If you know anything about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, maybe it’s that the Somali-born activist was the victim of faith-based genital mutilation. Maybe it’s that her friend, director Theo van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim extremist who then stuck a knife in his body with a note that said Hirsi Ali was next. Maybe it’s that she’s been on a mission to reform the religion.
She understands that there’s a direct connection between a literal interpretation of the Qur’an and the terror we’re seeing in parts of the world. She knows that a non-trivial percentage of believers feel that violence in the name of Islam is sometimes justified.
Maajid Nawaz is another activist working to reform the faith, most recently with his book Islam and the Future of Tolerance (co-authored with Sam Harris).
Both of them believe that Islam is uniquely problematic compared to other religions and moderate Muslims have a role to play in helping steer the ship in the right direction.
And both of them were just named to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “Anti-Muslim Extremists” alongside actual hate-mongers like Walid Shoebat (who once said “All Islamic organizations in America should be the No. 1 enemy”).
What a fucking joke.
The SPLC, of course, is famous for its list of “hate groups.” They’ve affixed that label to certain conservative Christian organizations that say homosexuality is an evil that can and should be cured — but not churches that merely believe it’s a sin. The Ku Klux Klan is on their list, too.
But now, a couple critics of Islam have joined the club, which makes me wonder why anyone should take the SPLC seriously at this point.
If criticizing religious beliefs makes them extremists, then it won’t be long before other vocal atheists end up on that list, too. And make no mistake, that’s what Nawaz and Hirsi Ali are doing. That’s all they’re doing. They’re not anti-Muslim; they work with moderate Muslims. They’re critical of the worst aspects of Islam. For goodness’ sake, they’re not attacking Malala Yousafzai.
Hell, Hirsi Ali’s foundation works to end faith-based “honor killings” and female genital mutilation. Who knew that would make her the Worst Person Ever?
It’s absolutely irresponsible of the SPLC to add their names to this list.
On what grounds are they even on there? Let’s take a look.
For Hirsi Ali, they say this:
… Although she now positions herself as an ex-Muslim champion of women’s rights, her anti-Muslim rhetoric is remarkably toxic. In 2007, she told Reason magazine that the West should “defeat” Islam and that “we are war with Islam.” The same year, she said that Islam was “the new fascism” and a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” in an interview with The London Evening Standard. In 2014, Brandeis University withdrew its offer of an honorary degree for her, saying that it had been unaware of her vitriolic attacks on Islam.
When Brandeis revoked the honorary degree, the reporter from Reason magazine wrote on this very site that their interview was often seen in an unfair light:
There was certainly an illiberal aspect to it all. But again, context is everything. If you’ve read Infidel, you know that, in her native Somalia, Hirsi Ali was the victim of forced genital mutilation when she was five and was later almost married off to a distant cousin she despised. Those experiences equipped her with a rare determination to combat the deeply misogynistic “death cult” (her term) that is Islam, something she has done in an admirable way with the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, an organization that helps free women and girls from cultural and religious oppression. (If that isn’t Social Justice, I don’t know what is.)
Essentially, while her words may have been harsh, they should be seen with the understanding that she has been personally affected by the worst aspects of the faith. As I wrote before, it takes a very uncharitable interpretation of Hirsi Ali’s words to think her goal of “defeating Islam” means we should commit violence against peaceful law-abiding Muslims or descends into hate speech. Her goal is full-scale reform of Islam, not genocide against all Muslims.
She has repeatedly said that her goal is to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism, not to prevent peaceful Muslims from practicing their faith.
What about Nawaz? Like Ali, the SPLC says he exaggerated or lied about aspects of his biography, but here’s one example they cite as proof of his anti-Muslim bigotry:
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.”
That would be this picture:
That’s not anti-Muslim. That’s a statement of free speech. It’s something we’ve participated in on this site as part of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Those of us who are not Muslim are not bound by Islamic doctrine. Devout Muslims may not be allowed to draw Muhammad, but we sure as hell can, and they have no right to stop us. Posting a cartoon version of Muhammad is not hate speech.
You can say it’s disrespectful (I disagree), but by no means is that bigotry.
Is the SPLC going to add Colin Kaepernick to a future list of anti-American extremists for his protest of the National Anthem? C’mon now.
The SPLC also says Nawaz was spotted at a strip club once. So I guess he hates Muslims…?
Like I said, if Hirsi Ali and Nawaz are considered anti-Muslim, then when are they going to add other atheists to that list? What about ex-Muslim group leaders who frequently point out the problems with the Islamic holy texts and who work to help those who have left the religion only to fear for their lives?
I spend a lot of time on this site criticizing Christianity (and other religions). But I would never want to take away Christians’ civil rights. I just want to persuade them to leave the faith, while helping people understand that the Bible is hardly a “good book.” Does that make me an extremist, too?
The SPLC is making the mistake of equating fair criticism of Islam with unfair bigotry against Muslims. No one has to agree with what Hirsi Ali and Nawaz say about Islam, but it’s absurd to claim that they hate Muslims to the point of being extremists.
Stay tuned. It won’t be long before the SPLC adds all those threatened Bangladeshi bloggers to the extremist list, too.