Can a Former Islamist Make It Cool to Be Moderate?

On this front, he’s as busy as ever. He is finishing a documentary based on his book with Harris, but foremost on Nawaz’s mind these days is the 2017 opening of the first new chapter of his anti-extremist organization, the Quilliam Foundation, in the United States. “Lots of Muslims in America are basically liberals, but if you don’t have a visibly anti-extremist presence, then the Trumps of this world win” through fear-mongering and misrepresentation, he says. “Our presence is needed in America to reassure the mainstream, whereas our presence is needed in Europe to stop radicalization.”

Despite such deliberate affirmations and qualifications, there is nonetheless confusion as to where Nawaz’s sympathies actually lie. According to Vice News, he has earned a “terrorism” designation on Thomson Reuters World-Check, a risk-assessment database. (Thomson Reuters would not confirm this.) But, last October, the Southern Poverty Law Center took the incredible step of including him on a “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists,” which they published with three other research organizations. The guide listed 15 public figures, and Nawaz was the only Muslim among them. (This is why Beirich brought him up at Duke.) He was visibly furious whenever the topic came up and told me he plans to crowdfund a legal response.

Though he and his allies, and even some of his opponents, have complained to the S.P.L.C. — there is a change.org petition to remove him and the Somali-born atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, which has garnered almost 12,000 signatures — the group has not wavered on its position, the costs of which have already been real for Quilliam. Nawaz claims that the listing has compromised some funding for the organization. “I consider myself a liberal and wanted to work with liberals,” he said, shaking his head.

In reality, his views on Islamic extremism are more complex than these labels allow, which is,…

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