“C. Holland Taylor doesn’t look like a man radical Muslims should fear. He is trim, unassuming, and speaks with a faint southern accent. His stylish blond haircut and trim suit give him the appearance of a fortysomething European businessman. He possesses no arsenal of weapons, holds no government post, and operates no intelligence service. Yet he runs the world’s most potent and innovative anti-extremist network and may hold a key to defusing the ticking bomb of Islamic terrorism.”
~ Jennifer Rubin, “In Defense of Moderation,” The Weekly Standard
C. Holland Taylor (above, with President Wahid of Indonesia) serves as Special Advisor for International Affairs to the Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) — the world’s largest Muslim organization, with over 90 million followers. For the past two decades, Mr. Taylor “has engaged influential and genuinely reform-minded Muslims… to articulate and defend a progressive and tolerant understanding of Islam” (Wall Street Journal) and has run “the world’s most potent and innovative anti-extremist network” (Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, writing in Weekly Standard). In 2015, The New York Times described a feature-length film Mr. Taylor directed as “a relentless, religious repudiation of the Islamic State and the opening salvo in a global campaign by the world’s largest Muslim group to challenge its ideology head-on.”
Mr. Taylor is co-founder, chairman and CEO of LibForAll Foundation; co-founder, deputy chairman and COO of its sister organization, Bayt ar-Rahmah; co-founder of the Humanitarian Islam movement; and co-founder, Deputy Chairman and CEO of the Center for Shared Civilizational Values (CSCV). He also serves as Emissary to the United Nations, Americas and Europe for Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, NU’s 7-million-member young adults movement.
LibForAll, Bayt ar-Rahmah, and CSCV are incorporated in Winston-Salem, NC, to which Mr. Taylor’s ancestors immigrated in search of religious freedom in the mid-18th century. The son of a U.S. military officer in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, Mr. Taylor was raised primarily in Europe and Asia, including Germany, Iran, and South Korea. He is an expert on the Islamization of Java during the 15th and 16th centuries, and has lived, studied, and worked in the Muslim world, from Iran to Indonesia, for many decades. Mr. Taylor’s unique combination of experience in the fields of international business, strategy, and the forging of cross-cultural relationships has enabled LibForAll to become “a model of what a competent public diplomacy effort in the Muslim world should look like” (Wall Street Journal), and his work was extensively cited in conjunction with the 2019 nomination of Nahdlatul Ulama for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2014, Mr. Taylor joined KH. A. Mustofa Bisri (then Chairman of the NU Supreme Council) and KH. Yahya Cholil Staquf (General Chairman of the NU Executive Board) in establishing Bayt ar-Rahmah. LibForAll, Bayt ar-Rahmah, and CSCV derive their inspiration from the heroic example of President Wahid’s 16th century Javanese ancestors, whose deft use of soft and hard power defeated Muslim extremists, and restored freedom of religion for all Javanese, two centuries before the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the Bill of Rights led to the separation of state and religion in the U.S.
In March of 2017, Bayt ar-Rahmah and Gerakan Pemuda Ansor launched a global movement (“Humanitarian Islam”) that seeks to reform obsolete tenets of Islamic orthodoxy that enjoin religious hatred, supremacy, and violence, by restoring rahmah (universal love and compassion) to its rightful place as the primary message of Islam. In 2022, Nahdlatul Ulama’s Central Board formally appointed CSCV as a primary vehicle for its international engagement, and as Permanent Secretariat to the G20 Religion Forum (R20).
Mr. Taylor has co-authored a number of historic documents with NU General Chairman Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, including the 2016 International Summit of Moderate Islamic Leaders (ISOMIL) Nahdlatul Ulama Declaration; the 2016 Global Unity Forum Declaration; the 2017 Gerakan Pemuda Ansor Declaration on Humanitarian Islam; the 2018 Nusantara Statement and Nusantara Manifesto; multiple resolutions unanimously adopted by the world’s largest political network, Centrist Democrat International; and the 2023 Nahdlatul Ulama Centennial Proclamation, through which Nahdlatul Ulama spiritual leaders have formally launched — in a systematic and institutional manner — the reform of obsolete and problematic tenets of Islamic orthodoxy.
Mr. Taylor is an acclaimed speaker whose writings have been published in major media outlets throughout the world, helping to educate policy makers and the general public about how to counter the ideology of religious hatred, supremacy, and violence that underlies and animates Islamist terrorism. This work follows a career as a successful entrepreneur and global telecom executive, during which Mr. Taylor served as CEO of USA Global Link, and was credited by numerous leading publications as one of the essential catalysts in the deregulation of the global telecommunications industry. Educated at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Princeton University, Mr. Taylor is fluent in English, Indonesian/Malay, and German.
“Public Diplomacy for Dummies”
by Bret Stephens
“Mr. Taylor, a former telecom executive who moved to Jakarta in the 1990s and speaks fluent Indonesian, has engaged influential and genuinely reform‐minded Muslims… to articulate and defend a progressive and tolerant version of Islam.
“In its brief life, LibForAll has helped turn back an attempted Islamist takeover of the country’s second‐largest Muslim social organization (with 30 million members), translated anti‐Wahhabist books into Indonesian, sponsored a recent multidenominational conference to denounce Holocaust‐denial, brought Mr. Dhani to Colorado to speak to U.S. military brass, and launched a well‐researched ‘extremist exposé’ in order, Mr. Taylor says, ‘to get Indonesian society to consciously acknowledge that there is an infiltration occurring of radical ideology, financed by Arab petrodollars, that is intent on destroying Indonesian Islam.’
“For his efforts, Mr. Taylor has been cold‐shouldered by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta—more proof that when it comes to public diplomacy the U.S. government functions with its usual genius and efficiency. But there’s more at work here than a bumbling and insipid bureaucracy. As the scholar Carnes Lord notes in his useful book on public diplomacy, ‘Losing Hearts and Minds,’ America’s public diplomatists ‘are today no longer as convinced as they once were that America’s story is after all fundamentally a good one, or believe an alternative, negative story is at least equally plausible…’
“But if effective public diplomacy is really as vital in the war on terror as everyone appears to agree it is, we need better ambassadors, better administrators and a better sense of who we need to engage and how. At least Mr. Taylor has a clue. The administration could stand to learn from him.” Read the full article (PDF).
“Studying the Babad Tanah Jawi
(History of the Land of Java) with Gus Dur”
“After he retired from the telecom business in 1999, Mr. Taylor relocated to Java and would often visit sacred locales for prolonged periods of meditation. At Parangkusumo, he received a message [from God] to study the process of the Islamization of Java in the 15th and 16th centuries. ‘I spent four years researching this subject, which included reading the [17th-century] book Babad Tanah Jawi (History of the Land of Java), which describes the ideologically-driven conflict between a harsh and supremacist understanding of Islam, and that which is spiritual (ed. note: Sufism), a la Sunan Kalijogo and his disciples, including Joko Tingkir (Sultan Adiwijoyo), Ki Ageng Pemanahan and Senopati ing Alogo, founder of the Second Mataram Kingdom.’
“‘It was during the course of his research that this University of North Carolina and Princeton alumnus met Gus Dur and became a close friend of Indonesia’s fourth president. Both were profoundly attracted to the Babad Tanah Jawi and to Islamic spirituality—recognizing the vital role these could play in our contemporary world. ‘Through Gus Dur, I came to know a number of kyais [NU religious leaders], such as Kyai Haji A. Mustofa Bisri (‘Gus Mus’) from Rembang, a role model who truly embodies Islam rahmatan lil ‘alamin,’ he explained [Islam as a source of love and compassion for all sentient beings].
“Through his relationship with these kyais, Mr. Taylor became convinced that the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesian Islam and the aforementioned spiritual figures had the potential to help dispel misconceptions about religion that threaten international peace, including both Islamophobia and ideologically-motivated violence perpetrated by Muslims themselves. Yet only kyais who embody God’s universal love and compassion, and actively convey this love to others, are capable of performing this vital role, which opportunistic and materialistic religious leaders cannot fulfill.” Read the full article (PDF).
“Meditations on Moderate Islam”
by Lucy Hood
“C. Holland Taylor ‘78 took up meditation as a freshman at UNC, and its practice is still a fundamental part of his life and closely tied to his own spiritual beliefs. It has also played a part in his fervent interest in bringing peace to the Islamic world…
“Taylor relies on what he calls a ‘counter-extremism’ network of powerful Muslim leaders ‘who have theological legitimacy, credibility… and the courage to confront radical Islam…’ ‘We work with powerful individuals,’ Taylor says, ‘who are true spiritual leaders, and as such, cannot sit back and do nothing when they see the world endangered by the threat of radical[ism]…’
“[T]he telecom industry gave him many of the tools he now uses to run LibForAll. Already in place is a vast network of Muslim leaders. Taylor says he helps them ‘flip the switch’ [and] assists these leaders in their efforts ‘to depoliticize Islam and return it to a fundamental understanding of their faith.’” Read the full article (PDF).
“An Ex-CEO’s Plan for World Peace”
by Beth Kwon
“C. Holland Taylor used to solve business problems as a telecom CEO. Now he’s aiming higher – with a goal of ending religious extremism…. Although Taylor’s foundation may seem an odd follow-up to his telecom career, his background makes him a perfect fit. A military child, Taylor lived for three years in Iran as a kid, backpacked through Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan and has meditated since he was 18. ‘My own meditation and spirituality was key,’ he says. ‘Meditation is universal, and helps me connect with people and form a relationship of mutual understanding and trust.’ It helps that he possesses the diplomatic and persuasive acumen to broker relationships with high-level clerics, heads of Muslim organizations, university officials and political leaders like Wahid.” Read the full article (PDF).
“Peace, Love, and Understanding”
by Robert K. Epstein
“If the world’s major religions ever learn to coexist, they may have C. Holland Taylor to thank… ‘Holland was on the cutting edge in the Islamic world,’ recalls the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who was introduced to Taylor by [Denver businessman Larry] Mizel. ‘He impressed me immediately with the depth of his contacts as well as his realistic approach: This was no pie-in-the-sky person who thought he could change the world just like that. Kudos to Holland for being a man of clarity, courage and vision. I am certain it is not easy for him to work within the Muslim world with a kippah-wearing Jew.’” Read the full article (PDF).
The Illusion of an Islamic State
Preface to the English Edition
“Fighting Fire with Water”
by C. Holland Taylor
“Never, for an instant, did President Wahid ‘buy’ the notion—widely propagated by Islamists, and many in the West—that European or American support for Muslim moderates, in their struggle with Islamist extremism, will somehow discredit the former. He considered LibForAll’s track record of success—including with The Illusion of an Islamic State—to be proof positive thereof. When asked whether the name LibForAll should appear on the cover of the original Indonesian edition of this book, he replied, ‘No. But I’ll describe what LibForAll is in the opening paragraph of my introduction, so that when people see the name, they’ll also realize who’s involved with the organization, and what our purpose is.’
“Confident of his own ‘Islamicity,’ and revered as a saint by tens of millions, from the East Indies archipelago to the Middle East, President Wahid knew that moderate/spiritual Muslims alone (and, by the same token, Westerners acting alone) can no more derail the Islamist juggernaut than the Russians, Chinese or even Americans could have defeated the combined forces of Nazism and Japanese militarism in World War II, acting alone and without allies. Thus, although this book describes in great detail how to ‘fight fire with water’—i.e., how to marginalize and discredit Islamist ideology by drawing on universal spiritual principles deeply rooted within Islam itself—it does not ignore the practical dimensions of this challenge.
“Nor should readers fall into the trap of assuming that Muslims who embrace the spiritual principles articulated in this book are pacifists or religious quietists, unable to address the threat of violence, or engage effectively with the world at large. While non-violent extremists (who seek to use the repressive apparatus of the state to impose their views on others) felt the intense heat of public opprobrium generated by this book, their ideological brethren from Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist groups were being hunted night and day, with dozens captured or killed by Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorist task force, Detachment 88. In the fall of 2009, former Muhammadiyah chairman and LibForAll advisor Dr. Syafii Maarif—who was also advising Indonesia’s security officials, in the wake of the July attacks—informed me that the top leadership of Indonesia’s police and military hierarchy viewed The Illusion of an Islamic State as an invaluable tool for understanding, and countering, terrorists and the ideology they share with a far broader spectrum of society, on which they rely for recruitment and support.
“Upon hearing of the book’s dramatic impact in Indonesia, a former chairman of Pakistan’s armed forces—who is part of LibForAll’s counter-extremist rahmatan lil-‘âlamîn network—dispatched a similar message to us: ‘This is a great achievement, and I wish you all success as you move on in this direction.’
“Since the attacks of 9/11, America and the West have played into al-Qaeda’s hands, by focusing the overwhelming preponderance of their energy on ‘fighting fire with fire,’ while merely talking about, pretending to address or actively ignoring the hate-filled supremacist ideology that underlies and animates Islamist terrorism. All too often, Western governments and civil society institutions have been infiltrated by, or aligned themselves with, the Wahhabi/Muslim Brotherhood lobby, which seeks to prevent the West from establishing an alliance with truly moderate and progressive Muslim leaders, who espouse a loving, merciful and compassionate vision of Islam.
“Soon after Indonesia’s presidential election in July of 2009, a key figure from the istana, or presidential palace, asked to meet with me to discuss The Illusion of an Islamic State. Over dinner she remarked, ‘Para pejabat menganggap LibForAll sebagai sebuah yayasan yang luar biasa kuat dan sakti.’ (‘Many government officials regard LibForAll as a remarkably powerful foundation, possessed of sacred, and supernatural, abilities’—like those of a magical keris, or dagger, that can fly through the night and strike its opponents to the quick.)
“To use language more familiar to those living in the West, what she was saying was simple yet profound: LibForAll’s success is directly attributable to the selfless Muslim leaders who form the backbone of its global network, and their heart-felt desire to work in a spirit of mutual cooperation and respect with others—whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or atheist—who share a common love for humanity, and a desire to see Islamic teachings reconciled with the modern world of freedom, democracy and human rights. Current upheavals in the Middle East—and the escalating controversy about Islam and Islamophobia roiling North America and Europe—demonstrate the urgent need for such a process to occur.
“Those who are uncomfortable with talk about God, or with any conception of God that differs from their own, may find The Illusion of an Islamic State a challenge to their settled notions of reality. Yet those who seriously read and reflect upon the message of this book may find themselves rewarded with the unique ability to cross over the vast gulf that separates Islam and the West, and make common cause with what President Wahid liked to call the vast, silent majority of Muslims, so that together we may strive ‘to illuminate the hearts and minds of humanity… and banish the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.’”
Biography and Profile Photo
Download C. Holland Taylor’s one-page or two-paragraph biography.