have been benefitting the most from this trend of borderless, social networking have been extremists.

He says that Islamists and Far-Right extremists have been very good at communicating across borders and using modern communications technologies, to organize themselves and to propagate their message. Extremist groups that used to be isolated and parochial have linked up internationally through the Internet and have come to think of themselves as mainstream.

He knows this first-hand and describes watching Islamist extremism develop – as distinct from Islam. He watched the influence he had on his co-religionists, as he rose up in the ranks in his international organization. He used to laugh at pro-democracy activists in Muslim countries, calling them “out of date.”

He maintains that the ideals of democracy have been left behind because democratically-inclined people have not yet recognized that we are in the “Age of Behavior,” of transnationally-inclined social movements.

He describes social movements as being comprised of four distinct components: ideas + narratives + symbols + leaders.

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TED Talks
July 2011

Why do transnational extremist organizations succeed where democratic movements have a harder time taking hold? This is a TED given by former Islamist extremist, Maajid Nawaz.

Alexandra Bruce

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