Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Lee Smith on the SPLC is the Bizarro Version of Berkeley Protest

The other day, a colleague of mine described the typical Berkeley student activist's argument as "taking a reasonable point, and then pushing it so hard and so far that it stops being reasonable and starts being terrible."

Lee Smith of Tablet Magazine must have attended Berkeley.

Smith has primarily graced my virtual pages for his commentary on the Iran Nuclear Deal. The problem was not that he opposed it -- I had mixed feelings myself, though ultimately came out in favor -- or even linking the issue to questions of anti-Semitism. The problem was that Lee's contributions were consistently histrionic, bordering on conspiratorial, and frequently failed to display basic reading comprehension skills.

Today's target is the Southern Poverty Law Center's newly released field guide to anti-Muslim extremists. The document lists off fifteen names, much of the public disdain for this document centers around its inclusion of Maajid Nawaz, founder of the Quilliam Foundation and self-described liberal Muslim activist. I had heard of Nawaz, though I didn't know much about him, but even solely going off what the SPLC says about him in this document the case for labeling him an "anti-Muslim extremist" seems exceptionally thin. Placing him on a list that includes Pam Geller seems recklessly irresponsible at best, discrediting at worst.

So, we start with a reasonable point! What will Smith do with it?
It is sad but telling that the SPLC’s so-called field guide to Muslim-haters is not a list of violent extremists—who certainly do exist—but is instead a blacklist of prominent writers whose opinions on a range of cultural and political issues are offensive to the SPLC. The SPLC blacklist list contains practicing Muslims like Maajid Nawaz, ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, foreign-policy think-tankers like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, and right-wing firebrands like David Horowitz—none of whom could be reasonably described as anti-Muslim bigots.
Who indeed could call Frank Gaffney -- who thought President Obama must "still" be a Muslim following his Cairo address -- or David "Islamo-fascism awareness week" Horowitz "anti-Muslim bigots"? It's unreasonable, I say! I will cop that both are non-violent, but hatred and malign ideologies are hardly limited to the explicitly violent variety (indeed, that observation -- noting that there are "Islamists" who are non-violent but still hold deeply reactionary views -- is one of the things that got Nawaz on the list!). Hell, even take Smith's next-most-sympathetic example, after Nawaz -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali has an extraordinarily powerful and moving life story. But she really did advocate closing down Muslim schools in the West, and that really is pretty flagrantly biased. It's perfectly valid and appropriate to call that out.

Oh, and speaking of President Obama, you know he's going to make an appearance:
Interestingly, the document fails to list the man who, according to [the SPLC's] description, is the world’s most influential anti-Muslim extremist—President Barack Obama, who told the Atlantic that young people in the Middle East are only thinking about how to kill Americans.
No, he didn't (Smith is kind enough to include the link. Go ahead and read it -- Obama said nothing of the sort.). I tweeted at Tablet that they "could save a ton of money by firing its editors, since they're clearly not doing anything anyway", and this was the section I had in mind. This is the sort of passage that a self-respecting editor has to put on the chopping block. I've written for Tablet, I know they're capable of doing it. I can't imagine they're not embarrassed by this. If you don't care about Smith looking bad, at least care about what you're doing to yourself.

Finally, Smith is shocked that the SPLC urges that people not rely upon these listees as sources on Islam.
Nor does the SPLC hide the fact that the purpose of its publication is to blacklist and silence its enemies. The field guide recommends to its consumers in the media that they, “research the background of extremist spokespeople and consider other sources, and if they do use anti-Muslim spokespeople, point out their extremism.”
I mean, really? Is that our definition of "blacklist" now (we'll just skate past Smith uncritically adopting the whole "people not listening to my terrible opinions is 'silencing'!" frame) -- trying to rely on reputable sources when talking about a given group, rather than fringe lunatics? It's a "blacklist" to "consider other sources" on Islam other than Pamela Gellar? Really? I mean, soon, we might ask that the newspaper not rely on Kevin MacDonald or Miko Peled regarding the Jews (both are, to be scrupulously fair, non-violent, and according to Smith that's the only hurdle one needs to cross)!

There is a reasonable point in here that the SPLC, in including someone like Nawaz as an "anti-Muslim extremist", badly damaged its credibility in a quite noble endeavor to get mainstream media sources to stop treating Frank Gaffney (who thought the Obama administration was gearing up to invade Israel), or Pam Geller (who rose to prominence by objecting to building mosques in lower Manhattan because they must be celebrating the 9/11 attacks) as credible. That is a very much a point worth making; my instinct is to share in it. But Smith insists on taking that good point and absolutely obliterating it in his usual explosion of breathless hysterics.

He'd fit right in among a certain crowd here at Berkeley.

No comments: