PALO ALTO, Calif.— Imagine Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s surprise to find that a career spent fighting extremism had landed her on a list of extremists.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a self-described “civil rights” group with a well-documented habit (or a strategy, more likely) of branding as “extremists” and “hate groups” outspoken enemies of the cultural Left. When SPLC came after Hirsi Ali, the activist and scholar vigorously defended her reputation.
“I’ve never met anyone from the Southern Poverty Law Center. I didn’t know they existed until they put my name on that list,” Hirsi Ali told reporters at a Hoover Institution media round table Monday, reflecting on the SPLC’s decision to categorize her as an anti-Muslim extremist. “Since 9/11/2001, I was used to being put on lists, and in so many different ways being vilified. So, at first, I didn’t think anything of it until I realized their level of influence, that they were actually saying you can’t invite this woman because she is an extremist. And then I went on their website and I saw who the other extremists are — white supremacists, and all the fringe, really, really radical extreme fringe groups — and I thought, who on earth are these people, and why are they taken so seriously?”
Born in Somalia, where she grew up a “devout Muslim,” Hirsi Ali was subject to genital mutilation, ultimately fleeing to the Netherlands in her early 20s to escape a forced marriage. Her career has subsequently focused on fighting Islamic extremism, especially in the context of women’s rights and, among other pursuits, she’s held positions at the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard University, and Hoover, where Hirsi Ali currently works as a research fellow.