On 25 October the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a ‘Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists‘. The guide includes a list of fifteen people, two of whom have caused a great deal of controversy – Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A Change.org petition was launched by Ahnaf Kalam to have their names removed from the list, which at the time of writing has gained almost 10,000 signatures in just six days.
I made a rebuttal of their charges against Maajid Nawaz on 1 November, and also wrote directly to SPLC. I’ll do another post about their response to me. For now, I want to detail why Ayaan Hirsi Ali does not belong on a list of Anti-Muslim extremists.
The SPLC’s condemnation of Hirsi Ali is vicious. They start off (my emphasis):
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born activist who says she endured female genital mutilation …
Right from the start they’ve accused her of lying about something no one has ever doubted. Seriously? This is just plain nasty.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that she called in female genital mutilation, rather than female genital cutting, which is the term the regressive left would rather we use. Hirsi Ali herself clearly regards what she underwent as mutilation and it would be denying her experience to force her to call it something different than the term she uses for herself. And we know how the regressive left are about denying personal experience. (Big sigh.)
Either way, it escapes me completely how undergoing FGM is a sign that you’re an anti-Muslim extremist.
The next sentence starts:
But key parts of the story she told Dutch immigration authorities and the public there turned out to be false …
Once again, they brand her a liar. However, there were very good reasons Hirsi Ali lied when she was seeking asylum in the Netherlands. The facts were first brought to light when Hirsi Ali told the VVD, the political party she was a potential candidate for. Then, those reasons were considered acceptable. She was elected to the Dutch parliament in 2003. It was only later when an opposition political party was looking for dirt that the story was re-hashed and presented in such a way that she was compelled to resign (2006). She also lost her citizenship, and it was then she moved to the United States.
The next criticism is that she accepted “an invitation to join the conservative American Enterprise Institute.” Well, that settles it – she worked for a conservative organisation so she must be an anti-Muslim extremist!? It looks to me like it is the SPLC that has problems with prejudice here, not Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Perhaps they should have read the interview with Reason that they gleefully refer to in their “In her Own Words” section. She says, ahem, in her own words:
Hirsi Ali: … Cynthia Schneider, who was then the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, said she’d be delighted to take me around in the United States and introduce me—to the Brookings Institution, the Johns Hopkins Institute, Georgetown University, the RAND Corporation. I balked at paying a visit to the American Enterprise Institute, though.
Reason: Why the initial aversion?
Hirsi Ali: Because I thought they would be religious, and I had become an atheist. And I don’t consider myself a conservative. I consider myself a classical liberal.
Anyway, the Brookings Institution did not react. Johns Hopkins said they didn’t have enough money. The RAND Corporation wants its people to spend their days and nights in libraries figuring out statistics, and I’m very bad at statistics. But at AEI they were enthusiastic. It turns out that I have complete freedom of thought, freedom of expression. No one here imposed their religion on me, and I don’t impose my atheism on them.
It appears the American Enterprise Institute, despite being known as a conservative Christian organization (it employs people whose opinions I have a low opinion of like former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton), does a better job at allowing freedom of speech and thought than the supposedly liberal SPLC.
Besides, Hirsi Ali no longer works for AEI. Since 2012 she has been a fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government on the Future of Diplomacy project.
Again though, how does this have any relevance to whether or not she is an anti-Muslim extremist.
The SPLC field guide also has this to say:
While in the Netherlands, she wrote the script for a short and provocative film about women and Islam directed by the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in the street by a jihadist a short time after its release. The murderer left a note threatening to also kill Hirsi Ali pinned to his victim’s body with a knife.
This is also typical of the Authoritarian Left – blaming people for being victims. The film, Submission, is short because it was only part one – it could never be finished because of the murder of van Gogh. And provocative? It mirrors the experience of millions of Muslim women – women whose voices are normally never heard. Personally I wouldn’t use the word provocative – I would use the words disturbing, deeply moving, disconcerting, and gut-wrenching. It is only provocative to those who want to hide that such things are happening.
This is how Jerry Coyne described this particular attack in his post on the subject. My opinion pretty much mirrors his:
This really pisses me off. It is not a “provocative” film except to misogynist Muslims, for the video, “Submission” simply recounts the damage that Muslim theology does to Muslim women. Do watch the 10-minute film … and tell me why it should be criticized for inciting Muslim hatred. It is, instead, incisive criticism of the way Islamic doctrine oppresses women.
It is reprehensible that the SPLC mentions this courageous film—which led to Van Gogh’s death and Hirsi Ali’s permanent need for security guards—as some indictment of Hirsi Ali.
And so we come to the pathetically ominous sounding section “In her own words.” There are five things that supposedly condemn her:
1. In her 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard, Hirsi Ali “advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that ‘violence is inherent in Islam,’” according to a later account in The New York Times.
The link in that statement goes to a 2014 story in the New York Times about the Brandeis University debacle when they first offered Hirsi Ali an honorary degree for her work at the AHA Foundation, then changed their minds after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) prompted on-campus members to complain. (See here, here, and here.) The New York Times mentions the 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard but does not supply a link, and it appears that SPLC has not actually checked the original source. You’d think a bunch of lawyers could do better than that.
Assuming the quotes are accurate, why does “advocating the closing of Islamic schools in the West” make someone an “anti-Muslim extremist.” The closing of religious schools is a common secular stance throughout the world. In Britain, for example, the quality of education provided by Muslim schools for girls is a widespread cause for concern and at least one has been closed for this reason. As the Daily Mail reports:
An Islamist girls’ boarding school which taught that men could beat women and that gay men could be killed faces closure after a student whistleblower exposed its worrying practices.
Aliyah Saleem was expelled in front of the entire school in 2011 just for owning a disposable camera. [She was told that there was a danger she would take photos of her fellow pupils not wearing a full-burqa and men might see the photos. HH]
Following her expulsion Ms Saleem spoke out about her treatment at Jamia Al Hudaa girls’ school in Nottingham, saying she was not taught geography, history, art or music.
Instead, she was taught that death sentence could be given to gay men; that Jews and Christians make Allah angry; and that men should be allowed to beat their wives.
Despite reporting the school’s inadequacies to both Ofsted and doing an expose interview in a national newspaper, it is only now that the school finally faces closure.
Parents have now been told to pick up their daughters from the school on October 18 after an Ofsted inspection in April found that there were ‘inadequacies’ in safeguarding pupils, including insufficiently trained staff and bullying, and ordered the school close its residential operations.
As for saying, “violence is inherent in Islam,” that is NOT the same as saying all Muslims are violent, as seems to be the contention of the SPLC. This constant conflation of criticizing the belief system with criticizing the people who hold those beliefs is one that has to stop, especially from those smart enough to know better.
2. In her 2007 Reason interview, she said, “There comes a moment when you crush your enemy” militarily, and added, “There is no moderate Islam. … [T]here’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.” She also told the journal that she had sought to “get rid of” all Islamic schools in the Netherlands while living there.
This link also comes from the 2014 New York Times story linked to above. The SPLC (remember that “LC” stands for ‘Law Center”) appear to have done little or no investigation themselves. I doubt they know very much about Hirsi Ali at all, and certainly haven’t read any of her books.
Again, Hirsi Ali’s criticism here is of the religion, not the people. They have selectively quoted the bits that suit their narrative, so I will do the same. Here is part of the introduction to the Reason interview about Hirsi Ali’s life in The Netherlands:
Hirsi Ali wasn’t shy about mentioning the Muslim community’s self-imposed insularity, or the crime wave involving disproportionate numbers of second- and third-generation Dutch Moroccans. But mostly she agitated against the oppression of local Muslim women by male family members: forced marriages, denial of education opportunities, domestic slave labor, and, in some horrific cases, honor killings. By extension, she criticized the native Dutch for turning a blind eye to the injustices in their midst, and for tolerating those who themselves refused to tolerate alternative lifestyles.
It was a shock and a revelation to see a young, black, Muslim woman championing causes previously associated with middle-aged white male pundits who had often been dismissed as racists or Islamophobes. Hirsi Ali’s star rose quickly, especially after she accepted an offer from the VVD, Holland’s pro-market party, to run for parliament. By then, she was receiving a stream of death threats from radical Dutch Muslims and their sympathizers. Once she won her parliamentary seat, the hate mail intensified. A security detail shadowed her everywhere. Van Gogh’s murder proved the threat was all too real.
Hirsi Ali was receiving hate mail for her work supporting Muslim women, girls, and LGBT people who were being abused because of the beliefs of some within the religion. Her work exposed some of the negative aspects of the religion – a religion she was still part of at that time. It was not until a month before the Reason interview that she became an atheist.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s work helping women and girls she has continued since she immigrated to the United States, where she established the AHA Foundation in 2007. They live up to their goal of:
… working to end honor violence that shames, hurts or kills thousands of women and girls in the US each year, and puts millions more at risk. The organization also works to elevate the status of women and girls globally, so they can create peace and prosperity for themselves, their communities and the world.
It is beyond belief that someone who has dedicated her life to such work could be labelled an anti-Muslim extremist. Further, Hirsi Ali’s views have moderated since 2007. That is clear from her latest book (see below), and the Sam Harris interview with her recorded on the same day as the SPLC field guide was released.
3. In a July 11, 2009, essay for the online World Post, Hirsi Ali criticized President Obama for denouncing “Islamic extremism without once associating Islam with extremism.” She threw cold water on the idea of the U.S cooperating with Muslims in order to battle jihadist extremism.
Hirsi Ali is not the only one criticizing President Obama for this. I could name a dozen writers and bloggers off the top of my head who have done the same, including myself. Maajid Nawaz has written and spoken about this too.
There’s are several very good reasons why Obama’s failure to identify Islamists is considered a problem by secular liberals, and the chickens have actually come to roost at SPLC. That’s because one of the reasons we criticize him for this is that not naming the problem and talking openly about it means that few USians understand the difference between Islam and Islamism – what Nawaz referred to as a lack of a lexicon in the video above. As such, both Hirsi Ali and Nawaz have been condemned by SPLC because when referring to Islamism, SPLC has understood them to mean Islamic.
As for throwing “cold water on the idea of the U.S cooperating with Muslims in order to battle jihadist extremism,” the article was actually an eloquent defence of the US constitution and the hope that girls and women in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia could enjoy the same rights as they do in the United States. The article was not controversial or anti-Muslim, but it was honest and did criticize Islamic theocracy.
4. In an Aug. 18, 2010, Wall Street Journal op-ed, “How to Win the Clash of Civilizations,” Hirsi Ali said that Islam “is at war with America” and wrote that Western civilization “needs to be actively defended” against Islam.
As I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, I can’t read the article. However, I would note again that Hirsi Ali refers to “Islam” and not “Muslims” and also that the article is six years old. In publicizing her latest book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs A Reformation Now, Hirsi Ali has made it clear that in writing the book she modified some her her previous views. The New York Times and the Guardian both seem unsure whether they’re allowed to like her book her not. The reviews read like Hirsi Ali is someone they’re supposed to criticize.
As far as “Western civilization” needing ‘to be actively defended’ against Islam,” that sound like Hirsi’s ongoing argument in favour of secularism and in opposition to theocracy, which surely should be something the SPLC should be in favour of, and I’m sure they would be if it was Ted Cruz’s Dominionism we were talking about.
5. Appearing on the March 23, 2015, edition of “The Daily Show,” she said, “If you look at 70% of the violence in the world today, Muslims are responsible.” Experts said the claim appeared to be bogus, and she later amended it to say 70% of fatalities “were in wars involving Muslims,” including civil wars.
The link that the SPLC provides isn’t to the full interview, which was 20 minutes long, but it does include the quote they use in their condemnation of her. (The full interview can be seen here.)
It’s quite dishonest not to link to the full interview because if that’s done, it can be seen just how appalling it was, with Jon Stewart heading Hirsi Ali off every time she got into her stride, going out of his way to defend Islam from any criticism whatsoever, quibbling about semantics, trying to make her look like she was anti-Muslim, and forcing the narrative that all religions are equally bad.
Worst of all, he laughed at and mocked her. This USian man seemed to think he had a better understanding of Islam than a woman who was brought up in the religion and will forever be literally scarred because of it. (He got a lot of his history wrong as well, but it would take too long to debate all that.)
The interview with Stewart started thus:
Stewart: Why does Islam need a reformation – now?
Hirsi Ali: Because unfortunately too many people are dying in the name of Islam, too many women live under oppression, too many Jews are being demonized, too many gays are being killed in the name of Islam, too many Christians are being killed in the name of Islam and I think it’s really healthy to have a reformation now … (At which point Stewart cuts her off.)
Instead of discussing that, Stewart insisted on going back to the Christian Reformation, as if that was the only way a religion could be reformed, and quibbled over semantics. As usual, Tayler says it best:
She could have offered him no more persuasive, succinct justification for writing Heretic. Stewart’s subsequent line of questioning — the above-mentioned Torquemadan grilling — involved his deliberate confounding of her plan to make Islam more moderate with both the (fundamentalist) Protestant Reformation and the violent, back-to-basics Islam of Al Qaeda and ISIS, and culminated in his utterance of a breathtaking, Islam-exculpatory banality: “The root of the people is people, not the text” [of the Quran].
In the brilliant article in Quillette, Free Speech and Islam — In Defense of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jeffrey Tayler referred very accurately to Stewart’s interview as “turn[ing] Torquemada on her, subjecting her to an Inquisitional interrogation.”
Jeffrey Tayler also did an excellent analysis of the Stewart interview of Hirsi Ali for Salon that’s worth reading.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from the interview:
Stewart: … radical extremists versus just Islam. And I think that’s where people go “oh, wait a minute,” that seems to be the more unfair leap – that people that have become radicalized and become jihadists and have taken terrible, violent, horrible actions in the name of something they think they’re doing something right.
Hirsi Ali: Mm Hm (And looking very frustrated to me, just waiting for Stewart to say, “They’re not real Muslims.”)
Stewart: And using that to step back and go, “And that’s why the whole religion is problematic.”
Hirsi Ali: Yep.
Stewart: That’ seems wrong.
Hirsi Ali: So if a radical Muslim (unintelligible) the Qur’an, and finds instructions there, that we find appalling and are inhuman and violent, and he gets a following so large as to be the cause of 70% of fatalities across the world, then I think it’s time we also pick up Islamic scripture and ask what is it in there that inspires this violence and needs to change. And the good news now is that there is this emerging group of reformers who are trying to do that.
Hirsi Ali: And I think we need to have that conversation instead of getting stuck in that other part where we start abusing Islamic State – “Is that Islamic or is that not Islamic.” It’s Islamic, come on, now let’s move, what about Islam needs to change. I identify only five key things – there are other people … (Stewart interrupts)
Stewart: But did the Bible change, or did people’s interpretation of it change?
And so on.
Stewart continually goes back to his false equivalence between Christianity and Islam, getting stuck on the word “reformation” as if the only meaning of the word is in the context of the Reformation of the 16th century started by Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Church.
The fuckwit even starts schooling her on what Islam means with the patronizing and sexist comment: “You need to get to church young lady!”
Stewart demonstrates the very mindset that is typical of the Authoritarian Left and has been taken as gospel by the SPLC with his next comment:
Muslims are being asked to do something that has not that much to do with them. A group of radicals have stolen a text that they have gotten great benefit from and are using it for nefarious purposes.
His overarching ideology that all religion is good has prevented him from either not hearing or dismissing everything that Hirsi Ali said.
The problem is, it’s not only Islamist terrorists who are interpreting the Qur’an in such a way that people are suffering because of Islam. Almost exactly the same rules that DAESH applies in their caliphate apply in the US ally Saudi Arabia. By saying that it’s just a tiny minority who have hijacked the religion for their own purposes, the Authoritarian left ignores the suffering of tens of millions who live under the control of Muslims who don’t recognize universal human rights values like equality for women and LGBT people. Those are the liberal values that true liberals should be standing up for.
Instead of condemning Ayaan Hirsi Ali they should be listening to other things she said in the interview, and answering her call for support of the people she’s talking about:
There is an emerging group of reformers who we need to support… I think they are the strongest most courageous people because unlike the finger-pointing that a lot of the despotic regimes do, they’re saying we first of all need to change our own theology, our own narrative… If you asked me, “What would I change about Islam?” this is my contribution. These are five key points that need to be looked at.
Stewart also accused Hirsi Ali of doing what he himself was doing, and what the SPLC is doing – that Hirsi Ali is referring to Muslims as one great amorphous blob who all think and act the same. That is precisely what she is NOT doing. It comes back to the lack of understanding of the difference between Islamist and Islamic.
Stewart, and many non-Muslims, don’t get what Hirsi Ali knows because it was what she was taught in childhood – in Islam life after death is more important than life before death. Everything you do in life is a preparation for life in heaven, and that means following the tenets of the Qur’an and hadiths, whatever you interpret them to mean – whether killing infidels or loving your neighbour as yourself. Hirsi Ali and other reformers want to promote a version of Islam from the bottom up that separates religion from government and promotes humanist ideals. That is not anti-Muslim.
FInally, back to the statistic of “70%” that they find so contentious. SPLC says, “Experts said the claim appeared to be bogus,” again branding her a liar. However, they but do not state who these experts are, and do not appear to have properly checked it out.
Because the statistic is not bogus at all, and perhaps they should have asked Hirsi Ali. It came from the non-partisan International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). On 12 February 2015 Hanna Ucko Neill (Global Conflicts Analyst) and Jens Wardenaer (Research Analyst, Armed Conflict Database) published ‘Global conflict fatalities increase by more than 35% in 2014‘. The statistic is accurate, if unpalatable. The SPLC may not like Hirsi Ali repeating facts, but it should not be something that gets her landed on an anti-Muslim extremists list.
If the SPLC wants to brand people as anti-Muslim extremists they should check their facts first. They were wrong about Maajid Nawaz and they are wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I repeat my request to SPLC to review their inclusion in the field guide in light of the evidence.
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