WATCH: Free speech advocate Faisal Al Mutar faces criticsm from right and left

Salon talks to the secular humanist and activist about facing criticism from both sides of the aisle

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published July 24, 2017 6:45PM (EDT)

My conversation with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar can be best summed up with one word: Balance.

Al Mutar is an Iraqi-born human rights activist who has been published in The Humanist and appeared as a guest multiple times on "The Rubin Report," the talk show hosted by classical liberal pundit Dave Rubin. He has a nuanced view on questions pertaining to relations between the West and the Islamic world, denouncing both the Islamophobia of reactionary politicians like President Donald Trump and what he perceives as the apologist tendencies of certain factions on the left.

It is difficult, in this age of increasingly polarized extremes, to strike a balance between two positions. In terms of the ongoing fight against Islamist terrorism, there are sides who claim that all criticism of Muslim individuals is somehow bigoted, while others seem incapable of or unwilling to recognize the difference between the majority of innocent Muslims and the handful of terrorists.

I picked apart these distinctions and tried to have a measured, balanced conversation with Al Mutar.

On the similarities between the far right critics of Islam and the Islamists themselves:

There are all these people trying to push what a Muslim should be. So with ISIS they're telling you if you want to be a Muslim you have to follow these strict codes. And for the alt right-ers they say the ISIS narrative is the only way to be a Muslim. So somehow they kind of compliment each other. And so after the same-sex marriage — which I think it was great, like a celebration of diversity and love, and love is love, right? And amazing that in a country that is as free as the United Kingdom that they allowed that to happen. And I was watching, observing what people were saying. And you go to alt-right websites, other than saying 'Wow, that's amazing that there are fresh liberal voices coming up,' they were attacking them. Like, oh these guys are not real Muslims, they're infidels. Which is kind of the same thing that ISIS says about these people!

On why he is so critical of President Donald Trump:

If you are really standing for fighting against Islamic extremism and stuff like that, when you ban entire nations — especially countries like Iraq and Iran and many of these folks who are on the front lines of fighting Islamic extremism and terrorism and so on — and, if you ban them from coming to the country or make an entire condemnation of entire nations, you're not really siding with the allies that you claim that you're siding with.

Watch our conversation for more on finding balance in the Islamic extremism debate. 

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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