Ever since the Southern Poverty Law Center foolishly and irresponsibly added Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali to their list of “anti-Muslim extremists” — even though they focus their activism on radical Islam, not peaceful Muslims — the responses have been coming quickly.
Here’s a sampling of some of the more eloquent reactions, including one from Nawaz himself.
Nawaz penned a piece for the Daily Beast calling out his fellow liberals for “Islamsplaining” and essentially putting a fatwa out on him:
… liberal reform Muslims and ex-Muslims stepped up to this challenge [of calling out extremists], only to be labelled as “anti-Muslim” extremists by those we had hoped were our allies, and who we now call the regressive-left. They are those who talk of progressive values: feminism, gay rights and free speech, and who criticise Christian fundamentalists within their own communities. A long time ago, we liberal reform Muslims had high hopes for this group. Just as they challenge the conservatives of their own “Bible belt” we thought they would support our challenge against our very own “Qur’an Belt.” How wrong we were.
Nothing good ever comes from compiling lists. And so I say to the Southern Poverty Law Center: You were supposed to stand up for us, not intimidate us. Just imagine how ex-Muslim Islam-critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali must feel to be included in your list of “anti-Muslim” extremists. Her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004. And back then there was another list pinned to Theo’s corpse with a knife: it too named Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Nawaz also pointed out how little sense it made to put him on the same anti-Muslim list as bigot Pamela Geller:
And setting aside my disdain for naming any individuals on lists, to include me alongside Pam Geller is patently absurd. Pam Geller furiously opposed the Park51 Manhattan mosque project. I supported it. Pam Geller supported the anti-Islam British protest group EDL. By facilitating the resignation of its founder Tommy Robinson, I helped to render it leaderless until it practically fizzled out. Pam Geller has “expressed skepticism” about the existence of Serbian concentration camps. I have repeatedly referred to the genocide in Bosnia as having been a primary factor in my own anger and radicalisation as a youth. Pam Geller has called for Islam itself to be designated a “political system”, and to lose its constitutional rights as merely a religion. I am a Muslim who set up an organisation that campaigns to maintain a separation between Islam, and the theocratic Islamists who seek to hijack my religion. Need I go on?
The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece echoing those sentiments and defending Hirsi Ali, too:
The unstated premise of the report is that criticizing Islamist movements, ideologies and regimes, and Islam itself, is the same as hating Muslims. If the Western left believes this, then already-embattled reformers in the Muslim world will be even more isolated.
My Patheos colleague Kaveh Mousavi goes a step further, asking the SPLC to include him on their list since he also fights against Islamic extremism:
Normally when an organization claims to “fight hate” and “teach tolerance”, I expect it to support people like me. Because I think I do those things. But it’s clear that the existence of Islamophobia in the West warrants such a reaction that Islamic societies should have no internal critics, and that “fighting hate”, for someone like me, means simply not existing.
That is why I ask you to include me in your list. I believe it will be mutually beneficial. You will have a more comprehensive list, and I will wear your scarlet letter like a badge of honor.
By including liberal reformists and human rights activists in its list of “Anti-Muslim” extremists, the Southern Poverty Law Center has effectively chosen to silence and ignore many very important voices from whole groups of marginalized people, and in doing so, are inadvertently accepting the most hardline and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam which chooses to remain divorced from liberal and humanitarian values. The Southern Poverty Law Center, like the actual radical Islamists themselves, has shown the world that they too do not want people like Nawaz and Hirsi Ali to be allowed a platform. While on the surface, it may seem like a well-intentioned and sympathetic gesture as to shield Muslim communities from uncomfortable truths to which they may take offense, but in actuality, is doing exactly what the Islamists want to happen.
As of this writing, more than 3,000 people have signed the petition.
David A. Graham of The Atlantic also did a nice job explaining the various charges the SPLC makes against Nawaz and getting both sides to respond on the record. He ends with this:
There are legitimate disagreements about the most effective way of fighting Islamophobia. There are also grounds to argue about whether what Quilliam [Nawaz’s organization] is doing is truly making much difference. But what makes Nawaz’s appearance on the list so peculiar is that he and SPLC share the goal of fighting back against unfair targeting of Muslims. If even natural-seeming allies are preoccupied fighting each other about tactics, what hope is there prevailing in the fight against real bigots?
The SPLC has been sending something of a stock response to anyone who complains about their list. Here’s the response one person forwarded to me:
We appreciate your sharing your concerns about our inclusion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz in our booklet, “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.” We do, however, respectfully disagree with your critique. Let me explain our position here.
You write in regard to Hirsi Ali, who has repeatedly called for the closing of Islamic schools. This is not taken out of context or interpretation. Hirsi Ali also repeatedly claims that there is no “moderate” Islam, which vilifies millions and millions of peaceful Muslims practicing their faith.
Also, our report does not claim that she advocates violence. Our concern here is the media employing individuals who depict the Muslim community unfairly and stereotypically.
We respectfully disagree with your assessment that Nawaz is “non-extremist.” Let me cite some examples as to why we came to this conclusion. For starters, his organization sent a letter to a security official, according to The Guardian, that said, “the ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists.” The same letter also makes other wild accusations, including that Muslim groups, a television channel and a Scotland Yard anti-terror unit share the ideology of terrorists. We make this point in our report.
Last year, Nawaz said something similar about academic institutions in Britain in a piece for theNew York Times. He wrote, “In fact, academic institutions in Britain have been infiltrated for years by dangerous theocratic fantasists.” This talk of infiltration and sharing of extremist Islamic ideas within academia and government is a common anti-Muslim trope. Other extremists in our report, such as Frank Gaffney and John Guandolo, have said similar things.
I’d like to add that the calling for a ban of any religious dress is indeed extreme, regardless of the religious institution. Calling for a ban on the niqab is akin to banning a kippah. Daniel Pipes, another extremist on this list, has also called for a similar ban. These calls are contrary to religious freedom.
Finally, in reference to the “Jesus and Mo” cartoon tweet, depicting the Prophet Mohammad in any form is a very offensive thing for Muslims, but of course is protected by the First Amendment, as it should be. Let me be clear though that we do not claim in the report that this was “hate speech.” Other examples of Nawaz’s problematic positions are included in our report.
I’m sorry that you disagree with our conclusions and we greatly appreciate your support of Southern Poverty Law Center.
Director, Intelligence Project
The SPLC shows no sign of changing their list or apologizing.