Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist-turned-reformist who now runs a counter-extremism think tank, will sue the Southern Poverty Law Center for including him on a list of anti-Muslim extremists, he announced on Bill Maher’s HBO show Friday night.
Nawaz, who is also an author and ran for office in Britain in 2015, runs the Quilliam Foundation, which describes itself as “the world’s first counter-extremism organization,” dedicated to promoting pluralism within Islam and other religions. In October, the Southern Poverty Law Center — a left-wing “anti-hate” nonprofit that frequently targets conservative advocacy groups — listed Nawaz among 15 “anti-Muslim extremists,” including Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Pamela Geller, Brigitte Gabriel, David Horowitz and others.
“I’ve memorized half of the Koran. I’m a Muslim. I’m born and raised Muslim to a Muslim. I’ve learned classical Arabic and spent time in prison as a political prisoner for what I then thought was my religion,” Nawaz told Maher on Friday night’s episode of Real Time. “I’ve changed my views as to the interpretation of my religion, and along come these people…and decide that I don’t have the right to speak about my own heritage and critique it from within.”
Nawaz said he would be taking the SPLC to court for defamation and using crowdfunding to pay for the legal fees.
“These are the same guys who arrogate themselves the right to speak out against the Bible Belt. The SPLC is quite vocal against family planning, the anti-abortion movement, quite vocal against Christian fundamentalists; in fact, they’ve listed some Christian conservative groups on their hate lists as well,” Nawaz continued. “So they arrogate to themselves the right to criticize their own Bible Belt, but don’t want me to criticize our own Quran Belt, within my own community. And it’s this hypocrisy which I call the bigotry of low expectations.”
In October, Nawaz told The Atlantic that the SPLC had put a “target” on his head by including him on their list.
“The kind of work that I do, if you tell the wrong kind of Muslims that I’m an extremist, then that means I’m a target,” he told the outlet. “They don’t have to deal with any of this. I don’t have any protection. I don’t have any state protection. These people are putting me on what I believe is a hit list.”
Nawaz is crowdfunding his lawsuit through his Quilliam Foundation website.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum