This post originally appeared on openDemocracyUK on 7 November 2016.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) has a long history of fighting racism, extending back to roots in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, so its Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists published last month, attracted widespread interest from those involved in combatting Islamophobia. Unfortunately, this latest publication has been controversial because it includes Maajid Nawaz, the co-founder of the UK counter-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation.
Nawaz has denounced this characterisation as 'Islam-splaining', describing himself as 'a brown, liberal, reform Muslim' and denouncing his critics as the 'regressive left', a charge echoed by Nick Cohen in the Spectator. Some elements of SPLC's critique of Nawaz were indeed questionable. It is not clear that the inclusion of some of his more personal peccadilloes shed any light on the charge of extremism. To accuse any self-identified Muslim of anti-Muslim extremism should always give one pause, given the risk of setting oneself up as arbitrator of others’ religious beliefs. There should be a high bar, and the scattershot nature of some of the SPLC's criticisms suggests that bar has not been met, even if other points do illustrate the profoundly illiberal impact of Quilliam's brand of counter-subversion.
This does not mean that a Muslim can never be said to be an anti-Muslim extremist. A good example is provided by a previous row involving Quilliam and a close British analogue of the SPLC, Hope Not Hate. In December last year, Hope Not Hate published a report on the so-called 'counterjihad movement', a self-identified coalition of hardline, far-right anti-Muslim groups, which spawned among other organisations, the English Defence League in Britain.