In an article that will appear in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Thomas Chatterton Williams profiles Maajid Nawaz and his quest to eradicate Islamic extremism. It’s that noble goal that’s earned him plenty of criticism from people — like the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center — who think he’s somehow as bad as the people he’s going after.
Though he and his allies, and even some of his opponents, have complained to the S.P.L.C. — there is a change.org petition to remove him and the Somali-born atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which has garnered almost 12,000 signatures — the group has not wavered on its position, the costs of which have already been real for [Nawaz’s anti-extremist organization] Quilliam. Nawaz claims that the listing has compromised some funding for the organization. “I consider myself a liberal and wanted to work with liberals,” he said, shaking his head.
In reality, his views on Islamic extremism are more complex than these labels allow, which is, arguably, one of the more compelling reasons to listen to him on the subject.
… Nawaz’s layered arguments and concessions — his insistence, for example, that Islam does have something to do with Islamism — provoke a visceral suspicion among those who are concerned with fighting Islamophobia above all. A term that you will hear with frequency from Nawaz is “the regressive left,” as in purportedly progressive institutions like the S.P.L.C. that, often starting from a legitimate concern that Muslims en masse not be persecuted for the actions of a few, nonetheless embody a perplexingly backward mind-set when it comes to Islam.
As someone who’s been aware of Nawaz’s work for quite some time, I learned so much more about him through the piece, including a more detailed analysis of his background, what his critics dislike about him so damn much, and the obstacles he has yet to overcome. None of it, of course, justifies the “extremist” label the SPLC irresponsibly put on him and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
You can learn more about his foundation here.
(Screenshot via YouTube)