Last week Maajid Nawaz was listed on the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s (SPLC) anti-Muslim extremist group. So this begs the question; who is Maajid Nawaz, what is the SPLC, who else is on this list, and what does this mean for Islam and Muslims living in the West?
Who is Maajid Nawaz?
Maajid Nawaz is a British born so called “activist” who was once previously a member of the terrorist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who say they act in the name of Islam. He was arrested in Egypt in 2001 due to this association with Tahrir and was imprisoned until 2006. During his stint in prison, he began reading books on Human Rights and developed a change of heart. This ultimately led to his abandonment of Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2007 and he is now an advocate of “Secular Islam.” Currently he heads the Quillam Foundation which is a counter extremism think-tank created by Maajid and two other former Hizb ut-Tahrir members, Ed Hussain and Rashad Ali.
So why the anti-Muslim label?
Maajid is clearly a man of extremes who has shifted from one side of the scale to another. Before he was part of a group that manipulated Islam to put forth its own ideologies and now, he is employing Western ideologies to twist Islam. It’s his comments, ideologies and association with certain people that has led to this label that he so vehemently denies, so let’s look at some examples the SPLC have used.
Cartoon picture of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
In 2014, Nawaz tweeted a picture of cartoon which showed the face of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) even though, being a Muslim himself, he knows that Islam prohibits drawings of him and consider it to be disrespectful. His response was that he has the right to freedom of speech and that he does not consider the picture “offensive,” although he knew others would.
In an op-ed in the Daily Mail, Nawaz called for criminalizing the wearing of the veil, or niqab, in many public places, saying: “It is not only reasonable, but our duty to insist individuals remove the veil when they enter identity-sensitive environments such as banks, airports, courts and schools.”
The SPLC was founded in 1971 and states that is “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society”. The non-profit foundation began with fighting for civil rights issues, mainly against the Ku Klux Klan, but has expanded to cover rights from groups such as immigrants, children, LGBT and looked to provide economic and criminal justice through various programmes.
The organisation has become somewhat famous for its hate group listings for which Maajid Nawaz has joined, alongside the likes of Ben Carson, former Republican nominee. It looks to share this information it gains from monitoring hate organisations to government officials through official reports to dismantle these groups. Groups taken down include United Klans of America, the Aryan Nations and the White Aryan Resistance.
Who else is on the list?
This years anti-Muslim list contains 15 individuals who all look to push the anti-Muslim narrative and can be found on the SPLC report. The SPLC has quoted what some of the people of the list have said about Muslims which can be found below:
“480 million to 640 million Muslims ‘support the notion that it’s okay to bomb the World Trade Center,” whereas another claimed that 180 million to 300 million Muslims ‘are willing to strap a bomb on their bodies … and blow us all up.’”
One person on the listed was quoted as saying:
“There are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter.” – I love how they never give exact locations.
The usual quote of “President Obama is a secret Muslim,” … so what if he is?
One specific person that made it onto the list was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim who, upon initial research, you think made it onto the list by mistake as she is prominent female genital mutilation activist, but then find out she describes Islam as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” Quite the mouthful.
What does this mean for Islam and Muslims living in the West?
The inclusion of Maajid Nawaz on this list highlights a growing problem for Islam in the West and it is a problem that other minority groups have also encountered in the past. In the same was you had black people protesting against the civil rights movements in the 60’s, you now have ‘Muslims’ protesting against Islam.
The problem is that these so called Muslims tend to dominate the airwaves and grab most of the media’s attention. They spew the same hatred as the Muslim extremists but draw up a different conclusion. Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike highlight that “Islam is at war with the West.” The only difference being one group wants the West to bow down to Islam and another group wants Islam to bow down to the West, but the same distorted message is still being spread. It’s a win-win for any Islamophobes that want to see Islam’s downfall because no one talks about how Islam is a religion of peace and is not at war with the West. Instead they focus on the few deranged individuals that say that it is.
Combined with this problem is that these anti-Muslim extremists tend to have the ears of governments and intelligence agencies. They claim to have key information on extremism due to their experience of being former extremists or being around extremism and therefore this leads to government agencies jumping at what they have to say.
It may also be due to the fact that it reinforces what the government already has to say and what it wants to do. Having an organisation which says it represents Islamic ideologies and also backs the governments domestic and foreign policy helps gives justification to these policies. The more these groups, such as Quillam, shout out that Islam is dangerous and needs to bend to the morals of the West the more it justifies the governments attacks on Syria, it works in Iraq and its domestic policy on harassing Muslims at home. That is why individuals like Maajid Nawaz are more dangerous than the external threat of Muslim extremists.
With Muslims extremists, it’s easier to write them off as mislead, uninformed and generally crazy. But with anti-Muslim extremism, someone who says he is Muslim but is “moderate” like Nawaz, a person who is not part of the Muslim community may easily think that what this person is saying is true. Quotes like “Islam has a link to terrorism,” hold more weight coming from someone who seems logical and doesn’t want to kill everyone within a 10m radius.
This leads to the final problem: people like Maajid Nawaz sound convincing. They have a flawed logic, which if you haven’t done any prior research, sounds true and well, logical and unfortunately, that tends to represent the majority of the public. How many people have the time and patience to read books by Naom Chomsky to gain a clearer insight into the Palestine problem? Not many. But there’s a greater majority of people who have 5 minutes to spare to listen to a podcast by Maajid Nawaz defending Israel and blaming Hamas.
That’s the trap I nearly fell into. Listening to his arguments on Israel defending themselves, having a right to exist and how Hamas and Islamic extremism is to be blamed for the war in Palestine nearly made me agree with him. Luckily, I had done my own research and read books on the matter, and once I took a step back to really think about what he was saying, I realised he missed crucial information and used twisted facts to defend his argument. But if I, the average person, who’s busy on developing their career and family life, I probably don’t have time to find this information and therefore Nawaz’s arguments appeal to me cause they seem to be logical.
Just like any logical statement such as “to lose weight, you need to eat less calories,” it’s not as a simple as that. If the calories you eat are provided from pizza’s, burgers and a side of rasmalai then you might not get that 6 pack you’ve always wanted. Similarly, if you justify Israel’s attack on Palestine because Palestine bombs Israel without mentioning the Balfour Agreement, The Nakhba or the Iron Dome then your logic breaks down and is flawed. But to the outside eye it seems fine.
This is the problem that Islam faces today and it is a greater hazard than external threats of groups such as Daesh; groups like Daesh have come before and will come again. First Al Qaeda, now Daesh and in a decade’s time it will be a new group, but we can fight against groups that make it clear that they’re the enemy. It’s the enemy from within that’s harder to fight. It’s a policy used for millennia’s: divide and conquer.