The Corner

Politics & Policy

Silicon Valley and Free Speech: Tim Cook Edition


Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook has joined a chorus of business leaders who have voiced their opposition to President Donald Trump after he blamed white nationalists and anti-racism activists equally for violence in Virginia over the weekend.

“I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans,” Cook wrote in a note late on Wednesday to employees, according to technology news website Recode.

Cook also said in the letter that Apple will donate $1 million apiece to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League and will match two-for-one their donations to the organizations and other human rights groups until Sept. 30.

Let me note first that I am not very impressed (to put it mildly) with the way that the president has responded to the events in Charlottesville.

That said, let’s concentrate on this: Cook is spending $1m of shareholders’ money on a gift to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC has, shall we say, its issues. You can find some interesting commentary over at that well-known bastion of the right, Harper’s Magazine, here, here and here.

But I’d like to focus on the SPLC’s “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists”, and two of the names included in that guide (something already discussed by Ericka Andersen on this very Corner back in June).

Firstly, there’s Maajid Nawaz “a British activist and part of the “ex-radical” circuit of former Islamists who use that experience to savage Islam.”

Amongst the evidence of his “extremism” is this:

According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad. He said that he wanted “to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge.”

So Apple is funding an organization that deems taking a stand in favor of free speech as evidence of extremism. The company that once advertised itself as the antithesis of Big Brother is now a de facto supporter of controlling ‘blasphemy’. Times change. 

Doubtless this will play well in Apple (Saudi Arabia), so there’s that.

Here’s (part of) what The Atlantic had to say about Nawaz last year (my emphasis added):

Nawaz is a star in certain anti-terror circles, thanks to a compelling personal narrative: A self-described former extremist who spent four years in an Egyptian prison, he has changed approaches and now argues for a pluralistic and peaceful vision of Islam. He stood for Parliament as a Liberal Democrat in 2015, and advised Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron.

Nawaz’s work has earned him detractors—critics claim he has embellished or neatened his narrative, some attack him for opportunism, and others question his liberal bona fides—but calling him an “anti-Muslim extremist” is a surprise. Unlike the likes of Gaffney and Geller, he doesn’t espouse the view that Islam itself is a problem; unlike Ali, who now describes herself as an atheist, Nawaz identifies as a Muslim.

Ali? Ah yes: Someone else who is on the SPLC extremist list is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali knows a thing or two about Islam, having been brought up in that faith (at one point in her youth she was very devout) and then broken with it publicly and, yes, abrasively, something that put her life in danger (which goes some way to backing up what she has to say about Islam). Sometimes she has, in my view, overreached in her rhetoric (others will disagree), but to go from that to claiming that she is an extremist in the way that the SPLC use that word is absurd, no more than that, it’s sinister. 

Another prominent atheist, Sam Harris, has described the labeling of Hirsi Ali and Nawaz as extremists as “unbelievable”. After Hirsi Ali was snubbed by Brandeis in 2014 (two years before the SPLC ’field guide’ came out), Richard Dawkins referred to her as a “hero of rationalism & feminism”.

Over at Patheos, Hemant Mehta. “the Friendly Atheist” (and no rightist) called the SPLC’s designation of Hirsi Ali and Nawaz a “f****** joke” :

If criticizing religious beliefs makes them extremists, then it won’t be long before other vocal atheists end up on that list, too. And make no mistake, that’s what Nawaz and Hirsi Ali are doing. That’s all they’re doing. They’re not anti-Muslim; they work with moderate Muslims. They’re critical of the worst aspects of Islam. For goodness’ sake, they’re not attacking Malala Yousafzai.

Hell, Hirsi Ali’s foundation works to end faith-based “honor killings” and female genital mutilation. Who knew that would make her the Worst Person Ever?

Mehta added:

Essentially, while her words may have been harsh, they should be seen with the understanding that she has been personally affected by the worst aspects of the faith. As I wrote before, it takes a very uncharitable interpretation of Hirsi Ali’s words to think her goal of “defeating Islam” means we should commit violence against peaceful law-abiding Muslims or descends into hate speech. Her goal is full-scale reform of Islam, not genocide against all Muslims.

She has repeatedly said that her goal is to prevent the spread of Islamic radicalism, not to prevent peaceful Muslims from practicing their faith.

Yet she and Nawaz have attracted the ire of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But all of that’s fine with Apple’s Tim Cook, so fine that he’s prepared to throw one million dollars of his shareholders’ money SPLC’s way.

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