The celebrated human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the widely published writer David Horowitz are among those who have ended up on a U.S. civil rights organization’s new list of "anti-Muslim extremists."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Atlanta, once known primarily for fighting against violent white supremacist groups, last week released what it billed as a guide for journalists called the “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”
“We wrote this manual because Muslims in America continue to be vilified by a network of anti-Muslim extremists spreading baseless and damaging lies,” said the SPLC's Heidi Beirich in a prepared statement, “and we think the media can play a role in helping to stop it.”
The guide identifies 15 individuals - including Hirsi Ali and Horowitz - who, it advises, the media should ignore or strongly oppose in order to avoid providing them what the SPLC calls a façade of legitimacy.
Horowitz dismissed the guide, saying it's goal is to silence critics of Islam who engage in legitimate debate about how different interpretations of the religion feed terrorism and violence. It is especially frustrating, he told AMI, because "there's no way I can fight this [in the courts] because I'm a public figure."
The SPLC seems to equate criticism of Islamic violence, Islamic nations' treatment of gays and criticism of Islamic blasphemy laws as proof that a person is anti-Muslim, said Horowitz, a former Marxist who is now a free-speech advocate. In his writings and videotaped university lectures, Horowitz said he has acknowledged that there are hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims.
Horowitz considers extremist labeling efforts along the lines of the SPLC list as a disease of the American political culture. This is akin to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton labeling half of Donald Trump's supporters as racists, he said.
"Americans and the American media have to get fed up with this stuff," said the activist, whose David Horowitz Freedom Center is based in Southern California.
Hirsi Ali, a former Somali-born former Muslim who has spoken out against faith-based genital mutilation, has often been targeted for her views. Her film-making partner, Theo van Gogh, was killed in Amsterdam in 2004 by a jihadist, who also issued a death threat against her.
Although the American activist has not commented on the guide, others have condemned her inclusion. “The SPLC is making the mistake of equating fair criticism of Islam with unfair bigotry against Muslims,” said Hermant Mehta, a writer for the Friendly Atheist Blog . “No one has to agree with what [she] says about Islam, but it’s absurd to claim that [she] hates Muslims to the point of being extremists.”
A number of observers have also criticized the SPLC for including Maajid Nawaz, a British citizen who is chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, which describes itself as a counter-extremism policy institute that supports religious freedom, democracy and human rights.
“First World American non-Muslims at the Southern Poverty Law Center just listed me – a liberal reform Muslim – as an 'anti-Muslim Extremist,' ” Nawaz said last week on his Facebook page. “I consider this as placing a target on my head. It is nothing but a hit list for jihadist terrorists.”
In previous weeks, he addressed the National Secular Society in London and defended Islam, saying the religion could become part of a public discourse that is pluralistic and even secular.
“A liberal Muslim’s criticism of Islamism is not an attack on all Islam – just like criticizing the Crusades is not an attack on all Christianity,” Nawaz said.
The SPLC did not immediately respond to questions about the guide posed by AMI Newswire.
The accusations made against Nawaz by the SPLC are hardly things associated with anti-Muslim extremism, according to Douglas Murray, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Gatestone Institute. The accusations include Nawaz’s cooperation with British police, his belief that bank customers should show their faces, a report that he once tweeted a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad and that he once visited a strip club.
“The SPLC’s latest production is disgraceful, discrediting and sloppy even by its own increasingly disgraceful, discredited and sloppy standards,” Murray wrote on the Gatestone Institute’s website, which focuses on international policies.
A petition filed at Change.org calling on the SPLC to remove Hirsi Ali and Nawaz from the list now has about 9,000 signatures. In creating its guide, the SPLC is silencing key voices who represent marginalized people, said the petition author, Colorado blogger Ahnaf Kalam.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center, like the actual radical Islamists themselves, has shown the world that they too do not want people like Nawaz and Hirsi Ali to be allowed a platform,” Kalam said. “While on the surface, it may seem like a well-intentioned and sympathetic gesture as to shield Muslim communities from uncomfortable truths to which they may take offense … in actuality (it) is doing exactly what the Islamists want to happen.”