An Islamic extremist-turned counterextremist, chat show host, mayoral candidate, and liberal advocate of “secular islam” who grew up on the streets of Britain, Maajid Nawaz doesn’t fit a simple label, as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) learned at their own cost.
On June 19, SPLC announced a $3.3 million settlement for placing Nawaz and his counterextremism organization Quillam on its “hate list” of anti-Muslim extremists.
The settlement also compelled SPLC to apologize for including Islamic reformist Nawaz on the watchlist, where he appeared alongside extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and members of neo-Nazi organizations.
Other groups that found themselves on the list, describing themselves simply as conservative organizations, said the settlement showed that SPLC’s hate map was motivated by a progressive agenda.
“We were able to fight back against the Regressive Left and show them that moderate Muslims will not be silenced,” Nawaz said in a statement issued by Qiillam.
The “regressive left” is a pet phrase Nawaz, who classes himself as a true liberal, often riffs on during his British weekly radio show on LBC to criticize certain “progressives.”
Nawaz founded counterextremism organization Quillam—the first in the world—to tackle the narratives that give rise to the extremist views driving Islamic terrorism.
“Maajid’s work is informed by years spent in his youth as a leadership member of a global Islamist group, and his gradual transformation toward liberal democratic values,” says a statement on the Quillam Foundation website. “ Having served four years as an Amnesty International adopted ‘prisoner of conscience’ in Egypt, Maajid is now a leading critic of his former Islamist ideological dogma while remaining a secular liberal Muslim.”
Nawaz made a public appeal for donations to sue the SPLC for defamation back in July 2017. Speaking at the time, he said, “The Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, who made their money suing the KKK, was set up to defend people like me, but now have become the monster they have claimed they wanted to defeat.”
“I’ve been attacked countless times by religious fanatics, but I never thought factions on the left, who are meant to fight for the rights of people like me, would try to silence my voice,” he added.
In a statement issued on June 19, the SPLC said it offered its “sincerest apology” to Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation for including it in its publication “A Journalist’s Manual: Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”
“It was our opinion at the time that the Field Guide was published that their inclusion was warranted. But after getting a deeper understanding of their views and after hearing from others for whom we have great respect, we realize that we were simply wrong to have included Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam in the Field Guide in the first place.”
However, Nawaz’s lawyers highlighted the fact that for two years the organization refused to retract its advice.
“It’s a shame that it took impending litigation for the Southern Poverty Law Center to finally set the record straight and admit it was wrong all along,” said Megan Meier, a partner at Clare Locke that represented Nawaz. “Quilliam and Mr. Nawaz do admirable work, and we are honored to have restored their reputations and achieved this victory on their behalf.”
One of the 954 groups listed on the SPLC’s “hate map” is The Family Research Council, which describes its mission as “advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview.”
Executive Vice President Jerry Boykin said of the SPLC settlement in a statement, “This massive settlement validates what we’ve been saying all along: The SPLC’s illegitimate hate map is motivated by its radical progressive political agenda.”