Bad move SPLC

Another one of those mornings that starts with a horror in my news stream – the Southern Poverty Law Center branding Maajid Nawaz an “anti-Muslim extremist” in a new report/field guide. They also include Ayaan Hirsi Ali under that hateful umbrella, but it’s the inclusion of Maajid that dumbfounds me the most, seeing as how he is in fact a Muslim and is most explicitly and centrally anti-extremist.

In short, this pisses me off, big time. It pisses me off because it’s grossly inaccurate, and unfair to Maajid. It pisses me off because as he points out it puts a target on him. It pisses me off because the SPLC has done heroic, brave work in the past. It pisses me off because I have many liberal Muslim friends who also campaign against Islamist extremism. It pisses me off because the left really needs to get it straight: Islamism is not a left-wing ally, it’s a deeply right-wing, reactionary, anti-human rights, theocratic movement, and people who campaign against Islamism are not anti-Muslim and not extremist. Islamism is not our friend, and its enemies are not (all) our enemies. There are of course plenty of right-wing (and some theocratic) enemies of Islamism, but I do think if the SPLC tries it can manage to tell the difference between liberal anti-Islamists and reactionary anti-Islamists. Maajid is one of the former, not the latter.

To the press release:

In response to the high levels of anti-Muslim extremists regularly provided a platform in the media and in the public eye, the Southern Poverty Law Center has partnered with Media Matters for America, ReThink Media and the Center for New Community to provide a resource on anti-Muslim public figures for reporters and media professionals.

Maajid is not anti-Muslim. It’s outrageous that the SPLC included him under that description.

The newly released Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists contains profiles of 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists, many of whom are associated with organizations identified by the SPLC as hate groups.

And many of whom are not, and are not anti-Muslim either, so how about not lumping them all in together?

“We wrote this manual because Muslims in America continue to be vilified by a network of anti-Muslim extremists spreading baseless and damaging lies and we think the media can play a role in helping to stop it,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But that doesn’t describe Maajid. It’s disgusting that you include him under that description.

A shocking number of anti-Muslim, self-described “experts” are seen regularly in the media, where they spread falsehoods that too often go uncontested. Their rhetoric has toxic consequences, from promoting xenophobia, to poisoning democratic debate, to inspiring hate violence.

Doesn’t apply to Maajid.

“We hope journalists will use this guide to learn more about these extremists and the damage they cause to society and either deny them a public platform altogether or be better prepared to publicly challenge their hateful rhetoric and misinformation,” Beirich said. “The public really should know who these extremists are and the damaging impact they have with a platform to spread hate and bigotry.”

Doesn’t apply to Maajid.

Now the report itself:

Executive Summary

Ever since the Al Qaeda massacre of Sept. 11, 2001, American Muslims have been under attack. They have been vilified as murderers, accused of conspiring to take over the United States and impose Shariah religious law, described as enemies of women, and subjected to hundreds of violent hate crime attacks. A major party presidential nominee has even suggested that America ban Muslim immigrants.

Fueling this hatred has been the propaganda, the vast majority of it completely baseless, produced and popularized by a network of anti-Muslim extremists and their enablers. These men and women have shamelessly exploited terrorist attacks and the Syrian refugee crisis, among other things, to demonize the entire Islamic faith.

But not Maajid. Maajid is definitely not in the business of demonizing “the entire Islamic faith.” I don’t like it that they include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in this list either, but at least it is the case that she’s no longer a Muslim. But Maajid is a Muslim, and he’s one of a number of campaigning liberal Muslim activists, and he does not belong in this report.

Sadly, a shocking number of these extremists are seen regularly on television news programs and quoted in the pages of our leading newspapers. There, they routinely espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms. More often than not, these claims go uncontested.

So the SPLC tries to rectify that by publishing an utter falsehood about Maajid? Maajid does not espouse a wide range of utter falsehoods, all designed to make Muslims appear as bloodthirsty terrorists or people intent on undermining American constitutional freedoms. (Notice, in particular, the provincialism – Maajid is a British Muslim, not an American one, so he wouldn’t be blathering about undermining American constitutional freedoms even if he were as the SPLC describes him, which he isn’t.) That’s a strikingly venomous falsehood to tell about someone apparently included on a list out of sheer ignorance or misinformation.

A coalition of four research and civil rights groups — the Southern Poverty Law Center, Media Matters for America, the Center for New Community and ReThink Media — banded together to prepare this manual. Our hope is that journalists and others will use it as a guide to effectively counter these extremists and their damaging misinformation. These propagandists are far outside of the political mainstream, and their rhetoric has toxic consequences — from poisoning democratic debate to inspiring hate-based violence.

Not true of Maajid. A reckless, dangerous, terrible lie to tell about him.

The Columbia Journalism Review has said as much, pointing out that misinformation and falsehoods in media “may pollute democratic discourse, make it more difficult for citizens to cast informed votes, and limit their ability to participate meaningfully in public debate.”

Ah no. No you don’t. The CJR said that about misinformation and falsehoods in media, not about this list of people. It’s very sneaky and dishonest to try to slip that one past us.

What follows are profiles of 15 anti-Muslim extremists who are frequently cited in public discourse. These spokespeople were selected on the basis of their presence in national and local media and for the pernicious brand of extremism and hate they espouse against Muslim communities and the Islamic faith.

Therefore it was a mistake to include Maajid (and, I would say, Ayaan). It was an appalling, reckless, dangerous mistake. Shame on the SPLC.

What they say about Maajid:

Maajid Nawaz is a British activist and part of the “ex-radical” circuit of former Islamists who use that experience to savage Islam. His story, which has been told repeatedly in the British and American press and in testimony to legislators as well, sounds compelling enough — Nawaz says he grew up being attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads in the United Kingdom, spent almost four years in an Egyptian prison after joining a supposedly nonviolent Islamist group, but had a change of heart while imprisoned and then returned to England to work against the radicalization of Muslims. 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.

Even if that’s true, what does it have to do with this report? Even if it’s true, it doesn’t even demonstrate that he doesn’t care about the ideological dispute at all. It’s entirely possible – and we see it all the time – for people to be both: interested in their particular view of an ideological dispute, and even more interested in their own reputation and fortune. It’s possible for activists to be more interested in their dinner when they’re hungry, but that doesn’t make them indifferent to or dishonest about their political commitments.

He told several different versions of his story, emphasizing that he was deradicalized while in Egypt — even though he in fact continued his Islamist agitation for months after returning. After starting the Quilliam Foundation, which he describes as an anti-extremism think tank, Nawaz sent a secret list to a top British security official that accused “peaceful Muslim groups, politicians, a television channel and a Scotland Yard unit of sharing the ideology of terrorists,” according to The Guardian.

Here they betray either lack of understanding or cynical dishonesty about how this stuff works. “Peaceful” Muslim groups can still be radically reactionary, theocratic, anti-women’s rights, homophobic, anti-democratic, anti-secular, and thus generally ideologically supportive of the belief system of the violent groups and individuals. They can be and some are. The Muslim Council of Britain includes a lot of groups of that type under its umbrella, and it’s pretty theocratic itself. It’s not simply obvious that Maajid’s list was mistaken on the facts.

His Quilliam Foundation received more than 1.25 million pounds from the British government, but the government eventually decided to stop funding it.

So what?

One of Nawaz’s biggest purported coups was getting anti-Muslim extremist Tommy Robinson to quit as head of the violence-prone English Defence League, trumpeting his departure at a press conference. But Robinson later said Quilliam had paid him some 8,000 British pounds to allow Nawaz to take credit for what he already planned to do. Shortly afterward, Robinson returned to anti-Muslim agitation with other groups.

Again, so what? Not a particularly glorious incident, certainly, but very far from showing that Maajid is what this stinking report calls him.

Then they quote him a few times:

In the list sent to a top British security official in 2010, headlined “Preventing Terrorism: Where Next for Britain?” Quilliam 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.”


Maajid is not wrong to say that the  ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists. That’s rather the point. Islam is not Islamism, and Islamism is not a benign idea – it’s a malevolently theocratic idea: the dictatorship of god, which in practice means the dictatorship of clerics – see Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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.”


It’s debatable, but it’s hardly outrageous. The niqab covers the whole face apart from the eyes. It’s not obviously wrong to say it shouldn’t be allowed in certain sensitive situations.

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.”

Now they’re close to the bone. The cartoonist is a friend of mine. It makes me hulk out with rage when ostensible liberals claim that cartoons are “blasphemous” and must be stopped. What business is it of the SPLC’s that Maajid tweeted a Jesus and Mo??? Why do they report that as if it were some sort of crime? Do they want Jesus and Mo shut down? Do they approve of blasphemy laws? What is wrong with them?

Final item, which they include under “IN HIS OWN WORDS” even though it’s not:

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.

Again: what on earth does that have to do with the SPLC? How does it demonstrate that he’s an anti-Muslim extremist, which is their claim?

There. I’ve used up my allowance of rage for the week, and I need to breathe.

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