SPLC refuses to retract or apologize

The Atlantic has a rather tepid piece on the SPLC’s target-placement on Maajid Nawaz.

Nawaz’s work has earned him detractors—critics claim he has embellished or neatened his narrative, some attack him for opportunism, and others question his liberal bona fides—but calling him an “anti-Muslim extremist” is a surprise. Unlike the likes of Gaffney and Geller, he doesn’t espouse the view that Islam itself is a problem; unlike Ali, who now describes herself as an atheist, Nawaz identifies as a Muslim.

That’s what I mean by tepid. Calling him that is more than a surprise, it’s a reckless and untrue calumny.

When I spoke to Nawaz on Thursday, he was both baffled and furious.

“They put a target on my head. The kind of work that I do, if you tell the wrong kind of Muslims that I’m an extremist, then that means I’m a target,” he said. “They don’t have to deal with any of this. I don’t have any protection. I don’t have any state protection. These people are putting me on what I believe is a hit list.”

And you would think that as an organization that tracks hate groups and violence, they would know that.

The report cited several counts against Nawaz. One is that he tweeted a cartoon of Muhammad—an intentionally provocative act, given that many Sunnis find it blasphemous to depict the prophet, but one that doesn’t fit neatly into the “anti-Islam” category.

I don’t believe it was “an intentionally provocative act” because I don’t think provocation was Maajid’s goal. I think his goal was what it said on the tin: to point out that Muslims don’t have to be outraged by cartoons like the Jesus and Mo one, and that it’s better to be relaxed about such things. He no doubt knew that some people would decide to be provoked by it, but that doesn’t mean he posted it in order to provoke them. Subtle, I know.

The most interesting is the fourth point, because it highlights a peculiar dynamic: The SPLC and Nawaz are each accusing the other of McCarthyism. The report states:

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.”

Nawaz disputes the claim. Quilliam says the list in question was an appendix to a larger report, and simply a list of British Muslim organizations; in fact, he says, the point was to say that such groups should be legal, even if they were extremist, so long as they were not violent. “It wasn’t a terror list,” Nawaz said. “We were saying, don’t ban these groups. We’ve gone through the looking glass. It’s the direct opposite of my life’s work.”

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at SPLC who wrote the report (and has a long resume of similar work on extremists), told me that Quilliam’s list of groups was the linchpin of the case for Nawaz as an anti-Muslim extremist.

Well that seems like an incredibly weak and pathetic linchpin.

While Nawaz demanded a correction, retraction, and apology, Potok said none was coming.

One thing that seemed to particularly irk Nawaz was the fact that the report came from SPLC. While the group is controversial—and particularly loathed on the American right—Nawaz’s objection was that he has known and respected their work for years. “It lends the wingnuts a level of credibility,” he said.

Well exactly. If it were just some twerp, we would all have pointed and laughed and then moved on. The SPLC is not just some twerp, but it seems to have waded into this without doing any proper research.

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