RESPONSE TO CONTROVERSY

74

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.


A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics and with a philosopher’s penchant for describing the corner cases—the ticking time bomb, the perfect weapon, the magic wand, the mind-reading machine, etc.—in search of conceptual clarity. It literally becomes child’s play to find quotations that make the author look morally suspect, even depraved.

Whenever I respond to unscrupulous attacks on my work, I inevitably hear from hundreds of smart, supportive readers who say that I needn’t have bothered. In fact, many write to say that any response is counterproductive, because it only draws more attention to the original attack and sullies me by association. These readers think that I should be above caring about, or even noticing, treatment of this kind. Perhaps. I actually do take this line, sometimes for months or years, if for no other reason than that it allows me to get on with more interesting work. But there are now whole websites—Salon, The Guardian, Alternet, etc.—that seem to have made it a policy to maliciously distort my views. I have commented before on the general futility of responding to attacks of this kind. Nevertheless, the purpose of this article is to address the most important misunderstandings of my work. (Parts of these responses have been previously published.) I encourage readers to direct people to this page whenever these issues surface in blog posts and comment threads. And if you come across any charge that you think I really must answer, feel free to let me know through the contact form on this website.

Written By: Sam Harris
continue to source article at samharris.org

74 COMMENTS

  1. A very good response to some very bad articles. I don’t always agree with Sam Harris, and often find myself in agreement with Glenn Greenwald. But in this case, Sam was misrepresented, and essentially libeled. The inability to distinguish between racism and concern about religious ideologies and practice is very disconcerting coming from liberal quarters, the quarters I usually inhabit. Greenwald lost me on this one.

  2. My problem with Sam Harris’ response to Glenn Greenwald is epitomized by this section:
    HARRIS: ‘Is it really true that the sins for which I hold Islam accountable are “committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups, especially [my] own”? First, I have to say that so much moral confusion lies buried in this statement that it would take a very long essay to respond to all the charges implicit in it. What Greenwald surely means to convey is that the U.S. government is (in some sense that is not merely absurd) the worst terrorist organization on earth. I have argued against this general idea in many places, especially in my first book, The End of Faith, and I won’t repeat that argument here. I will say, however, that nothing about honestly discussing the doctrine of Islam requires that a person not notice all that might be wrong with U.S. foreign policy, capitalism, the vestiges of empire, or anything else that may be contributing to our ongoing conflicts in the Muslim world. Which is to say that even if Noam Chomsky were right about everything, the Islamic doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women and homosexuals, etc. would still present huge problems for the emergence of a global civil society (and these are problems quite unlike those presented by similar tenets in other faiths, for reasons that I have explained at length elsewhere and touch on only briefly here). And any way in which I might be biased or blinded by “the religion of the state,” or any other form of cultural indoctrination, has absolutely no relevance to the plight of Shiites who have their mosques, weddings, and funerals bombed by Sunni extremists, or to victims of rape who are beaten, imprisoned, or even killed as “adulteresses” throughout the Muslim world. I hope it goes without saying that the Afghan girls who even now are risking their lives by merely learning to read would not be best compensated for their struggles by being handed copies of Chomsky’s books enumerating the sins of the West.’
    Currently we are bombing (and droning) the hell out of the Muslim world. Is this going to help those Afghani girls and Iraqi homosexuals? I would argue we are actually favoring the extremists by this (also extreme) behavior. So this ‘battle against Islam’, which Harris may be indirectly or even directly supporting with his writing, is actually hurting the people he thinks we are helping with our invasions.

    • I don’t know that Sam is advocating the militaristic attitude towards the islamic world that you think he is. Whether the U.S. response was warranted and wise is subject to criticism and rightly so. I think the invasion of Iraq was a big mistake and disagree with Christopher Hitchens on that point. But trying to blame the New Atheists as behind the foreign policy blunders of the W. Bush administration is seriously misguided. First of all, the new atheists have limited political clout, and if they did, it is certainly not a given that invading Iraq and Afganistan would have been the response agreed upon by those other than Hitchens. In reply to #2 by clevehicks:

      My problem with Sam Harris’ response to Glenn Greenwald is epitomized by this section:
      HARRIS: ‘Is it really true that the sins for which I hold Islam accountable are “committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups, especially [my] own”? First, I have to say that so much moral confusion lies buried in this statement that it would take a very long essay to respond to all the charges implicit in it. What Greenwald surely means to convey is that the U.S. government is (in some sense that is not merely absurd) the worst terrorist organization on earth. I have argued against this general idea in many places, especially in my first book, The End of Faith, and I won’t repeat that argument here. I will say, however, that nothing about honestly discussing the doctrine of Islam requires that a person not notice all that might be wrong with U.S. foreign policy, capitalism, the vestiges of empire, or anything else that may be contributing to our ongoing conflicts in the Muslim world. Which is to say that even if Noam Chomsky were right about everything, the Islamic doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women and homosexuals, etc. would still present huge problems for the emergence of a global civil society (and these are problems quite unlike those presented by similar tenets in other faiths, for reasons that I have explained at length elsewhere and touch on only briefly here). And any way in which I might be biased or blinded by “the religion of the state,” or any other form of cultural indoctrination, has absolutely no relevance to the plight of Shiites who have their mosques, weddings, and funerals bombed by Sunni extremists, or to victims of rape who are beaten, imprisoned, or even killed as “adulteresses” throughout the Muslim world. I hope it goes without saying that the Afghan girls who even now are risking their lives by merely learning to read would not be best compensated for their struggles by being handed copies of Chomsky’s books enumerating the sins of the West.’
      Currently we are bombing (and droning) the hell out of the Muslim world. Is this going to help those Afghani girls and Iraqi homosexuals? I would argue we are actually favoring the extremists by this (also extreme) behavior. So this ‘battle against Islam’, which Harris may be indirectly or even directly supporting with his writing, is actually hurting the people he thinks we are helping with our invasions.

    • In reply to #2 by clevehicks:

      My problem with Sam Harris’ response to Glenn Greenwald is epitomized by this section:
      HARRIS: ‘Is it really true that the sins for which I hold Islam accountable are “committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups, especially [my] own”? I will say, however, that nothing about honestly discussing the doctrine of Islam requires that a person not notice all that might be wrong with U.S. foreign policy, capitalism, the vestiges of empire, or anything else that may be contributing to our ongoing conflicts in the Muslim world. Which is to say that even if Noam Chomsky were right about everything, the Islamic doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women and homosexuals, etc. would still present huge problems for the emergence of a global civil society (and these are problems quite unlike those presented by similar tenets in other faiths, for reasons that I have explained at length elsewhere and touch on only briefly here). … I hope it goes without saying that the Afghan girls who even now are risking their lives by merely learning to read would not be best compensated for their struggles by being handed copies of Chomsky’s books enumerating the sins of the West.’

      The single greatest failing of the “New Atheists” would have to be the tin ear they have turned to the findings and approach of Noam Chomsky who has dedicated his life i.e. half a century to elucidating, in light of something akin to the golden rule, US foreign policy and the machinations of the Western power elites in general.

      With “all that might be wrong with U.S. foreign policy” Harris casts doubt about something being wrong. With “even if Noam Chomsky were right” Harris trivializes Chomsky by suggesting that he may not be right. Meanwhile, no successful or serious challenge of Chomsky has ever been brought. With “sins of the West” Harris trivializes at least a century of massive human rights violations and war crimes. Regrettably, Chomsky in turn dismisses the new atheists here as “religious fanatics who happen to believe in the state religion”. Hitchens, in turn, engaged in a staggeringly dishonest attack on Chomsky here.

      Sociology, History and Politics is not Physics. They don’t lend themselves to mono-causal analyses. The victim of this mostly ego driven wholly unnecessary intellectual diva turf war has been Truth. Both sides are right: Both religious dogma and socio/political/economic/military dogma have lead to the scenarios we see playing out.

    • In reply to #2 by clevehicks:

      Currently we are bombing (and droning) the hell out of the Muslim world. Is this going to help those Afghani girls and Iraqi homosexuals? I would argue we are actually favoring the extremists by this (also extreme) behavior. So this ‘battle against Islam’, which Harris may be indirectly or even directly supporting with his writing, is actually hurting the people he thinks we are helping with our invasions.

      It’s not all-or-nothing. Harris takes the (sensible) position that we’re probably doing too much killing right now with drones, but that there consists a certain core group of extremist Muslims the only solution to which is to kill them, because they have been so deeply indoctrinated that they can never been swayed from their belief that their brand of Islam must rule the world, and that killing themselves in the process of killing apostates is no problem because Paradise awaits. MAD doesn’t apply when they have a nuclear weapon, or even a machine gun.

  3. I don’t think Greenwald is quote-mining when he objects to the following statement attributed to Harris:’ Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.” All I can say to that is … what????

    • In reply to #3 by clevehicks:

      I don’t think Greenwald is quote-mining when he objects to the following statement attributed to Harris:’ Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.” All I can say to that is … what????

      Well, instead of just going “what????”, you could do some simple arithmetic. Greenwald references a 2008 Gallup poll of the Muslim world:

      About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical

      (Interestingly, to be defined as “politically radical” in that survey, you had to be willing to actually condone the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.)

      At any rate. 7% = 91 million = tens of millions of very scary people in the Muslim world.

      • In reply to #36 by skeelo:

        In reply to #3 by clevehicks:

        I don’t think Greenwald is quote-mining when he objects to the following statement attributed to Harris:’ Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.” All I can say to that is … what????

        Well, instead of just going “what????”, you could do some simple arithmetic. Greenwald references a 2008 Gallup poll of the Muslim world:

        About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical

        (Interestingly, to be defined as “politically radical” in that survey, you had to be willing to actually condone the 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.)

        At any rate. 7% = 91 million = tens of millions of very scary people in the Muslim world.

        Yes, but “scarier than Dick Cheney”? That’s setting the bar pretty high.

  4. This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

    • In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

      YES, they would. You need to read the koran and some of the sunnah/hadith to understand the Islamic thought process, and how ridiculous it is. The ‘external locus of control’ hypothesis appeals to me- simplified, it is the ability to blame others for all your own shortcomings and failures.
      Can you provide examples of Christians, atheists or any other non-muslim group to support your suggestion?

    • In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

      Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

      • In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

        In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

        This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

        Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

        Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

        • In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

          In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

          In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

          This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

          Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

          Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

          With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

          • In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

            Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

          • clevehicks – You appear not to have read or noticed Harris’ explicit condemnation of Abu Ghraib, as well as Bush’s and Cheney’s policies, in the article he published today, in which he writes: “I consider our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical. I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. Indeed, I consider much of what occurred under Bush and Cheney—the routine abuse of ordinary prisoners, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” etc.—to be a terrible stain upon our nation. In reply to #17 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

            Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

          • In reply to #19 by RichardC:

            clevehicks – You appear not to have read or noticed Harris’ explicit condemnation of Abu Ghraib, as well as Bush’s and Cheney’s policies, in the article he published today, in which he writes: “I consider our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical. I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. Indeed, I consider much of what occurred under Bush and Cheney—the routine abuse of ordinary prisoners, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” etc.—to be a terrible stain upon our nation. In reply to #17 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

            Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

            But let’s balance that with this: ‘Despite the numbers of Iraqi dead and the travesty of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi insurgents know that we did not come to their country to rape their women or to kill innocent civilians. Every thinking person in the Muslim world understands that if our goal had been to kill Iraqis and steal their oil, millions of Iraqis would now be dead and their oil would be flowing. The terrible truth about our predicament in Iraq is that even if we had invaded with no other purpose than to remove Saddam Hussein from power and make Iraq a paradise on Earth, we should still expect tomorrow’s paper to reveal that another jihadi has blown himself to bits for the sake of killing scores of innocent men, women and children.’ Add to that his obnoxious quote about 10s of millions of Muslims being far more dangerous to humanity than Dick Cheney. Maybe Harris weakly claims to be against such western crimes against humanity, but he is very forgiving towards their architects (even appearing to paint the invasion of Iraq as a misguided humanitarian endeavor), much more forgiving than he is towards Muslims who do the same kind of thing, if on a smaller scale.

          • In reply to #20 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #19 by RichardC:

            clevehicks – You appear not to have read or noticed Harris’ explicit condemnation of Abu Ghraib, as well as Bush’s and Cheney’s policies, in the article he published today, in which he writes: “I consider our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical. I also think it was one of the most damaging blunders in the last century of U.S. foreign policy. Nor have I ever seen the wisdom or necessity of denying proper legal counsel (and access to evidence) to prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. Indeed, I consider much of what occurred under Bush and Cheney—the routine abuse of ordinary prisoners, the practice of “extraordinary rendition,” etc.—to be a terrible stain upon our nation. In reply to #17 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

            Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

            But let’s balance that with this: ‘Despite the numbers of Iraqi dead and the travesty of Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi insurgents know that we did not come to their country to rape their women or to kill innocent civilians. Every thinking person in the Muslim world understands that if our goal had been to kill Iraqis and steal their oil, millions of Iraqis would now be dead and their oil would be flowing. The terrible truth about our predicament in Iraq is that even if we had invaded with no other purpose than to remove Saddam Hussein from power and make Iraq a paradise on Earth, we should still expect tomorrow’s paper to reveal that another jihadi has blown himself to bits for the sake of killing scores of innocent men, women and children.’ Add to that his obnoxious quote about 10s of millions of Muslims being far more dangerous to humanity than Dick Cheney. Maybe Harris weakly claims to be against such western crimes against humanity, but he is very forgiving towards their architects (even appearing to paint the invasion of Iraq as a misguided humanitarian endeavor), much more forgiving than he is towards Muslims who do the same kind of thing, if on a smaller scale.

            And by the way, I think Harris is incredibly presumptuous and condescending when he tells us that he knows what ‘every thinking person in the Muslim world’ understands about the reasons for the invasion of Iraq.

          • In reply to #17 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #15 by JHJEFFERY:

            Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

            Really? How far did you read

            It seems to me that however one compares the practices of water-boarding high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms. And yet, most people tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare while considering it taboo to even speak about the possibility of practicing torture. It is important to point out that my argument for the restricted use of torture does not make a travesty like Abu Ghraib look any less sadistic or stupid. I consider our mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib to be patently unethical.

            While I don’t agree with him on several points, Harris is usually as critical of himself as he is of others, and a lot more honest than many of his critics.

        • In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

          In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

          In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

          This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

          Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

          Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

          I think you mis-characterize Sam’s position here. I’d suggest he sees these as separate issues. You cannot blame foreign policy on Islams position on Gays or that all apostates should be executed. These things come directly from the Koran and the Hadiths. It is their backward practices due to their strict adherence of this dogma that is directly responsible for these issues and the threat they are to peaceful society in the west. So let’s not pretend the way the treat women and their issues are all about western imperialism. They have plenty of their own imperialism to account for. Most of the bombings going on in the middle east is happening due to one branch of Islam who considers the other branches apostate blowing each other up. This does not excuse any western incompetence but I don’t think you’ll find Sam in support of bombing Muslims, he’d rather avoid it.

          Let’s be clear, are you suggesting that if say America invades Iraq, and a country who was against the war publishes a cartoon or in some way offends the prophet that justifies beheading anyone from that country or any other country for that matter?

          • In reply to #28 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            I think you mis-characterize Sam’s position here. I’d suggest he sees these as separate issues. You cannot blame foreign policy on Islams position on Gays or that all apostates should be executed. These things come directly from the Koran and the Hadiths. It is their backward practices due to their strict adherence of this dogma that is directly responsible for these issues and the threat they are to peaceful society in the west. So let’s not pretend the way the treat women and their issues are all about western imperialism. They have plenty of their own imperialism to account for. Most of the bombings going on in the middle east is happening due to one branch of Islam who considers the other branches apostate blowing each other up. This does not excuse any western incompetence but I don’t think you’ll find Sam in support of bombing Muslims, he’d rather avoid it.

            I would suggest that you take a closer look at Iraq following the invasion. Is life better for women now than it was under Saddam? I think it can be argued that, nasty though Saddam was, women had more freedoms under his rule in Iraq than they do now. And don’t forget that the Taliban were helped into power by dozens of years of brutal war with outside powers. My thesis here is that in many cases massive bombing campaigns and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure empowers the countries worst extremists. Hitchens certainly was a war advocate. I don’t find Harris to be as clear and as forthright in his writings as Hitchens was, therefore it is hard to pin him down, but there are numerous passages where he speculates on the necessity of a nuclear first strike on a fundamentalist Muslim country, paints the Iraq War as a humanitarian effort, or paints 10s of millions of Muslims as ‘more dangerous than Dick Cheney’ and ‘the real enemies’ that provide the pro-war crowd with lots of good fodder. He isn’t philosophizing into a vacuum …
            Let’s be clear, are you suggesting that if say America invades Iraq, and a country who was against the war publishes a cartoon or in some way offends the prophet that justifies beheading anyone from that country or any other country for that matter?

          • In reply to #28 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

            Ah yes, at this point in history certainly. Give me an example? In the case last year of that silly film put out by a particular group there was rioting in Sydney (nothing at all to do with the film) with Muslims holding placards saying behead infidels who insult the prophet. In other countries people where murdered. Can you show a similar case when catholics, Mormons, protestants or atheist groups have been criticized?

            Agreed on that point, Islam has a much bigger problem with freedom of speech than Christianity these days. But this is all in the context of massive bombing campaigns conducted by a Christian nation (and by a fundamentalist Christian President in the 2000s) against multiple Muslim countries, which is at least as great an evil as burning embassies in response to cartoons. In fact, for those like me who WANT feminism and gay rights and tolerance to come to the Middle East, I think ‘bombing them back to the Stone Age’ is exactly the wrong thing to do. Does bombing and droning help women and gays in these countries, do you really think? And I think Harris downplays this side of what is happening quite negligently (and Hitchens even cheered it on).

            I think you mis-characterize Sam’s position here. I’d suggest he sees these as separate issues. You cannot blame foreign policy on Islams position on Gays or that all apostates should be executed. These things come directly from the Koran and the Hadiths. It is their backward practices due to their strict adherence of this dogma that is directly responsible for these issues and the threat they are to peaceful society in the west. So let’s not pretend the way the treat women and their issues are all about western imperialism. They have plenty of their own imperialism to account for. Most of the bombings going on in the middle east is happening due to one branch of Islam who considers the other branches apostate blowing each other up. This does not excuse any western incompetence but I don’t think you’ll find Sam in support of bombing Muslims, he’d rather avoid it.

            Let’s be clear, are you suggesting that if say America invades Iraq, and a country who was against the war publishes a cartoon or in some way offends the prophet that justifies beheading anyone from that country or any other country for that matter?

            I would suggest that you take a closer look at Iraq following the invasion. Is life better for women now than it was under Saddam? I think it can be argued that, nasty though Saddam was, women had more freedoms under his rule in Iraq than they do now. And don’t forget that the Taliban were helped into power by dozens of years of brutal war with outside powers. My thesis here is that in many cases massive bombing campaigns and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure empowers the countries worst extremists. Hitchens certainly was a war advocate. I don’t find Harris to be as clear and as forthright in his writings as Hitchens was, therefore it is hard to pin him down, but there are numerous passages where he speculates on the necessity of a nuclear first strike on a fundamentalist Muslim country, paints the Iraq War as a humanitarian effort, or paints 10s of millions of Muslims as ‘more dangerous than Dick Cheney’ and ‘the real enemies’ that provide the pro-war crowd with lots of good fodder. He isn’t philosophizing into a vacuum … Let’s be clear, are you suggesting that if say America invades Iraq, and a country who was against the war publishes a cartoon or in some way offends the prophet that justifies beheading anyone from that country or any other country for that matter?
            As for your second question, the answer is No. We should be outraged at such idiocy from fundamentalist Muslims, but we should perhaps be more outraged by George W Bush and his (often religious) cohorts who waged deliberate aggressive war on two sovereign countries, leading to the death of millions. It is the lack of outrage from Harris about this that perplexes me. Or rather, selective outrage against ‘the Other’. (He refers to the Iraq invasion as a ‘red herring’ and ‘misguided’ … whereas the Terrorists are painted as barbarians).

          • In reply to #33 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #28 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #14 by clevehicks:

            In reply to #10 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

            Clevehicks could you please delete some of the content when you reply its getting longer and longer and harder to get to your responses. Ta.

            I would suggest that you take a closer look at Iraq following the invasion. Is life better for women now than it was under Saddam? I think it can be argued that, nasty though Saddam was, women had more freedoms under his rule in Iraq than they do now. And don’t forget that the Taliban were helped into power by dozens of years of brutal war with outside powers. My thesis here is that in many cases massive bombing campaigns and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure empowers the countries worst extremists.

            Firstly you need to establish that Sam Harris was a supporter of his war in Iraq. You haven’t done this. So laying the evils of western imperialism at Sam’s feet is just pointless. You are trying to assert that Sam aligns himself with neo-con attitudes. Saying that Sam cannot criticize Islam without attributing equal blame to the West is simply silly he can focus on one thing and not another.

            Hitchens certainly was a war advocate.

            Certainly, but we’re not talking about him here we are talking about Sam.

            but there are numerous passages where he speculates on the necessity of a nuclear first strike on a fundamentalist Muslim country, paints the Iraq War as a humanitarian effort, or paints 10s of millions of Muslims as ‘more dangerous than Dick Cheney’ and ‘the real enemies’ that provide the pro-war crowd with lots of good fodder.

            Please consider the rest of the passages and articles in which these things have been written. He certainly doesn’t advocate a nuclear first strike on the middle east, or he would have advocated a first strike on Pakistan. He is illustrating the dangers of groups who are not rational actors holding onto weapons of mass destruction. If you think otherwise I suggest you re-read his article.

            Let’s be clear, are you suggesting that if say America invades Iraq, and a country who was against the war publishes a cartoon or in some way offends the prophet that justifies beheading anyone from that country or any other country for that matter?
            As for your second question, the answer is No. We should be outraged at such idiocy from fundamentalist Muslims, but we should perhaps be more outraged by George W Bush and his (often religious) cohorts who waged deliberate aggressive war on two sovereign countries, leading to the death of millions.

            It is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. I have a problem with this attitude. Now before you misunderstand I don’t think the War on Iraq was well though out or run, but I have a little issue about you blaming millions of deaths on George Bush (who by the way I despise). I am not siting Sam here. Hundreds of thousands were staving to death under Sadam due to sanctions set forth by the UN which was made necessary among other things because he used chemical weapons on his fellow Muslims. Yes we all share responsibility for this because the oil we have brought has largely funded these lunatics, and the same oil no doubt had a very large amount to do with us going after these regimes so unless you and I are prepared to give up our cars and plastics we all share some responsibility. But laying this at the feet of the West entirely is a vast oversimplification.

            It is the lack of outrage from Harris about this that perplexes me. Or rather, selective outrage against ‘the Other’. (He refers to the Iraq invasion as a ‘red herring’ and ‘misguided’ … whereas the Terrorists are painted as barbarians).

            ‘The Other’ – Sam is very specific about who the Other is. Please do the same or you run the risk of accusing Sam of Racism. He clearly states his problem is with Islam not because it is the other but because of a number of beliefs which he clearly states. Please criticize him for what he actually says don’t try to imply he is a bigot.

    • In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

      Are your seriously suggesting that if a band of atheist suicide bombers went into some some public place in the Vatican and blew up 5,000 Catholics the rest of us would cheer in support ?

      Michael

    • Yes, really – I agree with Sam wholeheartedly because that is indeed what we see in the world of Islam. As for Christianity or atheists – Sam was not addressing them, just Islam. I’m an atheist, and I’m interested in doing whats the best humanitarian response to any attack on anyone or any group, not that that has anything to do with Sam’s parapraph.

      In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

    • In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

      What really bothers me about Harris and Dawkins on this issue is that they ignore the results of empirical research. There has been significant work in the last few years to do scientific evaluations of the causes of terrorism by political scientists and anthropologists. People like Robert Pape and Scott Atran. What they find totally contradicts what Harris and Dawkins regularly say on the topic. They find that the primary cause for terrorism is not religion but foreign occupation. The conclusion is backed up by a vast amount of empirical data. Discussions with terrorists and the communities that support them and statistical analysis of terrorist events correlated with factors such as foreign occupation and religious differences. Pape especially does a very impressive amount of data collection and analysis (and his work was sponsored by the Donald Rumsfield DoD so his bias is not to be a bleeding heart)

      I never even hear Harris or Dawkins even talk about this research. They just go on talking about Madrassas and seldom bother to quote a single bit of actual research or data to back up their claim. If Dawkins doesn’t agree with Atran I would love to hear why but as someone who believes in critical thinking I think its hypocritical for him to keep on voicing opinions and pretend that there aren’t people who take research on these topics as seriously as he takes research on evolution.

      Some books I would love to have Prof. Dawkins read and comment on:

      Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Robert A. Pape

      Talking to the Enemy. Scott Atran (Atran singles out Dawkins by name in this book as someone who is wrong on his claims about the causes of terrorism)

      Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Robert A. Pape.

      • But in this very article ‘Response to Controversy’ of Harris’s that we’re now responding to he says: ” In March of 2012, Pape agreed to debate these issues with me on my blog. I announced our debate publicly and sent him my first volley by email. Then he disappeared. I have no idea what happened.”
        As you can see Harris is keen to respond to Pape’s analysis, but Pape is apparently not so keen to respond to Harris’s analysis of the issues. Harris has already debated Scott Atran In reply to #62 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

        This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

        What really bothers me about Harris and Dawkins on this issue is that they ignore the results of empirical research. There has been significant work in the last few years to do scientific evaluations of the causes of terrorism by political scientists and anthropologists. People like Robert Pape and Scott Atran. What they find totally contradicts what Harris and Dawkins regularly say on the topic. They find that the primary cause for terrorism is not religion but foreign occupation. The conclusion is backed up by a vast amount of empirical data. Discussions with terrorists and the communities that support them and statistical analysis of terrorist events correlated with factors such as foreign occupation and religious differences. Pape especially does a very impressive amount of data collection and analysis (and his work was sponsored by the Donald Rumsfield DoD so his bias is not to be a bleeding heart)

        I never even hear Harris or Dawkins even talk about this research. They just go on talking about Madrassas and seldom bother to quote a single bit of actual research or data to back up their claim. If Dawkins doesn’t agree with Atran I would love to hear why but as someone who believes in critical thinking I think its hypocritical for him to keep on voicing opinions and pretend that there aren’t people who take research on these topics as seriously as he takes research on evolution.

        Some books I would love to have Prof. Dawkins read and comment on:

        Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Robert A. Pape

        Talking to the Enemy. Scott Atran (Atran singles out Dawkins by name in this book as someone who is wrong on his claims about the causes of terrorism)

        Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Robert A. Pape.

        • In reply to #78 by RichardC:

          But in this very article ‘Response to Controversy’ of Harris’s that we’re now responding to he says: ” In March of 2012, Pape agreed to debate these issues with me on my blog. I announced our debate publicly and sent him my first volley by email. Then he disappeared. I have no idea what happened.”
          As you can see Harris is keen to respond to Pape’s analysis, but Pape is apparently not so keen to respond to Harris’s analysis of the issues. Harris has already debated Scott Atran In reply to #62 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

          This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

          What really bothers me about Harris and Dawkins on this issue is that they ignore the results of empirical research. There has been significant work in the last few years to do scientific evaluations of the causes of terrorism by political scientists and anthropologists. People like Robert Pape and Scott Atran. What they find totally contradicts what Harris and Dawkins regularly say on the topic. They find that the primary cause for terrorism is not religion but foreign occupation. The conclusion is backed up by a vast amount of empirical data. Discussions with terrorists and the communities that support them and statistical analysis of terrorist events correlated with factors such as foreign occupation and religious differences. Pape especially does a very impressive amount of data collection and analysis (and his work was sponsored by the Donald Rumsfield DoD so his bias is not to be a bleeding heart)

          I never even hear Harris or Dawkins even talk about this research. They just go on talking about Madrassas and seldom bother to quote a single bit of actual research or data to back up their claim. If Dawkins doesn’t agree with Atran I would love to hear why but as someone who believes in critical thinking I think its hypocritical for him to keep on voicing opinions and pretend that there aren’t people who take research on these topics as seriously as he takes research on evolution.

          Some books I would love to have Prof. Dawkins read and comment on:

          Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Robert A. Pape

          Talking to the Enemy. Scott Atran (Atran singles out Dawkins by name in this book as someone who is wrong on his claims about the causes of terrorism)

          Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It. Robert A. Pape.

          Where did Harris debate Atran? I would like very much to see that.

          From what I can tell, Harris exposed Atran’s own biases in The Moral Landscape, pages 155-6, and they can be summed up in one sentence: “Atran’s analysis of the causes of Muslim violence is relentlessly oblivious to what jihadists themselves say about their own motives.” As an example, he points out that Atran has insisted that muslims who move from publicly supporting jihad to actually attempting to follow it are not effected by their religious background, even when the jihadists are discussing paradise, bowing to divine authority, and earning God’s love right in front of him.

  5. A final thought on this from me: It is generally accepted by historians that the horrific US bombing of Southeast Asian countries during the Vietnam War favored the emergence of heinous dictator Pol Pot by destabilizing the region and strengthening hard-line depots like him. Are we not doing the same thing now to the Islamic world with our endless droning and bombing campaigns? This is the reality that I think Harris is blind to and Greenwald was right to point out. And although Harris and Hitchens may claim that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were secular wars and not driven by Christianity, we must not forget that it was fundamentalist Christians who elected George W. Bush and gang into power and backed him most fervently to engage in war with the infidels.

    • I was under the impression that Sam Harris opposed the “liberation” of Iraq. In reply to #5 by clevehicks:

      A final thought on this from me: It is generally accepted by historians that the horrific US bombing of Southeast Asian countries during the Vietnam War favored the emergence of heinous dictator Pol Pot by destabilizing the region and strengthening hard-line depots like him. Are we not doing the same thing now to the Islamic world with our endless droning and bombing campaigns? This is the reality that I think Harris is blind to and Greenwald was right to point out. And although Harris and Hitchens may claim that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were secular wars and not driven by Christianity, we must not forget that it was fundamentalist Christians who elected George W. Bush and gang into power and backed him most fervently to engage in war with the infidels.

      • In reply to #7 by Selim:

        I was under the impression that Sam Harris opposed the “liberation” of Iraq. In reply to #5 by clevehicks:

        A final thought on this from me: It is generally accepted by historians that the horrific US bombing of Southeast Asian countries during the Vietnam War favored the emergence of heinous dictator Pol Pot by destabilizing the region and strengthening hard-line depots like him. Are we not doing the same thing now to the Islamic world with our endless droning and bombing campaigns? This is the reality that I think Harris is blind to and Greenwald was right to point out. And although Harris and Hitchens may claim that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were secular wars and not driven by Christianity, we must not forget that it was fundamentalist Christians who elected George W. Bush and gang into power and backed him most fervently to engage in war with the infidels.

        I don’t know where he stood at the time, and he is very vague and wishy-washy on that topic in this article (unlike Dawkins and PZ Myers, who were admirably against the bloodshed). But I have read a number of quotes from him (I think they are in the latest Greenwald piece) where he gives the impressions we are doing the Iraqis and Afghanis a favor by invading them, and they have the impertinence to object due to their fanatical Islamic beliefs. Is that a mis-characterization?

        • In reply to #12 by clevehicks:

          In reply to #7 by Selim:

          I was under the impression that Sam Harris opposed the “liberation” of Iraq. In reply to #5 by clevehicks:

          A final thought on this from me: It is generally accepted by historians that the horrific US bombing of Southeast Asian countries during the Vietnam War favored the emergence of heinous dictator Pol Pot by destabilizing the region and strengthening hard-line depots like him. Are we not doing the same thing now to the Islamic world with our endless droning and bombing campaigns? This is the reality that I think Harris is blind to and Greenwald was right to point out. And although Harris and Hitchens may claim that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were secular wars and not driven by Christianity, we must not forget that it was fundamentalist Christians who elected George W. Bush and gang into power and backed him most fervently to engage in war with the infidels.

          I don’t know where he stood at the time, and he is very vague and wishy-washy on that topic in this article (unlike Dawkins and PZ Myers, who were admirably against the bloodshed). But I have read a number of quotes from him (I think they are in the latest Greenwald piece) where he gives the impressions we are doing the Iraqis and Afghanis a favor by invading them, and they have the impertinence to object due to their fanatical Islamic beliefs. Is that a mis-characterization?

          Here’s a Harris passage that I find very revealing: ‘The war in Iraq, while it may be exacerbating the conflict between Islam and the West, is a red herring. However mixed or misguided American intentions were in launching this war, civilized human beings are now attempting, at considerable cost to themselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people. The terrible truth about our predicament in Iraq is that even if we had invaded with no other purpose than to remove Saddam Hussein from power and make Iraq a paradise on earth, we could still expect tomorrow’s paper to reveal that another jihadi has blown himself up for the sake of killing scores of innocent men, women, and children. The outrage that Muslims feel over U.S. and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands—no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This is solidarity born of religious delusion, and it must end—or a genuine clash of civilizations will be unavoidable.’ Unlike Richard Dawkins, who opposes Islam but was firmly against the attack on Iraq, I find Harris’ outlook (the war is a ‘red herring’ and came from ‘mixed or misguided motivations’ , and the good folks toiling there now have the best of intentions) to be extremely naive.

        • _In reply to [#12](#comment-box-12) by clevehicks:_ I don’t know where he stood at the time, and he is very vague and wishy-washy on that topic in this article (unlike Dawkins and PZ Myers, who were admirably against the bloodshed). But I have read a number of quotes from him (I think they are in the latest Greenwald piece) where he gives the impressions we are doing the Iraqis and Afghanis a favor by invading them, and they have the impertinence to object due to their fanatical Islamic beliefs. Is that a mis-characterization?

          Yes, it IS a mis-characterization. And well done for proving Harris’s whole point that Greenwald’s piece is presenting false impression of his beliefs.

          Harris has said, and says again in his article here, that he was AGAINST the Iraq war.

          How is that being vague or wishy-washy? His position is only made vague or wishy-washy by the type of articles he is protesting about that entirely mis-represent him.

          Don’t worry, though. You are in very good company. Even PZ Myers has been led to think that Harris supported the Iraq war. If that doesn’t show that Harris is entirely justified to claim he has been libeled, I don’t know what would!

  6. “Currently we are bombing (and droning) the hell out of the Muslim world”

    Gross exaggeration and barefaced generalisation; the entire ‘muslim world’?? No, I thought not.
    Targeting islamist leaders is not quite that, notwithstanding the tragic deaths of innocents.
    For which those terrorists hiding amongst the populace are culpable and by which they garner sympathy in the most murderous, cynical way.

    • In reply to #9 by Nodhimmi:

      “Currently we are bombing (and droning) the hell out of the Muslim world”

      Gross exaggeration and barefaced generalisation; the entire ‘muslim world’?? No, I thought not.
      Targeting islamist leaders is not quite that, notwithstanding the tragic deaths of innocents.
      For which those terrorists hiding amongst the populace are culpable and by which they garner sympathy in the most murderous, cynical way.

      In reply to #1 by Obi wan kolobi:

      A very good response to some very bad articles. I don’t always agree with Sam Harris, and often find myself in agreement with Glenn Greenwald. But in this case, Sam was misrepresented, and essentially libeled. The inability to distinguish between racism and concern about religious ideologies and practice is very disconcerting coming from liberal quarters, the quarters I usually inhabit. Greenwald lost me on this one.

      In reply to #8 by Nodhimmi:

      In reply to #4 by clevehicks:

      This is also a pretty weird Harris quote: ‘The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.’ Really? Would Christians in the US behave any differently? Or even atheists?

      YES, they would. You need to read the koran and some of the sunnah/hadith to understand the Islamic thought process, and how ridiculous it is. The ‘external locus of control’ hypothesis appeals to me- simplified, it is the ability to blame others for all your own shortcomings and failures.
      Can you provide examples of Christians, atheists or any other non-muslim group to support your suggestion?

      Multiple Muslim countries (i.e Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen( and we are threatening to do the same to Iran. You really don’t think Christian-dominated nations wouldn’t stick together if one of them was attacked by a powerful Muslim foe?

  7. A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things.

    So true :(

  8. I’ve been noticing recently that many people simply don’t understand hypotheticals, and are completely lost when it comes to thought experiments. I even know some otherwise brilliant people who lack this skill in abstract reasoning. Towards the end of Better Angels, Steven Pinker also talked about cross-cultural and cross-generational research into abstract thinking: to some people that approach to reasoning makes no sense. I am very curious to know what it feels like to them to encounter such an argument.

    Among Harris’ detractors I see a lot of confused, or poorly-directed anger, and I wonder if any of that comes from frustration. I can imagine, if I saw a piece of writing with words and phrases used by people I don’t like, and I couldn’t understand how they were being used, I’d probably get angry too, and I’d scan through the writing to try and pick out what it was that annoyed me so much. Hopefully, I’d stop short of assuming I was right, and making a damn case out of not understanding what I’d read.

    • In reply to #22 by Misfire:

      I’ve been noticing recently that many people simply don’t understand hypotheticals, and are completely lost when it comes to thought experiments. I even know some otherwise brilliant people who lack this skill in abstract reasoning. Towards the end of Better Angels, Steven Pinker also talked about cross-cultural and cross-generational research into abstract thinking: to some people that approach to reasoning makes no sense. I am very curious to know what it feels like to them to encounter such an argument.

      Among Harris’ detractors I see a lot of confused, or poorly-directed anger, and I wonder if any of that comes from frustration. I can imagine, if I saw a piece of writing with words and phrases used by people I don’t like, and I couldn’t understand how they were being used, I’d probably get angry too, and I’d scan through the writing to try and pick out what it was that annoyed me so much. Hopefully, I’d stop short of assuming I was right, and making a damn case out of not understanding what I’d read.

      Yes, but these ‘abstract hypotheticals’ of Harris’ about torture, profiling, nuclear first-strikes against fundamentalist Muslim nations, etc are taking place in the context of The War on Terror … and may have real-world consequences. Harris of course has every right to dream up ticking time bomb scenarios or any other hypothetical he wants, but he shouldn’t so thin-skinned if others think he is being irresponsible. As a ‘Harris detractor’, I do admit to feeling anger on this subject… As an American I just lived through 8 years of George W Bush and his multiple wars of aggression, I get a little sore when people like Harris who should no better seem to be blaming the victims. And by the way, I do agree with Harris that Islam is a harmful religion.

    • In reply to #22 by Misfire:

      I’ve been noticing recently that many people simply don’t understand hypotheticals, and are completely lost when it comes to thought experiments. I even know some otherwise brilliant people who lack this skill in abstract reasoning.

      The problem with Harris’ hypothetical scenarios is that the scenarios he chooses to contemplate reveal more about his fears and less about the real world probabilities.

      Yes, hypothetically and theoretically I do agree with much of his logic and enjoy a lot of his writing. In this global reality however, the US influence is constantly really present in many muslim countries, causing constant real conflict for many people in their daily business. To many decent people in these muslim countries, seeing The West as an aggressor isn’t just a hypothetical thought experiment, it is real life. A muslim getting killed by an American weapon is immensely more probable than an American getting killed by a muslim jihadist bomb. Horrible though the 9/11 was, the opposite body count is far greater. So worrying about a muslim attack on the US does seem very self-centered. That is an understandable human trait, but Harris should be much more careful about it terms of his ethical philosophy.

      Also, he continuously keeps stating that islamic terrorism is mostly about theology with little social, political or economic reasons behind it. This statement is ludicrous. It is based on the words of the most extreme individual jihadists, who are extreme people living in their extreme delusions instead of the reality.

      If the conflict is mainly about religious doctrines, why does this terrorism most often target the deeply religious USA, not the mostly atheist Scandinavia? Compared to the average American, the Scandinavian ideas of theology and the place of religion in daily life are in a much deeper contrast with Islam. Yet we see little muslim hatred against Nordic countries, as even the sad cartoon incident of Denmark quieted down quite soon. Is it perhaps the Scandinavian attitude of working quietly, taking humble and careful steps instead of insisting on a strong global political and economic influence and declaring the Islam an enemy?

      Most muslims, just like any other people, do not think about theology all the time. They might be deeply offended about criticism of Islam, but soon enough forget about it and go on about their daily business. But given enough social, economic and political aggravation, the attitudes of otherwise peaceful masses do take a small gradual shift towards supporting some elements of extremism. Even though jihad might be a part of a theological doctrine, it is the social inequity that turns on the tribal feelings and turns certain passive verses into active action.

      It is not unreasonable to say that this quiet socially, economically and politically based support has a lot to do with the existence of religious extremism and terrorism. Nor is it unreasonable to think that gradually removing the present social and economic inequity will effectively remove the quiet, but essential passive support fueling this active religious extremism. Simply blaming this violence on religious doctrines declares a whole culture an ideological enemy. Expecting people to suddenly disavow their cultural background and indoctrinated religious feelings is not a reasonable solution.

      • In reply to #29 by ColdThinker:

        The problem with Harris’ hypothetical scenarios is that the scenarios he chooses to contemplate reveal more about his fears and less about the real world probabilities.

        I consider this statement evidence that you didn’t read the article. In the section about torture, Harris points out that the hypothetical scenarios are there to force us to consider our weightings of the two values being put into conflict: categorically condemning torture and categorically condemning collateral damage (and he implies throughout that he is against the US casual treatment of collateral damage, so he’s hardly avoiding the real-world US atrocities). The point was to show the double standard employed by people who accept one but not the other, and to criticize their resulting ethical views. He points out that critics are missing the point when they start deconstructing the scenario for its “realism” because that’s to miss the point it makes about our current ethical judgements. I don’t think that particular scenario is likely, whatever Harris says, but I agree with his underlying point about the double standard, which is what he was really going for.

        Also, ad hominem. You implicitly suggested that Harris biased his argument as a result of his fear, presumably to make it look like he was distorting the case to support a prior conclusion. Quite apart from the dishonesty of your tactic, Harris puts his reasoning up front: suicide terrorism is espoused by the jihad, and this means that, if such people acquire long-range nuclear weapons, they will not be dissuaded from using them by a policy of deterrence. Whether or not it is likely that they will get long-range nuclear weapons – and here is where I would depart from him – I find his argument otherwise sound. In any case, if you think fear motivates him, why is this wrong? Have you considered the possibility that his fear is legitimate?

        Yes, hypothetically and theoretically I do agree with much of his logic and enjoy a lot of his writing. In this global reality however, the US influence is constantly really present in many muslim countries, causing constant real conflict for many people in their daily business. To many decent people in these muslim countries, seeing The West as an aggressor isn’t just a hypothetical thought experiment, it is real life.

        Firstly, you start here, and continue through the rest of your post, to depart from the actual issues at stake. The point is not to show that muslim citizens don’t have a reason to feel aggrieved for atrocities committed upon them by the US. The point is that people are denying the relevance of religion to the discussion, are misconstruing Harris’ worst-case hypotheticals with exculpation of US policy, and are generally confusing criticism of Islamic tenets with discrimination of muslim people. At no point during your post do you acknowledge this point, and yet you respond to an article which you seem not to have actually read.

        Secondly, you were talking earlier about hypothetical scenarios, but have now switched to claiming that Harris is avoiding the realities of the US presence in Islamic countries – which is simply muddled. Again, I conclude you did not read the article. Harris makes a point of discussing “collateral damage” and many other atrocities committed by the US military, and he seems to be careful in making sure that he doesn’t claim to actually support what they do. In any case, this doesn’t effect his points that Islamic-inspired legislation and dogma is a real problem, and he indicates as such in the article.

        A muslim getting killed by an American weapon is immensely more probable than an American getting killed by a muslim jihadist bomb. Horrible though the 9/11 was, the opposite body count is far greater.

        Firstly, do you have the reliable statistics to support this claim? Secondly, pointing out that someone else’s crimes were worse proves nothing. The original crimes still stand.

        So worrying about a muslim attack on the US does seem very self-centered. That is an understandable human trait, but Harris should be much more careful about it terms of his ethical philosophy.

        Again, it seems you have not read the article. Harris’ concerns aren’t solely about reprisals aimed at the US. His concerns over the way the muslims treat each other, and how they treat women, apostates, critics, and “infidels” do not fall under the “military” umbrella you have erected. Also, his ethical philosophy (for future reference, “ethics” will suffice) does not rely on ethnocentrism. His hypothetical example of a time bomb and a silent suspect could be applied just as well whatever the individuals’ ethnicity or religion.

        While he does stress that, in the real world, and given both their beliefs and degrees of belief, Islam is more likely to be the cause of a major terrorist attack, now we are moving from hypotheticals to the real world, and this is also where he justified treating Islam differently. He points out that given the beliefs they espouse, the most likely candidate for committing a mass atrocity on religious grounds is an Islamic bomber. This point was against the claim that he should treat all religions as equally bad, not against the notion that Americans can’t commit equivalent atrocities or war crimes. He lays out his reasoning elsewhere by comparing them to Mormons, Christians, and Vajrayana and Zen Buddhists to show how different they are.

        And again, ad hominem. Now you’re suggesting Harris is being partisan and tribalistic, which is moving him to ignore US atrocities. Given that he has condemned US military practices and does not focus exclusively on military policy, this is simply a false accusation of whitewashing.

        Also, he continuously keeps stating that islamic terrorism is mostly about theology with little social, political or economic reasons behind it.

        Actually, he is pointing out that commentators on the scene are going out of their way to ignore the professed beliefs of the jihadists themselves. I don’t recall him ruling out social, political, or economic reasons, and he makes the case that most of the atrocities conducted by muslims aren’t aimed at outsiders but at other muslims, and explicitly on the grounds of religious belief. He does point out that there is a double standard when people receive different reasons for any particular action, and the clear indication is that people are not so much avoiding political and social ones as avoiding religious ones.

        This statement is ludicrous.

        Why is it? We have plenty of reasons to think terrorism can be motivated just as much by religious convictions as by political and social ones; indeed, more reasons, as religion provides explicit, divinely authoritative, and tribalistic moral codes that justify using violence and mass killing on others.

        It is based on the words of the most extreme individual jihadists, who are extreme people living in their extreme delusions instead of the reality.

        And the jihadists are the ones conducting the terrorism, which is why you are making a hash of your point here.

        In any case, what are they taking to the “extreme”? Harris points out that they’re the ones who take the religious doctrines at face value and the most seriously. And they are not alone; many muslims impose their codes and morality on others under pain of death. The most vociferous muslim critics of their actions are usually apostates and non-muslims, such as Salman Rushdie, as Harris, again, points out in the article and in his writings elsewhere. Those “extreme delusions” are based on religious doctrines they are convinced are true. Why should we not listen to what the terrorists themselves are saying about their own actions?

        If the conflict is mainly about religious doctrines, why does this terrorism most often target the deeply religious USA, not the mostly atheist Scandinavia? Compared to the average American, the Scandinavian ideas of theology and the place of religion in daily life are in a much deeper contrast with Islam. Yet we see little muslim hatred against Nordic countries, as even the sad cartoon incident of Denmark quieted down quite soon. Is it perhaps the Scandinavian attitude of working quietly, taking humble and careful steps instead of insisting on a strong global political and economic influence and declaring the Islam an enemy?

        The US is, quite simply, the most conspicuous superpower that would oppose Islamic countries. No one’s denying that the two sides have an atrocious military history, but again Harris points out – in the article – that Islamic atrocities are not purely about the history of military atrocities. You gloss over the campaigns that followed the Danish cartoon publication, but this is precisely the point Harris makes; people are so keen to attribute Islam-influenced violence to Western imperialism that they ignore or downplay the many cases that don’t fit that explanation. Harris points out that many muslims in such countries want to become martyrs and go to paradise (based on the testimony of those same muslims) and that there are also powerful muslims who want to impose their religious laws on the rest of the world. And you make the bizarre error of thinking that religious-inspired violence must target non-religious countries first. If anything, religious-inspired violence will target those who are seen to insult, desecrate, or challenge the believers’ religious tenets, which is precisely what we have seen and continue to see. If the military aspect alone really was a campaign of revenge against Western Imperialism for intervention or for economic ruin, then why are the terrorists mostly well-educated and affluent muslims who believe passionately in the teachings of their religion, including martyrdom and paradise?

        Most muslims, just like any other people, do not think about theology all the time. They might be deeply offended about criticism of Islam, but soon enough forget about it and go on about their daily business.

        You are downplaying the counterpoints, and I consider this both dishonest and immensely callous with regard to the victims of those “criticisms”. The ayatollahs have not “forgotten” about Rushdie’s heresy or about the apostates in their midst, as the apostates have to hide from them all the time or risk death. I’d be quite willing to predict that the same muslims who committed violence in the wake of the controversies Harris points out were largely the same individuals each time. And religion comes with a lifestyle – including daily practice – so saying people “do not think about theology all the time” is either banally trivial (no one thinks about anything all the time) or simply deceptive on your part, since religions play a large part in many people’s lives, and ally themselves with personal and group identities and one’s ethical conduct. To imply that religious people don’t take their views particularly seriously – to the point that it doesn’t matter much in their daily business and is separate from it – is simply to betray one’s ignorance of how religious belief is working in such cases, and suggests either ignorance of religious psychology or denial of it.

        But given enough social, economic and political aggravation, the attitudes of otherwise peaceful masses do take a small gradual shift towards supporting some elements of extremism. Even though jihad might be a part of a theological doctrine, it is the social inequity that turns on the tribal feelings and turns certain passive verses into active action.

        It is not unreasonable to say that this quiet socially, economically and politically based support has a lot to do with the existence of religious extremism and terrorism. Nor is it unreasonable to think that gradually removing the present social and economic inequity will effectively remove the quiet, but essential passive support fueling this active religious extremism. Simply blaming this violence on religious doctrines declares a whole culture an ideological enemy. Expecting people to suddenly disavow their cultural background and indoctrinated religious feelings is not a reasonable solution.

        No one has suggested any such thing, so the only possible reason to bring it up is to erect a straw man argument. Read Harris’ article. He is not advocating that people “suddenly disavow their cultural background and indoctrinated religious feelings” at all. His criticism is aimed at the political left who insist on avoiding or dancing around real and consequential issues as a result of an unwillingness to be caught criticizing religion. When you say that “blaming this violence on religious doctrines declares a whole culture an ideological enemy”, you aren’t addressing Harris’ point that there’s a difference between criticizing ideas and beliefs that people act upon with criticizing people as a group, and again reveal that you aren’t engaging with the article.

        To use an analogy that I hope clarifies the difference, I dare say blaming the Holocaust on Nazism declares the German culture of the 40s an “ideological enemy”, but that’s the point; even though Germany was economically and socially weakened after the fallout of WWI, it was the Nazi party’s immoral and delusional tenets, combined with its ability to seize power in the chaos and its ability to rouse hatred of the countries that left Germany economically weak in the first place, that led to the massacre of many innocent lives under its government. In principle, the same thing applies to the conflict with Islamic countries; the Islamic parties use the atrocities of the West to justify its wielding of political power and to impose its Islamic agenda on the populace, though in this case the populace may identify as muslims even though they don’t always “practice what they preach”, so to speak. The result is what we see; religious terrorism, religious “morality” leading to sexism, discrimination, and religious killing, and a hypersensitivity to criticism. The biggest impediment to bringing relief to Islamic countries is Islam itself.

    • In reply to #25 by Fouad Boussetta:

      A just-fresh-from-the-oven piece by Jerry Coyne:

      http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/islamophobia-again/

      Short, but exhaustive. What do you think of it?

      Although I certainly agree with Coyne (and Harris for that matter) that much harm comes to the world out of mainstream Islamic attitudes towards apostasy, women’s rights, etc., I think so many of these critics seem nearly blind to the equal or worse harm unleashed via Western militarism. Indeed, as I explained above, I think the evidence actually shows that our aggressive wars (and support for theocratic oil-rich regimes like Saudia Arabia) actually enable the most violent and oppressive factions of Islam to stay in power and continue to oppress women, gays, free-thinkers, etc. Bombing countries to rubble does nothing to favor progressive attitudes and policies (see the Vietnam War and its facilitation of the emergence of the Khmer Rouge as an example). OK, but what does that have to do with religion, a lot of you may ask? A lot more than you might think. On this very site Dawkins has often highlighted the link between fundamentalist Christianity and blind support for the US military, and George W Bush’s election had everything to do with the religious right. Greenwald is not objecting to Harris’ or anyone else’s critiques of Islam, what he objecting to is the almost willful blindness to the even more destructive actions and policies carried out by Christian nations. This is a sort selective outrage machine (as Jon Stewart recently condemned in Fox News and its attitude towards blacks in a very different context), quite convenient for the architects of the profitable War on Terror.

      • In reply to Clevehicks above: “Bombing countries to rubble does nothing to favor progressive attitudes and policies (see the Vietnam War and its facilitation of the emergence of the Khmer Rouge as an example).”

        But isn’t Vietnam a nice place to visit now?

        • In reply to #30 by ConnedCatholic:

          In reply to Clevehicks above: “Bombing countries to rubble does nothing to favor progressive attitudes and policies (see the Vietnam War and its facilitation of the emergence of the Khmer Rouge as an example).”

          But isn’t Vietnam a nice place to visit now?

          Well, actually the Vietnam War and Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia destabilized the latter country which is what led to Pol Pot’s coming to power there (so it has been argued). But regarding Vietnam, even if it is better country now, does that excuse the occupiers from causing the deaths of several million Vietnamese? Actually, I would argue that it was decades of war with foreign occupiers (the French, the Japanese, and particularly the Americans) that actually destroyed the country. Whether or not it has recovered 40 years after the bombing atrocities does not really bear on the issue.

  9. clevehicks 17

    With this I disagree, both with your lack of historical perspective and apparent inability to see the motivations of the actors on this scene.

    Funny, that’s exactly what I think is the problem with Harris. It’s as if he can only see honor killings, burkhas and Muslim homophobia but is blind to the US and allies’ bombings of wedding parties, drone attacks, Haditha, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, etc. Isn’t that always the way?

    You have magically managed to make invisible the most important word in my brief response: motivation. No one in the U.S. wants to kill children. When it is done, it is done by accident. The jihadists want to kill only the innocents (do you even remember 9/11?). Your fundamental flaw is that you cannot distinguish Intentionality from its opposite. This makes you incapable of judging the actions of others.

  10. I trust NO Muslim: not a wrinkled arthritic great-grandmother, not a professor of marine biology, not a fifteen-year-old girl born in Minneapolis. None. NOW BEFORE CERTAIN PEOPLE JUMP ALL OVER ME, I said I don’t trust them, not that I am advocating doing harm to them.

    • In reply to #42 by 78rpm:

      I trust NO Muslim: not a wrinkled arthritic great-grandmother, not a professor of marine biology, not a fifteen-year-old girl born in Minneapolis. None. NOW BEFORE CERTAIN PEOPLE JUMP ALL OVER ME, I said I don’t trust them, not that I am advocating doing harm to them.

      Good for you. Most people would be too embarrassed to admit they were intimidated by old ladies, nerds and little girls.

  11. Ok. Here’s my opinion. I agree with Sam Harris on pretty much everything. Islam is indeed probably the worst religion ever, in terms of harm done to people. However, it is also true that the unfair situation of the Palestinians, Iraqis and others is not helping matters. It radicalizes more and and more angry Muslims every day.

    I think that the Obama administration is right to disengage itself from that part of the world. Muslims will not be able to blame the US for all their failings anymore now. Hopefully they’ll understand that Islam is the problem for them, not the solution.

    Another thing: I think drones are really great, if not perfect. The US can’t just sit down and do nothing while Al-Qaeda and other jihadists regroup, organize new terror attacks, prepare takeovers of Muslim countries, and so on. No weapon has ZERO collateral damage, but drones have LESS collateral damage than wars, bombings, invasions, etc… They are more targeted. And, again, pacifism is definitely not an option.

  12. From the OP:

    When I called Glenn Greenwald’s attention to how he had misrepresented me by publicly endorsing Hussain’s article, he wrote a nearly identical article of his own on The Guardian website.

    A teriffic article by Glenn Greenwald, and one which I hope everyone here reads. The following in particular perfectly describes the attitude of many on this site:

    Here’s a 2008 interview with the great war journalist Chris Hedges on what he concluded after reviewing the work of “New Atheists” such as Harris and Hitchens: “I was appalled at how they essentially co-opted secular language to present the same kind of chauvinism, intolerance, and bigotry that we see in the Christian right.”

    “They’re secular fundamentalists. . . . I find that it’s, like the Christian right, a fear based movement. It’s a movement that is very much a reaction to 9/11. The kinds of things that they write about Muslims could be lifted from the most rabid sermon by a radical fundamentalist.”

    Having dealt somewhat extensively with Harris and many of his supporters this week, I can say that I haven’t encountered such religious-type fervor and jingoistic and tribalistic self-love (My Side is superior to Theirs!!) in quite a long time.

    And this is just gravy:

    Meanwhile, even Christopher Hitchens – Harris’ comrade in US militarism – denounced Harris’ statement that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” Wrote Hitchens in 2006 shortly after Harris wrote that: “When I read Sam Harris’s irresponsible remark that only fascists seemed to have the right line, I murmured to myself: ‘Not while I’m alive, they won’t.’”

    I think Harris’ “fascists” comment is far from his worst statement – it has the limited significance I outlined – but if Christopher Hitchens, of all people, is telling you that you’re being “irresponsible” in your anti-Islam advocacy, that’s a pretty strong sign that you’ve gone way too far.

    • In reply to #48 by Katy Cordeth:

      Meanwhile, even Christopher Hitchens – Harris’ comrade in US militarism – denounced Harris’ statement that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” Wrote Hitchens in 2006 shortly after Harris wrote that: “When I read Sam Harris’s irresponsible remark that only fascists seemed to have the right line, I murmured to myself: ‘Not while I’m alive, they won’t.’”

      I think Harris’ “fascists” comment is far from his worst statement – it has the limited significance I outlined – but if Christopher Hitchens, of all people, is telling you that you’re being “irresponsible” in your anti-Islam advocacy, that’s a pretty strong sign that you’ve gone way too far.

      I think that both Harris’ and Hitchens’ comments have been mis-read here.

      When Harris said that “the people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists”, it can be taken as read that he obviously didn’t think that the fascists were talking more sensibly than HE was on the subject (or a small number of other liberals who may share his view). He was making the point that liberals IN GENERAL were not talking as sensibly as fascists on this very particular point.

      Hitchens’ comment that Harris was irresponsible, appears to me to criticise Harris for putting fascists in a good light. But that was obviously not Harris’ intention; his comment was meant to put the majority of liberals in a BAD light, not put fascists in a GOOD light. Hitchens may well have realised this but knew – correctly – that Harris’ comment would be mis-interpreted by many as a praise for fascists. Hitchens does not criticise Harris’ view on Islam. I think Hitchens is rising to Harris’ challenge, and confirming that he will never allow fascists to have the upper hand.

      • In reply to #66 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

        Hitchens may well have realised this but knew – correctly – that Harris’ comment would be mis-interpreted by many as a praise for fascists.

        Think we can be fairly certain Hitch immediately realised that Sam would not only be misunderstood, but also misrepresented. He was not criticising Sam.

      • In reply to #66 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

        In reply to #67 by Peter Grant:

        I do love it when people are here confronted with inconvenient truths about people they admire. They jump through hoops in an attempt to show that “No, Christopher would never have disagreed with Sam; there’s that photograph of them sitting around a table with the other Horsemen, for goodness’ sake!”, or “Obama isn’t really a Christian, he’s much too smart for that.”

        Phrases like “We can take it as read” and “I think we can be fairly certain” crop up. These can roughly be translated into “I don’t have any evidence to support this, but I want it to be true.”

        Quite touching, really.

        • In reply to #68 by Katy Cordeth:

          I have read a lot of both Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. This gives me a very good feeling for what they mean when even short phrases are quoted. Can you say the same?

          • In reply to #69 by Peter Grant:

            In reply to #68 by Katy Cordeth:

            I have read a lot of both Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. This gives me a very good feeling for what they mean when even short phrases are quoted. Can you say the same?

            I haven’t read anything by Sam Harris, apart from his articles which have been submitted to this site. I only got about halfway through God is Not Great, I’m afraid.

            It’s a rare talent, notwithstanding a familiarity with his or her writings, to be able to infer what an author probably meant based on a few short phrases.

            I’ve read everything Stephen King ever had published, but if I heard him say “I’d quite like a sandwich”, I don’t think I’d have the courage to say that this meant he didn’t actually want a sandwich and was in fact full. I’d take him at his word and just assume he was peckish.

            Of course, unlike King, Hitchens is sadly no longer with us. It’s therefore possible to project anything we like onto the man. It reminds me a bit of this.

          • In reply to #71 by Katy Cordeth:

            It’s a rare talent, notwithstanding a familiarity with his or her writings, to be able to infer what an author probably meant based on a few short phrases.

            Evidently.

            I never met Hitchens, but I knew him.

          • In reply to #71 by Katy Cordeth:

            It’s a rare talent, notwithstanding a familiarity with his or her writings, to be able to infer what an author probably meant based on a few short phrases.

            Katy, did you never have to do Shakespeare at school? ;-)

            I’ve read everything Stephen King ever had published, but if I heard him say “I’d quite like a sandwich”, I don’t think I’d have the courage to say that this meant he didn’t actually want a sandwich and was in fact full. I’d take him at his word and just assume he was peckish.

            If you’re referring to the way I interpreted the comments by Harris and Hitchens, I don’t think you can claim that I’ve inferred the direct opposite meaning from what either of them said. I accept that both their comments are open to some interpretation, and I can’t be 100% sure I’ve interpreted them both correctly, but I think my interpretations are very valid possibilities, and knowing both writers as well as I do through reading their books and listening to many hours of their debates, I remain very confident in my judgement on this.

        • In reply to #68 by Katy Cordeth:

          I do love it when people are here confronted with inconvenient truths about people they admire. They jump through hoops in an attempt to show that “No, Christopher would never have disagreed with Sam; there’s that photograph of them sitting around a table with the other Horsemen, for goodness’ sake!”, or “Obama isn’t really a Christian, he’s much too smart for that.”

          Phrases like “We can take it as read” and “I think we can be fairly certain” crop up. These can roughly be translated into “I don’t have any evidence to support this, but I want it to be true.”

          Quite touching, really.

          That’s simply not true because I’m quite willing, for example, to recognise that Hitchens supported the Iraq war and Harris didn’t. They both clearly and unequivocally stated this. They disagreed on that very important issue. The people who are jumping through hoops are the ones who translate Harris’ “I did not support the Iraq war” to mean “I did support the Iraq war”.

  13. Glenn Greenwald’s ridiculous article is fun to read: here.
    What’s even more fun to read is the 3869 comments following it.
    I was genuinely saddened though by the video of professor Chomsky, whom I respect a lot, even if I don’t always share his views.
    His intellect is definitely affected by age: he doesn’t understand what he’s asked and/or he forgets what it was seconds after it’s been asked! :(

  14. I’m sorry to those siding with Greenwald or arguing that Harris is downplaying the actions of the US government, but I think this argument plays down to nothing more than a pathetic “he started it” volley.
    The threat of Islam is a valid point, regardless of past attrocities by the US. If you really want to bring in all past actions and weigh them up on some moral scales then hey, we killed Hitler.
    The point is the teachings of Islam and the attitudes of those most devout are fundamentally dangerous. Of course the majority are moderates that would never commit such attrocities, the case is the same with Christianity of which the fundamentals are evil and dangerous too. However I would find it hard to argue that any Christians, or Jews, or Atheists, or Hindus no matter how fundamentalist would agree, from an ideological standpoint, that it is ok to bomb the middle east to destroy Islam. Sure, fundamentalist Christians may want to make Christianity a mandatory religion, imprison homosexuals and atheists and outlaw abortion and womans rights, but killing is strickly against the teachings of Christ. They might want to bomb the middle east out of fear, but they know it’s wrong. Christianity is somewhat a threat to western freedoms, but not our lives.
    On the other hand, it is an undeniably fundamental teaching of Islam to destroy all infidels, even at the expense of your own life.
    Islam is clearly the most dangerous religion on the the planet at this present moment and a very real threat to those in and around the middle east and possibly the rest of the western world. As pointed out previously, even 0.7% of the Muslim population being fundamentalist equates to tens of millions of very dangerous people.

    Once again as Harris has tried to point out, this is the religion of Islam, not the races or cultures of the middle east, who are the victims of Islam, most of whom I sincerely feel for, and I detest everything the US government have done in regards to the “war on terror”, with the exception of increased airport security. I am not downplaying the involvment of the US, but I am pointing out the threat of Islam.
    I don’t believe Harris is doing anything different.

  15. I’m not sure any minds will be changed, but I’d urge critics of Harris (and/or fans of Greenwald) to read the following two articles by Robby Bensinger:

    Greenwald and Hussain on Sam Harris and Racism

    Is “Islamophobia” Real?

    On a lighter note, I thought this tweet by @rhyshalliwell was rather funny:

    @SamHarrisOrg I’m writing an article about you condoning the pushing of fat people in front of trains. I’ve got quotes and everything!

  16. This is what I said in Comment 42: “I trust NO Muslim: not a wrinkled arthritic great-grandmother, not a professor of marine biology, not a fifteen-year-old girl born in Minneapolis. None. NOW BEFORE CERTAIN PEOPLE JUMP ALL OVER ME, I said I don’t trust them, not that I am advocating doing harm to them.” Now comes Katy Cordeth in Comment 45, telling me I am intimidated. Excuse me, I said I don’t trust them. Don’t read intimidation into this. I am not intimidated by a guy claiming he has the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge and will sell it to me cheap. IT’S JUST THAT I DON’T TRUST HIM.

  17. Harris’s ideas are always interesting and frequently correct. However, his apparent belief that major media outlets are after him is paranoid and self-absorbed. Nobody at Salon or anywhere else cares enough about Sam Harris to spend time discrediting him. He does that all by himself in delusional pieces like this one.

  18. I admire much of Sam Harris’s writings, but he does come across as a bit thinned skinned occasionally. On the other hand some of his critics are taking his words and taking them to mean things he never wrote. Sam says the civilized world must “fight” radical Islam, but does that mean he supports wide spread war? My reading of Harris’s work indicates he means education, speaking out against the common atrocities committed in the name of Islam, and admitting that the many terrorist acts committed by muslims are in fact inspired by their religion.

    Harris says that, today, Islam is the most violent religion on Earth. I’d have to agree. How many people has the Pope ordered Christians to assassinate during last few decades? None that I know of. How many people have Christians stoned to death in the last fifty years? Maybe one or two in Uganda, but it is a common occurrence in the world of Islam. Do Islamic countries have large crowds cheering when a politician is killed for opposing blasphemy laws? Yes. Do thousands of people in Islamic countries riot and kill when a bad movie is made that insults their religion? Yes. Do even “moderate” Islamic countries round up atheist bloggers and have crowds of many tens of thousands calling for their death? Yes. Do the Koran and Hadith explicitly call for the death of apostates? Yes.

    I think it is fair to say that large segments of Islamic culture are at the same ethical and moral development as Christendom was about 800 years ago.

  19. I read everything by Sam Harris, except “Letter to a Christian Nation”, which I listened to in my car.
    I liked and agreed with pretty much everything he offered, except for his dismissive trashing in one paragraph of the work of Jonathan Haidt, in “The Moral Landscape”. Please check Haidt in Wikipedia.

    I found “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens hilarious. That man was so learned and so witty.
    He wanted to see Saddam Hussein stopped from massacring the Kurds in northern Iraq, among other things, but well, we now see that US intervention only made things worse, across the board. So Hitchens was really wrong about Iraq.

      • In reply to #77 by Peter Grant:

        Haidt is a “group selectionist”, enough said.

        Yes, I know… I also think he’s wrong in thinking that maybe group selection was at work in shaping our moral behavior (especially our group loyalties). But that does not make him wrong on everything else he says.

        I just love Sam Harris, but I think he’s mistaken in thinking that everyone has the same moral intuitions that he has himself.

        Jonathan Haidt had the graciousness of offering us (on this website) free access to a PDF of his chapter on evolution from his last book. I bought that book, “The Righteous Mind”, read it, and while still not convinced by the group selection stuff he suggests, I agreed with everything else.

        I think that we have different moral foundations to our behaviors, and that we have them in different quantities.
        A person could be less compassionate but more loyal, for example. Hence our different religious and political attitudes.

        Anyway, I don’t think that Hitchens being wrong on Iraq, Harris being wrong on morality, or Haidt being wrong on group selection makes any one of them an idiot. No one’s perfect, not even you or me. :)

  20. In reply to #80 by Fouad Boussetta:

    Yes, I know… I also think he’s wrong in thinking that maybe group selection was at work in shaping our moral behavior (especially our group loyalties).

    We know that Haidt is wrong about “group selection”, science is not a matter of opinion.

    I just love Sam Harris, but I think he’s mistaken in thinking that everyone has the same moral intuitions that he has himself.

    Sam thinks no such thing, some “moral intuitions” are just wrong.

    I think that we have different moral foundations to our behaviors, and that we have them in different quantities.
    A person could be less compassionate but more loyal, for example. Hence our different religious and political attitudes.

    Haidt is also a moral relativist, he doesn’t believe in right or wrong.

    • In reply to #81 by Peter Grant:

      We know that Haidt is wrong about “group selection”, science is not a matter of opinion.
      Some “moral intuitions” are just wrong.
      Haidt is also a moral relativist, he doesn’t believe in right or wrong.

      Ok. We agree to disagree. Science progresses and is sometimes corrected. For example, the Newtonian view of the universe was modified by the Einsteinian one.

      And what you think is morally wrong may be morally right for me.

      I see you hail from South Africa. You have there the very smart philosopher David Benatar, who is a moral absolutist like you. Since he is very reasonable and very compassionate, he thinks bringing someone into existence is wrong, and he thinks that programmed human extinction is a very good idea! Very logical, but very disgusting to me. In that way of “right and wrong” thinking, madness lies.

      Anyway, your famous compatriot’s book is entitled “Better Never to Have Been” if you’re curious. Me, I am going to stick by to my moral intuitions, thank you.

      Cheers.

      • In reply to #82 by Fouad Boussetta:

        Ok. We agree to disagree.

        Not going to happen.

        Science progresses and is sometimes corrected. For example, the Newtonian view of the universe was modified by the Einsteinian one.

        Newtonian mechanics is still useful, but Einstein’s relativity is even more right. You should read The Relativity of Wrong by Isaac Asimov.

        And what you think is morally wrong may be morally right for me.

        Nonsense, that simply means one of us is confused.

        I see you hail from South Africa. You have there the very smart philosopher David Benatar, who is a moral absolutist like you.

        No, I am not! Morality based on scientific induction is necessarily non-absolutist. Absolutism is almost as bad as relativism.

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