The Southern Poverty Law Center, which does a lot of important work tracking extremists of all stripes, put out a field guide for journalists of “anti-Muslim extremists” and bizarrely included Maajid Nawaz, a liberal Muslim pushing for a more progressive form of Islam. It’s an absolutely baffling inclusion. He responds:
I am a brown, liberal, reform Muslim. I have survived violent neo-Nazi racism and served as a former War on Terror political prisoner in Egypt, witnessing torture. Yet, in a trip that takes us through the looking glass, the largely white American non-Muslim “progressive” leadership at the pro-civil liberties group Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) has just published a “journalist’s field list” naming me as an “anti-Muslim” extremist.
Through the counter-extremism organisation Quilliam that I founded, I have spent eight years defending my Muslim communities in Europe, Pakistan and beyond from the diktats of Islamist theocrats. I have also argued for theliberal reform of Islam today, from within. But, in a naively dangerous form of neo-Orientalism, the SPLC just arrogated to itself the decision over which debates we Muslims may have about reforming our own religion, and which are to be deemed beyond the pale…In a monumental failure of comprehension, the SPLC have conflated my challenge to Islamist theocracy among my fellow Muslims with somehow being “anti-Muslim.”…
It’s not as if there’s any shortage of Muslim extremists who want me dead. They exist in numbers so plenty that former jihadists have even taken to calling in to my live LBC radio show to confess to once having made plans to assassinate me. Europe has witnessed around 6,000 of our fellow Muslims leave to join ISIS. Here in Europe, amid jihadist assassinations and mass terror attacks planned with military precision, we truly are in the thick of it. Meanwhile, from the comforts of sweet Alabama comes this edict that liberal Muslims working to throw open a conversation around reforming Islam today are somehow to be deemed “anti-Muslim extremists.”
The really frustrating thing about this is that the one thing we should all be doing is encouraging, lifting up and building bridges with liberal and moderate Muslims and ex-Muslims. And here comes a very prominent liberal Muslim, someone making the argument boldly for a more progressive form of Islam that leaves behind the dangerous ideologies of the extremists, and the SPLC decides to tar him with this ridiculous label to discredit him. Maajid Nawaz is exactly the kind of person we should be giving a platform to, not booing him off the stage.
The SPLC has in the past withdrew inclusion from such publications. They did so quite recently, in fact. I hope they do so again because they are destroying their own credibility by this outrageous attempt to take down Nawaz.