The narrative must not be disturbed

Sarah Haider on the SPLC and that list.

Nuance is lost where the religion of peace is concerned, and the SPLC paints its targets with a broad, clumsy brush.  Those profiled range from pundits who believe that radicals have “infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon, and State Department” to activists who offer compassionate, empathetic, and exceedingly balanced views on the faith. The latter is exemplified by the Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz, who spent his formative years in the service of an Islamist organization working to re-establish a global caliphate. After disavowing his former associates, he has spent the past decade working to encourage reform and secularization in Muslim countries and communities.

Nearly every charge against him in the report is patently absurd. His act of solidarity with students who wore a benign cartoon of Prophet Muhammad on a t-shirt is a cited as a qualification for his “anti-Muslim extremism”. Nawaz tweeted a picture of the cartoon, declaring that such trifles don’t offend him.

She too wonders what the SPLC is doing policing such things.

If mere tweeting of cartoons is tantamount to bigotry, one wonders how they would judge the actions of the actual cartoonists. Perhaps the SPLC list should include the creators of the show South Park for their depictions of Jesus and Mohammed. In the same vein, Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ surely also qualifies him as an anti-Christian “extremist”, along with the National Endowment for the Arts that presented him with an award. But I won’t be holding my breath for the latter. In the eyes of some my fellow liberals, blasphemy is bigotry only when Islam is the target.

Nawaz’s entry reads like a gossip blog written by his most paranoid enemies, repeating debunked claims and rumors as factual evidence. In reference to his account of his journey to deradicalization, SPLC ominously contends that “major elements of his story have been disputed by former friends, members of his family, fellow jihadists and journalists”, neglecting to substantiate this damning assessment in any form whatsoever.

Let’s break that down, shall we?

Nawaz is a “reformist” Muslim, that is to say, he wishes to make changes to the way his fellow Muslims practice their faith. Anyone who takes on such a task (especially where Islam is concerned) will find themselves the target of smears and attacks from the religious conservatives.

In Nawaz’s case, the denunciations are by his former allies and associates – many the same conservative, even jihadi(!), persons and groups who he now challenges.

Reactionaries, in short. What is the SPLC doing citing them as a reason to malign Maajid?

She does an excellent take-down of the SPLC’s snide claim that he’s more interested in self-promotion than the substantive dispute with Islamism.

This is par for the course for confused regressive types: deny the individual the autonomy to name their own motivations, ascribe instead those more convenient to the narrative. A terrorist swears that it is his dedication to the religious faith that motivates his violence – regressives frantically search for other answers. Anti-fundamentalists like Nawaz declare a desire for a secular world as the fuel for their activism – regressives grasp at straws for evidence of a more nefarious agenda.

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.

How simple and delightful everything would be if only it were true that the ideology of Islam is, and always will be, entirely peaceful and good. But this is the real world, not the pink fluffy one in our dreams, so it’s not true.

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.

80 years ago it was Uncle Joe; now it’s the Khalifa.

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