Most of you will have heard about the outrageous action of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently. On 25 October they produced a Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. Just producing a list of people to hate is bad enough, especially in a climate when anyone labelled an “anti-Muslim extremist” has their life put at risk, but in this case two of the names included are what’s attracting most of the attention: Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Maajid Nawaz in particular shows that the SPLC has completely lost the plot.

For some time many of us who call ourselves liberals have been concerned about some of the behaviour of the far left. Maajid Nawaz himself has labelled them the Regressive Left. As well as that term, the one I use most to often refer to them is the Authoritarian Left as I consider the way they tell people what they should and should not do little different from the far right. The reason many of us have an issue with this part of our community is that they seem to have forgotten what being a liberal means.

The Authoritarian Left are great at criticizing right-wing Christians who oppose marriage equality, for example, but they refuse to criticize Muslims who oppose the same thing. They’re all for equality for women, and heap criticism on those Christians who deny a woman’s right to choose, but support Muslims who won’t even let women choose their own clothes. They criticize Israel for the way they treat the Palestinians, but refuse to criticize the much worse way DAESH treats the Yazidis.

There’s a list of four things that the Southern Poverty Law Center have used to persuade others Maajid Nawaz should be included on their list of anti-Muslim extremists, which they start with the daunting heading “In his own words.” All are ridiculous. They are:

1. In the list sent to a top British security official in 2010, headlined “Preventing Terrorism: Where Next for Britain?” Quilliam [the anti-extremism organisation Nawaz heads – HH] 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.”

First of all, what Quilliam writes here is completely correct and should be non-controversial. In reality it shouldn’t even need to be said, except that there is little understanding of Islam in the West and so things like this need to be stated. Nick Cohen has treated the inclusion of this with the disdain it deserves, and also explains why Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit might be attacking Quilliam. In his article in The Spectator, ‘The white left has issued its first fatwa‘, Cohen covers the issue at length:

I asked the SPLC’s Mark Potok, ‘one of the country’s leading experts on the world of extremism,’ according to its website, if he was Muslim himself. ‘No.’ Was he happy, then, branding a liberal Muslim ‘an anti-Muslim extremist?’ Well, Potok said, the head of Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit had accused Nawaz of ‘demonising a whole range of groups that have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism,’ and that was good enough for him.

I tried to explain that the then head of the Muslim Contact Unit was Bob Lambert, one of the most notorious agent provocateurs British policing has produced. He stole the identity of a dead boy and infiltrated left groups. Pretending to be one of them, he got an activist pregnant then vanished from his partner and child’s lives. He had a shadowy part in the ‘McLibel’ case, which led to two environmental activists being persecuted for years in the courts, and is under investigation for allegedly smearing the campaign for justice for the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence. There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that, when Lambert attacked Nawaz, he was trying to ingratiate himself with Islamists as he had tried to ingratiate himself with leftists.

Did Mark Potok, ‘one of the country’s leading experts on the world of extremism’ if you please, know he was relying on the word of a stool pigeon? ‘I don’t know the details.’ Would the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is after all meant to defend the Stephen Lawrences of the world, reconsider its condemnation of Nawaz? With the braggart self-confidence of a liberal Donald Trump, Potok was not about to let facts change his mind. ‘No,’ he replied. Did Potok think he was putting Nawaz’s life in danger. ‘No’

Of course he is. He and his colleagues have issued the white left’s first fatwa: a blacklist that could be a deathlist.

Cohen wasn’t the only one who found the SPLC unrepentant either. Why Evolution is True readers shared e-mails they received from SPLC with Jerry Coyne when they wrote opposing the inclusion of Nawaz and Hirsi Ali on their list. They make interesting reading.

Charge one debunked.

2. 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.”

The blog Harry’s Place exposed this claim in ‘Maajid Nawaz an “Anti-Muslim Extremist” according to Southern Poverty Law Center‘:

In a great piece of quote mining, they neglect to mention that Maajid Nawaz does not call for criminalising as they claim. In the Daily Mail article they quote from, Nawaz mentions:

“Here’s my test: where a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or face mask would be deemed inappropriate, so should a niqab. It’s simple really.”

It is simple, unless you want to make someone out to be an extremist against Muslims.

And if you quote even more of what Nawaz wrote in the Daily Mail, there’s even less to complain about. After outlining three cases in which terrorists have escaped arrest by disguising themselves in burqas, he writes (my emphasis):

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. …

Let me make this clear: it is our duty to adopt a policy barring the wearing of niqabs in these public buildings. Here’s my test: where a balaclava, motorcycle helmet or face mask would be deemed inappropriate, so should a niqab. It’s simple really. …

Being a non-devout Muslim who is relatively conversant with Islamic theology, I am also aware that the ultra-conservative view stating Muslim women must cover their faces applies – even within their own medieval framework of reasoning – only when they are outdoors. It is therefore inconsistent to claim that the niqab applies indoors, such as in a school or office environment. Also, Islam universally allows women to show their faces for the purpose of identification, regardless of sect.

Finally, the medieval Muslim rules on religious attire do not apply to children, in any circumstance. So, schools that enforce the headscarf, face veil and burka on children as a dress code are guilty of encouraging a downward spiral that will only end in fundamentalists being the victors. …

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we have allowed a form of discrimination to creep in against everyone but those who wear the veil. 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.

The SPLC has made “inappropriate” into a call for criminalization, and generally misrepresented the whole tenor of the article.

Charge two debunked.

ayaan-hirsi-ali-on-offence3. 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.”

I’ve reproduced the tweet below, but look how this third charge starts: “According to …” It sounds like they haven’t even checked, but they’ve taken someone else’s word for it. Because the actual tweet is not included in The Guardian article and, the article they link to is actually by Nawaz himself and called, ‘Why I’m speaking up for Islam against the loudmouths who have hijacked it’.



Nawaz’s article concluded:

My intention was not to speak for any Muslim but myself – rather, it was to defend my religion from those who have hijacked it just because they shout the loudest. My intention was to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge, on pain of death. I did it for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was assassinated by his bodyguard for calling for a review of Pakistan’s colonial-era blasphemy laws; for Malala Yusafzai, the schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education; and for Muhammad Asghar, a mentally ill British man sentenced to death for “blasphemy” last week in Pakistan.

My intention was to demonstrate that Muslims are able to see things we don’t like, yet remain calm and pluralist, and to demonstrate that there are Muslims who care more about the thousands of deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria than we do about what a student is wearing. My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns, and to stand before the mob so that other liberal Muslim voices that are seldom heard, women’s and men’s, could come to the fore. And many such Muslim voices have been heard this last week.

However, in the final analysis, my intentions are irrelevant. What matters is this simple truth: I am free not to be offended by a cartoon I did not draw. If my prospective constituents do not like me not being offended, they are free not to vote for me. Other Muslims are free to be offended, and the rest of the country is free to ignore them. I will choose my policies based on my conscience. As such, I will continue to defend my prophet from those on the far right and Muslim extremes who present only a rigid, angry and irrational interpretation of my faith. I will stand for fairness, as Amnesty International once stood for me when I was a prisoner in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. Because I believe that the difference between fairness and tribalism is the difference between choosing principles and choosing sides.

That the SPLC could have read this and branded the man who wrote it an anti-Muslim extremist is beyond me.

There have been representations of Muhammad in art for centuries, many of which are extraordinarily beautiful. The fact that some Muslims find such depictions offensive is something we should be sensitive to, but it shouldn’t stop us doing it. There are plenty of Christians who find cartoons about God offensive, but that doesn’t mean we should stop creating them. I wouldn’t wear an atheist t-shirt to a synagogue, but I wouldn’t expect to be murdered for doing it either.



A manuscript from Nezami’s Khamsa dated 1494, depicting Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to the Dome of the Rock to heaven. The archangel Gabriel is seen to Muhammad’s right with multiple wings. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Personally, I find the whole concept of blasphemy offensive, and I’m ashamed that my own country still has a blasphemy law.

The SPLC is in the United States, which as the First Amendment to its constitution guarantees freedom of speech for all. That constitution also guarantees freedom of the press. The United States has been the main voice against attempts in the United Nations to get blasphemy against Islam, and only Islam, made part of international human rights legislation. For the SPLC to support blasphemy laws for one religion is the height of hypocrisy and goes against all liberal and human rights values.

Sarah Haider of the Ex-Muslim blog site wrote an excellent post a few days ago: ‘Principles and Politics: The Southern Poverty Law Center Loses the Plot‘ which covers this aspect of the SPLC’s attack well. Haider writes:

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.

For this conciliatory and progressive gesture, he earned the ire of the Muslim community, condemnation by “liberals”, and death threats by fanatics. It appears that the SPLC now polices acts considered blasphemous as “anti-Muslim extremism”, citing the Islamic religious belief in their indictment.

As an ex-Muslim (now an atheist) Haider writes:

In reality, Maajid Nawaz has been one of the most consistently rational, compassionate, and nuanced voices in an atmosphere brimming with hostility and competing agenda-driven narratives. As an apostate myself, I am grateful he represents Muslims who fight for our right to exist.

I can only endorse Haider’s sentiments here.

Charge three debunked.

4. 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.

hitchens-on-offenceI fail to understand how this makes Nawaz a candidate for a list of “Anti-Muslim Extremists.” It is ridiculous in the extreme. The video was obviously leaked at the time Nawaz was running for election to try to defame him, and probably worked, but it is completely irrelevant to whether or not he’s an anti-Muslim extremist. Nawaz’s own words in his Daily Beast article ‘I’m A Muslim Reformer. Why Am I Being Smeared as an ‘Anti-Muslim Extremist’?‘ are the best ones on this:

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.

Charge four debunked.

Nick Cohen is urging Maajid Nawaz to sue the SPLC for the egregious action of including him on this list. I’m not sure whether or not that would be the right thing to do. The SPLC is already being vilified across the spectrum for including Nawaz and Hirsi Ali on this list. From the Wall Street Journal and across the spectrum, the opposition to their action has been almost universal.

Once Upon A Time the Southern Poverty Law Center was an organization that was highly respected for for their work opposing racism and supporting Civil Rights. Now they’ve jumped the shark. There is a petition asking the SPLC to remove Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali from their list of anti-Muslim extremists which is gaining a lot of support. Please consider signing it. Click here, or click the picture below. I’m pleased to see more than 7,500 have signed it since I did. I suspect SPLC will ignore it, but at least they will see just how much support Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz have.


Click to go to petition asking SPLC to remove Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz from their list of anti-Muslim extremists.

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