Maajid Nawaz, the Muslim co-founder of Quilliam, the UK’s first counter-extremism organisation, has been listed – with no sense of irony – by the SPLC as an anti-muslim bigot. Likewise, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the feminist who endured FGM and fled a forced marriage has been shamed by the SPLC as a key collaborator in anti-muslim bigotry – because of her rhetoric on the topic of Islam.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre lists their values and aims on their website: fighting hate, teaching tolerance, seeking justice, memorialising civil rights leaders; alongside quotes from RFK and pictures of MLK, just so you know they are serious about it. And like both RFK and MLK, the SPLC condones a muscular liberalism where pressure groups and social movements urge the mainstream – as well as the fringe – to give them equal dignity. The SPLC, however, has now decided to radically pivot on all of their core beliefs – assuming they ever really believed them. They have come out against condemning homophobes, they are now at least complicit in the forced slavery of women, they offer tacit encouragement to the most retrograde conservative injunctions; and they have done this by smearing the leaders of the most important minority cohort in our politics – Islamic Reformers.
One gets the distinct impression that the author of the smears against them has never read, or even listened to anything either of them has ever written or said. For example, the author opens with the adorable attempt at being hard-hitting ‘Maajid Nawaz is a British activist and part of the “ex-radical” circuit of former Islamists who use that experience to savage Islam.’ The first question I have, as a reader of Maajid, is not about the fantasy of the ‘”ex-radical”circuit’ – as if there is a revolving door from Pakistan to the Pentagon – or the complete void of evidence the author leaves us with; it is more the question of plausibility: how can a Muslim be a bigot… against Muslims? The answer is they can’t, and even if they could, supporting gay rights, women’s rights, and trans rights is not necessarily a bad way to do it – in fact the SPLC should surely support those efforts? Nonetheless it is an intriguing lie to further dupe the misinformed.
As for the claims that Maajid is lying about his past, which include fights with neo-Nazi gangs on the streets of Essex and his de-radicalisation in Egypt; the author writes ‘But major elements of his story have been disputed by former friends, members of his family, fellow jihadists and journalists, and the evidence suggests that Nawaz is far more interested in self-promotion and money than in any particular ideological dispute.’ You may want to take journalism 101, dear author: believe it or not, but when someone leaves an extremist organisation, there is no ‘Live long and be happy’ leaving do. In fact, Islamists might even lie about an ex-Islamist to delegitimise them, and never mind your next inaccuracy as Maajid was never and has never claimed to have been a jihadist!
The author cites the Alternet hit-piece on Maajid written by “Dr” Nafeez Ahmed and Max Blumenthal, both of whom lack the integrity of even Max’s lapdog father. It was their original mistake to not check their sources. So when the author reproduces them and then directly lies about Maajid’s opinion on banning the veil – by linking to a piece where Maajid himself says ‘I do not believe in a blanket ban on the niqab’ – one cannot be so surprised. Thus, upon even a mildly close inspection, the author has lied, misrepresented the facts and regurgitates the extremist narrative to undermine progressive voices. From pioneering LGBT rights to the Islamist Pravda, oh how far you have come.
And the way the SPLC, a liberal left leaning think tank demeans a woman is laced with gruesome hypocrisy. They begin their smear against Ayaan with ‘she says she endured female genital mutilation and fled civil wars and an arranged marriage in Africa.’ ; ‘she says she endured’ what do you mean,SPLC? Is this just a case of bad writing, or are you really accusing a victim of FGM of being a total liar and fabricator? Where there civil wars really going on in Somalia? Who knows! Your opinion on victim blaming should not be contingent on the political alignment of the victims.
Moreover, when you quote something, SPLC, you must give context. Ayaan has said some provocative things about Islam. You even quoted her correctly, she did indeed say ‘We are at war with Islam’ and Islam is ‘the new fascism’ and a ‘destructive, nihilistic cult of death.’ However, you have left out half of her corpus. Her latest book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now is an ode to her conversations with Maajid Nawaz, among others, who convinced her that Islam needs to be reformed – i.e it cannot and should not be destroyed. Thus Ayaan has converted to the belief that the clash is not within civilisations per se, but as Paul Berman has said, it is a clash within Islam itself. And Ayaan and Maajid are on the progressive side of that clash. The SPLC, however, are not merely just on the wrong side, they are active propagandists for it.
The blind hatred toward Islamic Reformers like Ayaan and Maajid from the liberal left is not spawned from the misunderstandings of ignorant Westerners. No, these leftists have been spoon-fed the idea Muslims are somehow different – sometimes by Islamists, other times by each-other. This is the idea behind neo-orientalism. Edward Said’s classic orientalism says that Westerners will distrust people from the East, and this ‘othering’ is done openly and malignantly. Neo-Orientalism goes a step further and fetishises even the idea of Muslims, and anyone who tries to change their patriarchal conservative culture will get what is coming to them – whether that is the lies and smears of hacks, or the violence of Islamists. Maajid and Ayaan are just the latest victims.
The SPLC has indulged in the neo-orientalist ideology and they match it with an equal hatred for their own culture. And so the Hitchens line ‘This is masochism, and it is being offered to you by sadists’ should be enough for you to reject these moral cowards.
Mitchell is a blogger currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Bath