The Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC), based in Montgomery, Alabama, has struck again. The self-appointed boundary-markers and policemen of free discussion have issued what they call a "Field Guide" to help "guide" the media in "countering prominent anti-Muslim extremists." It is hard to know where to start with such idiocy, so let us start from the beginning.
The SPLC was founded in 1971, ostensibly to fight for civil rights
among other good causes. By the end of its first decade it was targeting
the KKK and other racist organisations. So far so good. But like many a
campaigning organisation, they experienced the happy blow of basically
winning their argument. By the 1990s, there were mercifully few racist
groups in America going about unchallenged. When a member of the KKK
cropped up everybody in civil society pretty much understood that here
was a bad person who should not be given a free pass.
But there is an odd trait in campaigning groups that is well known.
Once they have achieved their objective, they continue. Why is this so?
Usually it is because there are people with salaries at stake, pensions,
perks and more. Campaigning for a particular thing or against a
particular thing has become their way of life and their means of
earning. And so they find a way to continue. For some years, the SPLC
staggered around in such a manner, as pointless and purposeless an
organisation as could be imagined.
And then in the last decade something happened to this increasingly
obscure institution. It is not for me to speculate why or how this
happened, whether it had to do with new staff or new money, but the
focus of the organisation changed. Suddenly the SPLC seemed to spy a new
fascism. They did not spy it in people who flew planes into
skyscrapers, decapitated American journalists and aid workers or blew up
the finish line of marathons. No, the SPLC saw it somewhere else. The
SPLC saw this new fascism in people who objected to people flying
planes into skyscrapers, decapitating journalists and aid workers and
blowing up the finish line of marathons. For the SPLC, the big threat on
the horizon was not Islamists but those people who objected to
Islamists -- that is, people they called "Islamophobes." In the same
way, they did not seem to have any particular problem with jihad, but
they developed a huge problem with people they called
"counter-jihadists." To their existing lists of designated "hate-groups"
they now added such people.
More honest groups might have balked at such a stance. More informed
groups would have walked a thousand miles from such a stance. But the
SPLC did no such thing. In fact, one got the impression that it had
become immensely useful for some people to be able to smear those
concerned about Islamic fundamentalism and try to make them akin to
Nazis. The only other movements who find this equally useful are, of
course, Islamic extremists.
The media today in America are increasingly wary of Islamic
extremists. Most journalists do not want the parameters of what should
be discussed dictated by Islamic fanatics. Whereas an organisation such
as the SPLC, which did something good forty years ago, is the sort of
institution that the media is for the time-being happy to hear from.
Perhaps after this latest development that will no longer be the case.
The SPLC's latest production is disgraceful, discrediting and sloppy
even by its own increasingly disgraceful, discredited and sloppy
standards. For this publication, they have listed "Fifteen anti-Muslim
activists," most likely in the hope that they will scare the media off
inviting them on, or the wider public from being allowed to listen to
Among the list is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The SPLC lists a set of allegedly
outrageous things that she has said, which have appeared in such obscure
and extreme venues as The Wall Street Journal
and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. They mention in passing -- as
though it were an incidental mishap -- that Hirsi Ali's film-making
partner, Theo van Gogh, was slaughtered on an Amsterdam street by a
jihadist, with a death-threat to Hirsi Ali pinned into van Gogh's dying
body. But they still clearly cannot imagine why anybody would have a
problem with such a thing. One wonders how the staff of the SPLC would
feel if one of their colleagues was murdered in such a manner? Doubtless
they would shrug it off. Yet it remains that case that here is this
"anti-racist" organisation, largely made up of white men who present
themselves as being anti-racists, and yet who spend their time attacking
a black immigrant woman.
Hirsi Ali is of course well known for being an ex-Muslim. But the
SPLC's list of "anti-Muslim activists" also includes a practising
Muslim. Of course, if Maajid Nawaz were an Islamic extremist then SPLC
would have nothing to say about him. But Maajid Nawaz is not an
extremist -- he is one of the most principled and courageous people
around calling out the extremists in his faith for their bigotry and
hatred. He does so, like Hirsi Ali, at no small risk to himself. If the
jihadists within Islam are ever going to be defeated, it will be because
of Muslims like Nawaz, who are willing to argue for reform on liberal,
progressive, pluralistic and democratic grounds.
Yet for the SPLC, this Muslim is not just not the right type of
Muslim -- he is "anti-Muslim." The charges that SPLC levels against
Nawaz are (this is not satire) that he has (a) co-operated with, rather
than worked against, the British police (b) suggested that customers in
banks should have to show their faces (c) once failed to abide by the
most hardline interpretation of Islamic blasphemy law (d) once visited a
strip club on his stag-night.Who knows what lapses in personal decorum have occurred among the staff
of the SPLC? Perhaps one of them once had extra-marital intercourse? Or
perhaps one of them once consumed a glass of Merlot, in contravention of
the hardest-line interpretations of Islamic scripture? Who knows, but
who the hell would anybody else be to judge, and who the hell do the
SPLC think they are? It seems that the SPLC has decided to turn itself
from an anti-racist organisation into a racist one. An organisation that
used to prosecute white racists has ended up attacking black and Muslim
immigrants. At the top of any list of "hate-groups," the SPLC must in
future be sure to place itself.