Are Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali Anti-Muslim Extremists?

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently put out a ‘Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists‘ that included Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Even the name of the report is absurd – a ‘field guide’ sounds like we’re talking about a trail guide or hunting manual, instead of people who are supposedly dangerous extremists.

That aside, I’ve gone through the entire report and I believe it needs to be vehemently opposed. Not only does it attempt to slur the character of two moderate critics, but it does so with very little evidence.

In my opinion, this ‘field guide’ is the latest failure of the regressive, authoritarian Left to come to grips with reality, and demonstrates their seemingly inexhaustible ability to bend over backwards in defense of the indefensible.

Instead of denouncing the very real oppression of women, LGBT, moderate Muslims and minority religions in theocratic Islamic countries, they have instead decided to denounce those who are actively trying to criticize and modernize the religion that is at least in part responsible for their oppression.

In case you think I’m overreacting, I’m going to go through some of what this guide says about both Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and explain why I think they have been wrongfully maligned.

Before we get started, here’s a little bit about Nawaz:

Maajid Usman Nawaz (Urdu: ماجد نواز‎, [ˈmaːdʒɪd̪ naːwaːz], born 2 November 1978) is a British activist, author, columnist, radio host and politician. He was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for London‘s Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in the 2015 general election.[2] He is also the founding chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamistextremists.[3]

Born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex to a British Pakistani family,[1] Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. This association led to his arrest in Egypt in December 2001, where he remained imprisoned until 2006. Reading books on human rights and interacting with Amnesty International, which adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, resulted in a change of heart. This led Nawaz to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounce his Islamist past and call for a “Secular Islam“.[4]

In this post I will talk about Maajid and in another post I will do the same for Ayaan.

The Claims Made Against Maajid Nawaz

I’m going to start with Maajid because of the two, I think he took the harshest blow.

The report said:

 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.”

This isn’t even very controversial. Here’s the definition of Islamism: “Islamism, also known as Political Islam (Arabic: إسلام سياسي‎‎ islām siyāsī), is an Islamic revival movement often characterized by moral conservatism, and the attempt to implement Islamic values in all spheres of life.”

Within that movement, there are people who don’t believe in violence in order to achieve their political aims, and there are those who do. To deny this would be to deny reality, and to use this to call someone an extremist is just absurd.

The statement quoted from Quilliam is not controversial and completely true.

Moving on to the next point made against Nawaz:

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.”

Here’s what he actually said, from the link provided by the SPLC:

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. Legally speaking, there is no basis for any exception to be made, but the sad fact is exceptions are being made because we have become too spineless to do anything about it.

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.

In other words, he wants to hold people to an equal standard, no matter what head gear they’re wearing. I hardly find this to be controversial, although I can understand why some people might disagree with this stance.

But to call it an extreme view is just crazy. It’s not extreme and in no way should qualify someone as an extremist.

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.”

Here’s the tweet in question.

jesusandmo

 

First off, it shouldn’t matter who finds it offensive. It’s irrelevant, really. We have freedom of speech and while some people may be offended by such a tweet, that in no way means they can or should be able to silence people from making them.

 

stephen-fry

 

Second, this tweet is so very benign. Worse tweets are sent every day satirizing Christianity and no one gets put on a list (rightfully so I might add) of Anti-Christian extremists as a result. In fact, I’d be willing to bet some people who have applauded the decision to put Nawaz on a list of extremists have done similar things towards other religions without batting an eye.

 

jesus

 

Third, this would mean that anyone who took part in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day is an extremist.

How utterly ridiculous.

Last but not least, we have this gem, which I consider to be the most ridiculous of them all:

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.

So he broke some sort of feminist law and that makes him an anti-Muslim extremist? The two don’t even have anything to do with one another, and is clearly just an attempt to smear Nawaz’s character.

The lap dance they are talking about was during his bachelor party.

How extremist of him! I mean no one goes to a strip bar for their bachelor/bachelorette party. The man is clearly a monster and must be stopped.

Nawaz had this to say:

In his Facebook post, he said: “In current times, our moral uproar is best reserved for those who aspire to stone men or women to death, not those who consensually watch women, or men for that matter, dance. In fact, please be prepared to see me again around London some time, you may even catch me dancing.”

Sounds reasonable to me.

If getting a lap-dance is something you find objectionable, that’s your opinion. However, it’s perfectly legal and it’s unethical to use as justification to label the man an anti-Muslim extremist.

Maajid Nawaz literally argued in a debate that Islam is a religion of peace. To frame him as a hater of Muslims is irresponsible and reprehensible.

You can read part 2 by following this link.

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23 Comments

  1. You’re right. This SPLC “field guide” is yet another example of the authoritarian left identifying some group as victims, which somehow puts that group beyond criticism.

    One still pertinent example of this is the labeling of those on the left who oppose(d) the Castro regime in Cuba because of its dictatorial nature and human rights abuses as being “CIA stooges” or “imperialist tools.” (Among other abuses, the Castro government executed over 200 political opponents in the ’50s-’80s according to Amnesty International; other estimates run up well into the thousands.)

    If you want to be taken seriously as a defender of human rights, you need to oppose _all_ human rights violations, not just some.

    If you denounce only some human rights abuses, and ignore others because of who committed them–and, worse, slander those who denounce the abuses–you’re nothing but a political or religious hack.

    Sadly, that term seems to fit the SPLC all too well.

  2. My question is, are you actually looking at the evidence or are you going with a narrative?
    There are a few things we must ask ourselves before making up our minds on this. The first is what message are Nawaz and Ali actually conveying? When Ali says you cannot separate Islam and Isis, is she right? What does that imply about Muslims at large? In making that statement what is accomplished? Is it really reform as she claims?

    • “My question is, are you actually looking at the evidence or are you going with a narrative?”

      The evidence. I looked at each point and refuted each one. I’ve read interviews, watched debates and videos and read both sides of the story. I think the SPLC has dropped the ball on this one.

      “The first is what message are Nawaz and Ali actually conveying? ”

      If you’re an extremist, the message would be easy to see. I don’t have to guess what message the KKK is trying to convey, for example.

      “When Ali says you cannot separate Islam and ISIS, is she right?”

      Islam is a key component in ISIS.

      “What does that imply about Muslims at large?”

      The same thing that can be said about an extremist Christian militia or organization that has a key component of Christianity inherent in it. Does that mean all Christians are violent?

      Reality would say otherwise and the same could be said about Muslims.

      Does that mean either religion doesn’t have violent components within their religion?

      Demonstrably, they both do.

      ” In making that statement what is accomplished? Is it really reform as she claims?”

      You have to be able to criticize and satirize an idea in order for change to take place.

      I will say that Nawaz’s case is far easier to defend in my opinion than Ali’s, but both don’t deserve to be on this list. I will certainly explain why in my next post. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping in, Pink!

      • “Does that mean either religion doesn’t have violent components within their religion?

        Demonstrably, they both do.”

        I think that’s the crucial nuance. Let’s leave the names aside for a second so we can focus on the structure of the argument. Let’s say there are 5 people, all members of the same gang. They all commit the same crime. When presenting the case, do I focus on an individual or do I focus on the crime? I think it’s more responsible to focus on the crime (and shared guilt) because that best addresses the issue. If I go off on a tangent on why one of the criminals is special when they all committed exactly the same crime- I think the argument is defective.
        I agree with you that Nawaz is much easier to defend than Ali- but he’s also more slippery, or at least his foundation is incredibly slippery. They take in a lot of money to “de-radicalize” people, but other than talking to receptive crowds I don’t think he does anything at all.

        • ” Let’s say there are 5 people, all members of the same gang. They all commit the same crime. When presenting the case, do I focus on an individual or do I focus on the crime? I think it’s more responsible to focus on the crime (and shared guilt) because that best addresses the issue. If I go off on a tangent on why one of the criminals is special when they all committed exactly the same crime- I think the argument is defective.”

          The motive for that crime would be of paramount interest to prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.

          “but other than talking to receptive crowds I don’t think he does anything at all.”

          I disagree but that’s neither here nor there when it comes to whether he should be labeled an extremist. Lots of people do things that I think doesn’t accomplish much, but that doesn’t make them an extremist.

          • “The motive for that crime would be of paramount interest”

            So do you think there are difference in the motivation of each of the Abrahamic religions? I suppose my point is they’re extremely similar in every way. Violent texts, abuses of power, misogyny, exclusivism. From a historical context there isn’t one which stands out as being lovely. Perhaps Judaism was less violent as a whole, but the torah also proposed beheadings and stonings. So the question is, what are Nawaz and Ali doing by proposing Islam is somehow more nefarious than the other two? The Christian Right laps it up. They always have. I remember when we were campaigning for gay marriage in Spain over a decade ago and one of the lines of Catholic campaigners was to say how much worse off we’d be under Islam, as if that somehow justified or excused Christian discrimination (which is the one Spaniards actually had to deal with regularly.)

            • “So do you think there are difference in the motivation of each of the Abrahamic religions? ”

              Hmmmm….I’m going to have to go with yes and no.

              I think they’re all violent and contain incredibly bad ideas.

              Unhelpful, right? Let me explain.

              I think all three have violence within them and they all share some very bad ideas. I am no fan of any Abrahamic religion.

              I think the difference between current day Islam and current day Christianity is twofold – Jesus and the Enlightenment. Both were instrumental in modernizing Christianity.

              I’ve been writing about religion for a while and I’ve literally heard hundreds of times a Christian tell me that abhorrent OT passages aren’t applicable any more because of Jesus. While I would argue they are still of concern, Jesus is often used to explain away and negate these destructive passages.

              The Enlightenment had a profound effect (and still does) on Christianity in the Western world. We are allowed to criticize and satirize Christianity to our hearts content here in the West, and while some Christians may not like it, they are largely powerless to stop it. This has led to the modernization of Christianity.

              Islam is protected from criticism and satire. I think it is hard to ignore that in Islamic theocracies, women, LGBT, minority religions etc do have it worse than they do in Western countries that are or were Christian majorities.

              People like Ali and Nawaz lived through this and they have first hand experience with Islam and Islamic theocracies and extremist groups. To silence them is irresponsible.

              • “We are allowed to criticize and satirize Christianity to our hearts content.”

                Do you think that’s because of the religion itself or because of bloody revolutions that ended in the separation of church and state?
                You do realize Nawaz was born in England, right? He’s our age, which means he was raised under Margaret Thatcher. He lived in a good neighbourhood in a house that’s now worth £1.5 million- in Essex. His experience with an extremist variety of Islam was entirely voluntary. And he’s not “silenced”. He writes for The Daily Beast and other publications. Are you implying he’s entitled to his way of seeing the world but the SPLC isn’t entitled to theirs?

                Ultimately, from a socio-political perspective, I think sceptics should look at this from above and ask, are we arguing for a separation of state from church (all religion) or are we saying Islam must go but the others aren’t so bad?
                My position is they’re all deleterious. Organizing them in a hierarchy of which is most evil only feeds the Christian Right’s talking points that they should be given special treatment.

                • “Do you think that’s because of the religion itself or because of bloody revolutions that ended in the separation of church and state?”

                  For many reasons, including the revolutions. The enlightenment and the inclusion of Jesus.

                  “His experience with an extremist variety of Islam was entirely voluntary.”

                  Yes, but experience he does have.

                  “And he’s not “silenced”. He writes for The Daily Beast and other publications. Are you implying he’s entitled to his way of seeing the world but the SPLC isn’t entitled to theirs?”

                  They are attempting to smear him to silence him. And no, I think they’re entitled to their opinion. I think they are wrong.

                  ” I think sceptics should look at this from above and ask, are we arguing for a separation of state from church (all religion) or are we saying Islam must go but the others aren’t so bad?”

                  Nawaz is a Muslim. He wants reform. He doesn’t argue that Islam should be done away with.

                  • 1. No sector of the Christian church received the Enlightenment with open arms.
                    2. The idea Nawaz is reforming anything is laughable. What do you think he’s reforming? Saudi Arabian Wahhabism? Moroccan Islam which is monitored by the government to prevent terrorism? Jordanian Islam where homosexuality is legal? On what authority?
                    Is he appealing to extremists? Or is he simply telling his Christian Right aufdience what they want to hear?

                    • “1. No sector of the Christian church received the Enlightenment with open arms.”

                      Yet they did and here we are.

                      “2. The idea Nawaz is reforming anything is laughable. What do you think he’s reforming?”

                      You think people who talk about reform have no impact?

                      “Jordanian Islam where homosexuality is legal?”

                      I guess the one country means the many other regions ruled by Sharia Law don’t count.

                      You mean Jordan where homosexuals who display affection in public can be arrested for ‘displaying public affection’?

                      You mean Morocco who honestly took a look at what some Mosques were teaching and took steps to combat it:

                      “Control over the religious sector and promotion of the true values of Islam

                      Perhaps what helps explain why Morocco has been, to some extent, immune from terrorist attacks is the third element of its approach. Following the terrorist attacks that hit Casablanca on May 16, 2003, Moroccan authorities proceeded to arrest and imprison many people suspected of being directly or indirectly linked to the attacks.

                      This tough security measure was accompanied with a “soft power” approach, which may prove useful over the long run. Following the attack, the Moroccan government realized that one of the important steps in the fight against terrorism was to regain control of its mosques.

                      What happened in Casablanca in May 2003 was a wake-up call for Moroccan authorities, who realized that hundreds of mosques across the country operated independent of government supervision. During the 1980s and 1990s, practices and lectures that contrasted with Morocco’s brand of Islam permeated scores of mosques, especially in remote areas and poor neighborhoods.”

                      https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2015/11/173579/how-morocco-became-a-world-leader-in-combatting-terrorism/

                    • If someone wants to make an argument that Islam cannot be separated from some of its extremist and discriminatory practices, then we can’t have major exceptions. The exceptions mean there are indeed possibilities. Jordanian laws mean Islamic societies are capable of, for example, respecting sexual privacy rights of couples (something that was only legally the case in the allegedly enlightened USA after Lawrence vs. Texas.)
                      I lived 30 minutes away from Morocco for the past 17 years, so I don’t really need a link to explain to me how the laws and society work. King Mohammed VI put into a place a government watchdog to make sure extremism was not allowed to fester in religious circles. And yes, that’s the same Morocco to which many Gay men from Catholic Spain and Anglican Britain escaped to as to not be persecuted.

                    • We are getting side tracked into a conversation about which religion is worse. This piece has nothing really to do with that. We can disagree about what either Ali or Nawaz say, but being wrong about a posituin doesn’t make you an extremist. I think I’ve laid out a very comprehensive list of why I think neither are anti-Muslim extremists. Even if you disagree with theur assertions, I do no believe they deserve to be lumped in with the KKK and other legitimate hate groups.

                    • Of course that’s your prerogative. I contend (as does the SPLC et al) that the very act of creating this hierarchy of religions as Nawaz and Ali propose makes them extremists because they have no solid evidence to substantiate those claims.
                      The original texts are equally vile. The political variations of theocracy from National Catholicism to Khomeini’s regime to the murder of Rabin by a Jewish extremist are all disgusting. And monstrous characteristics populate those religions freely. None more so than the other. After all, more people died from the (catholic/protestant) troubles in Northern Ireland than from Islamic extremism in North America and Europe.

  3. Pingback: Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali an Anti-Muslim Extremist? | Godless Cranium

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