By labelling dedicated anti-extremism campaigners like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz as anti-Muslim extremists themselves, the deluded and morally compromised Southern Poverty Law Centre is doing the Islamists’ work for them
There have been few sadder debasements of once-fine and noble institutions this year than the Southern Poverty Law Center’s decision to stop serving as a fearless searchlight highlighting violent extremism and instead become a trendy-lefty Islamism-denying propaganda outlet.
That might sound harsh, but there really is no other way to describe the SPLC’s fawning, slavish deference to leftist SJW dogma – a philosophy which furiously denies that there is any problem within the Islamic community or with a certain branch of the Muslim faith, and that anybody who disagrees and dares to draw attention to problems within Islam is effectively Hitler.
Last week, in a blaze of publicity, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a list of fifteen individuals singled out by that organisation as holding and disseminating false and extremist information and opinions about Islam.
In the preface to their report, the SPLC declares:
The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.
This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.
This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.
So far, so noble, you might think. There is certainty a lot of hyperbolic and often baseless scaremongering about Muslims and Islam in the media, and flagging particularly odious or disreputable sources for media attention is not in and of itself a bad thing. Until you realise who is on the list.
Some of the names are old suspects that one would expect to see. But in news which has provoked widespread outrage, the list also includes the names of entirely innocent and worthy activists fighting against Islamist extremism, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.
And what is the SPLC’s charge sheet against Maajid Nawaz? What actions classify him as an “extremist”?
In the list sent to a top British security official in 2010, headlined “Preventing Terrorism: Where Next for Britain?” Quilliam [Nawaz’s anti-extremism think tank] wrote, “The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics.” An official with Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit told The Guardian that “[t]he list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism.”
Well, what’s so shocking about that? It as an entirely logical statement on Nawaz’s part. Unless the people at the SPLC are truly dim and do not recognise a difference between Muslims and Islamists then there is no excuse for trying to turn a perfectly obvious point – that some people who support a fundamentalist ideology will choose violence while others do not – into some kind of “gotcha” smoking gun evidence of Nawaz’s secret Islamophobia.
According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — 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.”
Was this provocative? Perhaps. But again, Nawaz is himself a Muslim. Who better to judge what is or is not offensive to one’s religious moral code than the person tweeting the image? And even if doing so is “offensive”, are there not times when the offence is a price worth paying to make a broader argument in support of universal free speech? And if the Southern Poverty Law Center is so concerned about the emotional harm that may be inflicted by “blasphemous” acts like this, how do they explain their deafening silence when it comes to Christian beliefs and symbols being mocked in the popular culture?
The SPLC is not taking the side of ordinary Muslims here, some of whom may indeed be quietly offended by depicting Muhammad. They are taking the side of violent Islamists who seek to enforce blasphemy laws in the 21st century.
And then the SLPC really descends into the gutter:
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.
And how we have the inevitable SJW identity politics hit job, seeking to ruin Nawaz’s reputation in the court of public opinion by repeating the shocking news that Nawaz has not at all times lived according to the letter of his faith. Well, so what? Sometimes, without thinking, I accidentally eat meat on a Friday during Lent. Does that make me virulently anti-Catholic and unable to fittingly discuss my faith in the media? Of course not. People’s actions diverge from their faith in a myriad of ways, small and large, and this applies just as much to those who got upset about Nawaz’s strip club visit (like the Muslim strip club owner) as to Nawaz himself. None are in a position to judge. Yet the SPLC feels that any divergence from Islamic teaching is sufficient to declare people that they don’t like to be somehow anti-Muslim.
This National Review editorial laments the SPLC’s corruption and decline:
The SPLC is an example of the way in which the Left corrupts and perverts the institutions it controls, from the IRS to the universities. While decrying “conspiracy theorists,” the SPLC itself is obsessed with “Terror from the Right” that is, pardon us for noticing, so rare as to be nearly insignificant. For all of the SPLC’s hysteria about neo-Confederates, skinheads, secret Nazi cabals, and the like, there is very little evidence that these organizations, to the extent that they exist as more than shared social-media fantasies, are actually up to much of anything. Even if we accept the tendentious characterization of SPLC favorite Timothy McVeigh as some kind of right-wing extremist (as with many such figures, his actual beliefs were confused, contradictory, and eccentric), the main organ of white-supremacist nuttery in the United States is prison gangs, which constitute a fairly constrained and peculiar phenomenon with relatively little effect on the outside world.
Not so violent Islamic radicalism, which is a factor in the United States and in practically every country in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and beyond. That is the great irony here: People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are doing the work the SPLC is supposed to be doing — understanding and countering violent extremists — and the SPLC denounces them for it.
Some of those on the SPLC list are Muslims, former Muslims, and lifelong students of Islam. What they mostly have in common is that they are, broadly speaking, conservatives, people who are influential among conservatives, or writers and activists admired by conservatives. The SPLC is so drunk on its own poisonous ideological brew that it has simply come to conflate conservatism with violent or potentially violent extremism. One of these things is not like the others: A category of social tendencies that includes both Aryan Brotherhood felons in San Quentin and Somali-Dutch atheist women with celebrated literary careers is not an especially useful category.
While Nick Cohen provocatively (but accurately) declares in The Spectator that “the white left has issued its first fatwa” against Nawaz:
It is an organisation that ought to share Nawaz’s values, but because of the crisis in left-wing values does the dirty work of the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the censors, and the murderers it was founded to oppose. It does it with a straight face because, as I am sure you will have guessed, the fascism in question is not white but Islamic. And once that subject is raised all notions of universal human rights, and indeed basic moral and intellectual decency, are drowned in a sea of bad faith.
Nawaz is from Essex. He has fought and been beaten up by white British neo-Nazis. He fell in with Hizb ut-Tahrir while he was young. When he ended up in a torture chamber in an Egyptian jail, he abandoned Islamism for liberalism. Since then, he and his Quilliam Foundation have struggled against both the white far right and the Islamist far right. They have defended liberal Muslims and, indeed, all of us from lethal blasphemy taboos and the threat of terrorism. They respect freedom of speech, including the freedom of their enemies to speak.
A significant faction on the left hates them for upholding the values they have forgotten, and will use any smear to denigrate them. As my secularist friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutar observed, when he, Nawaz and hundreds of others step forward and try to liberalise Muslim communities from within, they are attacked, ‘for being not Muslim enough, not Arab enough, not Pakistani enough, not filled with enough revenge and enough hatred’.
In the liberal orientalist world view the only ‘authentic’ Muslim is a barbarian. A battery of insults fires on any Muslim who says otherwise. They are ‘neo-conservatives,’ ‘native informants,’ and ‘Zionists’: they are as extreme as jihadists they oppose, or, let’s face it, worse.
This searing criticism could not be more accurate. For there is nothing so racist as the tyranny of low expectations in which the fashionable leftist intelligentsia holds the Muslim world, viewing them not as people with moral agency of their own but as little pets to be protected (or overgrown pets to be cowered from), people whose sometime decision to commit violence and murder cannot be condemned because it is supposedly “provoked” by forced beyond their control.
I have personally interviewed Maajid Nawaz, back when he was running as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the London constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn in the 2015 UK general election, and whatever one may think of his domestic political views, this is clearly not somebody who belongs on a list of violent, hateful extremists.
What is concerning is that the Southern Poverty Law Center would actually now prefer the old incarnation of Maajid Nawaz, back in the days when he was a member of a legitimate extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. As such, he would be protected under the umbrella of leftist denial and fawning appeasement, so central to the SPLC’s new dogma, and they would bend over backwards to excuse his fundamentalist beliefs and violent actions.
By contrast, having long since rejected violence and an extremist fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the SPLC would have us believe that Nawaz is somehow full of hatred and antipathy to normal Muslims, the equivalent of a knight of the Ku Klux Klan. It is absolute nonsense – pure, amoral leftist bilge.
This is also how Western civilisation destroys itself – by furiously denying the existence of opposing forces or in some cases openly bending the knee to them, while attacking those who actually recognise the danger and seek to confront it. In a world where precious few people have a remotely coherent strategy for tackling fundamentalist Islamism, Maajid Nawaz stands out as one of those with genuine understanding of the problem, and a plan for addressing it – and so the debased SPLC must now attack and undermine him at all costs, by pretending that he is an anti-Muslim extremist.
And one can only concur with Nick Cohen’s assessment that it is “heartbreaking” to witness an organisation so integral to the American Civil Rights movement, which bravely shone an unforgiving light on genuine violent extremism where it once existed, now creating McCarthyite lists of people who offend leftist/Islamist dogma and labelling them with the same term of “extremist”.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list too. Why? Because she actively and gleefully foments prejudice and violence against ordinary innocent Muslims? Of course not. The SPLC include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in their leftist collaborationist fatwa because she had the temerity to renounce her faith and speak out passionately for the cause of secularism, thus gravely offending the real extremists to the point where she has to hire bodyguards to ward off assassination attempts.
It takes some twisted morality to come down on the side of those who seek to carry out an execution for the crime of apostasy over their intended victim, but somehow the SPLC has found a way.
Do these jerks not think about the consequences of their rote-learned, pseudo-leftist bombast? Have they not heard that, across the world, lists circulate of ‘apostates’ along with invitations to the faithful to kill them when they can?
Maybe they have but do not care, and it will take drastic action to shake them out of their spiteful stupor. A court action could do it. If Nawaz sues, SPLC’s work in fighting the white far right will suffer grievously. But, as it is so eager to be on the wrong side in the fight against the religious far right, I think we could call it evens.
It is hard to disagree. Gone, it seems, are the days when the Southern Poverty Law Center could be found seeking justice for the victims of real prejudice, oppression and extremist violence.
Where once the SPLC battled segregation and fought civil cases to ensure that racist lynchings and arson attacks were acknowledged at a time when the criminal justice system did not want to prosecute them, now they can be found patrolling the borders of our language, seeking to excommunicate decent and honest people from polite society for the high crime of having caused “offence” to certain protected groups.
And when an organisation has drifted so far from its founding ethos to the extent that a one-time civil liberties group is now in the business of making McCarthyite-style lists of people whose blasphemy offends Islamist extremists, then the time has probably come to wash our hands of that organisation, sad though it may be.
Top Image: Wikimedia Commons
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So often us who criticize Islam are condemned as doing Isis’s work for them. But we can’t live a lie when talking about the problem of Islam. It’s a shame that this centre has attacked genuine reformers, and with that goes any credibility they still had.
Not the first time, either.
There might have been a day when the Southern Poverty Law Center cared about laws which hurt people in poverty in the south. I really don’t remember.
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Interesting article, thanks for sharing. I didn’t realise that the SPLC made a habit of bowing to the worst elements of Islam. If this is a long-established pattern then it is even worse.