Playing the “Islamophobia” card

Sam Harris is peeved, and rightly so.  Two recent articles, one in Salon by Nathan Lean and the other in Al-Jazeera online by Murtaza Hussain, have mounted nasty (and misguided) attacks on New Atheism because of its perceived “Islamophobia.” I’ve previously dissected Lean’s piece (see the first link), and Hussain’s is just as bad. Here’s a bit of it:

In the present atmosphere, characterised by conflict with Muslim-majority nations, a new class of individuals have stepped in to give a veneer of scientific respectability to today’s politically-useful bigotry.

At the forefront of this modern scientific racism have been those prominently known as the “new atheist” scientists and philosophers. While they attempt to couch their language in the terms of pure critique of religious thought, in practice they exhibit many of the same tendencies toward generalisation and ethno-racial condescension as did their predecessors – particularly in their descriptions of Muslims.

To be utterly clear, Islam itself does not denote a race, and Muslims themselves come from every racial and ethnic grouping in the world. However, in their ostensibly impartial critiques of “religion” – and through the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto members of a religious group – the most prominent new atheists slide with ease into the most virulent racism imaginable.

No they don’t, and, as far as I know, no New Atheist has ever characterized Muslims as belonging to a single “race,” or even brought up race at all.  So what is this “virulent racism” decried by Hussain? This is what he says:

While one could cite Richard Dawkins’ descriptions of “Islamic barbarians” and Christopher Hitchens’ outright bloodlust towards Muslims – including lamentations of the ostensibly too-low death toll in the Battle of Fallujah and his satisfied account of cluster bombs tearing through the flesh of Iraqis – these have been widely discussed and are in any case not the most representative of this modern phenomena.

Indeed, the most illustrative demonstration of the new brand of scientific racism must be said to come from the popular author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. Among the most publicly visible of the new atheists, in the case of Muslims Harris has publicly stated his support for torture, pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, and the security profiling of not just Muslims themselves, but in his own words “anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim”.

Again, while Islam is not a race, those who are identified with Islam are the predominantly black and brown people who would be caught up in the charge of “looking Muslim” which Harris makes. Harris has also written in the past his belief that the “Muslim world” itself lacks the characteristic of honesty, and Muslims as a people “do not have a clue about what constitutes civil society”.

His sweeping generalisations about a constructed civilisation encompassing over a billion people are coupled with fevered warnings – parallel with the most noxious race propaganda of the past – about the purported demographic threat posed by immigrant Muslim birthrates to Western civilisation. . .

Indeed he makes the case for this violence explicitly, putting him in class with the worst proponents of scientific racism of the 20th century – including those who helped provide scientific justification for the horrors of European fascism.

Far from being a hyperbolic characterisation of his views, Harris has stated that the correct policy with regard to Western Muslim populations is in fact that which is currently being pursued by contemporary fascist movements today. In Harris’ view:

“The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”

Hussain ends with a call for atheists to part ways with Harris:

By resurrecting the worst excesses of scientific racism and its violent corollaries, Harris is heir to one of the most disreputable intellectual lineages in modern history.. . . Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview.

These quotes, and even the paraphrases, are taken out of context. Harris’s ruminations about torture were a general discussion of whether it could ever be justified, and weren’t limited to Muslims.  He didn’t profess “public support” for torture or pre-emptive nuclear weapons strikes, but merely raised the possibility for our consideration.  You may not agree with him, but he certainly wasn’t a “public advocate” for torture and nuclear strikes. As for security profiling, there is a case to be made for that, based not on racism but experience, that Muslim fliers might be given extra attention—indeed, that is what El Al seems to do. Indeed, Harris has said, I believe, that someone carrying the Qur’an on a plane might be inspected a bit more carefully, regardless of their “race.”

Hussain then tars Harris, and the rest of the New Atheists who decry the excesses of Islam, with the charge of “scientific racism,” basically equating them with eugenicists  But nobody has suggested selective elimination of Muslims, though we’ve certainly targeted the faith itself for special opprobrium.

As for Harris’s quote about fascism, well, let’s look at it in its context:

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.

While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.

The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

Harris is certainly not allying himself with “fascists,” here, but with liberals, and trying to call attention to the fact that liberal multiculturalism may be letting the dangers of Islam slip under the radar screen. He isn’t praising fascists, but saying that it is liberals who should be examining the consequences of Islamic belief.

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist with the Guardian, and formerly with Salon, took the truncated quote and ran with it on Twitter:

greenwaldThis led to an exchange of emails between Greenwald and Harris, which Sam has published, with permission, on his website. The participants are angry, especially Sam, and I think Harris gets the better of the discussion.  Greenwald levels the accusation of “Islamophobia” again (I swear, that pejorative term is never defined, and so resembles “scientism”), and Harris responds (my bolding):

Yes, I saw the Lean piece—also absurdly unfair. The idea that “new atheism” is a cover for a racist hatred of Muslims is ridiculous (and, again, crudely defamatory). I have written an entire book attacking Christianity. And do you know what happens when I or any of my “new atheist” colleagues criticize Christians for their irrational beliefs? They say, “Of course, you feel free to attack us, but you would never have the courage to criticize Islam.” As you can see, our Christian critics follow our work about as well as you do.

Needless to say, there are people who hate Arabs, Somalis, and other immigrants from predominantly Muslim societies for racist reasons. But if you can’t distinguish that sort of blind bigotry from a hatred and concern for dangerous, divisive, and irrational ideas—like a belief in martyrdom, or a notion of male “honor” that entails the virtual enslavement of women and girls—you are doing real harm to our public conversation. Everything I have ever said about Islam refers to the content and consequences of its doctrine. And, again, I have always emphasized that its primary victims are innocent Muslims—especially women and girls.

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

But go have a look at the exchange on Sam’s site.

The thing that distresses me the most, as I suspect it does Harris, is the fast-and-loose use of the term “Islamophobia”, intended as a brand of “racism,” to criticize those who emphasize the dangers of Islam.  This puzzles me, as New Atheists have never been accused of “Christian-phobia” or “Hindu-phobia.” There is a double standard at work here—one enacted in a misguided defense of multiculturalism and moral relativism.  Those who accuse others of “Islamophobia” are, I suspect, a bit bigoted themselves, for underlying it is the notion that we’re supposed to hold adherents of Islam to behavioral standards lower than those we expect from adherents to other faiths. It’s patronizing.

It is obvious to any objective person that, among all faiths, Islam poses the most danger to our world. Followers of which faith riot and kill over cartoons, subjugate women in the most offensive ways possible, send suicide bombers to weddings, blow up airplanes, buses, and embassies, advocate a form of law that would destroy democracy, issue fatwas and death threats against writers they don’t like, and espouse death to apostates, converts, and unbelievers? If you think that all religions are equally dangerous—that, for instance, Islam is no more dangerous than the Anglican Church, Quakers, or even Catholics (an invidious faith itself)—then you’re living in a fantasy world. If we had a choice to improve our world by dispelling just one brand of religious belief, I know which one I’d choose. That doesn’t mean, of course, that other faiths aren’t dangerous as well, or that we should work toward dispelling religious belief in general.

But what is Islamophobia?  It’s certainly not racism, because racism is a form of bigotry against people based on things they cannot change: the genes that make them look different from others. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, are not genetically based, can be changed, and are often inherently dangerous. It’s no more “racism” to criticize Islam than it is to criticize the beliefs of Republicans or Tories.

In truth, those who hurl charges of “Islamophobia” never define it. That’s because it is, at bottom, only “criticism of the tenets of Islam,” and that doesn’t sound so bad. And it’s all in the name of multiculturalism.  Indeed, ethnic diversity has good things going for it, as it exposes people to different points of view, enriches a society by exposing it to other cultures, and actually dispels racism by showing people that members of other “races” are human beings like themselves. It’s this exposure, in fact, that Peter Singer and Steve Pinker hold largely responsible for the increasing morality of our species. And I am proud to be a liberal who, like many of my kind, defends the benefits of multiculturalism.

But multiculturalism becomes dangerous when it leads one to turn a blind eye to the destructive aspects of other cultures, aspects that we shouldn’t celebrate but reject. This extolling of multiculturalism has in fact led directly to the unthinking defense of Islam. Those guilty of this are often liberal academics, which irks me no end as I see myself in that group. But I can’t ignore the excesses of Islam, particularly its subjugation and humiliation of women.  That’s half of the world they’re swathing in burqas, preventing from going to school or even driving, killing for violations of “honor,” and so on. If you want to see how ludicrously far Western academics have gone in defending the misogyny and other destructive tenets of Islam, see this article by Nick Cohen.

If there is “Islamophobia,” it would be bigotry against Muslims as humans: the unwillingness to afford them the respect and dignity due all members of H. sapiens, and the call to discriminate against them unjustly, immorally, or illegally. And yes, some extreme right-wingers practice that, and it underpins many anti-immigrant movements.  But, as I will keep saying until I’m worm food, that view is not the same as criticizing the tenets of religious belief or those who hold destructive, religiously-based views. And if such criticisms are made by unsavory people, that doesn’t discredit them. What matters are the ideas, not those who espouse them.  Every good idea is also held by some cranks.

If there is Islamophobia in any meaningful sense, it’s not something practiced by New Atheists. It is not racism or bigotry to criticize bad ideas and behaviors.

203 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    sub.

    Oh… and typo… “Follows of which faith”. “Followers”?

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      sub

      And another typo:

      That doesn’t mean, of course, that other faiths aren’t dangerous as well, or that we should work toward dispelling religious belief in general.

      “or that we should not work?”

      (That’s probably already been pointed out below–I’m just now getting to this thread…)

  2. Al
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    “These quotes, and even the paraphrases, are taken out of context. Harris’s ruminations about torture were a general discussion of whether it could ever be justified, and weren’t limited to Muslims.”

    That is simply not true. Harris has advocated the use of torture in the War on Terror

    “I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror” (In Defence of Torture)

    However, to Harris this is not really a war on terror, but a war on Islam.

    “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” (Harris, Bombing Our Illusions, 2005)

    Harris is only interested in ‘counter terrorism’ measures against Muslims. In fact, in the aftermath of the Norway shootings by Breivik, Harris seemed annoyed at the possibility that focus on security threats may divert away from Muslims:

    “we are bound to hear a lot of deluded talk about the dangers of Islamophobia and about the need to address the threat of “terrorism” in purely generic terms,” (Christian Terrorism and Islamophobia).

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Harris has advocated the use of torture in the War on Terror

      Did he?

      He advocated the use of the ticking time bomb scenario as an intellectual exercise on the topic of torture, but never advocated the use of torture as a general practice in the real world.

      Please supply an example of Harris advocating the actual use of torture as a general policy.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        Yes, I agree with Roger. You’ve distorted what Harris is saying, and apparently willfully. Please supply a quote that he’s advocated the use of torture in the War on Terror, and not as a theoretical possibility to ponder.

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          I think part of the problem with Harris’s writing is that, either because his style is inadequate or because he’s a little shifty and likes to have his cake and eat it too, he often muddies the boundaries between hypotheticals and realities. On the one hand, we are to be at war against Islam, while on the other, we are supposed to support this war because we favour the welfare of oppressed Muslims – those are mutually contradictory given that even oppressed Muslims will not want their faith taken away. I dislike it when people say that ‘bad’ Islam is just a perversion of ‘true’ Islam – there is something intrinsically wrong with the religion – but there is a certain amount of nuance that Harris lacks, so it’s no wonder he finds himself arguing against these pseudo-liberal idiocies.

          In any case, I don’t think the criticism of his take on torture is distortion, although, again, it seems to me that in some places he has considered it a practical necessity, and in others he says he’s just thinking through the question of principles, not practice. You should take a look at his 2005 HuffPo article (linked below) which he concludes like this:

          “Which way should the balance swing? Assuming that we want to maintain a coherent ethical position on these matters, this appears to be a circumstance of forced choice: if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.”

          That is very much a practical assessment advocating the use of torture in the real world given all the other violent things we are prepared to do (of course, it’s possible to read that same paragraph as the conclusion of a pacifist, but we know that Harris is not one of those).

          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/in-defense-of-torture_b_8993.html

          • Gary W
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

            No, the problem is not a lack of nuance in Harris’s writing. The problem is your attributing to him beliefs and positions that he did not express. You’re another Greenwald.

            • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              I don’t agree with Greenwald so you are, in turn, attributing to me beliefs that I did not express and do not hold. If you’d like to engage with the substance of my comments, or if you’d like to demonstrate that I have misinterpreted the quotation I provided, feel free to do so, but don’t imagine that you have a direct line to my unexpressed opinions because you are, in this instance, wholly wrong.

            • Gary W
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

              I don’t agree with Greenwald so you are, in turn, attributing to me beliefs that I did not express and do not hold.

              I said you’re another Greenwald. You “agree” with him in that you’re both smearing Sam Harris.

              If you’d like to engage with the substance of my comments

              You claimed that Harris’s statement that we are at war with Islam “contradicts” his concern for the welfare of oppressed Muslims. That claim is nonsense.

              You quoted a statement by Harris pointing out the inconsistency of endorsing wartime bombing and opposing all use of torture, and falsely claim that that statement “advocat[es] the use of torture in the real world.”

            • Gary W
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

              I don’t agree with Greenwald so you are, in turn, attributing to me beliefs that I did not express and do not hold.

              I said you’re another Greenwald. You “agree” with him in that you’re both smearing Sam Harris.

              If you’d like to engage with the substance of my comments

              You claimed that Harris’s statement that we are at war with Islam “contradicts” his concern for the welfare of oppressed Muslims. That claim is nonsense..

              You quoted a statement by Harris pointing out the inconsistency of endorsing wartime bombing and opposing all use of torture, and falsely claim that that statement “advocat[es] the use of torture in the real world.”

            • Marta
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

              The comment that Mr. Hackett wrote, above, is well-written and appropriately sourced.

              Agree, or not, as your sensibility dictates, but characterizing him as “another Greenwald” by way of short-circuiting a reasoned rebuttal does you little, if any, credit.

            • Gary W
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

              I clearly described the false claims in his comment. He is misrepresenting what Harris wrote.

          • Brian
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

            I’ll agree with your main point: Sam Harris does play rather fast and loose with rhetoric and is lacking in clarity of writing and thought. It doesn’t help his case. Frankly, if you are going to go around defending science and reason and talking about controversial issues, you’d darn well better know what you are talking about and how to clearly explain it or you are just asking for trouble.

            That said, when your opponents actively take every criticism of Islam as racism/bigotry and quote mine writing that is intended as provocative, they are going to find something no matter how careful and clear you are. Maybe Harris’ critics should learn some reading comprehension and listen to everything he says (they failed to comprehend a few things during the recent controversy). Then again, they wouldn’t be good critics of Harris if they did that and Harris invites it.

            Moreover, I think Jerry’s point was to find a place where Sam Harris advocated a particular torture policy enacted by the US government, say under Bush. I know of none. I know of the “ticking time bomb” hypothetical, but that’s pure fantasy, and the quote you provided was more a statement about being willing to torture if we are going to engage in our current warfare out of moral constancy and not prescribing a particular practical policy of torture (say that the US military considered). The critics of so-called Islamophobia are concerned with the real torture of real Muslims under the Bush administration and to my knowledge Harris didn’t explicitly support those policies. If he did, show us where he did, that would answer Jerry’s challenge.

            • Gary W
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              I think Sam suggests (rightly, in my view) that torture may be justified in a broader range of circumstances than just ticking time bomb scenarios. The TTB is just an extreme example used to make the argument that prohibition of all use of torture is not consistent with principles and practises that are broadly accepted in our society (e.g. the legitimacy of wartime bombing, even if it kills civilians). I’m not aware of any writing where Sam defends any specific instance of the use of torture by the Bush Administration, but neither am I aware of any place where he condemns all such instances.

          • Jay
            Posted April 4, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

            “we are supposed to support this war because we favour the welfare of oppressed Muslims – those are mutually contradictory given that even oppressed Muslims will not want their faith taken away.”

            Not really, in cases of Stockholm Syndrome, we would still be expected to act with regard to the welfare of the hostage.

            Would it be mutually contradictory to support a war on those who choose to employ children as soldiers, simply because those child soldiers did not want you to take their faith away? Plenty of those child soldiers grow into adults who retain the banner of those who poisoned their minds with dangerous ideology.

            I see nothing mutually contradictory about removing the poison before anybody else drinks the Kool-aid, regardless of how much the faithful want to chug it down.

      • Al
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        “Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking.”

        (The End of Faith, p. 198)

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          You are being extremely unscrupulous here. Page 198 of the “End of Faith” is about the ticking time bomb scenario.

          The sentence preceding the start of your quote is:

          “The bomb is ticking” !

          • Al
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

            The waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not a last ditch attempt to avert imminent disaster. It was a months-long exercise in the abuse of a detainee who the Senate Intelligence Committee reports yielded better intelligence under standard interrogation techniques than he ever did when waterboarded 183 times.

            • JBlilie
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

              “The waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was not a last ditch attempt to avert imminent disaster”

              You seem to have exhaustive, intimate knowledge of the state of US intelligence at the of KSM’s interrogations and Al Qaeda’s plans at that time. How did you acquire that knowledge?

            • Gary W
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              There does not seem to be any definitive answer regarding the effectiveness of the waterboarding of KSM. In contrast to your claim about the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, claims that it did produce information that led to the location of bin Laden.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                My understanding is that Rodriguez is technically correct: some information that helped locate bin Laden came from torture. This information was neither necessary or sufficient to find him though.

                What is also true is that much bad information came from torture that actually served to undermine and slow the search for bin Laden.

                What is also true is that we had enough information without torture to find bin Laden. We would have found him without torture.

                Ali Soufan, the former FBI interrogator and authore of “Black Banners”, is a good resource on this.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Here is an article by Soufan:

                http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/opinion/sunday/torture-lies-and-hollywood.html?_r=0

              • Gary W
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                What is also true is that much bad information came from torture that actually served to undermine and slow the search for bin Laden. What is also true is that we had enough information without torture to find bin Laden. We would have found him without torture.

                I don’t think either of these assertions is supported by the publicly-available evidence. We simply don’t know. In any case, Harris’s argument that torture may sometimes be justified does not depend on whether it “worked” in any particular case.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                I don’t think either of these assertions is supported by the publicly-available evidence.

                People who know the classified information contradict you on this. Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who was involved in interrogating Al Qaeda members from the start, and John McCain, for example, maintain that the belief that torture was needed to find bin Laden is false. Soufan maintains that when the classified information is released, the public will no longer hold this false belief.

                You didn’t read the link I provided perhaps.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                People who know the classified information contradict you on this. Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who was involved in interrogating Al Qaeda members from the start, and John McCain, for example, maintain that the belief that torture was needed to find bin Laden is false.

                As I said elsewhere, different government officials have made different claims regarding the role of enhanced interrogation techniques in locating bin Laden.

              • Mark
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

                Since this is a science website that celebrates skepticism, I’m not sure why we are supposed to be impressed with Rodrigeuz’s claim. The way to scientifically test whether torture produces useful information is to pick a target population, randomly torture half of them while not torturing the other half as the control group and then compare which group produces more correct information.

                Did Rodriguez engage in this experiment — which would probably be considered a war crime? If not, he is combining an assertion which cannot possibly be verified (and has been disputed by some other sources) with a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                Since this is a science website that celebrates skepticism, I’m not sure why we are supposed to be impressed with Rodrigeuz’s claim.

                Then I’m not sure why we’re supposed to be impressed with Ali Soufan’s or John McCain’s claims, either.

        • Curt Nelson
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Maybe there is one chance in a million that good information is given under torture but the chances that bad information is given may be 10-100 times greater, so torture may be (is, as I understand it) counterproductive. The ticking time bomb scenario is based on a false premise – that torture only tends to produce good information, and that it is more likely to produce good information than other interrogation tactics.

        • Brian
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          You aren’t being “extremely unscrupulous”, you answered Jerry’s challenge. Harris named names, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was a specific case where people claim the US government tortured him.

  3. Al
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    “as far as I know, no New Atheist has ever characterized Muslims as belonging to a single “race,” or even brought up race at all.”

    Which makes you wonder why Harris would call for ethnic profiling:

    “It is not enough for moderate Muslims to say “not in our name.” They must now police their own communities. They must offer unreserved assistance to western governments in locating the extremists in their midst. They must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling.”(Sam Harris, Bombing Our Illusions, Huff Post, 2005)

    • Glen L.
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Advocating ethnic profiling is not the same as considering one religous group as a race. It is a practical consideration, one of the very imperfect tools that we have designed to help prevent atrocities.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Al, please use your google machine to look up definitions of the words “ethnic” and “race”. Compare them. They aren’t the same.

      • Al
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        After you look up the definition of ethnic profiling, champ.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          I did. Turns out you ethnic profiling does not require the element of race. Now, go look up those two words, champ.

          • Al
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

            Look again.

            • Al
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

              Look here is the Open Society Justice Initiative:

              Ethnic profiling” is defined as the use by police, security, immigration or customs officials of generalisations based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin – rather than individual behaviour or
              objective evidence – as the basis for suspicion in directing discretionary law enforcement actions.

              Here are some other definitions

              “Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity.”

              -Deborah Ramirez, Jack McDevitt, Amy Farrell for US DoJ

              “Racially-biased policing occurs when law enforcement inappropriately considers race or ethnicity in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity.”

              Lorie Fridell, Robert Lunney, Drew Diamond and Bruce Kubu

              “racial profiling occurs when a police officer stops, questions, arrests, and/or searches someone solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.” -Jim Cleary

              • Lurchi
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                Wow, 2 of your definitions of ‘Ethnic Profiling’ are instead the definitions of ‘racial profiling’,
                Specifically (CAPS for emphasis):
                “RACIAL profiling occurs when a police officer stops, questions, arrests, and/or searches someone solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.” -Jim Cleary

                “RACIALLY-biased policing occurs when law enforcement inappropriately considers race or ethnicity in deciding with whom and how to intervene in an enforcement capacity.”

                The other two quotes state race and ethnicity as being two different things, lol you’ve defeated your own point yourself.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

                “…Any police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity, or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information…”

                “…“racial profiling occurs when a police officer stops, questions, arrests, and/or searches someone solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.”…

                That little word is critical. Race is not a necessary feature of ethnic profiling.

              • Al
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

                The point of the quotes is to show that ethnic profiling is the same thing as racial profiling.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

                The content of the quotes demonstrates that the are not he same.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      The profiling point made by Harris was one entirely based on the efficiency and efficacy of profiling applied to airport security. I don’t think Harris makes a good enough point on the efficacy argument, but it isn’t a racist attack on Muslims. As Jerry points out, the biggest raisers of the race card are Muslims themselves, or their misguided supporters.

      Some points…

      1) On the probability issue compare these, as profiles at a US airport security point:

      a) Some ‘white’ frail old lady with an American accent.
      b) Someone who is ‘non-white’, wears one of the many middle east dress styles that Islam itself prescribes, and has an accent that ‘might’ be associated with the Middle East.

      Place your bets on which, if either, is an Islamic terrorist that has undergone Islamist indoctrination and training in bomb making. It is an entirely statistical matter, since clearly there is no explicit profile for terrorists, of any kind. Character (a) might be an Islamist sympathiser because her daughter is married to an Islamist and she has been persuaded by their arguments; or some actual terrorist might have slipped some of his ‘tools’ into her carry-on baggage to be retrieved on board. Character (b) might be an ex-Muslim atheist campaigner against Islam who might be dressing ‘under cover’. But really, are these alternative possibilities likely?

      Any terrorist now might be wearing western dress, to avoid the more obvious stereotyping of dress style. And in this Harris includes himself as being a likely candidate to match this profile, and has said he would understand why he would be included in the profile. Is Harris racist against himself?

      2) Travelling from Thailand to any of the western European countries a ‘white’ ‘student’ should expect to be profiled for drug smuggling. If visiting countries where drug smuggling is known to occur I make a point of checking any baggage of mine that has been left unattended in hotel rooms before I leave for the airport. I don’t do that when travelling from European countries or the US back to the UK. So, I expect to be profiled, by my race if necessary, and I profile countries, by their known contribution to the drugs trade. Profiling based on the likelihood of targeting is what we all do. I wonder how many of these hypocritical ‘haters’ of Harris target him because of his Jewish descent (Jewish mother and Quaker father).

      3) In the UK during ‘The Troubles’, when the IRA where on a bombing campaign, many Irish people came under suspicion and might well have been profiled by airport security, had they targeted planes.

      Yes, the profiling would have a race element to it. But that does not make it racist in the sense that is victimising any particular race. It is a probabilistic argument about targeting for results.

      I have an Irish name; I was raised a protestant Christian, though my mother was originally Catholic. The North West of England has long history with Ireland, and at school I could bet on a good proportion of my class mates being of some Irish extraction. So, serious profiling of ‘Irish-like’ is pretty much out of the question in the UK. You’d have so many false positives that it wouldn’t produce results. And if anything it would encourage racist behaviour in those members of the security forces that are indeed racist.

      The same could probably be said of the profiling Harris suggested: the results might not be that good, and it would be a dream come true for some members of the TSA who have racist and sadistic tendencies.

      So I think the profiling Harris proposed back then would fail in many ways that would be counter to its purpose.

      But it isn’t racist. It’s statistical. Of all known Islamist terrorist so far, what proportion (statistical – get it?) do not match the profile Harris described? Do you think Harris doesn’t know there are ‘white’ Muslims, some of which may be persuaded by Islamists to support or take part in terrorist activities? Do you think he would not suggest profiling them, if he knew how to? In declaring himself in the profile do you not think he knows he also included many Jews and Christians from the Middle East? If you read what he says he makes this clear.

      That’s the point of profiling – making better use of resources, since a totally open investigation is inefficient. It’s what the police do. I think you’d be pretty upset if it was reported that a ‘white’ male had mugged an old lady and the police headed right down to the nearest ‘black’ neighbourhood to look for him. And you’d think they’d be pretty dumb if any identity parade included a variety of non-whites.

      Try to read into pieces what’s actually there, and not what you want to be there. Stop selectively reading the bits that support your preconceptions of what Harris is – that is after all what you are accusing him of doing. You are playing on what you pre-suppose his pre-conceptions of a Muslims is.

      • Kelton Barnsley
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        +1

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        + 2

    • Craig
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      “ethnic: of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.” (Miriam-Webster)

      Ethnic doesn’t have to mean racial.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        I look at this list and hear strains of “One of these things is not like the others…”

        Why don’t we include science and politics into the list along with religion? After all, a lot of people against modern science try to do this with their talk of “Western” medicine and “Eastern” medicine — two modalities which are simply “different.” And there are people who demonize the political opposition to the point where they won’t let you sit down in a restaurant if you voted for the wrong candidate. Why don’t we consider people with opposing views in science and politics to be different ethnic groups?

        Because this is dangerous and divisive, that’s why. It doesn’t fit. It automatically reclassifies empirical conclusions into tribal identities and that is BAD. It’s bad for the progress of knowledge, it’s bad for progress in morality — and it’s bad for progress in human relations.

        I would take “religion” out of that list of ethnicities for the same reasons I would remove science or politics. If you change your mind about God you do not lose everything that made you, you. You do not join another tribe and renounce your own. It shouldnt be interpreted that way because that’s not what happens.

    • Gary W
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      “as far as I know, no New Atheist has ever characterized Muslims as belonging to a single “race,” or even brought up race at all.” Which makes you wonder why Harris would call for ethnic profiling

      Endorsement of ethnic profiling does not imply the belief that Muslims belong to a single race. The problem here is not Harris’s position. It’s your faulty reasoning.

  4. Brian Vroman
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Lean or Hussain, but I think there is a great deal of concern in certain circles because of the hysteria drummed up by the Bush Administration to get Americans to support the Iraq War. Members of the general public are not always good at making subtle distinctions, and many think in terms of black and white rather than shades of grey. So there is concern that legitimate criticism of Islamic extremism can be co-opted by some politicians (such as the neo-cons in the first decade of this century)to promote an overly bellicose aganda. Thus I think it is important that, while tedious, caveats are constantly employed, to the effect that while we despise extremism and violence and we think Muslim (or other religious) beliefs are silly, we do not advocate hatred or bigotry or the oppression of any group.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      “we do not advocate hatred or bigotry or the oppression of any group”

      Opposing the ideas of Islam is not hatred or bigotry or oppression. And given the many examples of hatred and bigotry and oppression in the Islamic world, as a direct requirement of Islam, I’m not sure anyone can construe the same of Harris or any of the New Atheists.

      Search for this on Youtube: How To Beat Your Child Bride

      Then worry about where your worries are directed.

      • Brian Vroman
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        Well, I certainly agree that “opposing the ideas of Islam is not hatred or bigotry or oppression.” You will recall that I referred to such ideas as “silly.” As you point out, some permutations are also pernicious, as is the case with all the Abrahamic faiths. Whenever atrocities are committed (such as your example of child-bride beating) they should be condemned in the strongest terms, and in this country (ideally everywhere, but we don’t have that kind of power), they should be illegal, because they go beyond the free exercise of religion and instead involve the violation of the rights of the innocent.

        At the same time, not all Muslims engage in such actions. Consider Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison. He is the only Muslim in Congress, and he is among the most humane and progressive. There are other American and Western Muslim who, while deluded regarding their metaphysical beliefs, have shown themselves to be good citizens. Yet they sometimes face animus. In fact, one need not even be a Muslim for this to occur. You may remember that shortly after 911 a Sikh individual was beaten to death, because his ignorant attackers assumed that because he wore a turban he must be a Muslim.

        Here’s something to think about: After December 7, 1941, we had every right to fear Japan. Yet, we incarcerated tens of thousands of Japanese Americans (including the future Senator Inouye) who turned out to be completely loyal. Some of them even volunteered to serve in the army, and many were highly decorated.

        There are barbaric actions committed in the name of Islam: there is no doubt about this. My point was that this circumstance can be used by cynical politicians to drum up support for some really bad ideas, such as the war in Iraq. There is just a difference between condemning atrocities committed in the name of Islam or any other ideolgy, and passing beyond that to a degree of fear and hatred that leads to the support of military adventurism. The deaths of some four thousand Americans, plus tens of thousands wounded and in some cases maimed for life, attest to the fact that my worries are well founded.

    • Brian
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s even simpler than people being worried politicians will co-opt criticism. That is, it’s simpler than liberals worry about the general public thinking in black and white terms and falling for conservative rhetoric. I think it is more than liberals like Greenwald themselves think in the black and white terms. They’ve acquired a fear of things like the Holocaust and Jim Crow laws and thus think all forms of racism or intolerance or anything along those lines are just BAD. This leads of course to thinking any criticism of Islam or any public criticism of religion or any other aspect of someone’s culture is BAD. Thus even nuanced criticisms of specific behaviors and beliefs are dismissed as racism and BAD.

  5. dvandivere
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I was pretty troubled by Sam’s call to more closely screen anyone who ‘looks Muslim.’ It’s hard to interpret that as anything but ‘Arabic’ or maybe ‘Semitic.’ And it makes it too easy to latch onto as proof that it’s based in pre-existing bias.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Well what would you do? If *you* were tasked with looking for bombers would you spend equal time inspecting European tourists and grannies as people with Muslim characteristics? I think not. Surely, that is just common sense.

      • dvandivere
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        Richard Reid was the shoe bomber. Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Huda bin Abdul Haq did the bombings in Bali. One of the London bombers was black. Two of the London bombers were of Pakistani extraction.

        There’s just no such thing as ‘looking Muslim.’

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

          Look at my comment in response to Al. Profiling is a statistical approach: Of all known Islamist terrorist so far, what proportion (statistical – get it?) do not match the profile Harris described?

          • dvandivere
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

            Dude, I had to take 6 semesters of stats and probability (granted, it was 20 years ago), so please don’t try to talk down to me.

            He never described his profile beyond looking ‘Muslim,’ so I’ll assume he means Semitic. In that case, given my list, 0% looked Muslim. Think of the big Islamist attacks: you’ve got 9/11 (Arabic), shoe bomber (Black), London (mostly Pakistani with one Jamaican), Bali (Southeast Asians), Madrid (nobody knows), the Janjaweeb in Sudan (north African, mixed black and Arabic), etc., etc.

            Don’t know if you caught the discussion between Bruce Schneier and Harris on profiling, but Schneier explains why profiling based on appearances is statistically a bad approach: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-trouble-with-profiling

            • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

              The point Harris was making was about the efficacy and efficiency of profiling, and any targeted profiling is based on the likelihood of the profile producing better results that not profiling. Profiling is about increasing the chances of getting a true positive. As such you should, given your background, recognise that this is a statistics issue, for Harris, and not the racist one it is reported to be.

              That Harris might be wrong with his assessment of the statistical value of profiling in this case is another matter altogether, and is irrelevant to the charge of racism being made against Harris. I happen to think in this case Harris is wrong in that it would not be efficacious overall, and yes I did read his debate with Schneier, and I agree with some of Schneier’s points.

              “He never described his profile beyond looking ‘Muslim,’ so I’ll assume he means Semitic.”

              Then I think you assume wrong. Where do you get that idea from? Was Harris explicit on that point or did you make it up?

              And Arabs don’t look Muslim? Pakistani’s don’t look Muslim, when over 90% of Pakistanis are Muslims? Somali’s don’t look Muslim, when about 99% are Muslim? It is you that has a preconceived notion of what a Muslim looks like (Semitic). I would expect Harris to include all the above, including himself, in the profile.

              Again, being a statistical issue, and one of judgement on the spot. I doubt some insular American members of the TSA would know enough about cultures and religions to know how the do the profiling well to be worth while.

              So, again, while Harris might have it wrong on the efficacy of statistical profiling based on appearances, that is what he is proposing, and it is not racism.

              • dvandivere
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                I believe he mentioned his Jewish heritage in explaining why he included himself. He pretty clearly didn’t mean to include all black, South Asian and Southeast Asian ethnicities as well as Semitic ones. If you read his original quote in context, it’s pretty clear that he at least in that sentence was conflating ‘Muslim’ with ‘Semitic’. I interpret that more as a bad choice of words than racism, but like I said it was a problematic way to phrase it, because you need to read several more paragraphs to understand where he’s coming from.

                The point of Bruce Schneir’s article (which is actually a reaction to Harris’s proposal to screen “Muslims”) is that profiling based on appearance like that actually *doesn’t* work statistically. It’s counterintuitive and has to do with how you optimize the limited security resources you have.

            • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

              “He pretty clearly didn’t mean to include…”

              So you infer, by your own invention.

              “If you read his original quote in context, it’s pretty clear that he at least in that sentence was conflating ‘Muslim’ with ‘Semitic’.”

              Not clear to me. In some vague proportion that wasn’t specified, because it was a general point regarding Islamic terrorists who tend to be Muslim, I would read his as including anyone who could be taken from someone from the middle east, primarily, and then to a lesser extent from other areas of Islamist influence. Unless he gave us a specific list we’re both inferring stuff from what he said. Yours seems a less charitable inference. You seem to be hung up on this ‘Semitic’ element. You seem to be inferring it mainly, if not wholly, from the fact that he himself has the appearance of someone from the Middle East, in extremely general terms.

              “I interpret that more as a bad choice of words than racism, but like I said it was a problematic way to phrase it, because you need to read several more paragraphs to understand where he’s coming from.”

              And that is part of the complain Harris is making about quote mining. It is not his fault that they do not read further, or that the do read what they want into what he writes.

              “The point of Bruce Schneir’s article (which is actually a reaction to Harris’s proposal to screen “Muslims”) is that profiling based on appearance like that actually *doesn’t* work statistically.”

              I agree. But that doesn’t mean Harris is not making a statistical argument. It just means, from Schneir’s perspective, and from mine, that it’s not a good one.

              “It’s counterintuitive and has to do with how you optimize the limited security resources you have.”

              That’s as may be, but still irrelevant as to whether it was a (attempt at) an argument from statistical effectiveness as opposed to racism.

        • Iconify.it
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          Here is the number one problem with our entire approach to security:

          We react to the last person or group that attacked us and to the last method of attack they used. We wait for those who would do us harm to point out our vulnerabilities then try to plug them rather than find our own vulnerabilities.

          As long as we take this approach, we will continue to rely on unethical, short-sighted techniques like appearance-based profiling.

          • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

            Again, efficiency, resources, etc. So, what are the next direct threats that we should guard against, and what resources should we apply to them?

            If you can figure that out then where were you when 9/11 happened? Some of the culprits and their plans were known, in part, but enough to justify immediate action?

            How do you balance the art of letting the small fry that you’ve discovered play out their game in order to lead you to the bigger fry, without at the same time allowing a specific plot to go ahead?

            While your criticisms is valid, and I don’t think profiling worth it for other reasons too, you don’t actually propose anything better specifically that goes beyond wishful thinking.

            And you don’t really address the main point here, about whether Harris was being racist.

            • darrelle
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

              Not addressing the racism issue or profiling, but the 9/11 incident did show clearly (as such incidents so often do) how to improve or security against that general category of threat. In other words, not specifically muslim terrorists, or white supremacist terrorists, but terror acts in general.

              Review of the 9/11 incident showed clearly that there was enough actionable information in hand to have prevented the incidents, and what some of the problems were. Some of the critical decision makers dropped the ball even when urged to act by their expert underlings who developed the information. That, and there were disparate bits of information held by separate security organizations that did not communicate as well as could be wished.

              So, managers that are intelligent and responsible enough to listen to the expert intelligence analysts working for them, as opposed to focusing on how their decisions will affect their career or just incompetence due to nepotism or whatever, is something that needs improvement. Another is better communications between various agencies. Some sort of system that allows easy sharing and correlation of data generated by multiple agencies. Both are old problems and both are usually at the top of the “how did we screw that up so badly” list when a disaster like this happens.

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

          What nonsense – any alert customs officer would pick out any of those candidates without breaking a sweat as would you, no doubt, unless having an attack of political correctness at the time.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Well, I think we should act on a “pre-existing bias” when it comes to airport screening. There is a very short list of known airplane terrorists to date. They were all young Middle Eastern Muslim men.

      Unless and until the profile of all known airline terrorists changes, Harris said we should give heightened scrutiny to airline passengers who like like those folks – ie, folks who look like himself! What is wrong with that?

      • gbjames
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        This isn’t true. Richard Reid was a British citizen. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was from Nigerial. There are examples of origination from South America.

        The common them is “Islamic fundamentalist”, not country of origin. (also, Pakistan is a fine source of terrorists and Pakistan is not in the Middle East.)

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:16 am | Permalink

          What were most of the terrorists? What’s the statistical likelihood? How could scarce resources be used to be more efficient?

          You’re still missing the point that Harris was making. Profiling of any kind relies on some common trait that can be profiled. Race is one of them. That does not make it racist to do so.

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          Richard Reid looked = phenotype like someone from the Middle East. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab does not, except for certain on-line photos of him in Middle Eastern garb.

          Harris’s point, though, was that the criteria for heightened screening should be determined by several factors: phenotype being very important (which may also include clothing and accouterments) country of origin, behavior, etc.

          Israel likely has the most effective screening criteria, at least from what I have read. They rely a lot on phenotype and behavior. Why would we not want to model our screening criteria along similar lines?

          Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the underwear bomber – imagine THAT being your legacy! :D) is an outlier, phenotypically.Does this mean that the phenotype criteria just got broader? Probably yes, unfortunately. Happily, we don’t yet have to present our underwear for scanning along with our shoes! ;D

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          Are you seriously suggesting that if Richard Reid walked through your customs check point you’d consider some granny from Wapping on an equal basis as a suspect for carrying a bomb?

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Go and do a google image search for “terrorist suspects”. Now apart, perhaps for Ken Clarke, I’d be seriously looking in all those guy’s luggage. To suggest that we should do otherwise is just political correctness taken to absurdity.

  6. E.A. Blair
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I had my own tiff with Greenwald. In a piece he wrote on former congressman Mark Foley (who, you may remember, was sending sexually suggestive text messages to congressional pages), Greenwald referred to Foley as a pedophile. I pointed out to him that, first of all, “pedophilia” only refers to a sexual intrese in prepubescent children, and, second, that since congressional pages must be sixteen years of age to get the post and that the age of consent in D.C. is sixteen, it wasn’t even a legal matter, but an ethical misuse of Foley’s authority.

    Greenwald wrote back to tell me that if he considers someone a pedophile that person is a pedophile and that is that, and went on to accuse me of defending pedophiles. He said I was “probably Catholic” and a defender of “child-raping priests” and that he would report me to authorities if he knew my actual name and location (making me thankful for internet anonymity).

    My mistake was in assuming that Glenn Greenwald was a journalist and not a hack and was more interested in accurate reporting than petty opinionating. I was wrong.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      Typo alert: “intrese” should have been “interest”. Sorry.

  7. John K.
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    To be utterly clear, Islam itself does not denote a race, and Muslims themselves come from every racial and ethnic grouping in the world. However, in their ostensibly impartial critiques of “religion” – and through the impartation of ethno-cultural attributes onto members of a religious group – the most prominent new atheists slide with ease into the most virulent racism imaginable.

    And again:

    Again, while Islam is not a race, those who are identified with Islam are the predominantly black and brown people who would be caught up in the charge of “looking Muslim” which Harris makes. Harris has also written in the past his belief that the “Muslim world” itself lacks the characteristic of honesty, and Muslims as a people “do not have a clue about what constitutes civil society”.

    Islam is not a race, except that it is! Islam is not a race, but to criticize it is racist!
    A certain case can be made for racism in Harris’ endorsement of ethnic profiling, but these two quotes contradict themselves in the same breath.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Profiling, as a means of narrowing down the search critieria to those most likely to fit the target may include elements of race profiling, but is not in itself racist.

      Harris includes himself in the profile. What is not to get about this?

      • John K.
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        I get that.

        It was the only part of the critique that had even half a leg to stand on.

  8. Glen L.
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Great article, great points. Thank you!

  9. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Sam Harris’ security and political views aside, what about his critique of Islam? Is that racist in itself?

    The only racists I see are the ones who think vast swaths of humanity can do no better than believe superstitious filth. The New Atheists want to elevate and liberate human beings, to lift them out of these bad old beliefs and authoritarian societies. Islamopologists just want to let brown people languish where they are, in religious thrall, and tell the white folks to butt out. Who are the racists here? Even brown-skinned people deserve to think for themselves, and question their religious leaders without fear. That’s what Hitchens, Harris and dawkins have said, clearly, time and again. You don’t get that, you aren’t listening.

    We can disagree about if and when violence needs to be used in this effort to free people from oppressive cultures and inhuman ideologies, but our basic complaint against the core ideas of Islam and the militant inhumanity at its heart should be beyond debate.

    • Glen L.
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      Well put!

  10. Occam
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    The liberal atheist intellectual’s reflex is to engage such accusations of Islamophobia at face value, as if they were genuine concerns.
    Sorry, but in the current climate I’m sensing the makings of an orchestrated campaign, mediated by manipulated or self-recruiting “useful idiots”, as I’ve written previously. This possibility should at least be weighed against the Null Hypothesis before wasting more time and energy on debating irksome nincompoops.

    • prochoice
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      +1

  11. Martin
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I don’t agree with Harris all the time, but I agree emphatically with that boldfaced quote.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      +1

  12. Alex Shuffell
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    I’m always interested in the confirmation bias shown when people get insecure about ‘attacks’ on their religion. It’s always ‘why are you picking on us not the others?’

    Does anyone else take it as a compliment to atheists when you hear someone like Harris or Dawkins get called extremist or militant? These have very different implications when applied to religious people.

  13. Scott Reilly
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I feel really let down by Glenn Greenwald on this as well. He’s usually so on-the-ball when it comes to politics and foreign affairs. But he’s let himself down by throwing his weight behind those two articles, particularly the one in Salon. I’ve not read anything as sneery and infantile in a long while.

    I know that Prof. Coyne has asked us not to use this website for promotion or soliciting others, but since he linked to the article by Nick Cohen I just thought I’d bring up his excellent book: What’s Left – How Liberals lost their way.

    Among other things it outlines how large portions of the left went from being anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic to tolerating and excusing these things as long as they weren’t being done by white people.
    It’s a truly vexing read.

  14. Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Stooshie's Blog.

  15. Sastra
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    The thing that distresses me the most, as I suspect it does Harris, is the fast-and-loose use of the term “Islamophobia”, intended as a brand of “racism,” to criticize those who emphasize the dangers of Islam. This puzzles me, as New Atheists have never been accused of “Christian-phobia” or “Hindu-phobia.”

    Yes and no, on that last one. Although the situation is certainly exaggerated in the case of Islam, the foundation of the criticism against new atheism has always been based on the idea that religion is identity. It is the identity you choose .. and it’s sacred.

    What you believe about God is supposed to reflect who you are as deeply as your race, your nationality, your sex or sexual identity. Over and over again Dawkins et al are accused of being bigoted against the religious and having a phobia about religion because they are doing the unthinkable: they are telling people their beliefs are wrong and they ought to change their minds. How fundamentalist! This is supposed to be the same as telling black people they are the wrong race because if religion = identity then you’re saying that YOU are better than them. You’re attacking diversity and the right for people to be accepted for who they are.

    But this is the wrong framework to use when we look at religion. As you point out, religion is more like politics or science than race or sex in that it comes down to making FACT claims which could be true or false, right or wrong — and these claims matter. Religion is part of the Diverse Problem-Solving Group: humanity working together to figure out what we can know together. When we make mistakes we learn and grow: we do not seek retaliation for a loss of honor.

    The Diversity Smorgasbord — where people present their special qualities and there is no judgment about right and wrong (the more diversity the better!) can’t apply to religious beliefs if those religious beliefs are supposed to say something not just about the person but about the nature of reality. The reason this point is blurred in people’s minds is due I think to the automatic respect given to “faith” and its inherent confusion of who you are with what you believe. We choose to believe in God (or Allah or Spirit or pick-your-supernatural-hypothesis) because we are the right sort of person. We haven’t drawn a conclusion: we opened up our hearts.

    Unlike those other people. Their tribe bad.

    The new atheists want to throw out the idea of tribal divisions and invite Muslims into the Diverse Problem-Solving Group as equals. This is instead being framed as an attack on the Diversity Smorgasbord. What’s particularly ironic is that the tolerant Diversity Smorgasbord is specifically rejected by Islamic theology when it comes to religion.

  16. Jeff Johnson
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    There really is paranoid conspiratorial theories against Islam, and if they don’t qualify as ‘phobia’, I don’t know what does. Look at the websites “Atlas Shrugged” or “JihadWatch” if you want to see what Islamophobia looks like. It is what caused a Hindu man to be pushed in front of a New York subway by someon who thought he was Muslim. It is connected to the killing rampage by Anders Breivik in Norway. It was evident in hysterical cries that a Mosque three blocks from ground zero was a “terrorist victory mosque”.

    There are also many principled reasons to oppose the behaviors of many Muslims in many countries. Any sane person should object to honor killings, stonings, blasphemy laws, or death threats to apostates and those who insult the overly sensitive feelings of Muslims. This is not Islamophobia, it is reasoned and well defended argument. Even many Muslims object to these things.

    Certainly it is true that the term Islamophobia has been ceased and expanded to provide cover for what is indefensible, just as the legitimate term “antisemitism” is often used frivolously to protect Israel from any criticism whatsoever, regardless of the motives and reasons for the criticism. This doesn’t mean that Islamophobia and antisemitism don’t exist.

    We can no sooner say that Islamophobia does not exist as we can say that antisemitism does not exist. Note I’m not equating the two; they both have different degrees of relevence and reality in differing historical contexts.

    The point is, there are legitimate criticisms of Islam, and there are paranoid lunatic conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims. There are legitimate principled criticisms of Israel, and there are paranoid lunatic conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews. Islamophobia exists, and antisemitism exists. Neither of these pardon the bad behavior of religious fanatics if they frivolously misuse these terms.

    We have to be able to clearly see the distinctions between legitimate criticism that provides evidence based arguments, and exagerated propagana based on pure fiction and selective cherry picking.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      I agree. I wouldn’t argue that there is no such thing as “Islamophobia” just because it’s so often misapplied. Although I agree with most of the piece, I think Jerry’s wrong there. As you say, where do we place the “paranoid lunatic conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims?” Some of these conspiracies actually involve some proposed Atheist-Gay-Muslim connection against Christian America.

      When people fight a mosque being built in their community when they would not also fight against a church, we can call that Islamophobic I think. Same for proposed laws in the U.S. against Sharia (as if the Constitution wasn’t already enough.)

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      I would argue that much that is labelled as Islamophobia isn’t, because it’s a rational opposition to directly and openly expressed intent of some Islamic groups to interpret the explicit words of the Koran to turn the whole world into an Islamic caliphate.

      That those that conspire to do so are so open about it seems to detract from it being an actual conspiracy, since we tend to associate secrecy with conspiracy. But that isn’t necessary: “any concurrence in action; combination in bringing about a given result.”

      Do you seriously doubt that there is a range of organisations, from small groups to whole states, and whole religious factions, that are not conspiring to make Islam the only belief system allowed? Don’t let their sometimes incompetence, or their infighting, fool you.

      While there may be a majority of Muslims quite happy to get on with the basic tenets of their religion in their own community, with no intent to impose it on others, that’s not actually how religions spread, is it. A sufficiently large minority can make things happen that the more passive majority did not want. Search for this on Youtube to see how some ‘tolerant’ Muslims might be regretting how easily it can go wrong: “ISLAM IN SOMALIA: WARNING!! hands and feet cut off for petty theft”

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure you read what I wrote, because I clearly stated there were lots of legitimate criticisms of Islam. I think we are agreeing. I think the case Jerry points out is a case of Sam Harris being unfairly labeled Islamophobic.

        I just wanted to clarify by pointing to some specific examples of Islamophobia (JihadWatch and Atlas Shrugs), that there really are paranoid exaggerated examples of what can fairly be called Islamophobia.

        It’s obvious that there are those who believe it is their destiny to make this an Islamic world. The same can be said of many Christian sects. Their methods may differ, of course.

        But like I said, cherry picking details to smear all 1.2 Billion Muslims is going too far.

        There is Islamophobia. There is legitimate criticism of Islam. And many who deserve legitimate criticism hide behind the cover of accusing their detractors of Islamophobia. We’ve seen all this before with hysterical John Birch style paranoid anti-communism. It is up to us to recognize the difference and not leap to conclusions based on broad sweeping generalizations, such as saying there is no Islamophobia, or saying that if somone is a Muslim they are interested in taking over the world and forcing everyone to be a Muslim.

        Just as there were effective ways of countering communism (it pretty much countered itself in the end) and there were hysterical over reactions to communism, we see the same pattern with Islam.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        I have no problem per se with religious groups wanting to spread their religion to others and eventually convert the whole world. If they think their views are true then this is what they ought to do. After all, we atheists would certainly prefer it if more and more people became atheist.

        What matters of course is HOW they plan to do this: persuasion … or force? New atheists have made a distinction between “organic atheism” — nonbelief which arises and grows through individuals examining their religious beliefs and concluding they are false — and “imposed atheism” — which is what Stalin did.

        There is a critical distinction between “rational persuasion” and “conversion,” though. Conversion works by using any tactics it can, including bad arguments, emotional appeals, bribery, threats, etc. So I guess I’m against Islam trying to convert the world because 1.) they are wrong and 2.) “conversion” doesn’t play by rational rules.

        But I’m against this desire in a different way than I’m against them wanting to force Islam onto people and countries through the force of law, punishment, and heavy-handed coercion. That one’s easy to object to. But simply trying to convince people their religion is wrong? Hard for atheists to demonize that one, I think.

        • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          Most religions have prescriptive and proscriptive elements that are tied to the religious belief, and these are the moralistic coercive elements that make religion particularly dangerous. With Islam it’s a one way ticket. There aren’t as many open apostates of Islam as there are in other religions, particularly in states where Islam dominates; or in some cases even in local communities of Muslims in otherwise essentially secular states. It is dangerous to be an Islamic apostate. One of the reasons moderate Muslims don’t speak out is because they fear to. There are enough Muslims, moderate or otherwise, in any given community that want to use coercion to prevent internal criticism, so that it becomes even more limiting on what moderates might want to speak out.

          And while JihadWatch may well be biased, that doesn’t make all the reporting about Islam on there false, and nor does it mean it’s Islamophobic.

          Can you give an explicit example of Islamophobia? A specific case which is an irrational fear of Islam?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Pushing a Hindu man onto the subway tracks because you believe he is Muslim.

            Murdering Sikhs because you believe they are Muslims.

            Calling a downtown NYC Mosque a “Terrorist Victory Mosque” that must be denied a permit beause it is three blocks from ground zero.

            Cherry picking and extrapolating from the legitimate reports of brutal Islamic violence and oppression, as you mentioned you might find on JihadWatch or Atlas Shrugs, to infer that these represent all Muslims, or that they indicate there is a danger of a world takeover by Muslims.

            Publicizing theories or speculation that President Obama is part of a Muslim conspiracy to destroy freedom in America (as you might also find on JihadWatch or Atlas Shrugs, or a number of other wingnut sites).

            Accusing Hillary Clinton’s aid Huma Abedin, the wife of former Congressman (and lurid tweeter) Anthony Wiener, of being a Muslim Brotherhood spy (as have several Republican Congressional representatives including Michelle Bachmann and Steve King).

            I could go on for a long time. Just read World Net Daily, Human Events, Pajamas Media, the Drudge Report, and any other members of the right-wing noise machine and you can’t help but see numerous examples of paranoia gone wild.

            • Sastra
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

              +1

  17. Jim
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Phobia is defined as an irrational fear of something. But when there is credible threat (“Behead those who insult Islam”) to your life, is that considered a phobia? You don’t hear about “Imminent-deathophobia”, do you? I can’t blame new atheists who are the vocal critics of Islamic doctrine who rightfully understand their life is in danger by doing that. Yes, there are other vocal critics (e.g. Robert Spencer) who approach this with a different agenda. But it serves the Islamophobia industry better to bundle Sam Harris with Robert Spencer and Pam Geller.

  18. Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Well written and thoughtful post, this bit being particularly trenchant: “Those who accuse others of “Islamophobia” are, I suspect, a bit bigoted themselves, for underlying it is the notion that we’re supposed to hold adherents of Islam to behavioral standards lower than those we expect from adherents to other faiths. It’s patronizing.”

    This patronizing is specifically seen when Israelis are consistently held to higher standards than Palestinians. Both sides commit atrocities, no doubt, but it seems the Palestinian violence is somehow not as bad.

    Brings to mind Mel Brooks’ psychiatrist character who cures his patient of her paper-tearing compulsion by simply telling her, don’t tear paper, little girl. He doesn’t make concessions just because she is a little girl. He wants her to be able to grow up.

  19. JBlilie
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    One of the scariest examples of multi-culturism gone off the tracks is related by Sam Harris:

    As it turns out, to denigrate the Taliban at a scientific meeting is to court controversy (after all, “Who decides what is a successful life?”) At the conclusion of my talk, I fell into debate with another invited speaker, who seemed, at first glance, to be very well positioned to reason effectively about the implications of science for our understanding of morality. She holds a degree in genetics from Dartmouth, a masters in biology from Harvard, and a law degree, another masters, and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology from Duke. This scholar is now a recognized authority on the intersection between criminal law, genetics, neuroscience and philosophy. Here is a snippet of our conversation, more or less verbatim:

    She: What makes you think that science will ever be able to say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?

    Me: Because I think that right and wrong are a matter of increasing or decreasing wellbeing—and it is obvious that forcing half the population to live in cloth bags, and beating or killing them if they refuse, is not a good strategy for maximizing human wellbeing.

    She: But that’s only your opinion.

    Me: Okay… Let’s make it even simpler. What if we found a culture that ritually blinded every third child by literally plucking out his or her eyes at birth, would you then agree that we had found a culture that was needlessly diminishing human wellbeing?

    She: It would depend on why they were doing it.

    Me (slowly returning my eyebrows from the back of my head): Let’s say they were doing it on the basis of religious superstition. In their scripture, God says, “Every third must walk in darkness.”

    She: Then you could never say that they were wrong.

    Such opinions are not uncommon in the Ivory Tower. I was talking to a woman (it’s hard not to feel that her gender makes her views all the more disconcerting) who had just delivered an entirely lucid lecture on the moral implications of neuroscience for the law. She was concerned that our intelligence services might one day use neuroimaging technology for the purposes of lie detection, which she considered a likely violation of cognitive liberty. She was especially exercised over rumors that our government might have exposed captured terrorists to aerosols containing the hormone oxytocin in an effort to make them more cooperative. Though she did not say it, I suspect that she would even have opposed subjecting these prisoners to the smell of freshly baked bread, which has been shown to have a similar effect. While listening to her talk, as yet unaware of her liberal views on compulsory veiling and ritual enucleation, I thought her slightly over-cautious, but a basically sane and eloquent authority on the premature use of neuroscience in our courts. I confess that once we did speak, and I peered into the terrible gulf that separated us on these issues, I found that I could not utter another word to her. In fact, our conversation ended with my blindly enacting two, neurological clichés: my jaw quite literally dropped open, and I spun on my heels before walking away.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve been in conversations not that different than this. Liberal, progressive feminists suddenly advocating against human rights with the argument that “not all cultures favor it.” Cultures. They’re granting rights to cultures at the expense of the individual and playacting the role of an objective Therapist or Anthropologist. “It is not for me to judge. It is not for me to take a stand against what works for you”

      Using this perspective we could not have said that KKK lynchings were wrong and tried to change the situation. We could only have learned to understand why the Southern “culture” thinks they are right and decline to pass judgment. It brought them together in close-knit communities every Saturday night.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        Excellent. And here I thought you were going to go all Godwin…

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        The irony here is that this kind of intense devotion to culture is derived from a deep respect for humans and their beliefs, an essential factor in human rights.

        Of course any individual can take any system or method of thinking “off the rails” at any time. This does not discredit the entire way of thinking or mean that its motives are vile or immoral. One can think in terms of a humanist tempered multi-culturalism, that emphasises the value of culture and that the myriad cultures on earth provide important viewpoints that can be instructive to members of any culture. One doesn’t have to make this valuation of culture the number one priority to the extent that clear harms are excused. To do this is to make a cartoonish parody of multi-culturalism that can go “off the rails” in a different direction, that of white male domination, which is an error frequently observed on the American right. Just watch FOX News for a while. A great number of Republican leaders have this particular blindness, which they frequently betray unintentionally in their speech.

        There are ways to correct errors like this by being less ideological and dogmatic and keeping a keener eye on the consequences without abandoning or discrediting the entire idea of multi-culturalism or respect for culture.

        Remember the counter to multi-culturalism is often an ethnocentric superiority that can in its extreme and absurd forms result in cruel colonialism, slavery, racism, and other anti-humanist behaviors.

        So it’s easy to take pot shots based on anecdotes, but this does not wipe away and dismiss all the motives and all the ideas behind multi-culturalism, which is a flawed attempt at least to reverse some even worse evils.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      So lemme get this straight. Hyper-educated liberal person thinks that coercion of suspected terrorists = an ethical/moral problem worthy of criticism, but blinding innocent babies is not? Simply because the latter is based on religious views?

      So what if the former was based on religious views?

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        “but blinding innocent babies is not”

        s/b “but blinding innocent babies does not”

    • Filippo
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      “She holds a degree in genetics from Dartmouth, a masters in biology from Harvard, and a law degree, another masters, and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology from Duke.”

      As opposed to the philosophy of chemistry or physics or botany or geology, etc., or of the philosophy of science in general?!?

  20. Chris Quartly
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Greenwald is trying to do some back peddling as I think he knows Harris got the better of him in his email exchange, but he’s still being a complete dufus.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/03/sam-harris-muslim-animus?fb=native&commentpage=1

    If you look on his blog where he posted the email exchange, almost all of the comments are against Greenwald: http://ggsidedocs.blogspot.com.br/2013/04/email-with-sam-harris.html

    • Chris Quartly
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      And Greenwald seems to be responding like a little cry baby to almost every comment in that new Guardian piece…

    • Al
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Wow, nothing like a bit of argumentum ad populum.

  21. Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    My opinion: “Islamophobia” might be:
    1) opposition to building of a mosque when the people have the proper permits (e. g. New York, Tennessee)
    2)Opposition to a judicial appointment on the basis of religion (Chris Christie attacked Republicans over this).

    Attacking the behavior of the Islamic Republics (e. g. death penalty for homosexuality, apostasy) and attacking the clerics for issuing fatwas against people who write books that they don’t like is just honesty and not “Islamophobia”.

    My definition: not giving adherents of Islam their due “equality before the law”, especially in the United States.

    Of course ideas are always open to scrutiny and critique.

  22. Trophy
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    “But what is Islamophobia?”

    Islamophobia (in my opinion) is the irrational and bigotted opposition to Muslims that may also include attempts to subvert their basic human rights, together with the assumption that anyone who follows Islam must be an untrustworthy, barbaric person and unfit to live in a civilized society. It is the assumption that Islam is such an evil and encompassing ideology that there is no hope for anyone who believes in Islam.

    The far right propaganga against muslims often takes an Arabic term (e.x., “Taqiyyah”) as well as a fundamentalist Islamic interpretation of the term and then insinuates that pretty much all Muslims follow that interpretation and thus are dangerous and untrustworthy. For example, search for “Taqiyyah” on youtube and compare the videos with the wikipedia article on the term.

    Essentially, Islamophobia is not about criticizing Islam and it is ridiculous to accuse anyone who cricitizes Islam of Islamophobia. But if someone is interested in fearmongering and hyping up propaganda against Muslims, if they deny that the scary terms such as “Taqiyyh” have many different interpretations and that the “scary” interpretations of them are not in fact the original theological meaning of it, then, yes, I say they are more interested in spreading fear than engage in reasoned arguments. The essential aspect of Islamophobia (as with the other forms of bigotry) is the attempts to treat the “outsiders” as a homogeneous groups and then demands to pass laws and legislations that are aimed to subert the basic humans rights of the targetted group.

  23. Douglas Struthers
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    New Atheists(and everyone else?) have to move on: Brights?

    • Marta
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Nopes.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Somehow I’m reminded of a bowl of petunias…

      /@

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      Douglas, I’m afraid if you keep up your Bright proselytizing here you might wear out your welcome; and that wouldn’t be doing the Brights any good, would it?

  24. Hans
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    “As for security profiling, there is a case to be made for that, based not on racism but experience, that Muslim fliers might be given extra attention—indeed, that is what El Al seems to do.”

    The mere fact that El Al needs to be extremely vigilant while no carrier from a Muslim country need to fear Jewish terrorists, say a lot already, even though antisemitism and anti-Jewish propaganda is rife.

    Just imagine how a call for Jewish prayer rooms at airports will be dealt with.

  25. Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Perhaps a better definition of Islamophobia might be:

    the irrational ignoring of the terrible pain inflicted in the name of Islam due to an irrational fear of Islamic backlash or an irrational fear of losing one’s post-modern moral relativist credentials, and probably both.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      That sounds more like Islamophilia or political correctness to me.

      In reference to the “moral relativist” remark, are you implying that there is a moral absolute here that applies to all Muslims?

      Having travelled in Morrocco, Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, and India, I can assure you that most Muslims you meet are perfectly normal people who are kind and honest and want to go about their business and raise their families.

      This is not to deny that there is unspeakable cruelty and barbarity perpetrated in the name of defending Islam. The same has been perpetrated in the name of defending America (Vietnam for example). Reality is far more complex than dividing people into absolute categories of good and evil. And recognizing this is not equivalent to passively lying down and accepting injustice, oppression, and violence from anyone.

      You can’t draw absolute categories that apply to all Muslims. That is guaranteed to lead you to error and failure. This kind of thinking has been applied to various religions in the past in various historical circumstances, and the result is also immoral and brutal.

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        “Reality is far more complex than dividing people into absolute categories of good and evil.”

        Ideas and doctrines are what are being labeled as evil, or harmful if you prefer that term. And there is nothing complex about labeling certain Islamic ideas concerning apostasy, religious criticism, the treatment of women, jihad, and martyrdom as harmful.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          Absolutely correct, and if you’ve read what I’ve written here you’ve seen me label specific practices as intolerable, in this and other posts.

          The problem is when people leap to the conclusion that if a person is Muslim they support or practice these barbarities. Or leaping to the conclusion, if one concedes the obvious that Muslims do not universally accept the harmful deeds perpetrated in the name of Islam, that one is thereby apologizing for or passively tolerating the inexcusable.

          • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            “The problem is when people leap to the conclusion that if a person is Muslim they support or practice these barbarities.”

            Who is doing this?

            I think the statements are more along the lines of, “A sufficient number of Muslims either believe in some combination of these ideas or are loathe to criticize other Muslims for these ideas such that Islam represents a huge threat to human flourishing across the globe, and we would therefore be better of without it.”

            For example, if the Pew surveys are to be believed, there is still an uncomfortably large % of Muslims in so-called “moderate” Islamic states that blame 911 on Western or Jewish conspiracies.

            “….that one is thereby apologizing for or passively tolerating the inexcusable”

            Anyone who blames the West entirely, or even primarily, for acts of aggression committed by individual Muslims or Islamic states is guilty of this IMO. Not saying that this is you though.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

              “For example, if the Pew surveys are to be believed, there is still an uncomfortably large % of Muslims in so-called “moderate” Islamic states that blame 911 on Western or Jewish conspiracies.”

              I had the impression there was a goodly number of (presumably Christian-ish) Americans who subscribed to 911 conspiracy theories too. : )

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        “remark, are you implying that there is a moral absolute here that applies to all Muslims”

        Not at all. I was addressing the specific moral relativism common in post-modernism that refuses to object to any practice in another culture because of some misguided unwillingness to be critical for fear of being inappropriately judgemental. It mistakes for a claim to moral superiority the rational attempt to criticise practices as harmful and unhealthy, where those practices are employed by other cultures.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          That kind of moral relativism sounds like a straw man invented by the editorial staff of the Weekly Standard or the National Review.

          Who seiously argues that murder in the name of religion should be excused because of cultural sensitivity? Who argues that oppression of women should be excused because of sensitivity to the primacy of culturally embedded religoius values (other than right-wing Christians)? You are repeating a right-wing parody of multi-culturalism that is not actually practiced by anyone I’ve heard of. Do you have some specific examples of this?

          There is a distinct difference between xenophobia, which multi-culturalism criticises, and tolerating violence and oppression, which multi-culturalism does not do. Too often the xenophobic invent these straw man notions of what multi-culturalism is about to cover for their fear and intolerance. This is exactly equivalent to accusing legitimate critiques of Islamic practices of being motivated by mere Islamophobia.

          • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

            “Who seriously argues that murder in the name of religion should be excused because of cultural sensitivity?”

            Straw man?

            Did you read this…

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/playing-the-islamophobia-card/#comment-414470

            Academia had plenty of them in the 70’s.

            Try this:

            http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/535488.stm

            While Greer is defending what would be the right of an adult to choose to alter their own genitalia it says nothing of that forced on non-consenting young girls.

            Search for this on Youtube (MUSLIMS ATTACK CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA OVER SHARIA LAW) and tell me what’s going on, and that there is not a combination of both religious and cultural opposition to the freedom of movement, expression, or even freedom from down right dishonest manipulation. It doesn’t matter what you might think of the Christian party trying to film, they still did so reasonably.

            There is both cultural and religious views of freedom and how much of it should be tolerated that under Islamic communities is quite different. If you want to accept this sort of bullying as a gesture to multiculturalism, then I couldn’t agree less.

            Are there other cultural practices by other cultures that I oppose? Yes. Witch hunts by Christians in parts of Africa, for one.

            I don’t approve of the honour system whereby a victim of rape may be punished for bringing shame on the family, which is part of some cultures, and not just Islamic ones, though several Islamic cultures have it.

            So to a large extent it is also about culture. In this instance the focus happens to be on Islam because that’s where Harris sees the most specific and common problem across several cultures. I don’t see any straw man here.

  26. Stevan
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    “Hussain ends with a call for atheists to part ways with Harris”

    I parted ways with Harris anyway, long ago. And I didn’t need people like Hussain to tell me that. I did based on Harris’s own naive, simplistic and frankly stupid opinions regarding the ‘War On Terror’.

    • Gary W
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Yet another utterly vacuous smear of Harris.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      In case you don’t already appreciate what you did wrong – your last sentence needs to state exactly which “simplistic and frankly stupid” opinions you are referring too. Then we have the basis for a dialogue.

  27. gravityfly
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Fantastic post, Dr. Coyne!

  28. Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Sounds like the author of “The Great American Hypocrites” has turned into one himself. He has a standard he sets for Islam that he would never set for Israel or the United States. Greenwald has been an effective advocate for protecting civil liberties from government intrusion. However, he really was on the wrong side of this debate. Though I may disagree with Sam Harris on gun control or profiling at airports, taking a stab at “The New Atheists” as being racially based is really misplaced. Some of my fellow liberals I think of as “prime directive” liberals who watched a little too much Star Trek. There are cultural and religious ideas that simply are inconsistent with the progress of civilization.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      +1 Am really disheartened by Greenwald here as well. I say this as someone who has never had occasion to disagree with him before.

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Was disappointed as well. Especially giving credence to the Lean piece. That was quite disheartening.

    • ealloc
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      I think Greenwald is right here and what he says is totally in line with his message. One of his major themes is that we should see through our priviledge and power and see from the point of view of those we oppress. In this case, Muslims. We should see that many of them dislike us not because they are ignorant savages who hate freedom (a theme he frequently identifies), but because we have been systematically persecuting them for decades and continue to do so.

      Sam Harris’ is arguing from the ‘ignorant savage’ side. Harris believes Islam is a major threat to our western society and to our very lives, a threat that we have to aggressively squash. He believes it is the source of violence against the US from the middle east. Top on his mind are ethnic profiling and torture, he considers us at war with Islam and evidently considers muslims “the enemy”, he supports fascist policies against muslims in europe (presumably things like hijab laws), and he supports harassing everyday americanized muslims (much more than other religions), as seen in the ground zero mosque controversy.

      The thing is, islam is not a threat to our society. They are not trying to impose Sharia law. Harris’, Hitchen’s & Dawkin’s view is priviledged since it assumes that any conflict we have with Muslim peoples must be their fault due to their ignorant religion, while ignoring the decades of our involvement in the middle east. But there would be no Islamic terrorism if it weren’t for that. None. Harris is using dehumanizing arguments to justify continued persecution of Muslims and personal war against them. And that is exactly what Greenwald is trying to stop.

      Also, I have to agre with everyone here that the original two anti-Harris articles are terrible. Greenwald’s post itself is very fair though.

      • Posted April 4, 2013 at 2:44 am | Permalink

        “But there would be no Islamic terrorism if it weren’t for that. None.”

        An absolutely idiotic assertion. I have nothing more to say.

  29. TomZ
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Would maybe adding in the term “Muslimphobic” along with keeping “Islamophobic” clear up some of the straw-grasping we’re seeing from Lean et al?

    Any rational person should be terrified of the fundamental teachings of Islam being followed to the letter and spread around the globe (the same should be said of all the Abrahamic religions and a good chunk of others as well). Islamophobia is justified by simply reading the Quran and taking its prescribed laws and punishments seriously (same with Bible, Torah, etc…).

    But thinking that all Muslims follow 100% of the Quran and therefore we should be proactively discriminating against anyone that identifies as a Muslim would be Muslimphobic. Or thinking that most Muslims are/could be terrorists…

    I don’t know… just a thought.

  30. Jeff Coleman
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Harris may not be the best spokesman for atheism.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Atheism isn’t a position any more than afairyism is. Harris’s viewpoint stems from an empathy with the plight of people in difficult circumstances, but sure you don’t have to agree with his exact positions on every issue. The important thing is that individual people are more important than bad ideas.

  31. schenck
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    On Islamophobia, what does it mean?
    There used to be something called the “Yellow Peril”, which refered to Asians, which aren’t a race, but members of a wide culture; arguably this wasn’t racist either, but we’d all agree that it was still bigoted. So surely there can be bigoted-but-not-biological fears of muslims. Similary, there used to be the Red Menace, which was purely political, but surely we can see that it’s at least /argueable/ that those reactions were bigoted, if not biological.

    But in the end none of that really matters, since, as you point out, we’re better off criticizing people for their arguments, rather than throwing a term at them.

    Further, on Islam-as-the-worst.
    You note that Islam is worse than Anglicism, we don’t worry about Anglican suicide bombers. But if you were a catholic in Tudor England, you sure as hell /would/ consider the Anglicans to be vile terrorists, and you’d be right. And if we were in the dark ages, most of us here right now would vastly prefer to live under the Islamic-Din than in Christen-dom.
    Granted, that’s not the situation now. But I think it does show that Islam, as a religion, doesn’t have anything /inherent/ to it that makes it ‘the worst’. Also, look at the islamic world, there’s more variety of religions within it than there is within the christian world, heck there’s more variety of /christians/ within the islamic world than there is within the Christian/Western world. And as far as suicide bombers, that’s a tactic that the muslims picked up from the Hindus, but we don’t look at the Veddas as /always/ resulting in violence. Or further, surely, we’d say, Islam is inherently more violent than Buddhism, and yet buddhists occupy Sri Lanka, and are rioting through Burma, engaging in ethnic cleansing, mass killing, and arson to burn out peaceable muslims; the buddhist dictatorship in Burma allows it.

    So, again, I /really/ don’t think that Islam, as a whole and for all time, is really any different from any other religion. I’ll agree that for a long time now there’s been a cultural problem between the East and West, but I can’t help but think that we’d still have this problem if the islamic world was solidly Eastern Orthodox Christian.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      “So, again, I /really/ don’t think that Islam, as a whole and for all time, is really any different from any other religion”

      Your examples notwithstanding, Islam is different in that it is far easier to use its doctrines and holy texts to justify violence and intolerance. A Muslim person that wishes to be good, but also wishes to remain true to the proposition that the wishes of the creator of the Universe reside in Muslim holy texts and pronouncements of many prominent clerics, has their work cut out for them in a way that a Buddhist might not. Islam simply has more potential to infect its adherents with backward and violent ideas than most other collections of faith-based propositions about reality.

      • schenck
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        “A Muslim person that wishes to be good,[...]has their work cut out for them in a way that a Buddhist might not.”
        This is simply untrue, and all you have to do is look at the millions upon millions of goodly muslims all around the world to see that it’s not true. If Islam made people backwards and violent, if it /actually/ did that, can you even imagine what this world would be like? There’d be a 911 every day until 90% or so of muslims had died in the attacks. There’s over a billion muslims on this planet, are we seriously going to entertain the obviously incorrect idea that most of them are trying to carry out evils? There’s nothing about ‘being a buddhist’ that makes you less likely to be violent, there’s a long history of buddhist violence, against fellow buddhists and especially against other sects.

        And if instead we’re talking about a /slight/ tendency, where say instead of 1% of catholics-that-become-terrorists we have 2% of muslims-that-become-terrorists, then why even talk about it?

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

          It’s not 2% of Muslims who are repressive, for crying out loud. Throughout the Islamic world, girls and women are simply subjugated—second-class citizens who aren’t allowed to drive, wear what they want, go to school, and so on. Their testimony in court counts half of a man’s and it’s much harder for them to get divorced.

          Those are evils, pure and simple. It’s misogyny, and it’s carried out by millions of Muslims daily throughout the world.

          We’re not just talking about terrorism here, and you should know that.

          • schenck
            Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

            Yes but misogyny isn’t something that only muslims do. Outside of the western world misogyny is pretty much standard. Hindu girls in India have about as many problems as muslim girls in India when it comes to being free. I’m not saying that Islam, today, isn’t a problem, and I’ve definitely noticed that criticism of islam is basically assumed now to be anti-muslim-bigotry, but at the same time, I just don’t see how Islam is especially or uniquely or inherently the problem here. All religions have periods where they’re wildly violent and oppressive, and other periods when they’re accomodating and relaxed, today Islam can be pretty violent and oppressive, I’m not trying to pretend that it isn’t, it’s the claim that there’s something unusual about Islam that makes it, more so than other religions, prone to this.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              You’re wrong about Hindu “girls” and you know it. Yes, they’re repressed in some parts of India but are not in many others. In Saudia Arabia all the women are veiled and none can drive. The testimony of a Hindu woman is not worth only half of a man’s. There are no laws against Hindu women driving, and they have equal opportunity for education in most places.

              And can you tell me, exactly, when Unitarian Universalists or Quakers have been as oppressive as Muslims.

              Let’s face it–you are saying things that aren’t true in the name of claiming that all religions are equal, or all have been as oppressive as Islam. That’s just a plain falsehood.

              • schenck
                Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                Dr. Coyne, I’m not wrong about Hindu oppression and women are oppressed in some parts of the muslim world and not in other parts. A girl in Lebanon or Turkey has a rather different experience than a girl in Afghanistan or Somalia, just like throughout India. And while there’s no law against women driving in India, there sure as heck are severe punishments if you don’t “dress to standard”.

                As far as Unitarians or Quakers being violent, Nixon was a Quaker, one of the Fighting Quakers of course, there’s no reason why a sect of Quakers couldn’t become oppressive and violent, and more than there’s no reason buddhists can’t become violent, even as a group.

                “or all have been as oppressive as Islam. That’s just a plain falsehood.”

                I’m sorry but you are incorrect on exactly that. While I agree that no sane person, rather grow up in a sububurb of Riyadh instead of Walla Walla, Washington, it’s patently obvious that that doesn’t hold true for all times and places. If you’re a woman, what difference does it make if you’re thrown into a fire by Hindus or bludgeoned with a stone by Muslims? If you’re a free thinker in the dark ages, were you better off amoung the christian kings of europe or the caliph of baghdad? That’s /all/ I’m objecting to.

                I’ll actually also agree with the idea that, if we could eliminate one religion today (by throwing a switch or having some sort of alternate history experiment), and we picked islam (and I’ll agree that that’s the religion we would obviously pick to eliminate, today), I ‘d disagree that we’d necessarily see all that much difference. The way history played out, there isn’t too much of a struggle between teh western world and the eastern, Orthodox world, but if the middle east remained Orthodox, I’m honestly not convinced that the situation would be so different today.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                Okay, that’s enough falsehoods. I have been to India lots of times, and there is no universal punishment if you don’t “dress to standard”. Women in Delhi and Mumbai, for example, don’t have to adhere to traditional dress, much less cloak themselves in bags. And they’re not prohibited from being educated. As for the innocuousness of Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, and other such faiths, all you can say in response is “well, they have the potential to become violent!” But they haven’t been, aren’t now, and I doubt that they are in the future

                You’ll give out any amount of misinformation to support your misguided thesis that Islam is no different from other faiths.

                If you don’t support your position that “women in India are given severe punishments if they don’t dress to standard”, then you’re out of here. I know that’s not true in general, and you should retract it.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      You note that Islam is worse than Anglicism, we don’t worry about Anglican suicide bombers. But if you were a catholic in Tudor England, you sure as hell /would/ consider the Anglicans to be vile terrorists, and you’d be right. And if we were in the dark ages, most of us here right now would vastly prefer to live under the Islamic-Din than in Christen-dom.

      Well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

      schenck, As it happens, we don’t live in 1500, or 1350. Here in the 21st Century one major faith group is considerably more hazardous than others. We’ve got to contend with current reality and pretending that Islam isn’t more dangerous than Buddhism to, say, girls who want schooling isn’t going to contribute to a better world.

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Exactly. Perhaps another way to phrase it is: “Of the population of mothers in the world who reacted joyfully in the last 10 years to the news that their son had destroyed himself in the deliberate act of killing non-adherents to the religion of the mother and son, what percentage of those mothers were Muslim?”

      • schenck
        Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        “we don’t live in 1500,”

        This is besides the point, the Anglicans /were/ violent. Their holy books and dogma have not changed. And yet, Anglicans tend to not be violent. So, obviously, there’s nothing /inherently/ violent about Anglicism. Similarly, I’m questioning if we can really say, as Dr. Coyne does, that Islam is a particularly odious religion. I don’t think that it especially is, I’ll agree that today it’s a dangerous religion, and if we could snap our fingers and change the religion of the muslim world, things would be different, religion has something to do with it, I’m not being blind here. But at the same time we don’t have to, say, convert the muslim world to quakerism in order to stop terrorist attacks.

        Ron Murphy:
        “Oh, and how’s that looking with regard to North Korea right now?”
        Clearly we don’t need to fear Koreans as Koreans. Otherwise we’d all be throwing our Samsung phones into the sea. It’s despotic communism that’s the problem. I’m arguing that Islam is /not/ hellbent on destroying the world, like hard-line communism is. I also think it’s wildly inaccurate to say that the Koran is held up as inerrant ‘more so’ than the bible ‘ever has been’, there are plenty of bibilical literalists today, and certainly moreso in the past

        Roger Lambert:
        “I double dog dare you to say that in a loud voice in a public square in Riyadh or Islamabad”
        Indeed, that’d be nutso. But if we were in Cordoba during the era of the Moors, it’d be safer than saying something similar about the Papacy in Rome during the Dark Ages. And while I wouldn’t want to be a shia in pakistan today, I wouldn’t want to be a Mormon in upstate NY a few generations ago either (and at least the Mormons had the option to run away).

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          Look, shenck, did you read my piece at all? I noted that when other religions get the upper hand, they often do horrible things. Now Islam has the upper hand in many countries, and is also doing horrible things (or do you like stoning and beheading for things like homosexuality and adultery?).

          And it’s not just that. Muslims throughout the world behave badly in response to fatwas and the like. Theo van Gogh was, of course, killed in the name of Islam–in Holland.

          Are you by any chance claiming that it’s okay to make adultery, apostasy, and homosexuality official crimes punishable by death?

          You clearly did not read my post.

          • schenck
            Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

            I definitely read your post Dr. Coyne, I’m a regular follower of your website also.

            I’m just objecting to the idea that Islam, as a religion, is more dangerous than any other. I agree entirely that today, Islam is a violent and dangerous religion, and even that it is the most dangerous religion in the world today. You /do/ sometimes make a claim one step further though, that Islam is universally dangerous. In the historical sense, it doesn’t seem to be any worse than any other.

            And just like the Lutherans were ‘safer’ than the Catholics in the past, today the Sufis are (sometimes) safer than the Sunnis, or the Yazidis (a non-muslim religion in iraq that regularly stone their women to death) are generally worse than their islamic-kurdish neighbhors. I generally think you’re arguing on the right side here, but sometimes you over-reach on this issue, and I think it’s fair to put out some caveats.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          For Kreis’ sake, schenck… At this time Islam is a particularly odious religion. This certainly wasn’t true in the year 600 (AD) or before. It will hopefully not still be true in the years 2100 and after. I think that Jerry and everyone else involved in this discussion but you understands that we are discussing current events.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Your reference to the Yellow Peril is also conveniently right, retrospectively. But at the height of the cold war with both the Soviet and the Chinese blocks looking threatening, and with the Korean war in progress that wasn’t how it looked. Oh, and how’s that looking with regard to North Korea right now?

      A weak US or Europe could indeed of succumbed to a Communist rule that would still be with us in some form. I don’t see the appeasers of Hitler telling us “I told you so.”

      Islam looks and is threatening, by the very writings of the Koran, which is deemed to be inerrant to a degree probably never seen of the Bible. While there might be a majority of Muslims that wouldn’t want to impose its prescriptions on the world involuntarily, a sufficiently persuasive minority tell the moderates what to do, and they do it. This persuasive minority IS the Islam that is dangerous.

      While the term Kafir is really a reference to non-Muslims, it is generally used throughout the Islamic world with as much of a disparaging overtone as any racist remark might.

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      So, again, I /really/ don’t think that Islam, as a whole and for all time, is really any different from any other religion”

      I double dog dare you to say that in a loud voice in a public square in Riyadh or Islamabad. ;D

  32. Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I commented more particularly above, but I’d make the general point that both sides are playing around with caricatures, and we’re indulging in a false dichotomy of positions represented by Greenwald and Harris. I would say that Harris is far closer to being right than Greenwald is, but that doesn’t mean Harris is right, and we shouldn’t immediately affiliate ourselves with him just because he flies the New Atheist banner (of which I consider myself to be one).

    • Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      What is the caricature that Harris is playing around with?

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Harris is rather duplicitous with his assessment of Islam as a singular entity. In some instances, you find him acknowledging the fact that it is not a homogeneous whole (as the very good Cohen article which Jerry linked to discusses, many liberals of the Greenwald variety pay no attention to the fact that there are schisms within the Islamic community itself regarding political issues such as the rights of women). Yet, elsewhere, he very frequently and conveniently presents an image of Islam as though it is a cohesive, indivisible, monolithic ideology which we should position ourselves against. That much is a caricature because it is an oversimplification.

        Where I depart from both Greenwald and Harris, it seems, is in acknowledging that there is a complex Muslim culture which consists of a large variety of religious beliefs, and although they *are* all bad, and I would like to see their eradication in due course, some are worse than others. Greenwald and crew would instead claim that there are good ones (at least relatively) which are ‘true’ to Islam, and bad ones which are ‘perversions’ – an inconsistent and untenable position – while Harris and others seem to say that the whole thing is equally evil across its surface.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think that Harris would say that “the whole thing is equally evil across its surface” but that Islam has more “bad stuff”, more liberally spread around the “holy books” at its base. And that there is little tradition for questioning what the Word of Allah means. Less interpretive variety, and thus a tendency for more awful implementation of the faith.

          • Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            He certainly would say that, and with that I would agree, but the problem is that he does *sometimes* present a more one-dimensional vision of Islam in other places and that’s what makes this conversation so difficult – it’s difficult to pin down what he actually thinks and, therefore, difficult to discuss whatever that is.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

              I think the problem is that he sometimes leaves things conveniently out of his arguments. For example, the “ticking time bomb” hypothetical situation in the absence of recognizing that torture-derived information is very likely to be wrong information. Or arguing against gun control without addressing simple facts (like comparative homicide rates in countries with and without easy access to weaponry).

              Still, Greenwald and those who accuse Harris of racism are just plain wrong. Islam is worthy of very strong criticism and failure to distinguish attacks against people from those against ideas is a profound error.

              • Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                Absolutely, I agree with all of that.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

                I think the problem is that he sometimes leaves things conveniently out of his arguments. For example, the “ticking time bomb” hypothetical situation in the absence of recognizing that torture-derived information is very likely to be wrong information.

                Wrong. Sam quite clearly acknowledges the possibility, or even likelihood, that information obtained through torture may be false. (“If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking.”)

                Or arguing against gun control without addressing simple facts (like comparative homicide rates in countries with and without easy access to weaponry).

                Wrong again. He explicitly addresses this in, for example, his FAQ on Violence.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      “Affiliate ourselves with him?”

      This phrase strikes me as a bit of a caricature itself. I admire a lot of new atheist writers and thinkers — including folks like Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne — but I’d hesitate to say that I have affiliated myself with them, as if I am a slavish follower and they thus represent me in all particulars. I guess I’m just not sure what the phrase means.

      If all you mean is that we shouldn’t slavishly pick and follow representatives as if they were carrying a New Atheist banner and we were marching behind, then sure. I’ll agree that Harris is not 100% right on all things, nor do I agree with him 100% on every issue. But that’s pretty safe to say. I could say it even if I had never heard of Sam Harris. It’s just the way to bet — given that we’re atheists and not in search of the Perfect Man.

      • Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Affiliate means affiliate, I’m not sure why you would read into it something as specific and melodramatic as ‘slavish following’.

  33. Grev
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    It seems surreal to me that two articles in the span of a few weeks attack the “New Atheists” by lumping Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens together. Then they take Dawkins’ tweets out of context, only cite works of Harris that are near a decade old, and fail to mention that Hitchens has been dead for a year and a half. Makes you wonder if this is a concerted effort.

  34. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    One more point on this matter. Hussain wants atheists to disavow Sam Harris. This is what you call religious thinking. A good thinker doesn’t disavow anyone, only bad ideas. If a good idea comes out of the mouth of Pat Robertson, most of us would want to have the wherewithal to admit “good idea.” Even so, I don’t disavow Hitchens because I disagreed with the invasion of Iraq.

  35. Jayso
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I would define Islamophobia not as antipathy toward Islam, which is quite rational, but as antipathy excessive enough to lead to irrational decisions. It seems likely that antipathy toward Islam led to Hitchens’s decision to support the Iraq War, which I think most of us would agree was an enormous intellectual mistake.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      You are wrong about Hitchens and the war. His support was based mostly on his close relationship with many Kurdish advocates for democracy. And he was vocal in his support for Muslims during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

  36. Posted April 3, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Just to show how fallacious the arguments Nathan Lean uses are, I’ll turn those same claims on him…

    (Sarcasm on)

    “Nathan Lean is a strident bigot with a clear intolerance of New Atheists. His racist attitude shown in his Atheistophobic views is really just a ploy to sell books that is primarily motivated by money.”

    (Sarcasm off)

    This sounds ridiculous, yes? But that’s just how ridiculous the claims and misuse of terms by Nathan Lean are.

    (…OK, maybe that last part about him being motivated by money isn’t ridiculous because, in his case, I think it’s probably true.)

  37. Posted April 3, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The term “Islamophobia” seems to almost have gained as much currency and as much (if not more) loose and thoughtless usage – as “anti-Semitism”. Criticise the policies of the Israeli government in even the mildest way? You’re an anti-Semite, a Jew-hater, a Nazi (and, if you’re Israeli/Jewish yourself, self-hating!). Criticise Islamic doctrine, its effects, theocracies, its jihadists? You’re Islamophobic, you’re a bigot, you’re a racist.

    Both terms, while probably not designed or intended to instantly shut down conversation, short-circuit valid criticisms and tar an opponent, more often than not seem to be used to that precise effect. Public commentators with platforms like Salon owe their readers (and their targets) a little more respect than to use such terms as rhetorical buckshot.

  38. david
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Almost no subject brings about more confusion and dishonesty as this one, and the reason for it is fairly simple.

    Most western left-liberals believe in identity politics, this is their ruling and dominating idea. Ideas vary among groups and all groupings take place within a spectrum of relative moral responsibility, with the oppressors and the oppressed at either ends.

    Consequently, if an idea, any idea, is cherished and embraced by a group seen to be in conflict with a more powerful group, then the ideas of the least powerful group should not be criticised (at least not from without).

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      I think this is about two decades out of date. The idea of “identity politics” as something important has come and long since gone.

      This sounds like right-wing straw man template for criticism of the left.

      You way overreach in emphasizing “any idea” this way. But there are some ideas cherished by minorities that dominant white patriarchal society can’t tolerate that the left will defent.

      There are no left wing identity politics ideologues going around defending genital mutilation or stonings or the oppression of women or blasphemy laws because of identity politics.

      There are left wing intellectuals and critics who will defend the rights of law abiding American Muslims to build mosques and worship freely under the principles of humanism and first amendment Constitutional rights.

      There is a distinction between defending law abiding Muslims from right-wing Christian fanatics who would infringe upon their first amendment rights, and defending terrorists and fanatic tribalists in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan who shoot little girls for advocating education for girlst.

      The right always tries to blur this distinction and pretend that defending decent American’s religious freedom is the same as excusing Muslim brutality around the world.

      • david
        Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        “I think this [identity politics] is about two decades out of date . . . There are no left wing identity politics ideologues going around defending genital mutilation or stonings or the oppression of women or blasphemy laws because of identity politics”.

        Let me clarify – When I speak of an idea being cherished by a group i’m talking about ideas that MOST of the group explicitly champion.

        I don’t know where you live but here in the UK things are different. No one has ever been arrested for FGM, and no state institution or mainstrem political party highlights the issue. You’re right, they DON’T loudly defend it, but they simply ignore it.

        Stoning is rare in the Muslim world, so it doesn’t qualify as an idea that is widely and explicitly embraced, not here in the UK anyway.

        As for the “oppression of women” and “blasphemy”; you must be joking if you think that the majority of “liberal-left” opinion-formers support the blasphemer’s and speak out against female subordination wherever they find it.

        You display the sort of routine denial that is so common today.

        Ultimately, the issue is very simple: are we to judge ideas and behaviours according to their intrinsic worth; or must we first ascertain people’s skin colour, socio-economic class, historical/cultural tradition, etc, before making a judgement?

        The overwhelming majority of liberal-left opinion-formers are prepared to abandon almost every principle they formerly championed as a result of their faux idealisation and love affair of any convenient “underdog”.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

          As a member of the liberal-left, I am afraid you are largely correct. There is a lot of denial on my side of the political spectrum. What is shameful is that when one points this out one is immediately branded “sell-out” or worse. It seems to be hard for people to recognize that underdogs can do vile things, too.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

            Again, who are you talking about?

            Who are the “opinion leaders” who reflect this narrow mindedness, and which specific issues are you talking about. Without some specifics your references are a mystery to me.

            • gbjames
              Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

              Assuming we don’t need to get into an argument over what qualifies one to be an “opinion leader”, how about Chris Hedges?

              It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see this happening… Just wait for a Gnu atheist to write something about the scourge of Islam and watch what happens. And isn’t this entire conversation based on comments by Glenn Greenwald? Doesn’t he qualify as an example?

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                I’m more familiar with Greenwald than Hedges. I’ve seen Hedges in the context of Occupy Wallstreet and economics, but I’ve never heard any of his opinions on women’s rights, on Islam, or on New Atheism.

                But I seriously doubt you could find Greenwald defending the Saudi or Taliban treatment of Women. I think he is coming from a completely different angle when he defends Islam.

                I think in those emails Greenwald and Harris are both a bit emotional, and they are misunderstanding one another.

                For example, I think Greenwald is way wrong to accuse Sam Harris of Islamophobia. I also think Sam is way wrong in saying there is no such thing as Islamophobia. I think if they talked about it more expansively they could each grasp the others viewpoint better.

                People are too quick to take something meant one way and amplify and extend it into proportions that no longer resemble what the original speaker meant.

                For example, I know from Muslim Americans I have met, from prominent Muslim Americans in the media, and from people I’ve met and rubbed shoulders with during about 6-8 months of cumulative travel in around 10 different Islamic countries, that generalized attacks on Islam as a whole that characterize it as uniformly evil or as inherently violent are bunk. These types of arguments are hysterical and qualify as Islamophobia. This is the kind of thing I think Greenwald is attuned to defending against, and there is plenty of it among the Christian American right (and apparently some of the atheist American right).

                On the other hand, I’m very sympathetic to atheist arguments that Islam is a belief that is metaphysically false. I’m also very clear on the fact that Islam is associated with a lot of violence and oppression and primitive ideas that are anti-humanist, anti-liberal, anti-enlightenment. But I don’t see these problems as a necessity of Islam. They are rather historical creations of a convergence of tribalism, politics, geography, in an Islamic context. This is why we see distinct differences in Islamic political values between Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Europe, and North America. I also realize there are some unpleasant similarities with some fraction of the Muslim population. Both these things are true at the same time.

                None of this changes the obvious fact that Islam and Islamic countries tend to be extremely conservative, so that they preserve attitudes and opinions that haven’t been prevalent in most Christian/Western societies for many centuries.

                So I can’t take sides between Harris and Greenwald here. I see them both making mistakes in exaggerating what I think they really mean for rhetorical puropses, and misinterpreting the other, when they probably could find a vary broad base of points on which they agree. I think they both mean different things when they say “Islamophobia”, and they are approaching the critiques of Islam from different angles so they emphasize different aspects.

                I agree with Sam that Islam encompassas much brutal and oppressive primitive opinion which can not and should not be ignored or exused. But I disagree that the Christian right or Fascists are exercising what I would call moral clarity. I’d say they are more outspoken in their fanatacism, and it’s a mistake for Sam to call this “moral clarity”. I think Sam would agree that the right is outspoken against Islam for many of the wrong reasons, and that what he wants is for the left to speak up more for the right reasons.

                I agree with Glenn that the West is not innocent in this conflict, that Islam is not uniformly bad or terroristic or inherently violent or evil. To buck the trend of the post 9/11 band wagon that hsa seen the erosion of civil liberties in this country, an area Greenwald is keenly concerned about, perhaps he makes rhetorical gestures that can be interpreted as apologizing for Islamic excesses. But I think this is missing his point and taking his message further than he intends it to go in that direction.

                There are complex historical forces at work, and we should be able to talk bout them without having to jump on one extreme side or the other. There are good ideas and errors on all sides. We should not be forced to be anti-Islam or pro-Islam, but should be able to analyze the state of affairs and see what is harmful and what is relatively benign, and to speak clearly while maintaining awareness of the differences between honest principled criticism and emotional prejudicial bigotry.

                I’m not trying to advocate some non-commital neutral evasion that draws false equivalences while glossing over the hard issues. I think modernism, empirically driven reason, and humanism are far superior to tribalism, primitivism, and faith. But I also know that Muslims can find strength and solace in the ritual of the five pillars without being violent holy warriors or oppressing others, just as Christians can worship their Jesus without becoming mad apocalyptic lunatics or politically oppressive dominionists. So a humanist approach cannot impose reason and atheism impatiently or by force. It must be patient and prove that it truly is reasonable.

                So we need different categories when we address Islam and Christianity from an atheist point of view, or from a humanist or a political or an economic point of view. There is no single monolithic category that is appropriate for discussing these different issues, and this seems to escape people when they use language to make a point.

                There is no absolute innocence or guilt on either side of this conflict, and I think both Glenn and Sam are trying to defend viewpoints that derive from modern liberal humanistic values, but they are emphasizing different aspects and talking past one another.

                When we use language we can’t specify everything at once. Anything we say can be attacked from some angle because we have the necessity of omitting much while assuming the audience will understand us and give us the benefit of the doubt. We may agree with those who can find holes in our speech that can be attacked, because our speech is necessarily schematic and semantically thin to some degree. We have to make great assumptions when we read or listen to any writer or speaker in order to form an idea of what they are talking about. We can often be wrong about what they mean or believe.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                That was sort of a filibustering reply, Jeff.

                I gave you a couple of names. Now I’d ask that you reciprocate by providing some examples of humanists advocating that reason and atheism should be imposed by force.

                You are exemplifying precisely the issue I’m complaining of. People criticizing Islam are branded bigots and accused of wanting to impose atheism by force. That this line of reasoning emanates from someone who very likely agrees with me on most policy matters is very frustrating.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                @gbjames

                If by filibustering you mean long, that’s right. But it wasn’t meant to make points by drowning anyone out. Sorry about that, but it is exactly this point:

                When we use language we can’t specify everything at once. Anything we say can be attacked from some angle because we have the necessity of omitting much while assuming the audience will understand us and give us the benefit of the doubt.

                that makes it hard to say something brief without being misinterpreted. I think I tried to get at something more complicated and nuanced than taking sides, and I tried to pre-empt all the common attacks against such an approach.

                You ask this:

                Now I’d ask that you reciprocate by providing some examples of humanists advocating that reason and atheism should be imposed by force.

                I can’t do this if by force you mean violence. I suspect that’s how you interpreted my words, but that’s not what I meant.

                What I said is this:

                So a humanist approach cannot impose reason and atheism impatiently or by force. It must be patient and prove that it truly is reasonable.

                I should have written: “cannot impatiently force reason upon others more quickly than is possible,” or something like that.

                I was emphasizing patience vs impatience, and being reasonable. The use of “force” here meant that we can’t try to change things faster than they can change. We can’t make our New Atheist rhetoric so intense that it forces a change as fast we would like it to go. Violence was the last thing on my mind when I typed that.

                So I think that any of us, and I’ll include Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, may at times wish people to understand our points more quickly or easily than is possible, and that can make us impatient, even angry, and lead us to use very emphatic rhetoric that can easily be taken wrongly.

                We just have to be aware of that. We don’t have to go all soft and accomodationist, but we can try to understand why people may not understand us.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

                How does one “force reason upon others”? And, again, please provide examples of people wanting to do this.

                Your replacement phrasing: “cannot impatiently force reason upon others more quickly than is possible,” doesn’t help a lot. How can ANYTHING happen more quickly than possible? Can you show where someone is demanding that impossible things be done? (Other than religious folk who pray for miracles.)

                You say “I was emphasizing patience vs impatience, and being reasonable”. My head spins at the illogic of the apparent claim that those mean (strident/assertive/shrill/impatient) gnus aren’t being reasonable enough because they want to “force reason” on others.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

                Let’s just drop the word force. I’m not talking about violence, and of course it is exactly what I’m saying, that you can’t force reason on others.

                You can’t force a string into tube by pushing on it, or you can’t force toothpaste back into the tube.

                Likewise we can’t convince people of things before they are ready to listen and think about what we are saying.

                The key point was, if people misunderstand what New Atheists say, it isn’t always because they are idiots. Sometimes it’s because their priorities differ and they are looking at things from a different angle.

                We should try to understand why people don’t understand us, and I wish Harris and Greenwald had done a better job of that. I don’t think they believe things that would make them naturally hostile toward one another. I think Greenwald misunderstood something and made a bad tweet that Harris was right to be upset at. Then I think Harris didn’t understand Greenwald’s reasons for objecting to Sam’s usage of language. I think they are both right about a lot of stuff.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                I think that we understand pretty well why people hold to religion. And I see absolutely no support for the idea that clear, blunt, forceful (sorry for using that word) argument about why religion is harmful, dangerous, and just plain wrong, is somehow undermining the movement of people away from religion. Sorry, but that just makes no sense.

                What the “be nice” (aka tone trolling) position really amounts to is an attempt to shut down a certain viewpoint. Don’t be surprised when those being told to “be nice” push back and insist on calling Islam dangerous, Ray Comfort an idiot, and mocking them both.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

                Since what I typed is so long, I can’t blame you for perhaps skimming. But where did I say that blunt language is hurting any movement, or that just “being nice” was going to fix anything? This is an incorrect interpretation of what I was trying to say, one which I tried to anticipate because it is a common conclusion.

                I was talking about being smart, not nice. I said we need to be able to “speak clearly while maintaining awareness of the differences between honest principled criticism and emotional prejudicial bigotry.”

                I said we don’t need to go soft and accomodationist, but we can be smart enough to understand why some people, operating under a different set of assumptions and pursuing different priorities, can misunderstand us.

                If we are talking about the metaphysical incorrectness of Islam, from an atheist perspective, we can include all of Islam. If we are talking about the brutal oppression of women, there is great variation among Muslims. The category all Muslims no longer applies. If we are talking about violent jihad, the category we are referring to shrinks again. So it’s easy for people to get confused, and make unjust claims.

                If we address the concerns of atheism, women’s rights, and safety and security from terrorism in the same conversation, people won’t automatically and implicitly change the scope of reference, and its easy for people to draw wrong conclusions, for example to think Sam Harris is Islamophobic, or to think Glenn Greenwald is defending terrorists or apologizing for the oppression of women.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 5, 2013 at 5:19 am | Permalink

                Jeff, I think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Yes, I agree that being smart is a good thing. Few would disagree.

                You wanted examples of where folk on our side of the political spectrum react in stupid defense of Islam and equate critiques of the religion with imperialism, racism, and right-wing ideology. I gave you two. And your response is, essentially, that the problem is with those who criticize Islam… they aren’t being “smart”. Not careful enough in their wording. And such.

                You are providing an example of exactly the problem I’m disturbed about.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 5, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Oh well. Your summary indicates that you don’t understand what I was trying to say at all.

                I guess your right. No returns.

                So you think Hedges and Greenwald would defend the oppression of women in Islam?

              • gbjames
                Posted April 5, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                I think Hedges and Greenwald would argue that Islam isn’t responsible for it. They would say something like “these are broader cultural issues” or somehow shift to making an argument that if it wasn’t for Western imperialism these problems would have been resolved within Islam. They would cite some example of a Muslim woman who did well in life despite her religion.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted April 5, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                That’s a good point, and perhaps they would make an argument along those lines. But are they 100% wrong? Or 65% right? Or some other degree in between?

                Somehow we should be able to recognize that there are degrees of truth on different sides, and that we can’t think about these situations accurately if we try to stake out a position that is 100% correct.

                We can put on our “what is true today” hat and agree with what Sam Harris says about Islam. Then we can put on our “how did things get this way” hat and see validity in the emphasis Greenwald might place on the role of political, economic, and military history, and the way in which western militarized power today is using 9/11 and exaggerated existential fear of Islam to justify expansion and entrenchment of power and the erosion of civil liberties.

                We don’t have to pit A against B and decide which is right and which is wrong. We can try to clearly observe what is true in different points of view and see the complex ways the observed phenomena interact.

                I don’t see how we can congratulate ourselves if we dismiss the left, or dismiss the right, with a one dimensional argument that focuses only on religion. We can advance our best arguments against religion, and we should, but we are still left with the practical situation that these arguments aren’t going to pursuade billions of religious people to dump their faith overnight, and that the problems in the Islamic world are unlikely to be caused purely by religion and nothing else.

              • gbjames
                Posted April 5, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                That is just waffling jelly, Jeff. We need to be honest enough to say when something is wrong without making excuses or changing the subject.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          As for the “oppression of women” and “blasphemy” you must be joking if you think that the majority of “liberal-left” opinion-formers support the blasphemer’s and speak out against female subordination wherever they find it.

          I simply don’t know who you are talking about. It seems to me you are “talking to the chair” (an idealized cartoon strawman of the left).

          Give some examples of who you are talking about, the opinion formers who apologize for oppression of women for example.

          Otherwise I can’t take you seriously. Maybe we mean different things when we say “left”. I consider myself to be on the left and liberal (in the American sense) and I’m so far from this idiocy you are talking about I don’t recognize who or what you are referring to.

  39. A concerned liberal
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    I find it distressing how seemingly naive and out of touch Sam and and you and other prominent “New Athiests” are at times when it comes to the “professional Left” – and I say so as a card-carrying liberal.

    Greenwald has a well-deserved reputation of ideological zealotry and ends-justify-the-means propagandizing everywhere except on Daily Kos, and, it seems, among the most outspoken New Atheists.

    He is not an honest debater and is all about confirmation bias and us vs them binary thinking. He may couch his rhetoric in more sophisticated language than Rush Limbaugh, but at the end of the day he is just as sure of his own righteousness and just as unthinking about his politics.

    Sam’s surprise at Greenwald’s responses say more about Sam’s ivory tower circumstances than anything else.

    Come out of academia, you two, and engage with the real world every now and then; you’d be surprised that most self-titled, genuine Democrats, liberals and progressives in this country identify with the like of Glenn Greenwald as little as genuine skeptics and feminists identify with the likes of Rebecca Watson.

    There are so many more important fish to fry than these noisy fringe ideologues, who get all the column=inches and whose audience swells by precisely the same antagonistic, negative, knee-jerk anti-ism as the loudmouths on the Far Right.

    • hankstar
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure your concern has been noted.

      Whatever actual points you might have had were immediately eclipsed by your gratuitous insults, smarmy condescension and pompous prescriptions on what others should write about.

      “Come out of academia … engage with the real world every now and then”?

      Something tells me you don’t read this site very often.

      “More important fish to fry”?

      Perhaps, if being helpful is your goal here (as opposed to being a small, petty, self-righteous scold), you might like to provide a list of Important Fish that Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris and the other “New Atheists” (that’s “ei”) could all consult when considering what to write about on their own private web spaces and in their own time.

      Your red herring about Rebecca Watson and “genuine skeptics and feminists” was just the icing on your cute little hypocritical cake. Considering your misguided rantings up to that point I fail to see how you’re qualified to ajudicate on anyone else’s genuine-ness.

      • Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        I’ll assume that my rant was simply incoherent, rather than that you read it carelessly.

        My attack was on Greenwald’s rhetoric, and, yes, upon the naive, ivory-tower assumption that he is a legitimate, rational examiner of ideas and somehow represents legitimate progressive thinking, rather than simply being an ideologically dogmatic polemicist of the “Professional Left”.

        And the comparison was not a “red herring”. Greenwald and his fan club are pseudo-liberals in the same way Watson et al are pseudo-skeptics, which is to say not at all. They similarly promote an antagonistic, divisive, deliberately controversial and neo-puritanical style of politics that serves only to increase their visitor count, not to clarify, illuminate or empower.

        Simplistic, binary, ideologically-driven thinking on the Left is as toxic as it is on the Right, and indulging it in the spirit of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is akin to the accommodationist tolerance of religious fundamentalism.

        I find it interesting that, while my critiques were directed at public figures based on their public pronouncements, you chose to attack me personally, seeking to discredit the messenger rather than address any substantive critiques you might have of the message.

        That is hardly a rational response.

        • gbjames
          Posted April 4, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          It is nice we have you around to help us distinguish pseudo from real liberals and skeptics.

          “Simplistic, binary, ideologically-driven thinking”. My irony alarm box is shrieking.

          And a question… Are you a sock puppet? Who is talking here, “A concerned liberal” or “randomactsofreason”?

  40. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone else remember all the shouting from conservatives when Sam Harris suggested that the rich should use more of their money to rebuild infrastructure and fund education? Or when, after taking apart that Newsweek article where a neurosurgeon claimed to have experienced heaven, he was dismissed as a “dogmatic materialist” by the woo-infatuated, despite the repeated assertions by some atheists that he is actually a dualist? The guy just can’t win. Taking his various critics’ allegations together, you’d think that Sam Harris was a rightwing neocon pinko leftist warmonger peacenik druggie materialist spiritualist. That’s what I respect about him; he doesn’t toe anybody’s party line. He presents his views honestly and clearly on each specific issue, and every time a different group accuses him of being a shill for some other group. This time it’s liberals who are uncomfortable criticizing a foreign culture. While I don’t agree with everything he’s ever said, and I’m certainly not saying that his views should be beyond criticism, it is amazing to me how this pattern repeats itself nearly every time he posts on his blog. One of the most important things I learned from reading Harris’ books is that all our opinions don’t have to fit together into some overarching ideology; instead each issue should be considered separately based on the evidence that is relevant to it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      I think he’s maybe a contrarian.

      But I could be wrong.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      That’s how I see him too. And how refreshing!

    • Posted April 4, 2013 at 4:51 am | Permalink

      Mostly his views are pretty simple when not distorted: That the wellbeing of individuals is compromised by the propagation of bad ideas and that consequently we should oppose tyrannical systems of government and religions that are based on irrational ideologies.

      • Kelton Barnsley
        Posted April 5, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Well said!

  41. Rudolph the Red
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Sorry. Too deep. You’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Real atheists laugh at all religion. Come on, people.

    • Kelton Barnsley
      Posted April 5, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      It’s possible to laugh at all religion while distinguishing between religions that reliably lead to sectarian violence and those that don’t (and between those that have had their power diminished by secular government and those that haven’t).

  42. Cremnomaniac
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I had intended to stay out of this discussion for a variety of reasons. However, I became curious about the term “Islamophobia” given the apparent disagreement over it definition and use. Harris states there is no such thing and JC correctly points out that it is not in any form racism.

    The results of a dictionary search turns up no entry in merriam-webster, and the Oxford states, “a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially when feared as a political force.” So there seems to be no clear agreement among lexicographers.

    Most interstingly I came across a report by the Runnymede Trust which is apparently a highly respected organization in the U.K.

    the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank. We work to identify racial injustice where it exists and use sound research to influence those with the power to change things.

    The notable item relevant to this discussion is the consultation paper, “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”, published in 1997. Though dated, it seems that the organizations credibility coupled with this particular documents contents served has had a major influence in Europe at least, in regard what might be seen as an absence of reasonable criticism of Islam and its excesses. This is conjecture on my part of course, following just a couple hours research, but the use of the term seems to be embraced by mainstream media around this time.

    The report

    takes on board comments and suggestions from a wide range of people and institutions. It provides a fuller explanation of Islamophobia and its consequences throughout society, and sets out recommendations for practical action by government, teachers, lawyers, journalists and by religious and community leaders.

    I haven’t finished the report yet, but it is downloadable ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All. Their definition of Islamophobia is quite interesting. It contains eight components that I won’t post here. Also, the report is summarized in Islamophobia
    Summary
    .

    There is a followup report Islamophobia
    issues, challenges and action
    .

    I’m not sure how to interpret this stuff. The Runnymede also has argued for the importance of Faith schools in the U.K.

    It’s all quite fascinating and adds additional context for arguing the definition and use of islamophobia. I think it offers some insight into the source of charges levied at Harris and others.
    Nuff said.

  43. Gary W
    Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    Muslim Opinion Polls

    Example: A national poll of British Muslims from 2006:

    45% of British Muslims say 9/11 was a conspiracy by the American and Israeli governments.

    Almost 25% of British Muslims believe the 2005 London bombings, which killed 52 civilians and injured over 700 more, were justified.

    30% of British Muslims would prefer to live under Sharia law than British law.

    68% of British Muslims support the arrest and prosecution of people who “insult Islam.”

    What’s particularly disturbing about these numbers is that they reflect the views of Muslims living in a western liberal democracy, where culture and government generally promote the values of freedom and tolerance.

  44. Posted April 4, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    “It is obvious to any objective person that, among all faiths, Islam poses the most danger to our world.”

    Then why have Christian North America and Christian Europe killed 1000x more Muslims than the Islamic world has killed Christians over the past 20 years? And if you deny that Europe and North America are Christian then you have your head up your ass.

    Maybe what you call objectivity is what is being singled out here as Islamophobia?

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted April 5, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that’s Islamophobia. I think what we are talking about here is ethnocentrism. The danger Muslims pose to us is clearly understood. The danger we pose to others is blindly disregarded, or excused because we know and understand our own motives and can rationalize them.

      The same ethnocentrism causes people to be unable to understand poll results among Muslims. It doesn’t seem that many Americans are capable of looking back to 1953 and the CIA/MI6 engineered overthrow of Mossadegh and grasp that the outrage against the US in 1979 had clear justifications. Our counter justification was, of course, whether apt or not, the USSR. Few can grasp the idea or admit to the proposal that our Cold War policies might have bred tremendous resentment against us. No matter how justified those actions may have been in our minds, others see things differently.

      Authoritarian repressive right-wing regimes in several regions were financially and militarily propped up because they were willing to brutally and violently snuff out even the tiniest sparks of left wing popular movements, or any political reforms that might challenge the regime’s grip on power, whether the movement might be friendly to Moscow or not. We ignored lots of unpleasant facts about our own actions because it was expedient in our zeal to stop communism.

      It is ethnocentrism that prevents us from seeing how others see things. Certainly ethnocentrism is a major factor in much of what we can call Islamophobia, but it is bigger than Islamophobia.

      Certainly there are many valid criticisms of Islam that have nothing to do with exaggerating the supposed existential threat to our own civilization, particularly with respect to women’s freedoms and the freedoms of the individual in general. We regard these things as essential ingredient of happiness, and I think we are right. But the imaginary existential threat to our civilization is the bogus fear that Islamophobes feed on.

      This asymmetry in power and the resulting deaths is a common pattern througout history. It still operates today. For example few Americans could believe that Israel has killed at least 10 Palestinians for each Israeli that has been a victim of Palestinian terrorism, or violence of any kind. I believe the figure may be larger than that. But given what appears in our media, people can be forgiven for thinking that Israel’s existence is threatened, and that way more Israelis have been killed while the nice and civilized IDF politely holds the savages at arms length. This is what people believe. This is ethnocentrism at work, because the culture of Israel is closer to our own.

      What is happening is that a technologically advanced power is pushing a less advanced people off of its land, and this pattern has repeated itself at least hundreds if not thousands of time in the history of civilization. This is how the US pushed the Native Americans off their land, by using ethnocentrically framed self-justifications. It’s a tragedy, but it seems nothing can stop this pattern. People are skewed toward advancing their own interests, and not toward fairly balancing those against the interests of others. It seems like a pattern of human cultural evolution, the red in tooth and claw face of human cultural evolution.

      • Posted April 5, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        I hear what you’re saying, tho methinks it’s a pretty fine hair one splits – in effect, not theory – when differentiating between Islamophobia and ethnocentrism. But since we’re not coming from very different positions, really, I’ll just say thanks.

  45. Heber
    Posted April 7, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if anyone along this thread noticed this yet, but it seems that Glenn Greenwald has been caught engaging in more than a little sock-puppetry.

    http://patterico.com/2006/07/27/annotated-wuzzadem-the-facts-behind-the-greenwald-sock-puppetry/

    This will make a huge dent in Greenwald’s credibility, I really wouldn’t like to be in his shoes right now.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted April 7, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      You linked to something from 2006. You claim this is information that would destroy Greenwald’s credibility, and it hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet by 2013? Doesn’t seemvery plausible.

      Any writer that will quote Instapundit, as if Instapundit were a credible and informed source, is immediately suspect. The writer obviously can’t discern fact and reasoned analysis from manipulative propaganda, paranoia, and partisan groupthink.

      You think it’s plausible that Greenwald would waste his time trolling around on right wing web sites when he can get paid to write articles published in widely read news sources? Right. That’s why they’re called wingnuts.

  46. Posted April 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I like it when individuals come together and share ideas.
    Great site, stick with it!

  47. Reality Check
    Posted June 16, 2014 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Lean & Hussain admitted that their deeply held religious views color the topic. The can not be trusted. They throw around “islamaphobe” so often, I believe they are both Islamists.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] course, the accusation makes no sense. Or does it? It seems to have the same sociological function as saying THAT’S RACIST. As a [...]

  2. [...] where he concerns himself with Hussain’s and Greenwald’s defamatory pieces, here and here. Not to be ignored is the Standpoint article by Nick Cohen entitled “Feminism Or Islamism: [...]

  3. [...] Playing the “Islamophobia” card (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  4. [...] Playing the “Islamophobia” card (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

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