Glenn Greenwald takes apart Sam Harris


While Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins are seen as leading lights of the New Atheist movement of which I consider myself a member, I have come to detest their views on a large number of political and social positions, seeing them as lackeys of the neo-imperialism that is driving the western assault on the rest of the world and responsible for immense amounts of suffering. There is an overweening smugness about their sense of their own, and their tribe’s, superiority over those dastardly Muslims that I find unseemly.

Glenn Greenwald completely tears into Sam Harris’s political views, especially involving Islam and the war on terror. Harris and Christopher Hitchens have absolutely repellant political views and (along with Richard Dawkins) seem to let their deep anti-Islam animus drive their political thinking.

It is a long article that I agree with almost entirely. I strongly urge people to read it. (You should also read the email exchanges between the two that gives the background.) Here are two brief sections from the Greenwald article.

Let’s first quickly dispense with some obvious strawmen. Of course one can legitimately criticize Islam without being bigoted or racist. That’s self-evident, and nobody is contesting it. And of course there are some Muslim individuals who do heinous things in the name of their religion – just like there are extremists in all religions who do awful and violent things in the name of that religion, yet receive far less attention than the bad acts of Muslims (here are some very recent examples). Yes, “honor killings” and the suppression of women by some Muslims are heinous, just as the collaboration of US and Ugandan Christians to enact laws to execute homosexuals is heinous, and just as the religious-driven, violent occupation of Palestine, attacks on gays, and suppression of women by some Israeli Jews in the name of Judaism is heinous. That some Muslims commit atrocities in the name of their religion (like some people of every religion do) is also too self-evident to merit debate, but it has nothing to do with the criticisms of Harris.

Nonetheless, Harris defenders such as the neoconservative David Frum want to pretend that criticisms of Harris consist of nothing more than the claim that, as Frum put it this week, “it’s OK to be an atheist, so long as you omit Islam from your list of the religions to which you object.” That’s a wildly dishonest summary of the criticisms of Harris as well as people like Dawkins and Hitchens; absolutely nobody is arguing anything like that. Any atheist is going to be critical of the world’s major religions, including Islam, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

As I noted before, a long-time British journalist friend of mine wrote to me shortly before I began writing at the Guardian to warn me of a particular strain plaguing the British liberal intellectual class; he wrote: “nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle.” That – “defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” – is precisely what describes the political work of Harris and friends. It fuels the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west and justifies (often explicitly) the policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at them. It’s not as vulgar as the rantings of Pam Geller or as crude as the bloodthirsty theories of Alan Dershowitz, but it’s coming from a similar place and advancing the same cause.

I welcome, and value, aggressive critiques of faith and religion, including from Sam Harris and some of these others New Atheists whose views I’m criticizing here. But many terms can be used to accurately describe the practice of depicting Islam and Muslims as the supreme threat to all that is good in the world. “Rational”, “intellectual” and “well-intentioned” are most definitely not among them.

Greenwald’s critique is a thing of beauty. “Defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” is also a characteristic of those so-called liberal interventionists that I wrote about earlier.

Comments

  1. filethirteen says

    I’m torn. It was a struggle reading Glenn Greenwald’s article because I didn’t see much in the first eight paragraphs other than character assassination of Harris. But he does eventually make some points worth reading. Paragraph 15 in particular:

    Most important of all – to me – is the fact that Harris has used his views about Islam to justify a wide range of vile policies aimed primarily if not exclusively at Muslims, from torture (“there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like ‘water-boarding’ may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary”); to steadfast support for Israel, which he considers morally superior to its Muslim adversaries (“In their analyses of US and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. . . . there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah”); to anti-Muslim profiling (“We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it”); to state violence (“On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right. This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that ‘liberals are soft on terrorism.’ It is, and they are”).

    Those do seem to be some particularly repellent views of Harris (repeated at the end of the Greenwald article; actually they seem largely to be the point of it).

    On the other hand, the problem with “Defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” is that it doesn’t follow that if you criticize something you defend its opponent, no matter how vitriolic that criticism may be (eg. it doesn’t make me a Republican if I criticize the Democrats). It’s Greenwald being disingenuous here.

    As much as I find those views of Harris’s distasteful, I also despise religion and Islam is a particularly foul example because of plenty of things other than terrorists and jihad. Case in point, Boko Haram. I could be a lot more understanding of Islam if it just had better rules for treating women, but I’m not holding my breath.

  2. unnullifier says

    I’m torn. It was a struggle reading Glenn Greenwald’s article because I didn’t see much in the first eight paragraphs other than character assassination of Harris. …

    Perhaps you’re suffering from selective vision. What I read was largely factual, with some parts that could be argued are the author’s opinion.

    On the other hand, the problem with “Defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” is that it doesn’t follow that if you criticize something you defend its opponent, no matter how vitriolic that criticism may be (eg. it doesn’t make me a Republican if I criticize the Democrats). It’s Greenwald being disingenuous here.

    You’re strawmanning here, Greenwald says, right in after that sentence:

    It fuels the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west and justifies (often explicitly) the policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at them.

    This is talking about the propaganda advancing and justifying war in the middle east by western nations, led by the U.S., which Harris has contributed plenty to. It has nothing to do with his criticism of Islam.

    Frankly I was done with Harris after reading his debate with Bruce Schneier on whether we should profile “Muslims” at airport security. Harris made lot of very basic errors when it comes to managing security (such as the fact that you can’t visually observe that someone is a Muslim, and that terrorists come in more skin colors than just brown), and just generally talked past Schneier, which shows that he’s more interested in having profiling brown “Muslims” than understanding from a 25+ year security expert why his ideas about security are fatally flawed.

  3. says

    I’m a big fan of Greenwald’s except when he disagrees with Harris, at which point he completely loses the plot. I think there are reasonable criticisms to be made of Harris (and I made some over at PZ’s earlier), but Greenwald buries them under an avalanche of vitriolic noise.

    Greenwald also falls into a common trap. If you’re going to hit Harris on his so-called support for torture, go ahead, but honesty demands that you mention that he explicitly says torture should be illegal in all cases without exception. The fact that he thinks a highly unlikely “ticking-bomb scenario” might render torture morally defensible does not translate to “supports torture” without significant elaboration. Likewise, the suggestion that Harris’s profiling was targeted at brown people is simply false. The profile he recommends is not limited in any way, shape or form to “brown people”. I’m happy to accept Schneier’s expertise on the ultimate question of whether Harris’s plan makes good policy sense, but Schneier’s argument against that plan wasn’t “Because it’s racist.” It may be impractical, unworkable, or simply too expensive to implement (all arguments Schneier made), but it’s not racist.

  4. aashiq says

    Greenwald is awesome. He is right-on.

    This Islamaphobia is outrageous, specially when perpetrated by Jews, who should know better given the history of anti-Semitism.

  5. unnullifier says

    drewvogel, the profile Sam Harris recommended was “anyone who could conceivably be Muslim“. Tell me, how would you define this in a way that could be taught to TSA employees and written in an SOP manual? Schneier repeatedly points out that this would end up being reduced to people who look ethnically Arabic/Semitic, and Harris does not refute that analysis once. So yes, it is “brown people”. Even if that wasn’t Schneier’s concern, and even if you or Harris want to act cute and dance around words, the net result is that the profile would be–in the real world–a “profile brown people” policy. Which would be a racist policy, regardless of whether its advocates and implementers are or are not. This is on top of all the failings Schneier pointed out.

  6. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    Ditto on the right-on, Mano. Harris has a long history of making outrageous statements then claiming he was quoted out of context or other nonsense. He is a bog standard neocon along with Hitchens, which is why the media promotes them as “leading lights” of atheism rather than giants like Ingersoll. Harris is on record rationalizing a preemptive nuclear strike on any Muslim nation that acquires the bomb.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_End_of_Faith

    Unfortunately many atheists seem to be far too receptive to anti-Muslim propaganda due to their general hostility to religion and willingness to accept without question anything evil said against it. There are far too many atheists who imagine themselves informed about Islam based on mass media caricatures, as if one could understand the whole of Japanese culture and its amazing refinement from the crude stereotypes of WWII propaganda films. Critical thinking shouldn’t stop at the church exit.

    Of course it is acceptable to criticize religion but that criticism should be based on facts, not propaganda. Care should be taken not to cross the line into chauvinism and bigotry, not that creeps like Harris are interested in exercising such care.

  7. Holms says

    drewvogel
    I’m a big fan of Greenwald’s except when he disagrees with Harris, at which point he completely loses the plot. I think there are reasonable criticisms to be made of Harris (and I made some over at PZ’s earlier), but Greenwald buries them under an avalanche of vitriolic noise.

    By ‘vitriolic noise’ I assume you mean ‘thoroughly documented excerpts of Harris’ arguments and political positions, followed by criticisms based on those excerpts’.

    unnullifier
    drewvogel, the profile Sam Harris recommended was “anyone who could conceivably be Muslim“. Tell me, how would you define this in a way that could be taught to TSA employees and written in an SOP manual? Schneier repeatedly points out that this would end up being reduced to people who look ethnically Arabic/Semitic, and Harris does not refute that analysis once. So yes, it is “brown people”.

    Even worse, if we take the approach that profiling based on religion does not imply any particular race, since any race can hold any religion, then Harris’ advice on profiling “anyone who could conceivably be Muslim” becomes meaningless, as that cannot be discerned.

  8. says

    unnullifier:
    drewvogel, the profile Sam Harris recommended was “anyone who could conceivably be Muslim“

    He also explicitly tied it to appearance, so much so that he quipped that he knew it could apply to him. So, he exposed the underlying racial stereotype.

  9. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    If you’re going to hit Harris on his so-called support for torture, go ahead, but honesty demands that you mention that he explicitly says torture should be illegal in all cases without exception.

    He did a lot more than that. He also strongly implied that such ticking timebomb scenarios are frequent, and that in the cases when the good guys torture the bad guys with just cause, there should be jury nullification. Further, that this is such a big issue that we should inform everyone of these details to ensure that the good guys will get off the hook when they torture. Harris has some pedantically right points in there, but his nuance is all off.

    Regarding the airport profiling. Harris just being utterly ridiculous here. See his recent interview on the Young Turks where he tries with a straight face to argue for a meaningful distinction between positive profiling (e.g. “target those who look like Muslims”) vs negative profiling (“skip those who do not look like Muslims”). It’s ridiculous.

    Harris is on record rationalizing a preemptive nuclear strike on any Muslim nation that acquires the bomb.

    It’s a little more specific than that. It’s if a death-seeking sect of Muslims control a country and get the bomb. Not much better, but meh.

  10. mnb0 says

    “the New Atheist movement of which I consider myself a member”
    I call myself lucky that exactly because of Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins I never considered myself a New Atheist. Of course for me being Dutch it always has been easy to be completely open about it and now I’m talking about 25 years ago, long before the term New Atheism was coined.
    Obviously no New Atheist ever has been instrumental for my atheism. The guys who were have been dead for a while: Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (+ 1919), Bertrand Russell, though technically not an atheist (+ 1970), Anton Constandse (+ 1985). To me H, H and D never brought anything new.
    Because of the notorious Dutch islamophobe Geert Wilders Greenwald’s criticism isn’t new to me either. One example is that GW once explicitely proposed to shoot Moroccan (ie muslim) hooligans in the knees.

    http://vorige.nrc.nl/binnenland/article1826066.ece/Toon_PVV-leider_steeds_radicaler

    One of his lackeys proposed to hold razzia’s on headscarves in public transportation:

    http://partyflock.nl/topic/1111673:PVVer-Bontes-wil-dat-politie-vrouwen-met-hoofddoek-uit-bus-haalt

    Wilders is a non-believer.

    About the same applies to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who to my never-ceasing amazement is hailed by many an American atheist.

  11. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Bertrand Russell, though technically not an atheist (+ 1970),

    Not self-identified atheist at any rate. Whether he is an atheist is an argument over semantics. IMHO, he was.

    About the same applies to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who to my never-ceasing amazement is hailed by many an American atheist.

    We’re learning. We’re getting some exposure recently about how her views seem to be rather noxious.

  12. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    “It’s a little more specific than that. It’s if a death-seeking sect of Muslims control a country and get the bomb. Not much better, but meh.”

    The quote is actually rather general and seems to apply to all Islamic “regimes” which he imagines willing use nukes to attain paradise. I gave a link for the quote and the context earlier but here is part of it:

    “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.”

  13. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You originally said.

    Harris is on record rationalizing a preemptive nuclear strike on any Muslim nation that acquires the bomb.

    Then you backed it down to:

    The quote is actually rather general and seems to apply to all Islamic “regimes” which he imagines willing use nukes to attain paradise.

    I’m pretty sure Sam would agree that at this point, “Islamic” becomes superfluous to his views, and he also agrees to the following:
    The quote is actually rather general and seems to apply to all Islamic “regimes” which he imagines willing use nukes to attain paradise.

    I’m glad you gave citation. However, I don’t think it’s fair to see he’s for preemptively nuking any Muslim regime which get nukes. For example, I doubt that he views Turkey as a threat right now. I also don’t see him calling for the preemptive nuking of Pakistan (although everyone should be quite worried about the situation there AFAIK).

    Rather, it’s more Harris is for preemptive nuking of people who get nukes when there’s good evidence that they want death more than they want life.

    And then there’s all that Harris stuff about how the only plausible candidates in the near future are Muslim regimes.

    PS: A slogan used by Hamas towards Israel:
    We love death more than you love life

  14. Ben Finney says

    Is there something recent which has happened to draw attention to this Greenwald–Harris discussion from a year and a half ago?

  15. says

    It’s if a death-seeking sect of Muslims

    That’s actually another very thing Harris gets wrong. Other than that he’s ignoring the fact that many other religions are equally death-seeking and nihilistic, he had to add the “death-seeking” bit in there to parse around Pakistan, which has the bomb, and is islamic, and hasn’t yet nuked Israel. So Harris does the usual bend-over-backwards to protect Israel’s “right” to pre-emptive mass murder. For someone who wishes to pretend to be a philosopher (especially who writes books about morality!!) this is a huge error, as he completely ignores the great work that has been done on the question of whether defensive war is moral (hint: questionable) or pre-emptive war moral (hint: it’s not) Readers interested in that topic may want to read Cecile Fabre’s “The Morality of Defensive War” which fairly overviews current thinking on the topic.

    Those are the philosophical arguments against the “death-seeking islamic regime” myth that Harris wishes to promote, but there are practical arguments against it as well. A simple one is the observation that many muslim states have substantial conventional military forces which, if they were suicidal, could be used to do horrific damage to Israel anyway. Sure, they’d suffer catastrophic damage in the process and might lose their entire military, but if they are “death-seeking” and “suicidal” that wouldn’t bother them, now, would it?? The fact that this hasn’t happened yet (indeed, the fact that most islamic states grit their teeth and tolerate Israelis carrying out assassinations within their scientific communities – an act of war – without launching a counter-offensive) is prima facie evidence that there are no actual “death-seeking” “suicidal” islamic states at all. Thus, Harris is arguing for a pre-emptive ‘right’ to mass murder as a ‘rational’ response to something that doesn’t actually and almost certainly never will exist.

    Harris, as a moral philosopher, isn’t even a good neuroscientist.

  16. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Marcus Ranum says

    whether defensive war is moral (hint: questionable)

    That just makes you batshit insane and suicidal. I’ll take a pass on your ludicrous anarchist views.

    PS: I do agree that Harris isn’t the prime example of honesty and good thinking in these examples.

  17. says

    …an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise…

    How would any nation’s intelligence community verify such a characteristic before dropping the bomb? More to the point, how would they verify it to the satisfaction of bigots like Cheney or Harris, who would have already staked their entire political careers on the presumption that the regime in question was indeed such a threat that it had to be nuked, and who would automatically ascribe lack of proof to a nefarious coverup by the enemy regime?

  18. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    I don’t know what’s going on inside Harris’s head, I can only go by his words. His words are clear enough. He regards Islam as a “cult of death” which is “seeking paradise.” I don’t see much room for nuance in that opinion. He also doesn’t explain how we determine which Islamic countries are “dewy-eyed” enough to warrant nuclear annihilation. It is typical of Harris to make extreme statements like this and then cry foul when people call him on them.

    “PS: A slogan used by Hamas towards Israel:
    We love death more than you love life”

    That little chestnut surfaces every couple of years and is a favorite of Islamophobes. It conveniently reverses Western propaganda and puts it in the mouths of unspecified Muslims (we are a culture of life while they are a suicidal death cult). It seems to stem from Palwatch, an anti-Muslim propaganda site. I have seen no credible site give a source for this comment.

    I can believe many things, but that any Palestinian would accuse the US and Israel of “loving life” isn’t one of them. In either case inflamed rhetoric whether real or not seems a weak standard for determining candidates for nuclear annihilation.

  19. Holms says

    “I don’t know what’s going on inside Harris’s head, I can only go by his words. His words are clear enough. He regards Islam as a “cult of death” which is “seeking paradise.” I don’t see much room for nuance in that opinion. He also doesn’t explain how we determine which Islamic countries are “dewy-eyed” enough to warrant nuclear annihilation. It is typical of Harris to make extreme statements like this and then cry foul when people call him on them.”

    It is, unfortunately, a fairly common tactic in many a contentious debate. Make extreme claims of your opponents, but sprinkle it with terms that are subjective or malleable in interpretation. Then, when called on your ridiculous claims, point to the words that can be interpreted as being less hard-line, less severe, and declare your initial statement exonerated of all charges of being over-the-top because some of the hyperbole can be interpreted as less than extreme.

  20. Martin Gelfan says

    Islamic jihadism, or radical islam, or whatever it might be called, is a problem, and I don’t think that Greenwald and his ilk understand why it’s the problem that it is as well as commenters like Harris and Hitchens do.
    The justification for the behaviors that atheists, Jews, and Christians consider barbaric (entirely unjust and morally wrong) is actually written in the holy texts of Islam.

    It’s generally agreed that Islam can be given a medieval, violent, radical, jihadist interpretation. Thankfully (hopefully) the extant evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Muslims (call them ‘modernized’) have opted for a kinder, gentler Islam that promotes justice and respect for all people (and not just male Muslims).

    However, an overwhelming majority of modernized Muslims still leaves room for as many as, say, 600 million who have been indoctrinated in the more or less medieval interpretation of the medieval texts that comprise the holy doctrines of Islam.

    What I’ve seen of results of relevant polls suggests that around 300 million Muslims remain staunchly ‘old school’.

    This is a number of people approximating the population of the U.S. who want to live in a theocratic world based on what most Muslims and non-Muslims regard as radical, outmoded, unjust, immoral, and indeed barbaric principles.

    Greenwald, Aslan, and others seem to want to gloss over and even minimize the threat to our world that is posed by that many believers in such repugnant doctrines, preferring instead to nitpick statements by Harris, Hitchens, et al.
    What they should be doing instead is denouncing the many millions of Muslims who support killing cartoonists for ridiculing the object of their faith, denouncing the texts that supply the justifications for those sorts of behaviors, and denouncing publications that have refused to denounce those texts — while realizing that while the rest of us might not want to think that we are, in effect, at war with Islam, there are nevertheless a significant number of the world’s Muslims which ARE at war with us.

    Anyway, having read lots of stuff by all of the main commenters, I have to say that Harris’ assertions generally make sense to me. I don’t think that Greenwald and Aslan are what I would refer to as ‘heavyweight thinkers’ in the same class as Harris.

    It would indeed be better if airport security in the U.S. could be more efficiently and effectively employed. But this isn’t Israel, and the average TSA employee has neither the expertise nor the inclination to make the sorts of observations and judgements that Israeli security officers have become very good at because it’s an everyday matter of life or death for them. Schneier and Harris were talking about different aspects of the problem. It wasn’t a debate as much as just an informative discussion.

    Regarding Harris’ assertions regarding the use of torture and preemptive strikes, and considering the conditions under which he would endorse such actions, I have to agree that those actions make sense and are justifiable with regard to certain criteria and certain conditions. At least as far as I’ve been able to think them through.

    Greenwald writes, “That – ‘defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle’ – is precisely what describes the political work of Harris and friends. It fuels the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west and justifies (often explicitly) the policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at them.”

    Which seems a bit ironic since “policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at” infidels, apostates, women, and the modern world (modern morality and justice) in general that are believed in and supported by a disturbingly large number of Muslims throughout the world. That’s a lot more people than a few hundred million (give or take) ‘old school’ Muslims who revel in the killing of people who ridicule their faith.

    People like Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, have it right I think. The world’s three main monotheistic religions and their willfully ignorant believers should be criticized, exposed for what they are, and ridiculed. The problem with radical Islam is that for hundreds of millions of Muslims it isn’t radical — it’s the real Islam, and anybody who doesn’t believe in and practice it is to be either converted to the faith, subjugated by the faithful, or killed.

  21. Martin Gelfan says

    Sam Harris:
    …an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise…

    Raging Bee:
    How would any nation’s intelligence community verify such a characteristic before dropping the bomb? More to the point, how would they verify it to the satisfaction of bigots like Cheney or Harris, who would have already staked their entire political careers on the presumption that the regime in question was indeed such a threat that it had to be nuked, and who would automatically ascribe lack of proof to a nefarious coverup by the enemy regime?
    ————————
    I though that was a rather entertaining turn of phrase by Harris. Maybe you shouldn’t take it literally. Think of it as poking fun at certain (ridiculous) beliefs and the Muslims who believe them.
    Also, I don’t see anything in Harris’ writing to suggest that he’s a bigot. Nor does he have a political career, as far as I know.
    Anyway, if Iran (or any other Islamic state) is ever deemed to be about to develop and possess long range nuclear weapons, then I’m sure that the rulers of the ‘free’ world will be considering how to neutralize that possible threat. Nuking such states would be one option.

    It’s possible for close to entire national populations and their rulers to be ‘old school’ Muslims. Personally, I don’t want my rulers to assume that any Islamic state that is on the verge of long range nuclear capability is one that subscribes to a more or less ‘modern’ (as in, not likely to attack anybody with nuclear weapons) interpretation of Islam. I would rather they err on the side of assuming that it might be old school. Which means that any threat that they might pose should be taken seriously and dealt with.

    I do not want to live in a world dominated by old school Islam, aka radical Islam, or Islamism, or jihadism, whatever.
    I want a world where beliefs like that are literally laughed at by everybody except those who actually believe them. Hopefully wars and nukes won’t be necessary. Maybe we can satirize and parody and laugh them into submission. But first we do have to recognize them for what they believe they are — our enemies.

  22. Martin Gelfan says

    Mano Singham:
    Harris and Christopher Hitchens have absolutely repellant political views and (along with Richard Dawkins) seem to let their deep anti-Islam animus drive their political thinking.
    ————————
    Yes, of course they have a “deep anti-Islam animus”. I should think that any critical-thinking, rational person would have an anti-Islam animus. And yes, of course that animus drives their political thinking insofar as it relates to Islamic beliefs and behaviors. But that doesn’t make their political views repellant. Unless you happen to think that there’s something, anything good to be said about Islam.

    ——————————–

    Mano Singham:
    Greenwald’s critique is a thing of beauty. “Defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” is also a characteristic of those so-called liberal interventionists that I wrote about earlier.
    ———————-
    Greewald’s ‘critique’ isn’t much more than an unwarranted and unscrupulous attempt to discredit Harris. Nice quote, but hardly a beautiful critique, since it’s probably not even true. I’ve read a lot of Harris’ stuff, and that’s not where he’s coming from. If there’s any pretending being done, it’s being done by Greenwald. But what should be expected of a lawyer and a journalist. Lawyers and journalists, notorious liars. Not necessarily considered a bad thing in those professions I suppose. But how can you have a good critical conversation with people whose biases allow, even require, them to tell lies?
    Anyway, Greenwald just looks like a sleazy weasel to me.

    Nice blog and discussion site. I had to make a few comments since I like the depth and clarity of Harris’ writing, and Greenwald’s stuff on Harris seemed like so much quasi-liberal knee jerk reactionary and largely ad hominem ranting serving to obfuscate rather than clarify points of argument.

    When I found out that Greenwald is a lawyer and a journalist it made sense. Greenwald is a player. Harris is a thinker. I tend to trust thinkers more than I do players.

    The question at hand is whether or not fundamentalist Islam is a threat, and if so why, and to what extent. Greenwald seems to want to look at everything but that question, including calling Harris unwarranted names. I’ve often found that when somebody tries to demonize somebody to the extent that Greenwald (and Aslan, et al.) has tried to demonize Harris, then there’s some sort of bias compelling that behavior. It certainly doesn’t help to answer the question or further the discussion.

    I certainly think that, in the current context of apparently increasing jihadist activity, the fact that the killers say they are killing for Islam, and the fact that possibly hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that the killings are right according their Muslim beliefs, then we have to conclude that there’s some sort of global-scale problem for modernized (mostly Western) nations with regard to old school Muslims and the Islam that they believe in and practice.

  23. says

    I though that was a rather entertaining turn of phrase by Harris. Maybe you shouldn’t take it literally.

    So you’re saying he was just kidding and we should all lighten up? That’s the same excuse we hear from people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh whenever their “serious” commentary is shown to be full of shit.

    But in a way you have a good point — maybe we shouldn’t take Harris seriously at all.

  24. Martin Gelfan says

    Raging Bee:
    So you’re saying he was just kidding and we should all lighten up?
    ——————————
    No, that’s not what I wrote.
    ———————————
    Raging Bee:
    That’s the same excuse we hear from people like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh whenever their “serious” commentary is shown to be full of shit.
    ———————————-
    Your statement above is based on something you wrote, not something I wrote. Apparently you’re not entirely clear about what I meant by “Maybe you shouldn’t take it literally.” Sometimes a figurative phrase might be used to illustrate or emphasize a point. The point being that a rather disturbing number of Muslims seem to be emotionally attached to the ‘old school’ interpretation of Islam (i.e., reveling in response to the fall of the twin towers, the killing of the Charlie Hebdo employees, etc., and violent mass protests in response to the publishing of cartoons or whatever that ridicules or demeans Islam or the prophet, etc.). At least that’s the assumption based on various data sources, especially poll data, including first hand anecdotal evidence.

    Maybe you think that old school Islam doesn’t present a serious problem for the well being of the rest of humanity that doesn’t subscribe to it? If so, we can discuss that. I’m not sure exactly where you stand on this. I did enjoy reading some of your blog postings. I hope it’s clear by now that I think that Harris is the heavyweight thinker in this mashup. I think that Greenwald et al. realize this and that that’s part of why they’re attempting to discredit Harris. Greenwald, Aslan and that ilk are obviously biased. Harris’ bias is not so obvious to me. I read his arguments and they make sense to me.

    It’s really demeaning for somebody such as Harris to have to deal with the nonsense of people like Greenwald, Aslan, and, for goodness sake, Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck? I saw a video of that Bill Maher show where Affleck couldn’t control his political (or moral) correctness compulsion. Having not done his homework, Affleck apparently got some info (maybe his agent’s take) on Harris from somebody in his entourage and then proceeded to interrupt Harris repeatedly during Harris’ segment of the show with inane PC outbursts, thereby ensuring that there would be no rational discussion of problems with and within Islam for the remainder of the show.

    If one thinks that Islam isn’t a problem, then one has to find some way to obviate the negative force for the development of modern civilization presented by the hundreds of millions of old school Muslims who believe in theocracy, and sharia law, including the subjugation of women and infidels, and violent jihad in response to real and imagined insults to their religion.

    Just exactly how does the rest of the world get these Muslims to lighten up and join the rest of us in the 21st century?
    ——————————–
    Raging Bee:
    But in a way you have a good point — maybe we shouldn’t take Harris seriously at all.
    ———————————-
    That wasn’t my point, and would be a big mistake in my opinion. I suggest you refrain from making comments like, “So you’re saying he was …”, whatever. It’s disingenuous. If you honestly don’t know what somebody means by a certain phrase or word, then ask them what they mean.

    So, here’s a question for you. Is there a problem with old school Islam as it relates to the world at large and within Islam as it relates to the majority of (moderate, modernized) Muslims? It should be clear by now that Harris thinks there is. So the next thing one might want to ask him, rather than making knee jerk PC responses or engaging in unwarranted character assassination, might be something like “what exactly do you mean, and how do you know?”. It would be a step up from the usual bs that Harris detractors disseminate.

  25. Martin Gelfan says

    Having read a bit more stuff by and about Greenwald recently, I will say
    that I agree with pretty much, probably most, of what he writes and says.
    And I must say that Harris has seemed like a bit of a whiner in some
    of his recent talks/writings.
    But I do nonetheless think that certain assertions by Greenwald (and Aslan,
    and others) about Harris are totally unwarranted (and unconscionable even,
    considering the current situation).
    I had to smile at Chomsky calling Harris and Hitchens “religious fanatics”, in
    that they’re fanatical about their adherence to what they deem to be the principles
    that guide the foreign policies and actions of the U.S.
    I don’t think that that’s quite true, but I like Chomsky’s stuff so much that I’m
    willing to suspend judgement on that one for a while.
    Maybe one thing we can all agree on is that the U.S., given it’s track record
    of crimes against humanity and disregard for international law, is unquestionably
    not historically positioned to point fingers at the policies and practices of any other country.

    And, regardless of the extent of old school Islam, it’s certainly true that a huge factor
    determining jihadist behavior has been and is the policies and actions of the U.S., Britain,
    and Israel — and I think that in focusing more on the content of Islamic holy texts (and the
    extent of Muslim true believers in those texts) than on the illegal and often immoral
    actions of the U.S., Britain, and Israel, that Harris is somewhat off the mark.

    I mean, yes, the jihadist killers are shouting that their god and their prophet have been avenged, and
    so of course the Islamic texts which support this behavior have something to do with the
    behavior. But Harris doesn’t say much at all about the societal factors contributing to the behavior,
    which I, currently anyway, think are probably more important than belief in the religious texts.

    Then again, Islam has a glorious history of evangelical marauding, bent on converting, or
    subjugating, or killing infidels.

    Harris seems to be assuming that the old school Muslims would be doing their
    jihadist killing even without the provocation of the actions of the U.S. et al.
    I’m not sure that the evidence supports that assumption. If it doesn’t, then
    Harris’ contention(s) regarding Islam and old school Muslims are at least
    temporarily refuted. But not the fears, because the situation being what it is,
    regardless of which factors are playing and have played the most important
    roles, Muslim fundamentalism or old school Islam is a real and present
    threat to the well being of modern (i.e., ‘Western’) people and society.
    What it has to offer modern civilization is subjugation and suffering, and
    for that reason I remain vehemently opposed to old school Islam and
    those who adhere to its medieval doctrines.

  26. superlucky20 says

    Hi Mano,
    I have been a bit late in knowing about this spat between two people I admire. I have been reading Gleen Greenwald articles when he was in Salon and I read a lot. I really liked him and his conviction and putting a reasonable point of view in the matters of the day. It is not an understatement that his spin on things he wrote about I adopted myself. This especially holds true about the powerplays of the US government and their actions in other countries. For some reason or another, I stopped reading when he moved to the Guardian and haven’t been able to keep up with his articles.

    Sam Harris was a part of the so-called Four Horsemen and I kept up with most of their work, one of which was The End of Faith. That work leans more in the problems the US has with other countries especially in the Middle East and touches upon topics such as torture, profiling and the rightful use of nuclear weapons. Simply put, the way he addressed those topics went directly counter to Greenwald’s point of view, which I held as almost gospel truth. Being acquainted with Greenwald’s work gave me pause on what Harris wrote earlier and bits and pieces of what I heard about their disagreements later made me write Harris off. He was, in its face, writing pernicious stuff and I could not believe I took that on face value before.

    Recently, while surfing Youtube I chanced upon some videos of him and learned what his side really was. I was convinced. I had believed that concerning culpability, religions were the same since all religions are capable of producing bad things, like Islam was. I had also believed that the real reason for Muslim atrocities were things OTHER THAN their religion: history, living conditions, government, etc. But why do I believe this in the first place? Looking back, it was mainly Greenwald. I really liked his conviction about equality and fairness. But also in retrospect, I took it without thinking too much about it. Watching and reading Sam Harris later oiled up the gears in my head again: Why isn’t religion a credible factor? (Why not?) Is it so wrong to say that Islam is worse than other religions? (No, it isn’t.) Is it automatically racist to say such things? (No, it isn’t.) I had to think about these things again but more critically.

    Saying that Islam is a credible reason for the terrorism that happens all over the world is not new concept. Christian fundamentalists have been saying this for a very long time. But their main motivation to say that is that Islam runs counter to their religion. It is Ideology A vs Ideology B. That is not an acceptable reason for a freethinker who rejects both. But it takes an ideologue to know an ideologue and that was Sam’s point. Liberals find it hard to believe that believers could actually BELIEVE their religion enough to do WHAT IT ACTUALLY SAYS. Since Christians can ignore the reprehensible parts of the Bible, Muslims could surely do the same thing, right? Apparently not. Contemporary Christian thought should not be compared the same way to contemporary Muslim thought; they are different and should be handled differently. Saying such things would smack of bigotry, but why? I think we as modern people take the idea of equality and fairness for granted, so when we hear things like Islam is worse than Christianity, our knee-jerk reaction is to cry “Bigot!” or “Racist!” That’s why Greenwald automatically denounced such things as bigotry or racism: he is a self-appointed vanguard of such matters and reacted swiftly. Our wariness of being called bigots and racists stunts our own process of introspection. I’m glad I got over that.

    On topics of torture, profiling and nuclear weapons, he did explain himself quite well and was obviously misrepresented horribly by Greenwald. I can’t look at Greenwald the same way again.

  27. superlucky20 says

    To be clear, my statement before:

    “Since Christians can ignore the reprehensible parts of the Bible, Muslims could surely do the same thing, right? Apparently not.”

    I do not mean all Christians and all Muslims, only the significant numbers that take their holy books literally. Muslims seem to have a higher percentage of this since polls suggest they score highly in approval of death for apostasy, Sharia law and other things modern democracies do not approve of.

  28. Unbelievable says

    This slander of Sam Harris is disgraceful. Truly disgraceful and unbelievable. It’s as if you do not read his arguments AT ALL. He is a philosopher. Thought provocation, in other words, taking your mind to uncomfortable situations, is part of this field of study. That makes it incredibly easy to take quotes out of context and misrepresent views. A perfect example:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/dear-fellow-liberal2

    One who reads this and takes the disingenuous view of Greenwald should be ashamed of themselves. You are part of the problem, and it’s becoming more and more dangerous.

  29. alon marcus says

    Sad to see how many people fall for the usual distortions so typical of Greenwald writings. As usual taking sentences out of context to weave his typical agendas.

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