Edit: subsequent to the writing of this, the SPLC has updated their profile of Maajid. It has been improved, but see for yourself if the new allegations hold any more water than those I mention here.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently published a list of fifteen supposedly anti-Muslim extremists. This list contains one Muslim man by the name of Maajid Nawaz.
You can go ahead and read for yourself the charges levelled against him. I wrote out a whole article dealing with these allegations but there’s no point publishing it. If you can’t see for yourself how much of a hatchet job it is, I’m not sure I can persuade you otherwise. Instead I want to talk about identity politics and why this sort of thing happens.
The pervasive rallying cry among many of the left is “Listen to the people who are affected by the issue”. So far, so good. It makes sense to talk to black people about racism, prostitutes and former prostitutes about prostitution, women about sexual equality, and so on.
However, upon further reflection, this reveals something deeply unsettling. The line is usually brought up in response to people expressing certain opinions which the former individual disagrees with. Without explicitly saying it, they equate their own views with the views of the people in question.
But people as individuals have all kinds of wildly differing opinions, regardless of their circumstances. Those who do claim to know what “people affected by the issue” think, therefore, must pick and choose who they are supposedly listening to. Even if the majority opinion does line up with their own (and how would they truly know?), who is to say that is actually the correct perspective?
Out of the seven billion people in the world, sadly only a small percentage support progressive causes. We cannot afford to follow blindly the will of the majority without giving up everything we believe in.
In order to claim, then, that they know what oppressed people think, they have to hold up some people as representative of those communities. Perhaps they choose one organisation in particular. But no organisation can ever truly represent the voices of anyone not a member of that same organisation.
What happens in practice is that those with the most power, as usual, rise to the top and become the appointed spokespeople. Attempting to listen to the voices of the people affected by an issue will often expose you to those who are only marginally affected but wield a lot of clout for other reasons.
Furthermore, listening to someone does not inherently lead to adopting their viewpoints. We should know by now that people are easily mislead into blaming their problems on the most convenient target. Many low income workers, when they complain about immigration, are actually talking about a whole host of real issues, but place the blame on the wrong targets.
Maajid Nawaz must be slandered and denounced because he is claiming to be a Muslim but is saying the wrong things. Not the wrong things to ordinary Muslim people, but the wrong things to people who position themselves as the voices of the Muslim community. When Maajid retweeted a drawing of Mohammed, saying it did not offend him, something the SPLC seems to denounce him for, who do we think decided that pictures of Mohammed were offensive in the first place?
Did Muslims of the world collectively decide not to tolerate blasphemous images made by other people? No, it was a cynical attempt to stir up conflict between the East and West, and it worked. Islamic preachers and politicians chose to interpret pictures of Mohammed as a slap in the face of Muslims everywhere, and they encouraged their followers to take it the same way. This divisiveness is aided and abetted by Western leftists who justify and excuse this reactionary hostility, as well as the Western rightists who leap at the opportunity to cause further conflict.
It’s our job as progressives to convince people they are being lied to and manipulated by their leaders, and bring people together by teaching tolerance and patience. This means, as much as being sensitive to the concerns of others, also turning the other cheek when others seek to insult us.
I do not hold the left primarily responsible for what I see as the work of the global far right, whether Christian or Islamic. But if we are ever going to change the world, we have to be able to challenge the narratives being painted by the other side, and right now most of the left seems content to stoke the flames of intolerance in the name of tolerance, and is in doing so reinforcing the power of the very people we should seek to oppose.
Edit: you can now read Maajid’s own response to the Southern Poverty Law Center here -http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/29/i-m-a-muslim-reformer-why-am-i-being-smeared-as-an-anti-muslim-extremist.html