Maajid responds

Maajid has written a response to the SPLC, at the Daily Beast. He wants it widely shared.

Through the counter-extremism organisation Quilliam that I founded, I have spent eight years defending my Muslim communities in Europe, Pakistan  and beyond from the diktats of Islamist theocrats. I have also argued for the liberal reform of Islam today, from within. But, in a naively dangerous form of neo-Orientalism, the SPLC just arrogated to itself the decision over which debates we Muslims may have about reforming our own religion, and which are to be deemed beyond the pale.

Let us call it “Islamsplaining.”

In a monumental failure of comprehension, the SPLC have conflated my challenge to Islamist theocracy among my fellow Muslims with somehow being “anti-Muslim”. The regressive left is now in the business of issuing fatwas against Muslim reformers.

I don’t love the label “regressive left,” because it’s been seized on by people who aren’t left at all and apply it to everything that’s not reactionary, but in this case, it fits.

There are, he points out acerbically, plenty of people who want him dead.

Here in Europe, amid jihadist assassinations and mass terror attacks planned with military precision, we truly are in the thick of it. Meanwhile, from the comforts of sweet Alabama comes this edict that liberal Muslims working to throw open a conversation around reforming Islam today are somehow to be deemed “anti-Muslim extremists”.

It is, indeed, incredibly presumptuous, along with everything else. That’s something I didn’t dwell on enough when I posted about this, because I was too furious about the straight-up wrongness…but I did point out their parochialism in blathering about American constitutional norms in a piece calling Maajid anti-Muslim. The parochialism and presumption are closely connected.

Mind you, I’m over here in the comforts of sweet Seattle…but I’ve done enough research on the subject not to bumble around thinking Maajid is an “anti-Muslim extremist,” let alone call him that in a trumpeted report.

To be able to successfully do what I care deeply about — working toward the emancipation of my Muslim communities from the oppressive yoke of theocrats — it is crucial that reforming liberal Muslims like me are not smeared as “anti-Muslim”. After all, it is in the theocrats’ interests to have us labeled so. It is only they who argue that any internal criticism is but heresy. In a Muslim version of the Inquisition, the punishments meted out by these jihadists to Muslims they accuse of “heresy” are by now so well known that they require no introduction.

Another set that benefits from the smear that reforming liberal Muslims are “not Muslim enough” are the often xenophobic, sometimes racist, but always anti-Muslim, bigots. By advocating that every Muslim is a jihadist in waiting, and must be expelled from the West, these bigots suppport the very religious segregation that Islamist theocrats call for.

ISIS has called this “eliminating the gray zone”.  We reforming liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims who sit between Muslim and anti-Muslim bigots disrupt the narrative of both these extremes. It is no surprise then that as well as being attacked by Islamists, I have been labelled a closet Jihadist by people like Glenn Beck on Fox News, and on various other anti-Muslim online platforms. Imagine for a moment how besieged we reformers feel.

Glenn Beck types on the one hand and SPLC types on the other.

Anti-Muslim extremists often complain that there are no “moderate Muslims” challenging extremism. Then liberal reform Muslims and ex-Muslims stepped up to this challenge, only to be labelled as “anti-Muslim” extremists by those we had hoped were our allies, and who we now call the regressive-left. They are those who talk of progressive values: feminism, gay rights and free speech, and who criticise Christian fundamentalists within their own communities. A long time ago, we liberal reform Muslims had high hopes for this group. Just as they challenge the conservatives of their own “Bible belt” we thought they would support our challenge against our very own “Qur’an Belt”. How wrong we were.

Not wrong about all of us. I talk of progressive values: feminism, gay rights and free speech, and criticise Christian fundamentalists, and I support Muslims and ex-Muslims who talk of progressive values: feminism, gay rights and free speech, and criticise Muslim fundamentalists. So do most of my friends. There are a lot of us.

Too many on the left not only abandoned us, but took to openly attacking us for advocating these very same progressive values among our own — extremely socially conservative — communities. Ironically, my life epitomises every one of the grievances the regressive left pays lip service to when refusing to entertain rational conversation around Islam. I have faced violent neo-Nazi racist hammer and machete attacks. I am a jailed survivor of the War-on-Terror torture era in Egypt.

Anderson Cooper has said that mine is a “voice I urge you to hear”. 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl considers my story “absorbing” and my work “important”. Kate Allen, UK head of Amnesty International has said my life involves “a passionate advocacy of human rights” and that she “was moved beyond measure”. Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron sought my advice regularly while in office. And against this assault by the Southern Poverty Law Center I have the support and acknowledgement of the UK’s only watchdog against anti-Muslim hate run by Muslims themselves, Tell Mama UK.

And despite all this, white non-Muslim self-appointed inquisitors at a civil liberties organisation somehow found it acceptable to list me as an “anti-Muslim Extremist”.

And they’re standing by it, too. I know many people who have written to them, and received replies saying they stand by it, and repeating the same stupid claims they made in the report.

I am no “anti-Muslim” extremist. I am not your enemy. What I do require is your patience. For it is due to precisely this concern of mine for universal human rights for Muslims, that I vehemently oppose Islamist extremism and call for liberal reform within our communities, for our communities. For we Muslims are the first victims of Islamists and Muslim fundamentalists.  I am no Muslim representative. I am no religious role model (yes, I had a bachelor’s party) but I am Muslim. I am born to Muslim parents in a Muslim family. I have a Muslim son. The “Muslim experience” of liberal, reforming and dissenting Muslim and ex-Muslim voices is every bit as valid, every bit as relevant, and every bit as authentic as anyone else that is touched by this debate. We exist. Allow us to speak. Stop erasing our experiences.

Right? How dare the SPLC basically say that Islamists are the only authentic Muslims? How dare they attack reformist Muslims for defending the same rights we white non-Muslims enjoy? How dare they?

If there was anything we liberals should have learnt from McCarthyism, it is that compiling lists of our political foes is a malevolent, nefarious, and incredibly dangerous thing to do. And this terrible tactic, of simplifying and reducing our political opponents to a rogue’s gallery of “bad guys,” is not solely the domain of the right. As the political horseshoe theory attributed to Jean-Pierre Faye highlights, if we travel far-left enough, we find the very same sneering, nasty and reckless bullying tactics used by the far-right. Denunciations of traitors, heresy and blasphemy are the last resort of diminutive, insecure power-craving fascists of all stripes. Compiling lists is their modus operandi.

True that.

This particular list also makes a major category error, as these white American leftists conflate genuine (according only to my own humble view) anti-Muslim bigots with academic, journalistic and intellectual critics of Islam—including beleaguered ex-Muslim voices like Ayan Hirsi Ali. Unlike Ayan, they have never had to suffer the quadruple discriminatory pressure of appearing Muslim, brown, female, and losing one’s faith. I call these the minority within Muslim minorities.

And setting aside my disdain for naming any individuals on lists, to include me alongside Pam Geller is patently absurd. Pam Geller furiously opposed the Park51 Manhattan mosque project. I supported it. Pam Geller supported the anti-Islam British protest group EDL. By facilitating the resignation of its founder Tommy Robinson, I helped to render it leaderless till it practically fizzled out. Pam Geller has “expressed skepticism” about the existence of Serbian concentration camps. I have repeatedly referred to the genocide in Bosnia as having been a primary factor in my own anger and radicalisation as a youth. Pam Geller has called for Islam itself to be designated a “political system”, and to lose its constitutional rights as merely a religion. I am a Muslim who set up an organisation that campaigns to maintain a separation between Islam, and the theocratic Islamists who seek to hijack my religion. Need I go on?

And so I say to the Southern Poverty Law Center: You were supposed to stand up for us, not intimidate us. Just imagine how ex-Muslim Islam-critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali must feel to be included in your list of ‘anti-Muslim’ extremists. Her friend Theo Van Gogh was murdered on the streets of Amsterdam in 2004. And back then there was another list pinned to Theo’s corpse with a knife at that time: it too named Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The SPLC should not be pinning people’s names up, and especially not names like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

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