Many readers reported this incident to me, and I wish I had time to do justice to this story, though others, including Harry’s Place and especially Sarah Haider at The Ex-Muslim, have written about the story in detail.
The upshot: the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), increasingly a refuge for Social Justice Warriors, has published a list and analysis of critics of Islam called “A field guide to anti-Muslim activists” (pdf of the full report is here). The SPLC named 15 people who, in their view, “fuel the hatred of Muslims” in America. Among those named are marginal bigots like Pamela Geller as well as clearly genuine bigots like Frank Gaffney; but two names also appear who are familiar Muslim or ex-Muslim reformers: Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
You can read the analysis at the respective sections (Hirsi Ali here and Nawaz here), but all I find is recycling of the same old arguments long leveled by critics of these people: Nawaz is more interested in personal advancement than reform (shades of Nathan Lean!); Ayaan Hirsi Ali has made some unwise statements (true) and lied about her background to get entry into the Netherlands (true, but excusable and irrelevant); yet there’s nothing that convinces me that either person, especially Nawaz—the most conciliatory and reasonable of the Islam critics—is trying to fuel anti-Muslim hatred. That is, unless you equate “trying to temper Islamic extremism” with “anti-Muslim hatred.”
Re Hirsi Ali, here’s one of the “accusations” against her:
- In a July 11, 2009, essay for the online World Post, Hirsi Ali criticized President Obama for denouncing “Islamic extremism without once associating Islam with extremism.” She threw cold water on the idea of the U.S cooperating with Muslims in order to battle jihadist extremism.
The criticism of Obama happens to be justified: the man has deliberately left all mention of religion out of his discussions of terrorism. As for throwing cold water on cooperation with Muslims, Hirsi addresses that in her latest book, which the SPLC neglects to mention. Her most recent view is that we should cooperate with Muslims to battle extremism, but real reform must ultimately come from the Muslim community itself. And it’s clearly a criticism of the faith itself, not of its adherents.
And this SPLC “criticism” is simply ridiculous:
While in the Netherlands, [Hirsi Ali] wrote the script for a short and provocative film about women and Islam directed by the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in the street by a jihadist a short time after its release. The murderer left a note threatening to also kill Hirsi Ali pinned to his victim’s body with a knife.
This really pisses me off. It is not a “provocative” film except to misogynist Muslims, for the video, “Submission” simply recounts the damage that Muslim theology does to Muslim women. Do watch the 10-minute film below and tell me why it should be criticized for inciting Muslim hatred. It is, instead, incisive criticism of the way Islamic doctrine oppresses women.
It is reprehensible that the SPLC mentions this courageous film—which led to Van Gogh’s death and Hirsi Ali’s permanent need for security guards—as some indictment of Hirsi Ali.
As I said, the SPLC report gives NO reference to Hirsi Ali’s 2016 book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, which is much more conciliatory than her previous writings, and in fact makes reasonable (though impractical) suggestions about how to “de-fang” Islam. (One example: get Muslims to stop reading the Qur’an literally. Good luck with that, since literalism is a tenet of Islam, even of many “moderate” sects.)
Here are three of the accusations against Nawaz, using his own words:
- In a Nov. 16, 2013, op-ed in the Daily Mail, Nawaz called for criminalizing the wearing of the veil, or niqab, in many public places, saying: “It is not only reasonable, but our duty to insist individuals remove the veil when they enter identity-sensitive environments such as banks, airports, courts and schools.”
- According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad [JAC: a Jesus and Mo cartoon]— despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad. He said that he wanted “to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge.”
What? That’s anti-Muslim hatred? Give me a break! Here’s Nawaz’s tweet:
The last charge against Nawaz by the SPLC:
- Nawaz, who had described himself as a “feminist,” was “filmed repeatedly trying to touch a naked lap dancer,” according to an April 10, 2015, report in the Daily Mail. The paper apparently got the security film from the owner of a strip club who was incensed by Nawaz’s claims to be a religious Muslim.
To the politically-motivated, it is of the utmost importance that the “narrative” around the religion of Islam remain undisturbed by critical voices. The good word has already been revealed: The ideology of Islam is, and always will be, entirely peaceful and good. The effect it has on its believers is, and always will be, entirely peaceful and good. When the faithful act in grotesque ways, the blame can only be placed on politics, poverty, or disposition. The mandates of the religion itself are beyond reproach, even by former or current Muslims.Both actual violent extremists and reformers present a problem to this narrative: They claim that belief has a relation to the behavior.
Nawaz’s entry may have been the most clearly ludicrous, but other profiles are similarly problematic. SPLC points to valid, factual claims made by those profiled as “evidence” of their extremism as often as it identifies falsehoods. Worse, it pools compassionate, anti-war Muslims with the likes of those who really do want to bomb the Muslim world – enacting terrible harm to the public discourse in the process.
Consistently, the report conflates criticism or dislike of the religion as “hate” against its believers – effectively granting this particular religion a privilege no other ideology maintains. In this sense, the SPLC, considered by many to be a progressive institution, allies itself with the right-wing theocrats of the East. In fact, the only string that really does tie together the supposed “extremists” listed in the SPLC guide is that they are all deeply despised by right-wing conservative Muslims.
. . . Already, too few are willing to stand up to religious privilege for the sake of human rights. When that privilege belongs to a religion whose followers include some ready to die (and kill) for the honor of their faith, activists face devastating costs. This report is an example of the careless, reactionary response by the American media (on both the right and the left) to the challenge posed by this religion. In the past, the Southern Poverty Law Center has built a reputation among progressives for identifying and monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups. With this report, it has tarnished its reputation and joined the ranks of the hate-mongers it purports to combat.
As critics of Islam are hunted by Muslim fanatics around the world, I hope we will remember the courage and sacrifice of those willing to speak out, and the role played by unscrupulous detractors painting targets on their backs.
When I read stuff like the SPLC report, I sometimes agree with a person—I can’t recall their name—who criticized Regressive Leftists for thinking that “the only authentic Muslim has a Kalashnikov in one hand and a Qur’an in the other.” The SPLC, it seems, shares that view, and, when demonizing Nawaz’s tweeting out a Jesus and Mo cartoon (adding that God was greater than could be offended by it), the SPLC mistakes critics of Islam for bigots against Muslims. It’s the classic Islamophobia Conflation Syndrome. As Haider says, the SPLC has truly discredited itself with this one.
Reader Chris wrote to the SPLC criticizing its inclusion of Hirsi Ali and Nawaz, and I reproduce their response to him in full:
From: SPLC Comments <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2016 12:51 PM
To: [Name Redacted]
Subject: Re: Site Comments & Inquiries – [Name redacted]- Thu, 10/27/2016 – 8:26pm
Thank you very much for your email.
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
I can only imagine the frustration that ex-Muslims or moderate Muslims feel—people like Haider, Asra Nomani, Ali Rizvi, Asra Nomani, and others—when they see a once-reputable organization like the SPLC criticize the few Leftists who make honest assertions about the danger of Islamic doctrine. Who would the SPLC approve of as valid critics of Islam—Muslim apologists like David Lean or C. J. W*rL*m*n?
UPDATE: Other readers are getting the same response as the one above when they write only about Maajid Nawaz, not mentioning Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That shows that the SPLC simply ginned up a boilerplate response.
As one reader who got that told me:
. . . I sent a mail to the Southern Poverty Law Center to complain about their smearing of Maajid Nawaz and not long afterwards received this(utterly cursory) reply. Since it mentions Ayaan Hirsi Ali throughout, and nowhere in my mail did I bring her up, I suspect that it’s an identikit reply that they churn out whenever they get complaints about the inclusion of either Maajid Nawaz or Hirsi Ali in their ‘field guide to anti-Muslim extremists’. It’s lazy and viciously ignorant. What the hell is going on over there? I’m fairly used to solitary illiberal-leftists smearing Nawaz, but an entire, previously respectable organisation…?Anyway, it might be of interest to you as an example of their wrongheadedness. This has really angered me.
Addendum: There is a Change.org petition to remove their names started by Ahnaf Kalam here. These petitions don’t always have an effect, but I think that it is at least a way of registering your disapproval and spreading awareness of the problem. I’ve signed it. -Grania