Who would have guessed that the most important victory in the culture wars against the hard left this year would be won by a former radical Islamist?
British Muslim Maajid Nawaz – once arrested and imprisoned in Egypt for five years for his membership of the proscribed Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir; now a campaigner against radical Islam – is probably far from most conservatives’ idea of a natural hero.
But the $3.4 million settlement Nawaz has just won in a defamation action against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a victory for us all.
And I really don’t just mean people who identify as conservative.
I mean the broad coalition that embraces moderate Muslims, Brexiteers, Trump voters, internet shitposters, Breitbart readers and writers, libertarian bloggers, European populists, Nigel Farage, Lionel Shriver, Paul Joseph Watson, Sargon of Akkad, Count Dankula, Morrissey, Thomas Sowell, Douglas Murray, Kanye West, Ann Coulter, the Imam of Peace, Andrew Bolt, Andrew Neil, Eric Weinstein, Joe Rogan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jordan Peterson, Christina Hoff Sommers – anyone, in fact, whether they’re on the left or the right, who has been called a “Nazi” or “far right” or an “extremist” or a “fascist” or an “Uncle Tom” or similarly vile, reductive, hysterical, hate-filled, sometimes even life-threatening epithets by the increasingly aggressive forces of the radical left.
It has been the ugliest development in politics and public debate in my lifetime and I’m still taken aback by how quickly it has escalated.
Ten years ago, I don’t think I’d ever once been called a “Nazi” or “far-right” or “extreme-right” or a “fascist” – except perhaps in jest or knowing hyperbole or with tongue slightly in cheek.
Today, it has become so routine you almost take it for granted. Everyone reading this, I’m guessing, will have had the same experience. Express any view which diverges even slightly from politically correct/Social Justice Warrior orthodoxy and people on the other side don’t just disagree with you: they think you are literally Hitler.
Not “literally Hitler” in the ironic sense of the phrase. Literally Hitler, as in, ‘so evil that you really would slaughter millions of innocent people given half the chance’; literally Hitler, as in, ‘the only possible fate good enough for you is a squalid, miserable, and preferably imminent death.’
At the risk of being accused of doing to the other side what routinely they do to us, I can’t resist noting that this is a classic Nazi technique. It’s what Der Stürmer, the Nazi propaganda magazine, did all too often in its caricature depiction of the Jews. (It’s also, by the by, the way Jews are often depicted in schools in fundamentalist Muslim countries.) In order more easily to be able to exterminate people first you must dehumanise them. This is what the left did to the Kulaks in Lenin’s Russia, to the intellectuals in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, to the middle classes in Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It’s what totalitarians have done throughout history.
What’s weird is that the stuff we learned about at school as ‘lessons from history which would never be repeated because we in the advanced West are better than that’ is now being revived by organisations like Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Antifa, Momentum, HOPE Not Hate, and the villain of this particular piece the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
For those unfamiliar with the sinister work of the SPLC, I recommend this excellent piece in National Review by Douglas Murray.
Founded in the Seventies, the SPLC originally did some respectable campaigning work to target and shut down – through legal means – genuinely racist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan.
But, as Murray recounts, when the SPLC’s job was done it didn’t simply pat itself on the back and go home. Slowly, it mutated into the monster it has become today.
It became an organization that looked into all those things that were not racist but that might be deemed right of center. It decided to look into not terrorism and racism but “extremism.” It decided, in particular, that it should become the self-appointed arbiter of what is acceptable in American life and what is unacceptable. For years the mainstream press, lazy on its memories of the SPLC’s past manifestation, indulged it in its new self-definition. Indeed for a few years the words “whom the SPLC has described as” wormed their way into some of America’s — and the world’s — most otherwise respectable and usually fact-reliant publications.
Yet the SPLC has repeatedly shown itself to be woefully unfit to perform its self-assigned task. For instance in 2015 it “designated” (as though this should have had any standing anywhere other than in the minds of the SPLC’s employees) Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson as an “extremist.” So within the space of only a few decades the SPLC moved from targeting the KKK to targeting a black conservative. Elsewhere it has attempted to anathematize multiple mainstream scholars of a conservative persuasion, including Charles Murray (no relation). About the radical Left it has shown a strange lack of interest.
What makes the SPLC so particularly dangerous is that veneer of respectability which it acquired as a result of its early good work.
Astonishingly, even now, this viciously anti-free-speech, anti-conservative, radical left organisation is used by Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Twitter to police content on their channels for “hate speech”. It’s the equivalent of putting Islamic State in charge of the Yazidi preservation league.
If Apple’s Tim Cook had donated two million dollars to Antifa or Occupy or Black Lives Matter, eyebrows would certainly have been raised at such nakedly partisan support for unpleasant, intolerant, aggressive left-wing organisations. But when he pledged this sum last year to the no less radical SPLC, he knew he could get away with it because of its (thoroughly undeserved) reputation as a neutral authority which simply campaigns against “extremism”.
What the SPLC has done, in other words, is to legitimise the hate wars being waged by the radical left against its enemies.
It has demonised moderate conservatives – and indeed anyone else who has dared to question the regressive left’s narrative – by classing them as the kind of far-right extremists whom it is acceptable to punch. Or worse…
As Murray points out, the SPLC’s propaganda has actively endangered people who don’t share its hard-left agenda.
Like many other organizations, the SPLC has spent recent years attempting to make any links it can between any conservative who says anything and any terrorist who does anything. So it was almost moving to observe their own standards come back to bite them in 2012 when a gunman walked into the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., intent on killing its staff. The gunman on that occasion admitted that he had chosen his target because the SPLC had listed it as a “hate group” on its website.
So it has consequences, this sinister and spendthrift game that the SPLC has been playing. In any other context the SPLC might be regarded as participating in a game of exceptionally dangerous target selection. But somehow the organization has clung on to its halo, even as it has time and again shown itself to be a dangerously ill-informed group that has turned from anti-racism to incitement within a generation.
But what could any of us do to stop it?
Enter Maajid Nawaz, a brave and likeable fellow who now hosts a weekend radio show on London’s LBC and is the founding chairman of Quilliam, a think tank which challenges the Islamist narrative.
Like many free speakers before him, Nawaz had been defamed by the SPLC as an “extremist”. (Among those the SPLC also chose to brand – and endanger – with this title was another heroic, selfless, Muslim anti-extremism campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali). Unlike most people, however, Nawaz chose to put the SPLC’s libellous allegations to test in the courts.
And gloriously, he won.
With luck, as Murray suggests, this should open the floodgates for further legal actions against this poisonous organisation.
What if everybody whom the SPLC has erroneously smeared over recent years — the individuals, the groups, the scholars and activists — took this precedent to launch legal actions of their own? The SPLC has a vast endowment of tens of millions of dollars. But going by this precedent, if everybody decided to correct the lies that the SPLC has taken upon itself to spread over recent years, then the SPLC, which failed to shut itself down when its work was done, could be shut down by the very people it has spent recent years trying to shut up. Which would not just be poetic, but justice too.
It would be hard, I believe, to exaggerate the significance of the victory which, thanks to Nawaz and his legal team, our civilisation has just won over the dark forces of the regressive left.
Things had got so ugly it was becoming almost impossible to voice a conservative opinion in the public arena without being called out as a far-right extremist.
This victory over SPLC won’t put an end to this menace altogether. But it might well mark the moment in the culture wars where our civilisation finally decided “Enough is enough!” and the tide began to turn against the kind of left-wing extremism which masquerades as concerned, caring, “anti-hate” campaigning.