The SPLC and the Silencing of Moderate Islam

| by Ahnaf Kalam |

Last month the Southern Poverty Law Center released its ‘Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists’ with the aim of creating a comprehensive guide for journalists to ensure their sources on Islam don’t come from people who the SPLC has decided are problematic extremists. Among the names on the list are the usual suspects that one might expect to find — Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and other prominent figures who have been vocal in their criticisms of Islam and Islamism.

Also included in their field guide, however, are Maajid Nawaz, a practicing Muslim and ex-Hizbut Tahrir recruiter whose think tank, the Quilliam foundation, is at the forefront of the Islamic reformation movement, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born ex-Muslim human rights activist who has been critical of sexist and misogynistic Islamic practices such as FGM and honor killings (herself having endured the former).

I, like countless others, was outraged at the SPLC’s decision to include Nawaz and Hirsi Ali on its list –– even given its already dwindling status in the public sphere –– and so I created an online petition urging the SPLC to remove Ayaan and Maajid from their list, which to date has garnered over 10,000 signatures, as well as the attention of others on the list –– namely, Robert Spencer, who maintains that my petition is a display of ‘selective outrage,’ and has started a petition of his own calling on the SPLC to remove all of the names from its list of anti-Muslim extremists.

Later that week, I was contacted by a journalist at Yahoo! News and asked to respond to the SPLC’s comments regarding my petition in a few brief sentences. When contacted, Heidi Beirich, intelligence director at the SPLC, claimed that their decision to keep Nawaz on its list of anti-Muslim extremists was because he  ‘spreads conspiracy theories about Muslims.

She maintained:

“That kind of talk is not what we want people to discuss when discussing Muslims. These are conspiracy theories and it’s dangerous to portray every Muslim essentially as an infiltrator,”

Clearly, neither she nor her colleagues at the SPLC caught the profound irony of creating a McCarthyist blacklist to frame the debate around Islam, excluding from that debate voices from Muslim reformists and ex-Muslims who challenge the problematic elements within Islam, and then citing their concerns over talking about Muslims too broadly and generally.

Beirich made no mention of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

The SPLC’s decision to keep Nawaz and Hirsi on its list effectively enables the prevailing narratives of Islam to be decided by the actual extremists, whose job has become significantly easier now that their dirty work of silencing ideological dissidents is being done by a well-respected and progressive non-profit organization.

Of course, both Nawaz and Hirsi Ali put themselves at great risk in doing what they do. In 2004, Ayaan Hirsi Ali made a film with the Dutch director Theo van Gogh titled, ‘Submission,’ which highlighted the misogyny and sexism inherent in the Quran. Three months later, van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight in the streets of Amsterdam, and a note was pinned to his chest with a dagger containing a death-threat to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

She and van Gogh are not as though they are fringe anomalies, as people all around the Muslim world find themselves in similar situations for having committed a crime against the faith, facing such forms of reprimand as acid attacks, machete attacks, honor killings or execution by the state which could entail anything from stonings and hangings to beheadings and firing squads. A list like the one that the SPLC is so proud of only makes the issue of security deeply more concerning for said people.

It’s shameful to see that the SPLC, an organization that once virulently targeted the KKK and neo-nazis, is now spending their time ganging up on the only people who are brave enough to be candid about the issues surrounding Islam, including those coming from within it. By their standards, anybody who wishes for mainstream Islam to be divorced from the violence and intolerance within its doctrines is akin to a white-supremacist Klan member.

Of course, the SPLC’s field guide is among a number of other small victories for the pro-Islamist progressives. In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, Muslims across America are bracing for the worst, and right on cue the warriors on the left have come to their rescue. Last week, Nicholas Kristof, an influential columnist for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed piece in which he proposes a list of twelve ways to react to the election of Trump. Among other things, Kristof pledged that he would not only support organizations like the SPLC, but in an attempt to combat ‘Islamophobia,’ would also support organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations –– a known front for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Further, amidst Twitter’s so-called crackdown on hate speech and bigotry, while scores of ‘deplorables’ and alt-right accounts are being suspended, Twitter has decided to not only make an exception for the Muslim Brotherhood’s official account, but to prove they are not ‘Islamophobic’ bigots, even went a step further by verifying it.

Amidst the post-election reactionary virtue-signalling from some of the left and its inadvertent empowerment of Islamists, an unlikely glimmer of hope still exists for the true moderate Muslims: Donald Trump. Despite his divisive rhetoric in which he has called for a ban of all Muslims from America and his rude remarks towards the family of Humayun Khan, the Muslim-American soldier who died while fending off a suicide bomber in 2004, Trump’s plans aren’t quite as ‘Islamophobic’ as he would have you believe.

Where Twitter has demonstrably failed to do so, Trump plans to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization along with its many fronts and offshoots –– including CAIR. For the many Muslim-Americans who do not wish for the mainstream understanding of Islam to be characterized by the likes of fundamentalists and extremists, this would come as a huge victory by freeing the dominant strain of Islam in America from the clutches of a terrorist organization.

If Islam is ever to truly be regarded as a religion of peace, then a great place to start would be to not allow the extremists and fundamentalists to speak on behalf of the whole faith.

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Ahnaf Kalam is a Bengali-American ex-Muslim and writes on issues of politics and religion. You can follow him on twitter here.

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Header Photo: The Alan Howard Foundation

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