Maajid Nawaz, whom the SPLC said “savaged Islam,” ran for British Parliament in 2015. 
Photo Credit: Eugene Regis via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 2.0)

On Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) apologized to the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremist think tank, and its founder Maajid Nawaz for wrongly adding them to their Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. They also agreed to pay Quilliam $3.375 million in a settlement that was reached.

In December of 2016, SPLC published their “Field Guild to Anti-Muslim Extremists” with the intent “to serve as a resource for journalists to identify promoters of hateful propaganda.” The list was deleted in April 2018 after Nawaz obtained legal representation. The list accused Nawaz, a liberal Muslim and former Islamic extremist, of “savaging Islam.”

Quilliam says it is the world’s first counter-extremism organization. The London-based group says its aim is to “generate creative, informed and inclusive discussions to counter the ideological underpinnings of terrorism, while simultaneously providing evidence-based policy recommendations to governments, and building civil society networks and programmes to lead the change towards a more positive future.”

Born in the United Kingdom to a Pakistani family, Nawaz was a former member of the Islamic terror group Hizb ut-Tahrir and spent four years in prison in Egypt because of his ties with the group. In 2007, he left Hizb ut-Tahrir and renounced his Islamist past and called for a secular Islam. Afterwards he founded Quilliam. In 2015, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for British Parliament with the Liberal Democrat Party.

He wrote an autobiography, Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism, in 2012 and co-wrote Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue with Sam Harris in 2015. He has become a prominent critic of fundamentalist Islam in the United Kingdom and the United States. Because of that work, SPLC added him to their list.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center was wrong to include Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation in our Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. Since we published the Field Guide, we have taken the time to do more research and have consulted with human rights advocates we respect. We’ve found that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism. Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists. We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error, and we wish Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam all the best,” Richard Cohen, president of SPLC said in a released statement.

Quilliam announced that it would use the settlement to fund work against anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamic extremism.

“With the help of everyone who contributed to our litigation fund, we were able to fight back against the Regressive Left and show them that moderate Muslims will not be silenced,” said Nawaz.  “We will continue to combat extremists by defying Muslim stereotypes, calling out fundamentalism in our own communities, and speaking out against anti-Muslim hate.”

Prominent U.S.-based religious freedom organizations roundly criticized SPLC after the settlement announcement stating the organization should not be trusted by journalists as a resource.

“This settlement is another example that the Southern Poverty Law Center is incapable at monitoring the very thing it claims to track,” Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said. “No credible journalist should ever rely on the SPLC. The SPLC reeks with hateful, false, and defamatory rhetoric.”

“It’s appalling and offensive for the Southern Poverty Law Center to compare peaceful organizations which condemn violence and racism with violent and racist groups just because it disagrees with their views. That’s what SPLC did in the case of Quilliam and its founder Maajid Nawaz, and that’s what it has done with ADF and numerous other organizations and individuals. This situation confirms once again what commentators across the political spectrum have being saying for decades: SPLC has become a far-left organization that brands its political opponents as ‘haters’ and ‘extremists’ and has lost all credibility as a civil rights watchdog. With eight wins in the last seven years at the U.S. Supreme Court and hundreds of victories for free speech at America’s public universities, ADF is one the nation’s most respected and successful legal advocates, working to preserve our fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience for people from all walks of life. SPLC’s sloppy mistakes have ruinous, real-world consequences for which they should not be excused,” Jeremy Tedesco, Vice President of U.S. Advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a released statement.

“The Southern Poverty has long been the Left’s pit bull — resorting to smears and a hate map to advance its liberal political agenda.  But its falsehoods and dangerous tactics have finally caught up with them – with the group doling out millions in a defamatory settlement,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said. 

“Even after this massive payout, the SPLC continues to sit on hundreds of millions dollars (much of it offshore) that they use to advance their liberal policy agenda and their attacks on opponents.  This public acknowledgment of their defamatory actions leave the media and big business with no excuse in continuing to use the SPLC as an objective, independent source,” he added.

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