The Southern Poverty Law Center, which made its reputation tracking and cataloguing violent extremist groups, has set its sights on a new group of people who are neither violent nor extreme but who are in fact precisely the opposite of that: critics of the violence and extremism too often associated with Islam.
The new SPLC blacklist includes: Daniel Pipes, holder of a Ph.D. in Islamic history from Harvard, a man who reads both modern and classical Arabic, who studied in Egypt, and who has taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago; Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated author, a former member of the Dutch parliament and crusader against female genital mutilation; Maajid Nawaz, a British Muslim reformist who was held as a political prisoner in Egypt; former Defense Department official Frank Gaffney; Radical Son author David Horowitz; attorney and free-speech advocate Robert Muise of the American Freedom Law Center; provocatrix Pamela Geller; former PLO member and Muslim reformist Walid Shoebat, among others.
One might fault Geller or Shoebat for rhetorical excesses, and free-speech defenders such as Muise by necessity defend statements and views that are offensive, inoffensive speech requiring no First Amendment protection. The main offense of Pipes and Hirsi Ali seems to be the unforgiveable sin of being simultaneously well-informed about the actual state of the Muslim world and coolly critical of many of its leaders, institutions, and ideologies. Not everyone on the SPLC list is an Islamic scholar — but to rank any of them alongside Nazis, Klansmen, and those who encourage and do violence in the name of an extremist ideology? Preposterous.
Many of those smeared by the SPLC have themselves been the targets of extremist violence — Hirsi Ali has twice been made a refugee by Islamic extremism, and U.S.-based jihadis have actively plotted to murder Geller. About those violent extremists, the SPLC is strangely circumspect.
The SPLC is an example of the way in which the Left corrupts and perverts the institutions it controls, from the IRS to the universities. While decrying “conspiracy theorists,” the SPLC itself is obsessed with “Terror from the Right” that is, pardon us for noticing, so rare as to be nearly insignificant. For all of the SPLC’s hysteria about neo-Confederates, skinheads, secret Nazi cabals, and the like, there is very little evidence that these organizations, to the extent that they exist as more than shared social-media fantasies, are actually up to much of anything. Even if we accept the tendentious characterization of SPLC favorite Timothy McVeigh as some kind of right-wing extremist (as with many such figures, his actual beliefs were confused, contradictory, and eccentric), the main organ of white-supremacist nuttery in the United States is prison gangs, which constitute a fairly constrained and peculiar phenomenon with relatively little effect on the outside world.
Not so violent Islamic radicalism, which is a factor in the United States and in practically every country in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and beyond. That is the great irony here: People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are doing the work the SPLC is supposed to be doing — understanding and countering violent extremists — and the SPLC denounces them for it.
Some of those on the SPLC list are Muslims, former Muslims, and lifelong students of Islam. What they mostly have in common is that they are, broadly speaking, conservatives, people who are influential among conservatives, or writers and activists admired by conservatives. The SPLC is so drunk on its own poisonous ideological brew that it has simply come to conflate conservatism with violent or potentially violent extremism. One of these things is not like the others: A category of social tendencies that includes both Aryan Brotherhood felons in San Quentin and Somali-Dutch atheist women with celebrated literary careers is not an especially useful category.
It would be embarrassing if the authors of the report were capable of shame, which does not seem to be the case.
One might reasonably argue that Daniel Pipes or Ayaan Hirsi Ali is wrong in this or that particular, unfair in some way, or paints with too broad a brush. But to treat their criticism of what is — let’s not forget — the world’s most active and vicious violent-extremist movement as though such criticism were morally or intellectually equivalent to the ravings of backwater Klansmen is grotesque, irresponsible, and immoral. It would also be embarrassing if the authors of the report were capable of shame, which does not seem to be the case.
But that is the Left’s current favored method: to pathologize dissent (remember those “right-wing authoritarian” personality disorders) or to define dissent as immoral, as hate.
There’s a popular online joke about a book called “Everyone Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler: A Child’s Guide to Arguing on the Internet.” Perhaps one of these SPLC scholars can be tapped to write a preface to the new edition.
[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Frank Gaffney was an official in the U.S. Department of State. He was, in fact, in the Department of Defense.]