Heidi Beirich splains Islamophobia to Maajid Nawaz

Yahoo News reports on the expanding controversy over the SPLC’s targeting of Maajid Nawaz, but it unfortunately is very sloppy with the facts.

Nawaz’s history places him in a unique position for encouraging reform within Islam. He is the founding chairman and executive board member of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank that fights for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.

As evidence of his alleged anti-Muslim extremism, the SPLC report cites an op-ed he wrote for the Daily Mail arguing that the veil should be barred in schools, a cartoon he tweeted of the Prophet Muhammad (which some Muslims consider blasphemous) and his trip to a strip club during a bachelor party (which seems irrelevant to the topic at hand). The SPLC also cited a report from the Guardian alleging that the Quilliam Foundation sent a secret list to a top British security official that accused peaceful Muslims of sharing the ideology of terrorists. Quilliam disputes this.

So much sloppy in that paragraph. His Daily Mail piece was about the niqab, not “the veil.” Most people take “the veil” to mean the head-and-neck scarf, not the thing that covers the whole face apart from the eyes. The DM chose to call it “the veil” in the headline, but Maajid himself was very clear in the piece:

Any item of clothing that covers the face and makes it impossible to identify individuals is open to abuse. Like many, I look with increasing exasperation on the niqab – which covers the face – and the burka – the garment that covers the entire body. That said, I do not believe in a blanket ban on the niqab. But the quid pro quo  is that when everyone else in society is expected to identify themselves,  a Muslim woman wearing a niqab should not be exempted.

Yes, women should be free to cover their faces when walking down the street. But in our schools, hospitals, airports, banks and civil institutions, it is not unreasonable – nor contrary to the teachings of Islam – to expect women to show the one thing that allows the rest of us to identify them .  .  . namely their face.

And the part about that report in the Guardian – “alleging that the Quilliam Foundation sent a secret list to a top British security official that accused peaceful Muslims of sharing the ideology of terrorists” – no no no no. The report claimed that the ideology of peaceful Islamists – not Muslims, Islamists – is broadly the same as the ideology of violent Islamists. And that, of course, is true, by definition – Islamists share the broad Islamist ideology, while some reject violence and others embrace it. Many political movements have violent and non-violent wings. The distinction between Muslims and Islamists is crucial; it’s only by ignoring it that the SPLC can make its ludicrous and damaging allegations.

Yahoo really should have been more careful in that paragraph. But it goes on to be useful: it talked to Heidi Beirich yesterday, so it can give us more information on the SPLC’s thinking.

When contacted for comment, Heidi Beirich, a director of the Intelligence Project at the SPLC, told Yahoo News that Nawaz spread conspiracy theories about Muslims infiltrating places like Scotland Yard and television networks.

“That kind of talk is not what we want people to discuss when discussing Muslims. These are conspiracy theories and it’s dangerous to portray every Muslim essentially as an infiltrator,” she said in a Monday phone interview.

See? She’s doing it there. She’s ignoring the distinction between Muslims and Islamists and thus telling a stupid lie about Maajid.

Beirich said Nawaz’s rhetoric foments anti-Muslim hatred that encourages people to see Muslims not as individuals but as “part of some secretive, dangerous cabal.”

Bollocks. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Maajid is a vocal, prominent example of a Muslim who is a strong proponent of human rights and liberal values. By his existence and his activism he encourages to see Muslims as people like him.

But the SPLC isn’t backing down. Yahoo News asked Beirich if she is sympathetic to the view of Nawaz as a liberal reformer who is trying to amplify moderate voices within the Muslim world.

“My problem with that is he’s muddying that image with these conspiracy theories, so it’s hard for me to believe that that is his goal when he’s doing these other things,” Beirich said. “He doesn’t sound much different from Pamela Geller or David Horowitz or some of these other people about how Muslims are infiltrating everywhere. So my suggestion would be, if that’s what he’s trying to do, then he should ditch the conspiracy theories.”

That is just fucking outrageous.


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