Free Speech, Religion, Security, Spotlight
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Free Speech and Islam — In Defense of Sam Harris

The controversial atheist needs a fair hearing

“It’s gross!  It’s racist!” exclaimed Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Real Time in October 2014, interrupting the neuroscientist “New Atheist” Sam Harris.  Harris had been carefully explaining the linguistic bait-and-switch inherent in the word “Islamophobia” as “intellectually ridiculous,” in that “every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry toward Muslims as people.”  The result: progressives duped by the word shy away from criticizing the ideology of Islam, the tenets of which (including second-class status for women and intolerance toward sexual minorities) would, in any other context, surely elicit their condemnation.

Unwittingly, Affleck had confirmed Harris’ point, conflating religion with race.  In doing so, the actor was espousing a position that can lead to a de facto racist conclusion.  If you discount Islamic doctrine as the motivation for domestic violence and intolerance of sexual minorities in the Muslim world, you’re left with at least one implicitly bigoted assumption: the people of the region must then be congenitally inclined to behave as they do.

There was a disturbing irony in Affleck’s outburst.  Few public intellectuals have done as thorough a job as Harris at pointing out the fallacies and dangers of the supernatural dogmas of religion, for which far too many are willing to kill and die these days.  An avowed liberal (who plans to vote for Hillary) Harris is the author of, among many books, the groundbreaking The End of Faith.  Yet Affleck seemed predisposed to regard him with hostility, possibly because Harris, at least for some on the Left, has acquired a toxic reputation — one stemming from what amounts to a campaign of defamation involving, by all appearances, a willful misrepresentation of his work, plus no small measure of slipshod “identity politics” thinking.  

Harris has been lambasted as, among other things, a “genocidal fascist maniac” advocating “scientific racism,” militarism, and the murder of innocents for their beliefs, as well as racial profiling at airports, a nuclear first strike on the Middle East, plus, of course, Islamophobia and a failure to understand the faiths he argues against.  (This is just a partial list.)  The result?  Harris has had to take measures to ensure his personal security, with negative ramifications in almost every area of his life.  “I can say that much of what I do,” he told me in a recent email exchange, “both personally and professionally, is now done under a shadow of defamatory lies.”

The attacks against Harris have emanated predominantly from a prominent yet persistent handful of supposed progressives (and their peons), among whom are the religion scholar and media personality Reza Aslan, and the journalists from The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald (famed for transmitting Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations to the world) and Murtaza Hussain.  Lately, with Harris’ publication of Islam and the Future of Tolerance, they have even taken aim at his coauthor and friend, the onetime Islamist turned reformer Maajid Nawaz.  

Nonetheless, Harris’ own words, conveyed through his books, podcasts, blog posts, interviews, and Twitter feed, bely the attacks, which can be as mean-spirited as they are groundless and muddled.  They have tainted the debates we need to conduct about Islam and terrorism in particular, but, more generally, the danger religious fundamentalism poses to our constitutionally secular republic and to the largely post-Christian countries of Western Europe now confronting huge inflows of Muslim migrants.  The sum effect is to leave us all less well-off, less safe.  And certainly more confused.

The charge of insufficient religious expertise is the least substantial, but nonetheless worth dispensing with, given that it could potentially be leveled at any nonbeliever disagreeing with faith’s precepts.  In a 2007 debate, for instance, Reza Aslan accused Harris of having a “profoundly unsophisticated” view of religion, and of relying on Fox News as his “research tools” – an assertion that can be disproved by just opening The End of Faith, a meticulously compiled treatise with 237 pages of text (in the paperback edition) followed by sixty-one pages of footnotes and twenty-eight pages of bibliography listing some six hundred sources.  In this opus, Harris walks us through the many follies of faith (mostly Christianity and Islam), but one key message transpires: belief guides behavior.  A self-evident proposition no reasonable person would argue with.  

Which has not stopped Reza Aslan from doing just that.  Writing in relation to Harris’ skirmish with Affleck, Aslan has stated that religion “is often far more a matter of identity than it is a matter of beliefs and practices” and that “people of faith insert their values into their Scriptures,” with other, often contingent factors causing them to act as they do.  So when ISIS guerrillas behead their captives, justifying their bloodshed by proclaiming jihad and citing verses from the Quran, by Aslan’s definition we cannot blame the doctrine of jihad or the contents of Islamic scripture, but must seek out other motives.  This is prima facie obfuscatory, because it involves discounting the testimony of the perpetrators themselves.

The “genocidal fascist maniac” moniker was born of a certain @dan_verg_ on Twitter (account since suspended), and retweeted by Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald.  The tweet misquoted, without context, a line from Harris’s The End of Faith: “Some beliefs” — “propositions” in the original — “are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them.”  Which suggests Harris might endorse the death penalty for thought crime.

Yet context is critical and deprives the words of controversy.  As is clear in reading the text, Harris was discussing terrorism and how to deal with the likes of Osama bin Laden, a fanatically committed ideologue with the capacity and demonstrated willingness to order others to murder on the basis of his (religious) beliefs.  (Harris was not, thus, proposing death for thought crime.)  Following the last line cited above, Harris wrote: “Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others . . . . If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.”  (Italics mine.)  

Note “If they cannot be captured.“  The beliefs in question?  Not surprisingly, those of jihad and martyrdom, the primum mobile for the 9/11 hijackers (and so many other Islamist terrorists since then).  As Harris went on to note, 9/11 proved “beyond any possibility of doubt that certain twenty-first-century Muslims actually believe the most dangerous and implausible tenets of their faith.”  This is a truism, not evidence of an Orwellian mindset, and it underlies the U.S. government’s targeted assassinations of radical Muslim clerics and Al Qaeda and ISIS commanders, carried out before such people have a chance to harm Americans. Such killings are, to be sure, controversial, but the proposition that belief in certain tenets of Islamic doctrine can lead to murderous behavior is not.

The charges of “scientific racism” and “militarism” hurled at Harris in an Al Jazeera essay by Murtaza Hussain derive from a maliciously “creative” misrepresentation of his critique of Islam and illogical, erroneous extrapolation therefrom.  Murtaza’s essay is chiefly an exercise in innuendo, and opens with a lengthy prelude about “scientific racism,” phrenology, and even drapetomania (a long-discredited theory ascribing mental illness to slaves desiring to flee their servitude),  which sets up his premise: “a new class of individuals” — Harris foremost among them — “have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today’s politically-useful bigotry” — the New Atheists, some of whom happen to be scientists.  

The New Atheists, according to Hussain, “[w]hile . . . attempt[ing] to couch their language in the terms of pure critique of religious thought, in practice . . . exhibit many of the same tendencies toward generalisation and ethno-racial condescension as did their predecessors — particularly in their descriptions of Muslims.”  Hussain tells us that “mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview.”  

This is all textbook begging the question: assuming as true the very propositions (that New Atheists are racist, militaristic, exploitative) that one has first to prove.  Hussain follows this with a distortion of Harris’ videoed remarks concerning the distressingly high percentages of British Muslims who wish to live under Sharia law, and favor death for apostates and the arrest and prosecution of neighbors who insult Islam.  Harris concludes that “these people do not have a clue about what constitutes a civil society,” which Hussain distorts as applying to “Muslims as a people.”  No definition of “civil society” can expand sufficiently, of course, to encompass the niceties of Sharia, which include stoning, beheading, and chopping off hands. 

From this distortion Hussain proceeds to warn us that “Harris’ pseudoscientific characterizations of Muslims dovetail nicely” with his “belief in the need to fight open-ended war against Muslims” (no source indicated, no sample quotes from Harris provided) which would involve launching a “wholesale nuclear genocide” against them.

Harris has never called for “open-ended war against Muslims.”  The thrust of his work regarding Islam concerns the “war of ideas” we are waging against radical Islam, which has, though, since 9/11, been accompanied by military action.  For “wholesale nuclear genocide” (of Muslims), Hussain provides no source, but it comes straight from journalist Chris Hedges — a proven plagiarist, no less.   Hedges alleged, based on graphs in the middle of The End of Faith, that Harris has called for “a nuclear first strike on the Arab world.”  But check Harris’s words and you will find only a lucid discussion of the possibility that an Islamist regime (guided by the doctrines of jihad, martyrdom, and the primacy of paradise) might acquire long-range nuclear weaponry — an eventuality that could, he writes, prompt its opponents to launch “a nuclear first strike” (which he calls “an unthinkable crime”) as the “only thing likely to ensure our survival” against said regime.  Fears of just this motivated the P5+1 countries to conclude the recent nuclear accord with Iran.  (For Harris’ response to Hedges and his claim, check out his trenchant squib “Dear Angry Lunatic.”)

Perhaps the most pernicious, undiscriminating, and widely circulated attempted takedown of Harris came from Glenn Greenwald, who published his prolix, scattershot assault on reason in The Guardian.  Space prevents me from addressing all the article’s blunders and boners, so I will deal with those that have had some purchase among the most hypocritical of the Left.

Citing Hussain’s article and one penned by Nathan Lean (research director at Georgetown University’s project for Pluralism, Diversity and Islamophobia, and a former employee of Reza Aslan), Greenwald declares that Harris and his fellow New Atheists “have increasingly embraced a toxic form of anti-Muslim bigotry masquerading as rational atheism.”  He holds that Harris and his cohorts spout and promote Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism,” driven by “irrational bigotry.”  

Any rationalist critiquing Greenwald’s piece on Harris confronts a bewildering surfeit of material to refute, but essentially his argument turns on the term “Islamophobia,” which, as noted above, serves to exculpate the precepts of Islam and de facto shield the theological motivations of wife-beaters, genital mutilators, and honor killers.   (Greenwald dismisses controversy over the term “Islamophobia” as a “semantic issue” that doesn’t interest him.)  But as Harris has written, “If a predominantly white community behaved this way — the Left would effortlessly perceive the depth of the problem.  Imagine Mormons regularly practicing honor killing or burning embassies over cartoons.  Everything I have ever said about Islam refers to the content and consequences of its doctrine.”  These words alone suffice to discredit Greenwald’s thesis.

Greenwald diagnoses Harris as suffering from “irrational anti-Muslim animus,” which leads him to view Islam as “uniquely threatening,” and even as “the supreme threat,” and to propound, as a result, “unique policy prescriptions of aggression, violence and rights abridgments aimed only at Muslims.”  (This latter assertion he fails to substantiate with examples.)  Criticism of religion, with Harris, “morphs into an undue focus on Islam.”  For Harris, “Islam poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions of the world pose.”  

Greenwald’s conceit is essentially that Harris, even when writing specifically of the misdeeds and crimes of Islamists, should presumably also remind us of, say, the Crusades and the Inquisition, as evidence that all religions produce equally bad behavior (when at this point in time — witness 9/11, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS, and so on — they obviously do not.)  In any case, according to Greenwald, Harris’ “irrational” obsession with Islam leads him to “justify a wide range of vile policies aimed primarily if not exclusively at Muslims” — most controversially, “anti-Muslim profiling.”  In fact, “anti-Muslim profiling” is Greenwald’s sole example, so Harris’ “range” is not so “wide.”

Greenwald is referring to Harris’ blog post entitled “In Defense of Profiling,” in which he denounced the “security theater” we suffer through at airports before boarding flights, with its “tyranny of fairness” that has TSA agents subjecting, for instance, elderly, infirm, wheelchair-bound couples and the sandals of toddlers to the third degree.  

“Some semblance of fairness makes sense,” Harris wrote.  “Everyone’s bags should be screened, if only because it is possible to put a bomb in someone else’s luggage.  But the TSA has a finite amount of attention: Every moment spent frisking the Mormon Tabernacle Choir subtracts from the scrutiny paid to more likely threats . . . .  Imagine how fatuous it would be to fight a war against the IRA and yet refuse to profile the Irish . . . .  We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”  He adds that he could in theory fit the Muslim bill: “after all, what would Adam Gadahn look like if he cleaned himself up?”  It follows, from Harris’ logic (and common sense) that if Mormons begin blowing up planes, Mormons would deserve close scrutiny when passing through TSA screenings.  Note that what he is proposing amounts to reforming these procedures to reduce the sum amount of profiling, by making it more targeted on those statistically more likely to be terrorists, and less concerned with the rest of us — the vast majority, of whatever race we are.

Here we should pause for a reality check.  Most Muslims are nonwhite; hence skin color inevitably figures among the features associated with “looking Muslim.”  Yet the crucial factor is not race, obviously, but the potential for belief in the tenets of Islam that could prompt violent behavior, which leads Harris to include himself (and by extension, almost anyone) among the profile-worthy.  That being the case, Harris’ profiling proposal would not eliminate the threat Islamic radicals pose to air travelers, but merely streamline undeniably cumbersome, time-consuming procedures necessary for our security and allow TSA agents to do their job more effectively.  The increased efficacy would come at a cost to the perceptions of equity we hold dear.  Yet no honest critic of Harris would conclude that mooting the subject in the way he does should result in charges of “irrational anti-Muslim animus” or “irrational bigotry.”  

Absolved of the charges of racism, nuclear jingoism, and so forth, Harris has shown himself to be a committed public intellectual trying to help resolve the faith-induced crises of our time by dealing with their ideological bases and practical consequences.  His “progressive” critics, in their efforts to becloud the causal relationship between belief and behavior, effectively provide cover for violent aspects of Islamic ideology, and are abetting the troublemakers and spreading confusion.  Strikingly, they rarely, if ever, challenge Harris’ ideas, but instead opt to misrepresent them and denounce the resulting falsehoods.  A decent concern for journalistic fairness — and the truth — is nowhere to be found in their works.

One cannot escape the impression that the attacks on Harris bear the stamp of sordid identity politics, with, under the guise of multiculturalism, truth sacrificed for the respect for retrograde customs.  But perhaps what irks Harris’ detractors most of all is the methodical way in which he demonstrates the link between Islamic doctrines and terrorist violence, and disassembles the case for religion, showing, through his work, that it is nothing more than “a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance,” yet a marriage that could be annulled by “making the same evidentiary demands in religious matters that we make in all others.”  (Both these quotes come from The End of Faith’s first chapter.)  By extension, Harris’ arguments collide with the identities of people finding community in religion.  If he were not succeeding in proving the case against faith, they and their apologists would not react to him with such vitriol.  

An unwillingness to recognize the link between Islamic doctrine and terrorism in particular presages seismic political changes, with Western societies, fed up with Islamist violence and the inability of progressive governments to even speak frankly about it, lurching ever farther to the right.  (This is happening in Europe today, of course.)  But libeling Harris will not stop the next ISIS attack on Western soil, or slow that group’s depredations in Syria and Iraq.

Now more than ever, we need clarity on the relation between Islam and violence.  And we need to stop denigrating those, like Harris, capable of bringing us that clarity. 

 

Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the author of seven books including Topless Jihadis: Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffreyTayler1

105 Comments

  1. Sean O'Neill says

    Excellent article, bravo.

    Well written, succinct and still comprehensive in regard to the absurdly mendacious campaign against Harris from malicious dopes like Greenwald and the serially obnoxious religious apologist Aslan.

    Articles such as these should be pouring out from the left so that they may retain one of their clearest and brightest voices, but alas, the obsession with branding anyone who attempts to begin a discussion on Islam as a bigot forces Harris into more politically neutral pastures and makes a particular embarrassment of the left at a time when they seem to be doubling down into farcical ignorance of these topics.

    Anyway, those articles that the left should have been writing in Harris’ defence are now unnecessary since they need only share this one, though perhaps in some cases with an added apology.

    • Willy says

      It’s simple. Affleck claimed that Harris said that Islamophobia is not a real thing. Harris did not say that, nor did he imply it. He said that if a person criticises the loss of rights that women and minority groups face under Islam that many people will claim you are Islamophobic, and Affleck’s response proved that Harris is right, because that’s exactly what Affleck did. Nicholas Kristoff is wrong too because he talks about the fair minded Muslim people who stand up against the more conservative Muslims and that is the point Harris is making. If it wasn’t for the way Muslim cultures predominantly act that would not be happening. Sure some people, perhaps a lot, are Islamophobic, but criticism of some of the effects of Islam is not Islamophobia.

    • yandoodan says

      It should be plain to the veriest dunce that a New Atheist who makes a special exception for Islam is intellectually dishonest. Probably a coward, too. No one will try to destroy your reputation or bomb you for attacking Christianity. Kudos to Harris for bravery.

      • But Harris does not make a “special exception for Islam” (though the constant attacks on him could create that impression, for he must defend himself). Let’s admit the truth: people like Harris and Dawkins and Hitchens were the darlings of the Left as long as they restricted their criticisms to Christianity; only when they took on Islam did they suddenly become anathema. But why is that? I hope no one will argue Islam superior to Christianity, that all religions are open to the criticisms made. So why the irrationality (and blind hatred) here?

        I believe the answer can be found in a book titled “Suicide of the West”, written by James Burnham over 50 years ago. His thesis was that the West was dying, and that ideological liberalism (I would say the Left), while not necessarily the cause of the decline, nevertheless reconciled the West to its end.

        Thus, to stand up to radical Islam, or any ideas or people presenting a genuine threat to the West, provokes vicious resistance among those who think the West too corrupt to be allowed to continue. In short, those who hate our societies and cultures and desire their replacement more than anything else — no matter what the consequences. By hate I mean literally that — a visceral reaction which goes far beyond rational criticisms of the West (of which there are many, of course.

    • Jix says

      True, having done so Sam Harris’s points, ideas and arguments make all the more sense.

    • …first step to what? becoming a jihadi? Or, a tolerator of human rights violations? Either way, it’s not looking good. But the most bizarre thing is that your god needs constant worship! Does he/it/she have a low self esteem or are they just an impotent attention seeker? if you wish to threaten society with your position on a matter, like an anti-vaxxer, you should be forced to stay at home and never leave so as not to threaten the rest of society.

  2. Wild West Hero says

    Great article! I hate seeing this good hearted, very reasonable man repeatedly libeled. Refreshing to read an accurate defense of Sam Harris. Thank you!

  3. I think part of the problem is that Sam’s detractors aren’t intelligent enough to understand any defense of Sam. As I read the above, I keep imagining how far over Aslan’s head that must have flown. Reza is just a small minded tribalist. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t purport to be a great thinker or leader of thought (similar to Sara Palin for example).

    • That;s basically it. I mean anybody who is capable of tuning in to Sam’s message is, having lived a life among the simple moronic folk of this earth, already a connoiseur of idiocy. Damn, I mean all we ask is just please understand what we’re saying and address our points, right? We ask ourselves whether these people can’t understand what we’re saying or whether they can but they are convinced that pretending they can’t is a virtue. Given the solid wall of obstinate impenetrable stupidity that you will surely meet on any honest foray among the morons, I am convinced that they are as incapable of understanding our arguments as they seem to be. Half the population is by definition dumber than average. A good many of the other half are either crazy or devoted to the eternal preservation of their sweet precious brand of cognitive dissonance.

      Watch any number of debates on YouTube between the horsemen and the apologists. The believers NEVER address the issues raised by the horsemen. They are too enamored of their bullshit to attend to the truth. I am in real danger of despair my friends.

      • Agreed! Every word! I am, without doubt, often in despair of my fellow humans. Very very few can overcome their of fear of losing their ridiculous tribalism, and all the various myths they believe hold those tribes together.

    • Charles says

      “Reza is just a small minded tribalist. ” Excellent observation

  4. I really appreciate this piece. I’ve admired Sam Harris’ clarity and courage since I saw that original Maher/Affleck dialogue. I’ve been surprised since then how often otherwise smart people — and well-known publications — seem to willingly misinterpret his very clearly stated and relevant views.

  5. Aaron says

    If one was brought up in a deeply religious family, the it is easy to see the danger in Islam. If one comes from a safe liberal luvvie back ground then you cannot comprehend belief and the dangers of belief in a dangerous ideology

    • this rings true. one needs to have experience being immersed in a cult to understand cult mentality. It isn’t so much as they are liberals, they just lucky and privileged for not having their life wasted in a cult…

    • Carlos says

      Thanks so much for saying this. It had not occurred to me about liberal upbringing because I had the former. It’s a liberal’s privilege, and privilege is invisible to those who have it.

  6. this rings true. one needs to have experience being immersed in a cult to understand cult mentality. It isn’t so much as they are liberals, they just lucky and privileged for not having their life wasted in a cult…

  7. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sam Harris and the vitally important work and ideas he is spreading. Many more people need to hear and understand it.

  8. Tony C says

    And, from Heather MacDonald, “Sometimes Jihad is Just Jihad” at the City Journal. Another view similar to Sam Harris.

    • Tony C says

      Sorry. I tried to add a link to the story, but it was rejected. Just search on the author and title.

  9. If there were more public figures gifted with the ability to gather their thoughts with the clarity and pin point accuracy as Harris, instead of the woolly headed half baked woo woo which passes for so called informed opinion, I would sleep easier in my bed at night.

  10. Carlos says

    Great article! Sam Harris is, to me, the most important voice on this topic. A great intellectual, and and brave and honest dude. Thanks for this piece dealing with liars, frauds and pseudointellectuals.

  11. Sometimes it seems like some sinister third force is trying to take him down – not for being an Islamophobe – but for being an atheist. They know exactly which buttons to push (eg. feed him deliberate ‘misunderstanding the point’ and ‘you are making soooo much money with this’ lines) and he rises to the bait every time. Perhaps these ‘eejits’ are on somebody’s payroll. Keeping people dumb is big business.

    • I agree. Harris has no idea how much his calm, clear dismantling of superstion-based ideologies has irritated the old flock, as well as the new “virtue signalling” social justice warrior puritans. Many bystanders who would otherwise defend his critique of the mysogynistic and gay-loathing Islamic ideology, are collaborators in the lynching he is often subjected to by second rate “journalist” and faux intellectuals who are eager to get media attention by criticizing him.

  12. Tim Agee says

    Fantastic article. Bravo! I’ve read Harris and observed his clashes with Aslan, Greenwald, and Affleck. It’s still mind boggling that his detractors sway people with their smears, lies, and “critiques.”

  13. Alex says

    I am continually surprised by those accusing Harris of racism/bigotry at their inability to change a view that they came to the discussion with, even after being confronted by clear evidence. No amount of rationality or common sense seems to enter the arena – I would love to see a few more intellectuals/scientists/journalists touching on this topic. Is the desire for name calling giving them pleasure? A sense of superiority? An easy way to end an argument with actually having to actually challenge ideas? I would posit often all of the above.

    • Jerry Tarone says

      I have seen the very same problem. Accusations of Harris wanting to first strike Islam with nuclear weapons always leads me to ask for quotes in context. I’ve never had a single person give me a quote to support their assertion, but they never step back from their hyperbole. One told me he was just being polemic. I told him he was just being dishonest.

      On Google Plus The Bitchy Pundit said she can’t give a direct quote because Harris hides his true thoughts behind convoluted text. Which shows what lack of intelligence that woman has. When I suggested it was nuance, she said no, it was only obfuscation. I asked if she had ever actually read anything he ever wrote. She repeatedly refused to answer if she had read Harris’s writings, which I found rather telling. She gave me a link to Glenn Greenwald’s hit piece, which she appears to have used to base her entire opinion of Sam Harris. She spends her days repeating far left liberal memes on Google plus. I assume she does this because she can’t understand anything longer that two sentences and smaller that 24 points.

      I found Greenwald’s hit piece “Sam Harris, the New Atheists, and anti-Muslim animus” hilarious. He states he doesn’t quote mine, but then he proceeds to do nothing but cherry pick and quote mine Sam Harris, at best out of context, at worst completely misrepresenting Harris’s views.

  14. Francois Fourie says

    I sometimes feel like starting a campaign to do to Aslan, Greenwald and Hussain (and others) exactly what they are doing to Harris, that is, deliberately misrepresenting his views. It would be so easy to go through all the things these people have written and said and to cherry pick sentences out of context that would distort their arguments and put them in an awful light.

    I’ve even thought of a name for this type of defamation:

    Aslandering: the act of making a false, negative statement about someone by deliberately misrepresenting his/her views.

    • Actually, Greenwald and Aslan’s view need no misrepresentation, just honest critique, as more and more people are doing. There was a great takedown of Reza Aslan by David Pakman, search it on youtube and share it. Only the word needs to be spread.

      • Francois Fourie says

        I agree, honest critique would be better, but sometimes I feel they should get a taste of their own medicine.

    • Tom Maley says

      ‘Aslandering’! That’s brilliant, I love it, Aslan is a boy with a big ego and needs to grow up. He is upset because he believes ‘faith’ is a virtue and of course it is not, when people like Sam Harris point this out the crying begins, it’s really that simple.

      • Larry Platt says

        Exactly right. Aslan dislikes Harris because of Harris’ atheism. Recall also that Aslan was first a Muslim, then a fundamentalist Christian. He’s now a born-again Muslim. And, as his latest book on Jesus attests, not much of a biblical scholar, either.

    • Roog says

      You might enjoy listening to the Godless Spellchecker podcast, if you don’t already. It is brilliant and it includes a monthly ASLAN award, similar in scope to how you define Aslandering.

  15. Dan M says

    I too think it’s wrong to single out Islam as “the problem religion”. It’s a “them vs us” mentality convenient to the narrative of problems in the world today.

    The real issue is all religion vs all people. When any religion holds its people back from progress for the sake of reward in the hereafter or the will of a supernatural being we all loose. Pointing out Islam’s failings in that aspect is quite admirable, but to make it the sole or targeted concern is, I believe, a mistake.

    Whether the intention is there or not, it smacks of fear mongering in the sound bite world of today, and that brings up calls of racism and elitism that bring the whole argument crashing down in an argument of semantics.

    • Dan, are you suggesting that Sam Harris has solely targeting Islam? If so, you’re either speaking from ignorance having never have read Sam’s work, or you’re misrepresenting his views just like so many dishonest people in this articlehave done.

      As far as “targeting Islam” do you meanto say that if you criticize horrible actions committed by those who claim to have done so with the justification of Islamic doctrine that once you’re done criticising that horrible act that you should immediately follow up with a criticism of another religion?

      For example, ISIS throws homosexualsoff of buildings, justifying the act as Islamic commandments from the Hadith, and you think one should temper rightful criticism of this religious act by talking about the Westboro Baptist Church as well.

      That’s just stupid. Why should we be required to run down the list of religions and crimes from each religion every time we see violence committed by one? Why can’t we just comment on the crime we’re offended by?

      This demonstrates a problematic flaw dominating so much discourse today. FEELINGS. A discussionon facts are constantly sidelined by people concerned about FEELINGS. Well… I don’t care about protecting your feelings, I care about protecting your rights. You don’t have a right to go through life not being offended.

      • Michael, is it possibly your feelings that prevent you from viewing western/Christian/Jewish terrorism through the same lens through which you view Islamic terrorism? “Why can’t we just comment on the crime we’re offended by” is equivalent to asking why can’t we just be bigots. Isn’t it funny that we’re always offended by other people’s crimes and never by our own. Remove the log from your own eyes before you try to remove the mote from the eyes of another.

        • Paxton, that’s absolutely absurd. What you’re convicting people of is thought crime. You have no evidence of myself or anyone being indifferent or ignorant of crimes by other ideologies. You’re assuming that because one wants to stand up to the Hadith being adhered to by throwing homosexuals off of buildings that the person opposing this heinous act must be a bigot if they’re not also listing off a number of unrelated crimes carried out because of the doctrine of other religions. I cannot fathom the level of ignorance you must hold to suggest such a thing. Just because I oppose the Hadith justifying the murder of homosexuals doesn’t mean I support any other religious crime. If I am discussing abortion clinic bombings I am not required to bring up the topic of Islamic justification of murder of apostates. Why would I if we’re discussing abortion clinic bombings? The level of masochism in people such as you is unfathomable.

    • How is it a mistake to focus on the problem of Islam at this point in time? If most of the world’s terrorist attacks were being carried about by Buddhists, then we would rightfully spend our time and energy focusing on that.

      Saying “all religion vs all people” is a PC way of avoiding the actual problems in the world. There are hundreds of religions. But only 1 of them is consistently producing people who think that by blowing themselves up they will be rewarded with paradise. That is the problem that needs to be addressed.

      • Most of the world’s terrorist attacks, now and for the past half millennium have been carried out by Christians. The terrorism of Charlie Hebdo and even 9/11 pale in comparison with the terrorism of the US/UK led invasion of Iraq. Have you read anything about Buddhists’ treatment of the Rohingya Muslims? Remove the Islamophobic blinders from your eyes and maybe you’ll see that what you call PC is what more rational people call unbiased observations.

        • Then we can talk about those crimes in their own context, you moron. If we’re talking about the crime of a woman shoplifting, we don’t have to also discuss – at that moment – the crime of that woman’s boyfriend when he struck her with his fist.

          The fact that you think we should be unable to even talk about the murder of homosexuals, apostates, adulterers, etc without clouding the discussion with distraction demonstrates that you’re a masochist of the highest order.

        • You’re not rational, Paxton. You’re a masochist. Your response would be justified if someone said that Christians haven’t committed crimes and that only Muslims have. But that hasn’t been said. So attempting to undermine people who oppose the murder of homosexuals, apostates, blasphemers, etc because they’re not also taking equal time to criticize every other religion under the sun is to align yourself in defense of murderers of apostates, blasphemers (aka free speech advocates), and homosexuals.

          If you want to talk about war crimes, if you want to talk about Buddhists engages in terrorism, we can. But when you refuse to allow the conversation to ever focus on these crimes, you become a defender of murderers.

          And no, I’m not talking about all Muslims, I’m talking about particular Muslims who are commicing these murders.

    • Dan, anyone with an 8th grade education can tell the difference between an ideology and the people who believe an ideology. One is thoughts, the other is human beings. At this point you are joining those who willingly misunderstand Sam’s basic — extremely basic — point.

      I grew up in Bulgaria. My grandpa died in 2002 believing Stalin was a great man. The communist ideology was inspiring to him. I adore my grandpa. Yet I had many arguments about Stalin. I didn’t manage to change his mind, but I’m glad I tried. Sam is doing the same. I’m guessing you’ve had arguments with family members who believe things you find problematic. Having respect and love for them as human beings doesn’t mean we can’t argue about important issues. This extends to our human family. We should love and respect human beings. But dialoguing about important issues is crucial to human safety and progress. Let’s understand Sam’s basic point. We have passed 8th grade.

    • Gazlives says

      With respect Dan, I Suggest you read about Islam and how it IS different from other Abrahamic religions.

      Mohammad is revered as the perfect Muslim to be seen as a template on how a Muslim lives his life. Unfortunately, Mohammad wasn’t exactly, well…Jesus. He was demonstrably a thoroughly despicable man who butchered, raped and pillaged his way to domination of Arabia (without exaggeration, it’s all documented in the Koran & Sunna, the Islamic doctrines).

      Fortunately most Muslims in the west practice the Meccan part of the Quran and Sunna and there we see little difference in attitude to New Testament type Christian believers, but the majority of Islamic doctrine is not peaceful and worse, promotes violent Jihad. And since Islam includes abrogation and the peaceful (first) part of the Quran is superseded by the more violent & intolerant part you can see the ammunition the Islamists/Extremists/Jihadis have for recruiting. They have a legitimate case according to Islamic doctrine to call themselves Very Muslim indeed.

       But like there is No True Scotsman, there is no true Muslim either.

      We need to win the hearts and minds & defeat the Islamists so let’s not do them a favour and conflate any anti-Muslim actions with so called Islamophophia. 

      Just as we are ‘allowed’ to talk rationally about Christian or Buddhist ideas and critique them rationally, we need to be able to do the same about Islam. Muslims themselves need to be open to discussion on their doctrine and not be shy to openly disown (this is more difficult than in Christianity but I’ll save that for another thread) parts in the same way Christians disown much of the violence in the Old Testament.

      Simple overview of Islam
      http://cspipublishing.com/statistical/pdf/Statistical_Islam.pdf

      • Gazlives: “Just as we are ‘allowed’ to talk rationally about Christian or Buddhist ideas and critique them rationally, we need to be able to do the same about Islam.”

        Then why don’t you or Harris rationally critique Christianity, Buddhism, or Judaism in the same way you criticize Islam. Islam is bad because Muhammad “butchered, raped, and pillaged” his way to domination of Arabia. Why no mention of the much more recent Spanish, Portuguese, British, French butchering, raping and pillaging their way to empire, all under the banner of Christianity? Did the Muslims ever conduct genocide on the scale the Europeans did in the Americas? “Christians disown much of the violence in the old testament”? As in Christian Germany’s slaughter of Jews, gypsies, gays, and slavs? As in the massive slaughter Christian nations inflicted on each other in the 20th century? As in the evil terrorism inflicted on the Iraqi people starting in 2003 and continuing today. And do religious Jewish Zionists reject the violence of the Old Testament when they continue to steal the land of the Palestinians, because “god promised it to the Jews 4000 years ago”, or when they subject Palestinian families and communities with collective punishment, or when they slaughter Gazans like rats in a barrel?

        People like you and Harris seem to find it easy to condemn other cultures, but are blind to the crimes of your own. It’s just more of Kipling’s “Take up the white man’s burden”. We have a moral obligation to impose our civilization on these people, even if it requires butchering raping and pillaging them. But if they dare to strike back at us that is just further evidence of the degeneracy of their religion and culture. Yes, that’s what I would call Islamophobia.

    • Michael Waterhouse says

      No one is singling out Islam.
      Harris wrote at least two books criticizing religion in general. Hitchen’s too, and Dawkins, and Dennett.
      However, Islam is the topic at hand, being responsible for 98 percent of terrorist attacks in the world and to a lesser degree pushing iliberal values in general.
      But, again, Harris and others do criticise that which needs to be critisised.
      You have fallen for the smears.

      • Michael, please justify your claim that Islam is responsible for 98% of terrorist attacks in the world. Even in the US there are more terrorist attacks from right wing Christians than from Muslims. I guess you don’t consider the US/UK invasion of Iraq (‘Shock and Awe’) terrorism? Why not?

        • Jeremy Tarone says

          My goodness Paxton Marshall, you certainly are dishonest. You keep being shown how truly dishonest you are, and yet you continue to be dishonest.
          I think there is something wrong with you.

    • I’m with you Dan. Why does Harris never focus on the western (US/UK) terrorism inflicted on Iraq (100,000 to 500,000 killed) or Israeli terrorism on Gaza (2,000 killed, half civilian). Month after month the US kills many more Muslim civilians than Muslims kill westerners. Why is it only the latter that is called terrorism? Palestinians who have been held captive for 50 years attack armed soldiers with knives and are gunned down with machine guns. When has Harris called out the fervent Christianity of Bush and Blair as a cause of the Iraq invasion. When has he called out the role of religious zionists in continuing to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied territory, and making a two state solution impossible? Harris is not an Islamophobe because he criticizes Islam; he is an Islamophobe because he doesn’t hold other religions to the same standard as he holds Islam.

      And yes, whether he intends it or not, his apocalyptic view of the dangers of Islam (see “Sleepwalking toward Armageddon”) enable the neocons and war profiteers who use fear mongering to agitate for ever more military attacks on one Muslim nation or another, just as Christopher Hitchens’ support for the Iraq invasion helped to enable Bush and Blair’s terrorism.

      • Well said Paxton Marshall. Unlike the people mentioned in this article, you have actually articulated a criticism of Harris without lying and slandering him. I hope some people respond.

      • Jerry Tarone says

        So according to you, anytime anyone criticizes anything, they must make a list of all similar things to criticize. How ridiculous. But Harris did criticize the war in Iraq as have many others in the West Including the FACT that it was started by a lunatic Christian who said he was told to invade by God. Also, you can check out Harris’s article “Why I don’t criticize Israel”.

        As usual, yet another person who didn’t bother checking his facts because he thinks he’s got it all figured out. Maybe if you actually read Harris you would realize how wrong you are on the issues. Maybe you would realize that Palestine makes childrens TV shows that implore children to murder Jews and destroy Israel. Check them out on Youtube. Palestine, who’s citizens voted in Hamas, a terrorist organization that has stated their goal is the destruction of Israel and the death of every Jew. An organization that takes aid money for food, hospitals and buys weapons. They use construction material for homes to build tunnels so they can kill Israelis.

        The difference between the two civilizations, one wants to destroy the other completely but doesn’t have the means, the other has the means to destroy the Palestinians completely but has no desire. One has Arabs, Jews, Muslims and Christians under rule of law. A rule of law that sees terrorists and murderers arrested and imprisoned. The other hides terrorists from justice, rewards the terrorists families and makes martyrs of terrorists.

        You cry because they put terrorists in jail. Boo hoo.

        Another thing you can watch on Youtube is Palestinians making fake videos of children being shot and attacked by Israelis soldiers.

      • Kevin McGarry says

        You have raised some interesting points. Firstly I don’t know for definite why Bush and Blair lead this attack, it could be for the (ultimately false) geo-political safety reasons they claimed, or it could be for a more pernicious profit motive or many more or various. However I don’t think it was because they were Christians and wanted to promote Christianity. Just my opinion but because of that I don’t think it can be conflated with the topic of the article.

        Your point about Zionist Jews illegally occupying land on religious grounds certainly is and I would be interested to know Harris’ opinions on it.

        As for your point on the neo-cons, I think ironically this is a further instance of fear-mongering – or if you allow me to paraphrase “let’s not discuss discrimination in Islam as it might make neo-cons do bad things”.

        I like the article and the comments. I don’t agree with all Harris’ opinions but he should be applauded for all his efforts (at great risk to his personal safety) at creating a space where these issues can be discussed.

  16. maurene K says

    I think there is something basically true and sincere that comes across about Sam Harris…its apparent in his words and in his personality. That factor must antagonise the likes of Aslan especially…hence his method of trying to misrepresent and distort Harris’s writings and words is the only way he can attempt to discredit him…… that fact alone shows how weak and manufactured Aslams rebuttals and attacks really are…..

  17. Dan, your cryptic concern trolling comment is more of the same dishonest, unscrupulous criticism of Harris, more of the same written defamation of him this article resoundingly refutes. Your mendacious smear of Harris is based on the very same misrepresentations of his writing and ideas this excellent article has meticulously refuted.

  18. great article. I think people who value compassion, inclusion, fairness, and equality like to believe in supporting the underdogs. Unfortunately not all underdogs are virtuous, some have purely horrifying intentions but we’re so blind with trying to show compassion we don’t question their intentions and ‘take their side’ blindly, whilst condemning a rational, thoughtful, thoroughly considered criticism of a set of beliefs/thoughts that leads to suffering that is worse than we could imagine or want to believe ourselves because we have been brought up in relatively peaceful & seemingly tolerant societies.

  19. kris says

    Good point Kalifli, I have the impression that so many Western historians, intellectuals and commentators are reluctant to criticise anyone else for fear of being accused of favoritism! Its a bit like a football referee who is a fan of one of the sides making sure he gives them tough decisions for that same reason.

  20. Pingback: In defense of Sam Harris « Why Evolution Is True

  21. Nicely done, Jeffery. Thank you for this effort.

    I have been attempting for many years to challenge people who smear Harris through misrepresentation based on my charitable assumption of poor comprehension skills rather than a vindictive need to paint him in the very worst possible light. But now having read the vitriol aimed at him, I think it’s actually quite intentional.

    Of growing concern is the number of people who assume the vilification of Harris is deserved not because of the content of his criticisms but because they don’t sound very nice and respectful. The muddled thinking – especially and still growing among the Left these days – seems to be that we combat this lack of niceness by tolerating the intolerable and siding with those who support a doctrine incompatible with Western liberal secular values, which is far more preferable apparently than being seen as intolerant like that Harris guy! Horse, meet the back of the cart.

    Furthermore, one’s tolerant bonafide seems to be enhanced if one joins the mob of Harris detractors by assuming first that the vilification of New Atheism itself is deserved for supposedly containing fundamental intolerance and bigotry. Any questioning of this claim is itself grounds for being vilified as angry and intolerant. What’s lacking in this kind of dystopian atmosphere are facts like the kind you so inconveniently provide here. If only Harris’ detractors would pay as much attention to what’s true as they do to what they would prefer to believe is true, we would have a much better chance of addressing real, fundamental, doctrinal intolerance with a much clearer and better articulated voice.

    • jim nichols says

      True, but your naïveté is systematic, face the fact that we have shrunk our social environment on this planet to the point where we are exposing the fact that ideologies are the crap that they are. Your desire to be diplomatic is gallantry of a bygone era, but if you insist on sugarcoating, maybe there is an opening at Betty Crocker, where cakes are still a big deal.

  22. Luigi Novi says

    Excellent piece, Mr. Tayler. I can’t believe it’s been over a year and a half since Affleck and Harris’ RTwBM confrontation, but this was the best piece on it and the smears against Harris that I’ve read.

  23. bob says

    Excellent article, I’m happy somebody finally articulated this with the eloquence and clarity it deserves.

  24. MAZMAINIAC says

    Thank you–I am tired of those who are using Sam as a punching bag with misappropriations of his beliefs I liked your stuff on Salon until they obviously declined to publish your work any more

  25. JackAlmighty says

    I read the first 3 paragraphs of this article. It was garbage.

    There’s no elaboration on Ben Affleck’s position–just pure criticism. I mean–the author doesn’t even give a chance to charitably understand Affleck’s position.

    The article’s biased and clearly favouring Harris from the outset, as a kangaroo trial, where the verdict is already set in stone oblivious to whatever evidence that may come into play.

    Harris is an islamophobe and, yes, perhaps a racist as Affleck insists. I don’t see Harris criticizing Judaism with the same fervor as he does with Islam–Harris wants to talk about how his life’s constantly being threatened for his anti-Muslim books? This dude wouldn’t touch Judaism, nor the unequal distribution of power among Jews, e.g. Hollywood. Harris isn’t courageous, Harris is a coward. It’s easy to pick on Muslims because they’re negatively portrayed on the media, whereas, Jews, for example, could end his career in a heart-beat. So, of course, Harris isn’t being intellectually honest with us when he tries to convince us that Islam is a religion of violence, when he himself is promoting an enduring (violent) harassment for those (Muslims) who practice a belief that is as ordinary as Christianity.

    I’m sick and tired of Harris.

    • JackAlmighty you look silly focusing on Affleck. The article addresses the disingenuousness and slander that Harris’s most prominent critics have used against him. You would know that if you read the article; you probably would also understand Harris better and wouldn’t have said some of the things you did.

      Are you aware of the polling results of Muslim communities in Europe. It is not encouraging. The situation looks even worse when you consider demographic trends. The issue is not about power and who is negatively portrayed in the media. It’s about which culture’s value liberalism and human rights and don’t encourage people to blow up innocent civilians, enslave women, kill apostates, etc.

      I’m sure this needs to be said: I’m not talking about all Muslims, but it’s not a tiny fraction.

      Look up the polling results. Beliefs do guide behavior.

  26. Harry P Flashman says

    You mean: You read the first three paragraphs and it didn’t support your pre-existing view, so you thought you’d demonstrate your ignorance to the world.

    You don’t see Harris critique of other religions – well you have read much then – he has probably devoted more copy to critique of Christianity than any other religion.

    Do you see the hypocrisy in your third paragraph? You accuse Harris of racism and your method for doing so is to is to pillory Jews, and the whole ‘jews run the world conspiracy theory’.

    Affleck proved Sam’s point in conflating criticism of ideas with anti-Muslim bigotry. You’ve just proved the point of this article, by showing you are unable to deal with the content, and so you go after the person.

    If you’re so sick of Harris, why are you weighing into this debate? Why not just go and read articles in Salon – they are more likely to make you feel safe and unchallenged by troublesome facts and tiresome accuracy.

  27. Fayzal Mahamed says

    In the article it is stated that Sam Harris intends voting for Hilary. I wrote a letter that appeared in the Time Magazine stating that President O’Bama was in a state of denialism by stating that Islam is a peaceful religion. These views / opinions are also endorsed by Hilary Clinton.

    It seems American politics is governed by two extreme positions. Firstly the position of Trump that says Islam hates us and secondly of President Obama and Hilary that says Islam is a peaceful religion. Both extreme positions conflates Islam and Muslim persons.

    I respect and agree with Sam Harris whose opinion has de-conflated both extreme positions to find a rational and reasonable middle ground.

  28. Edward Duggal says

    Many of the criticisms of Harris are overblown. He’s not racist, and he’s not advocated for atrocities as his opponents have argued.

    Nevertheless, although he has become better on the issue recently, perhaps after having talked to Maajid Nawaz who has a more nuanced view of Islam and foreign policy, I still think that Sam Harris overlooks the role of Western foreign policy and other sociopolitical circumstances in the Middle East far too much, and that he holds an idyllic, benign view of the United States (and Israel) in which anything disastrous carried out by the United States or Israel is simply a “mistake” or “collateral damage”. Harris, thus, completely overlooks the countless occasions on which the US has supported genocidal regimes, engaged in wars over resources, and so on.

    People often compare the reaction to Harris with the reaction to Peter Singer’s views on some issues, but Singer is a much more sophisticated ethical thinker. When the controversy over the Muhammad cartoons flared up in 2006, Singer didn’t join in the chorus praising the West’s values; instead, he pointed out the dishonesty of a West which had imprisoned David Irving for questioning the Holocaust. And, unlike Harris, Singer has stood against the Western wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of Palestine, as well as Israel’s war crimes.

  29. I agree with Harris on this, and I enjoyed his books (though I think he’s way too taken in by Buddhism as the method of teaching mindfulness… just because they’ve done meditation longer doesn’t mean we need to look at them… at ALL… to be introspective and practice breathing exercises. I found the book not at all useful theologically, philosophically, or practically. A 5 minute lesson on meditation that I could give from my martial arts experience would probably benefit most readers more). And, he completely shoved his foot down to the angle in his mouth over the FBI vs Apple issue.

    That said, I think he’s right on this issue, but he’s doing it wrong. His view of people who kill people is spot on… screw people who kill people and the ideology that they base it on. Where he is wrong is in not attacking the other theologies that support them. His view that Christianity is no longer as dangerous is a flat out lie. They don’t kill people? They support an anti-gay agenda that causes teens to commit suicide at a higher rate than ISIS can throw us LGBT people off rooftops. So, is he right that it is the “most” dangerous? Yes. Is he wrong that Christianity is somehow not as dangerous? In the world, yes. In our personal lives, no.

    Having a firm grasp of actual statistics, I know the chances of me dying from a terrorist is nearly non-existent. But I personally know people persecuted by christians. I see the judeo-christian ethos used to attack and shame my nonmonogamous friends. And I’m surrounded by those asshats on every television channel and liberals wanting to play neutral, rather than being on the offensive. The best politicians in this country can do is show that, sure, they are liberal, but they’re church going bible believers too.

    And… I’m supposed to fear Islam? If I was in Pakistan, I’d fear the hell out of Islam. But I’m in America. I fear Christians.

    I think the problem Harris needs to face is this. He is right, for the wrong reasons. Islam is the most dangerous in the world, but it is not the issue most of us liberal leaning supporters of him actually deal with. And we can see this as playing into the islamaphobia of the right war mongers. And after his incredibly dull view on FBI vs Apple and his frustratingly kissy face books loving all over Buddhism…. I think he’s lost the credibility to lead in this area.

    Hitchen’s may have been a complete jerk. But that’s why we loved him. He didn’t play favorites among enemies. And have no doubt, we have enemies of various theologies and various threat levels.

    The killer 2000 miles away is less harmful, when speaking of the individual, than the bigot neighbor who calls and harasses your employer for hiring “one of them”, be it atheist, gay, or nonmonogamous. Harris is tone deaf in this area.

    • Rory says

      Harris has gone after Christianity though, as I am sure you are aware. He doesn’t need to keep doing the same thing again and again (although he might with the meditation thing).
      And it is not really the point that your neighbour is more likely to be persecuted than die in a terrorist attack. Even if this were true (and I suppose it is) why do we have to ignore evils just because we think there may be a bigger evil?
      Most clearly though, Harris is worried about Islamists getting nuclear, biological or chemical weapons – and then your question about “most dangerous” will have a definitive answer.

  30. I’m just not sure why “violent religious extremist” isn’t acceptable when discussing terrorist attacks. Why the absolute insistence on “Muslim” when there are (at least in the US) violent extremists who are not Muslim, and have actually killed more Americans in the US, by far, than Muslim terrorists.

  31. cleve hicks says

    Sam Harris’ selective outrage towards atrocities committed by Muslims … but not by Christians, Jews or atheists … is completely whitewashed in this article.

    • Nom de Plume says

      Yeah, the guy who wrote “Letter to a Christian Nation” has never expressed outrage towards Christians. Harris’ detractors aren’t even trying anymore.

      • cleve hicks says

        He paints Muslims as uniquely barbarous and even fantasizes about a nuclear first strike on them. The US invasion of Iraq, on the other hand, he portrays a well-meaning blunder by self-sacrificing, rational westerners. He wrote an article attempting to justify why he doesn’t criticize Israel. No such restraint is shown towards the Muslim world. Read his strange attack on Noam Chomsky, in which Harris reveals himself to be the preeminent philosophical defender of American exceptionalism. That is why many progressives can’t stand his writing.

        • Jeremy Tarone says

          Are you an idiot? Did you even bother to read the article? It certainly doesn’t appear so, because Harris did not fantasize about a first strike. Why don’t you try actually reading the article on this page, then try reading what Harris wrote before criticizing him based on second hand criticism that you never bothered to fact check.

  32. Harris’s main problem is that he talks, thinks, and writes like a philosopher. This appeals greatly to the scientifically-minded rigorous thinkers, but falls on its face once it encounters the general population. Harris says too many things that lazy thinkers find incendiary because they fail to do the lifting required to see what his point truly is. And people like Azlan and Greenwald have an easy job stoking the fire. It boils down to this: Harris is not a politician (nor does he seem to be aspiring to become one) and therefore his work will likely be forever unpopular with folks outside of the intellectual classes.

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  34. Jeffrey Taylor “But perhaps what irks Harris’ detractors most of all is the methodical way in which he demonstrates the link between Islamic doctrines and terrorist violence, ”

    No, what irks some of us the most is the way Harris ignores, obfuscates, and denies the western terrorism that provokes Muslim violent responses. It’s now the 100th anniversary of the Picot Sykes agreement in which Britain and France devoured the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, especially the oil bearing regions. In the intervening years we have imposed brutal dictators on the Muslims, overthrown elected governments, provided arms to the likes of the Saudi thugs, who use them to slaughter Shia, appropriated Muslim land to create Israel, a western base from which to continue to oppress Muslims. How can a smart guy like you discuss “the link between Islamic doctrines and terrorist violence”, without once mentioning the terrorist violence the US/UK inflicted on Iraqi Muslims in 2003 and beyond, or the Israeli terrorism of Gaza in 2014? If westerners are “fed up with Muslim violence” can you imagine how fed up the people of the middle east are with the western violence that has destabilized the whole region for 100 years, or the Palestinians are with being held captive by violent means for 50 years. Telling one side of the story and ignoring the other is a lie. That’s why Harris is an Islamophobe. And you?

    • Osi says

      “Paxton Marshall”, which I expect to be a pseudonym, you are really a despicable man. So, in order to explain why a culture exists to murder your own family member, to murder anyone who does not share a lunatic religious belief with you, you have to scour all of human history to find transgressions of which you are indignant? As I understand, the area of Israel used to be teeming with Jews, and then Christians amongst others; there were no Muslims at all. So now you say Jews took Muslim lands from them? How come? While the Jews were away and we had Christians and Muslims and other faiths there, the Muslims managed to convert, murder and otherwise exile people who did not share their faith. In your own rant now you even blame the united states for helping one Muslim faction in their quest to defeat another (Shia). Why are there those factions in the same religion and why are they so keen to destroy each-other? My answer to the latter is because both share a religion of absolutism where only one is right and the other must be destroyed. The only tolerance in Islam is the tolerance of the slave or of the grave.
      The problem I have come to realise with America is that they view the world in secular terms and are indeed persuaded by greed and the so-called Military-Industrial Complex in a lot of their actions. Carrying out some of those actions in Muslim-majority and especially ignorant ones is a big mistake because in such societies, they eat, drink, sleep, study religion. Everything is viewed in the context of the Islamic religion. No country in the Muslim world will ever suffer or come close to suffering the terrible acts of war inflicted on Asian countries by the Americans in the fight to contain Communism. Japan saw Nuclear bombs detonated on them. Laos was so bombed the country still finds undetonated ordnance till today; ditto so many others. There are no Muslims in those places and hence we don’t hear that they are terrorising the world because American destroyed their lands.
      The truth is that the Muslim is obligated to defend his religion to his dying day and no logic will suffice for making them cede any ground to any critic. By the time they do that, they really are no longer Muslim. I’m happy for people like Maajid Nawaz who is just that. I want him to continue to identify as a Muslim and continue to rub it in your eyes. It has a lot more effect that Ayaan Hirsi Ali who has renounced the charade altogether.
      Only a lunatic would justify the pre-medieval barbarity being visited upon the 21st century world by a religion which insists that all wisdom must come from the reasoning of the 7th century. They promote such barbarity with weapons which science and atheism brought about. Why can’t the “almighty Allah” reveal those weapons to them? Why did the scientist and engineer have to spend so much time researching and designing and prototyping and testing these weapons only for those who believe in revelations to purchase them for the advancement of their dogma. All religion is bad as they encourage people to be dumb robots for a “prophet” to use (and misuse). The Islamic religion is particularly evil in its essence and the world must rise up now to confront it before they infiltrate the whole world with their migration and excessive, mindless procreation. I see ordinary Muslims as victims of Islam as they were born into it. Leaving risks death but will attract certain sanction. There is no other religion I know about that sanctions the murder of anyone who leaves. It is a testament to how insecure the religion is – and rightly so.

      • Paxton Marshall says

        Psi, how many Muslims do you know? You say some reasonable things, but it was not nice to call me despicable.

        • Paxton, I’m sympathetic to the idea that Sam downplays the misdeeds of the West, but my history really isn’t good enough to have a strong opinion. As Osi points out, you can consider all the different places in the world were the West has intervened and you certainly don’t find the level of terrorism that you find in the Middle East. Think Asia and Latin American. The people are poor in these regions too. So Western intervention and poverty aren’t sufficient. As Osi says, note that most of suicide bombings happens between Shia and Sunni, so it’s pretty hard to blame that on the West. I believe there is an argument to be made that Christian Arabs are not engaged in the terrorism in the middle east, but I’m not familiar with the details of that argument.

          All this said, I still think that, as someone who is an expert on the topic, Sam should spend more time commenting on US foreign policy in the region, either defending it or criticizing it. If for no other reason, this would probably help him win over more of the Left, assuming he is as critical of US policy as he says he is. If we are making things worse, and Sam believes this, then he would have some responsibility to voice that opinion along with his criticism of Islam. He has certainly emphasized one over the other.

      • wanda lee says

        Another religion that kills it’s apostates? Rumour has it, Scientology.

  35. Paxton Marshall says

    Jeffrey, I want to apologize for speaking in a distespectful manner. I think your article was good and I don’t doubt the examples you provided. It’s a shame that what should be fruitful discussions turn into personal grievances. Some grievances may be because people are ultra sensitive but some are because people say hateful things. Still, if you are going to put your ideas in the public arena, you must expect to have them attacked. pax

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  37. nicky says

    Paxton, you are right that the ‘West’ has a lot of butter on its head. Especially in South America and the far east, but also in the middle east. The USA’s fear of communism should take a lot of the blame there.
    On the other hand, I’ve never heard Sam Harris defending these policies, and I’m sure he would be scathing (as he was on the war in Iraq).
    The fact that the ‘West’ has perpetrated a lot of atrocities does not really impact on the obnoxiousness of Islam. That is a non-sequitur.
    At least in the ‘West’ these actions are questioned, which gives some hope. And one can express this without fear of being assassinated. Within Islam hardly so. And if done, generally so by courageous (they have to be, because death is what they deserve) people like Ayaan, Namazie , Aynah and the like, often having abandoned the Faith.
    What I find most striking, and Tayler shows that nicely, is that most of the criticism of Harris is based on not reading him properly (or at all) or misrepresentation. (eg. a thought experiment about nuclear strikes is not advocating them, on the contrary).
    Harris stands accused of a lot he’s not in the least bit guilty of, kudos to Tayler.

    • Larry A. Singleton says

      Read Disinformation by Gen. Pacepa. The “Red Scare” was real. McCarthy, even though he went a little overboard, was right. This is an ass-kicker of a book. And “snowflakes”? We must have read the same articles.

      What University ‘Snowflakes’ Are Really About: A key factor feeding the campus ‘safe space’ culture by Bruce Thornton.

      Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff.

      The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

      How Would Orwell Feel About Today’s College Campuses by Amanda Borschel-Dan.

      Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future by David Horowitz and Robert Spencer.

  38. Irrational rationalist says

    What we seem to have here is a great depth of islammophobia. Sam’s detractors being the vast majority of them. I see radical Islamic terrorists as the school bullies of the world, threatening everyone who doesn’t do what they say. Sam is standing up to said bullies. His detractors, out of fear of Islamic terrorists are pointing there fingers at Sam and praying that the terrorists don’t associate them with Sam and don’t put them on the jihad list.

    • Larry A. Singleton says

      Sam Harris. Another liberal who’s had a lightbulb of common sense go on in his head:

      Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff.

      Read Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future by David Horowitz and Robert Spencer.

      The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

      How Would Orwell Feel About Today’s College Campuses by Amanda Borschel-Dan.

      What University ‘Snowflakes’ Are Really About: A key factor feeding the campus ‘safe space’ culture by Bruce Thornton.

      Occupy Wall Street: The Communist Movement Reborn by David Horowitz and John Perazzo. I didn’t know diddly about this “Occupy” thing. This booklet is an education in itself. If you’re like me you’ll kick yourself afterward for not having read this earlier.

      The SJP’s Hate at Cuny by Ari Lieberman.

      The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H. Norwood. (Book about universities before during and after Hitler and Mussolini. Scary how similar the two time periods are; then and now.)

      Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa by Ilana Mercer.
      You might ask what South Africa has to do with liberals. You might ask. Until you’ve read the book.

  39. Larry A. Singleton says

    Another liberal who’s had a lightbulb of common sense go on in his head:

    Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate by Greg Lukianoff.

    Read Islamophobia: Thought Crime of the Totalitarian Future by David Horowitz and Robert Spencer.

    The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.

    How Would Orwell Feel About Today’s College Campuses by Amanda Borschel-Dan.

    What University ‘Snowflakes’ Are Really About: A key factor feeding the campus ‘safe space’ culture by Bruce Thornton.

    Occupy Wall Street: The Communist Movement Reborn by David Horowitz and John Perazzo. I didn’t know diddly about this “Occupy” thing. This booklet is an education in itself. If you’re like me you’ll kick yourself afterward for not having read this earlier.

    The SJP’s Hate at Cuny by Ari Lieberman.

    The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses by Stephen H. Norwood. (Book about universities before during and after Hitler and Mussolini. Scary how similar the two time periods are; then and now.)

    Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa by Ilana Mercer.

    You might ask what South Africa has to do with liberals. You might ask. Until you’ve read the book.

  40. This is a real interesting interview, I just listened another interview with Sam Harris on AoC. I like the fact he talks about so many points of interest and his facts are based on science.

  41. Pingback: Quillette has a Patreon page – Claire Lehmann

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