• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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Quilliam Foundation Closes

An announcement from Maajid Nawaz:

Due to the hardship of maintaining a non-profit during Covid lockdowns, we took the tough decision to close Quilliam down for good. This was finalised today. A huge thank you to all those who supported us over the years. We are now looking forward to a new post-covid future

The Quilliam Foundation website and social media presences have been removed, and Nawaz has also deleted his archive of Tweets, even though his Twitter feed is his personal account. Consequently, anyone wanting to review his commentary on the 2020 US election will have to be content with quotes preserved elsewhere.

Despite Quilliam’s former prominence – its reports formed the basis for public discussions on topics relating to Islamic extremism and “grooming gangs”, and it famously facilitated Tommy Robinson’s departure from the English Defence League – its closure has not received much media attention, with only the critical Middle East Eye writing it up so far. However, the journalist Medhi Hasan noted its passing on Twitter, and raised a couple of questions:

Question 1: where did the 3 million dollars or so that the SPLC in 2018 paid Quilliam and Nawaz go?

Question 2: why has Nawaz deleted all his tweets including his recent series of tweets and retweets flirting with QAnon-style, pro-Trump election conspiracies?

The payout, which was actually from the SPLC”s insurers, was a settlement in relation to a libel action after the SPLC described Nawaz as an “anti-Muslim extremist”. According to the SPLC statement, dated June 2018. it had agreed to make amends by paying “$3.375 million to Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam to fund their work to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and extremism”.

In January, Nawaz referred to this incident, and to others where he had secured settlements and media apologies over mischaracterisations, as a warning to critics that “I don’t do fail” when it comes to protecting his reputation. This, though, did not deter the Observer, which at the end of the month ran an article titled “LBC’s Maajid Nawaz’s fascination with conspiracies raises alarm”. Nawaz declared the article to be “targeted harassment”, although legal action has not been forthcoming. The reference in the headline to LBC rather than to Quilliam shows that Nawaz is now primarily a talk radio celebrity, and as such he may have outgrown the need for a think-tank vehicle.

The question about money is also pertinent to a tribunal case brought by a former employee, who was told in March 2019 that Quilliam “was unable to pay her as it had run out of funds”. The employee was awarded several months of unpaid wages, and her eventual redundancy was ruled to have been “procedurally unfair”. Think tanks of course tend to employ individuals who have an ideological affinity with their aims, and employee commitment to the cause can be taken advantage of – I am aware of a similar situation with a different “anti-Islamist” group that occurred a few years ago.