Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch is a bit sore over the fact that Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz are getting loads of sympathy while he and others are not. He writes:
“Some supporters of Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali have started a petition at Change.org, ‘Remove Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)’s list of anti-Muslim extremists.’ The clear implication of this petition is that Nawaz and Hirsi Ali are unjustly maligned by their inclusion on the list with ‘real bigots,’ and that the rest of us [13 others] deserve to be on the list. That not only unfairly maligns those who are on the list with Nawaz and Hirsi Ali, but is self-defeating in granting the SPLC a legitimacy that it neither has nor deserves.”
To a large extent I agree with Spencer. The Southern Poverty Law Center has flipped 180 degrees from its days of the 70s-80s, when it used to go after violent supremacists like neo-Nazis. Today they blacklist those who speak out against violent supremacists (if the supremacists are Muslims, that is), and it’s just as wrong to smear conservatives in this regard as it is liberals.
On the other hand, Spencer should have the grace to acknowledge that condemnations of Hirsi Ali and Nawaz are especially egregious. We’re talking about an ex-Muslim who speaks from experience (and for the experience of vast numbers of Muslims), and a Muslim reformer who still prays to Allah. When people like myself get especially indignant on behalf of these two, it’s not because we think the 13 conservative Caucasians deserve to be smeared (and for myself, I’ve spoken out for Spencer in the past). It’s that human rights activists (like Hirsi Ali) and reformers (like Nawaz) have felt the toxic pain of Islam from the inside and have come a long way.
This is the current SPLC blacklist of “anti-Muslim extremists”.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Let’s be clear that none of these people deserves to be ranked along groups like white supremacists who advocate or use violence. (Jihad terrorists deserve to be, but the SPLC is far more interested in prosecuting the above individuals who speak out against them.) Now, there are many on this list whose right-wing politics I don’t identify with (like David Horowitz and Robert Spencer), but that doesn’t make them hateful or bigoted; certainly they are not. Spencer in particular is to be commended for many of his writings and books on Islam, and I have defended him in the past on this blog. Others on this list are sometimes factually challenged (like Steven Emerson and Ryan Mauro); others need an image consultant (like Pamela Geller) because their public personas are so obnoxious and coarse that no one wants to give them the time of day, whatever their merits.
There are a few on this list who could be genuine bigots and probably are. For example, if Ann Corcoran “routinely links to white nationalists like Jared Taylor, who once said black people are incapable of sustaining civilization” (per the SPLC report), then that’s a sign her criticisms of Islamic extremists may be fueled by anti-Muslim bigotry. If Robert Muise defended the owners of a Florida gun shop and an Oklahoma gun range who refused to serve Muslims — on grounds that “the law does not require a gun shop or gun range owner to equip or train the next jihadist” — then Muise is guilty of discrimination against Muslims; you can’t have a blanket policy against Muslims for fear that you might be serving a terrorist. If David Yerushalmi claimed that black people are “the most murderous of peoples”, and that “most of the fundamental differences between the races are genetic”, and that “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give women or black slaves the right to vote”, then he is obviously an odious person. I didn’t bother fact-checking these citations, and I don’t trust that the SPLC necessarily quotes reliably, but if they are accurate as cited then people like Corcoran, Muise, and Yerushalmi are bigots. Even so, they do not advocate/incite to/use violence in the manner of the hate groups which used to be targeted by the SPLC back in the days of yore.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz are the lone liberals on the list who are getting at least some support against the SPLC, and Spencer is right to condemn the hypocrisy. Hirsi Ali has argued that Islam is a religion of violence and intolerance just as Spencer has. Each has written books on the subject displaying enviable critical acumen. Let’s also be clear that Hirsi Ali and Nawaz have been targeted for a long time by the regressive left for their critiques of Islam: Hirsi Ali was protested by college students for being “hateful”, and Nawaz can only get air time, practically, on Fox news. Honest discussions about Islam have been a long-standing problem. Nawaz says that the left is less interested in advancing progressive values and more concerned about tribal identities. Spencer would certainly agree with that.