Sam Harris refuses to osculate the rump of Islam

As ISIS slaughters and beheads its way through the Middle East, the apologists for Islam are making their usual excuses: ISIS isn’t expressing “true Islam,” or, if it is, “the West brought it on through colonialism,” and so on.  I won’t have that, and, of course, neither will Sam. Unless you are so blinded by what ISIS declares as its motives, or are so contemptuous of the West that any reaction by Muslims can be blamed on colonialism, or are such a reverse bigot that you think that jihadis must be excused for their violent reactions, then you must conclude that ISIS is motivated by one thing: religion—the desire to establish an Islamic caliphate and wipe out the infidels. If it’s all due to the West, why are they killing mostly Muslims or those of other faiths who weren’t “colonialists”? It’s maddening to hear the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others excuse Islamic rage. They are as blind to the truth as are creationists. It distresses me that you can be just as blinkered by soft-brained liberalism as you can by religion.

But I digress, because I want Sam Harris to do the talking. On his website essay for today, “Sleepwalking toward Armageddon,” Sam goes after the Islamist apologists: not those who say ISIS is okay, but those who say that it’s not really Islam, or it’s not really motivated by faith. I didn’t realize that Obama said that last night, as I didn’t hear his talk (I didn’t want to), but Sam did. In his piece he goes after Obama’s mealymouthed attitude towards ISIS—meant, of course, to avoid upsetting the rest of the Muslim world.

A few snippets:

In his speech responding to the horrific murder of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist, President Obama delivered the following rebuke (using an alternate name for ISIS):

“ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt…. we will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for. May God bless and keep Jim’s memory. And may God bless the United States of America.”

We’ve already covered that one here.  But the President said more last night (italics):

In his subsequent remarks outlining a strategy to defeat ISIS, the President declared:

“Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim…. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way…. May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Sam’s reaction, on the money:

As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”

. . . But a belief in martyrdom, a hatred of infidels, and a commitment to violent jihad are not fringe phenomena in the Muslim world. These preoccupations are supported by the Koran and numerous hadith. That is why the popular Saudi cleric Mohammad Al-Areefi sounds like the ISIS army chaplain. The man has 9.5 million followers on Twitter (twice as many as Pope Francis has). If you can find an important distinction between the faith he preaches and that which motivates the savagery of ISIS, you should probably consult a neurologist.

Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces. But the task isn’t as simple as discrediting the false doctrines of Muslim “extremists,” because most of their views are not false by the light of scripture. A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran. The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity. It is not an accident that millions of Muslims recite the shahadah or make pilgrimage to Mecca. Neither is it an accident that horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world. Each of these practices, including this ghastly method of murder, find explicit support in scripture.

And the most telling part is Harris’s indictment of Westerners, often academics, who excuse this stuff, or blame it on “other factors”:

But there is now a large industry of obfuscation designed to protect Muslims from having to grapple with these truths. Our humanities and social science departments are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other diverse fields, who claim that where Muslim intolerance and violence are concerned, nothing is ever what it seems. Above all, these experts claim that one can’t take Islamists and jihadists at their word: Their incessant declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy are nothing more than a mask concealing their real motivations. What are their real motivations? Insert here the most abject hopes and projections of secular liberalism: How would you feel if Western imperialists and their mapmakers had divided your lands, stolen your oil, and humiliated your proud culture? Devout Muslims merely want what everyone wants—political and economic security, a piece of land to call home, good schools for their children, a little leisure to enjoy the company of friends. Unfortunately, most of my fellow liberals appear to believe this. In fact, to not accept this obscurantism as a deep insight into human nature and immediately avert one’s eyes from the teachings of Islam is considered a form of bigotry.

Note how his passion is, as always, expressed in great prose.

As I told one of these apologists, a Chicago colleague who blamed Muslim killings (mostly of Muslims, of course) as a natural reaction to Western colonialism, “What would they have to say to convince you that it really was religion that motivated them?”

That last paragraph is pure truth, and I have nothing but contempt for those who tie themselves in intellectual knots to blame anything but religion for the evils it causes. Like Sam, I hasten to add that not all Muslims are killers or oppressors of women, but must I keep saying that? When a Christian, motivated by the view that blastocysts of Homo sapiens are equivalent to adults, kills an abortion doctor, must we always tack on the caveat, “But of course not all Christians are like that.”? Of course they’re not. But there are many Muslims who share the ideals of ISIS and celebrate their barbarity.

Sam has some solutions to the problem (difficult ones, of course), but before we can even begin to solve the problems wrought by groups like ISIS, we must honestly admit to ourselves what is motivating them.


  1. GBJames
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I read this earlier today and agree that Sam is right on target.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink


    • darrelle
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Absolutely agree. Right on target and in top form.

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    If you want to see a despicable distortion by CJ Werleman on this essay, go look at my tweets (@lyonsnyc) with him from this morning. I’d reproduce them here but Jerry wouldn’t want that, understandably. But this is TWICE now that Werleman has lied. (The last time, a couple of months ago, was when he said Harris’s views on objective morality stem from his love of Ayn Rand. Uh, no: Harris cannot stand Ayn Rand.)

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      I’ve seen Werleman’s essays. He’s always quoting Robert Pape who supposedly showed that suicide bombers, Muslim or not, are motivated not by religion but by politics and the like. What people don’t know is that Pape’s study has been largely discredited since it was published.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . motivated not by religion but by politics and the like.”

        If I correctly recall, that is also Scott Atran’s position.

        • darrelle
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          It is indeed. Or at least was. Possibly he has changed his mind recently, but I doubt it. He has been very scornful of views like Sam’s and Jerry’s on this issue.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      Our shibboleths are all messed up. Too often, the only thing necessary to earn you a spot on the right side of the political spectrum in the view of many is to have made uncompromising criticisms of Islam.

  3. Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Also check out Sam’s tweet on The Quilliam Foundation

    I’ve just donated

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      (Sorry for being so OT, but you’re no relation to Tony the Tiger, are you?)

  4. Dave
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    The most effective and long-lasting colonialism undertaken in the Middle East in the last 500 years was that of the Ottoman Empire. Western powers merely nibbled around the edges for a few decades after that empire fell.

    And as for this undying trope that we’ve “stolen” their oil, I was under the impression that we pay them quite a lot of money for it. Not to mention the fact that we discovered it, invented the technology for extracting and refining it, and in addition devised the myriad industries that make use of it. It would have been better for the civilised world if oil didn’t exist in the Middle East. That way, its inhabitants would still be impoverished desert camel herders and the rest of us could happily ignore them.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      No, too far — the Middle East has been and is part of the “civilized world” with many excellent scholars, artists, writers, and places of learning. That is what makes this ascendency of Islam so tragic: they are obviously capable of so much better.

      And many Muslims know this, even in the Middle East.

      • Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        No, too far — the Middle East has been and is part of the “civilized world” with many excellent scholars, artists, writers, and places of learning.

        Sorry, but I don’t think I see that.

        Israel? Absolutely. Turkey? Just barely.

        After that…you’ve got Jordan and Egypt, both of which struggle mightily and perhaps nobly, but which really are quite far behind the West. Lebanon is a step behind those two.

        Yes, there’s Saudi Arabia which certainly has the oil wealth to compete, but which is horrifically barbaric and primitive in terms of its culture. Iran is not much different from an objective perspective.

        Iraq and Syria are failed states. And, before the first Gulf War, Iraq, oppressive as it was, was the most Westernized country in the region.

        Yemen and Oman are doing well just to stay off everybody’s radar.

        The rest are tiny nobodies. Those with enough oil wealth to avoid poverty (UAE, Bahrain, etc.) have Saudi-style stratified barbarism.

        Now, was the Middle East the literal cradle of civilization several millennia ago? Absolutely. And did the area enjoy a renaissance a bit over a millennium ago? Sure.

        But where the Enlightenment in the West freed us from the shackles of Christianity, the Middle East doubled down on Islam and, in so doing, one might say, screwed the pooch. They never did recover.


      • Thanny
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        You misspelled “used to be”.

      • Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        I agree with Ben.
        How many really great Arab scientists do you know? How many great philosophers, poets, writers? Sure, there are a few (who most often get their education and work out of the Middle East), but the Arabs don’t give their share in the fields that actually make this world better.

        • colnago80
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          Note that so far exactly 2 Muslim scientists have won Nobel Prizes in the sciences. Abdus Salam from Pakistan spent his entire productive career in universities in England and in his own Center in Trieste. Ahmed Zewail from Egypt has spent his entire career at the California Institute of Technology.

      • Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Sastra, are you so sure? Certainly, at the start, as Islam overran the great civilisations of the East, from the Byzantine Empire to Zoroastrian Persia and Hindu India (where most of Arabic maths cam from), there was a brief spurt of creativity in Islam, but it was quickly suppressed.

        One thing that the Muslim world does not seem to recognise is that Islam was a colonising power well into the 20th century. For Islam to complain about colonialism is about as reasonable as Scotland complaining about apartheid (as Salmond recently did).

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

          Oooo I hadn’t thought of the colonialism of Islam & indeed its tenets do smack of colonialism.

  5. Sastra
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I sometimes think that at least some of the liberal apologists may be actively pursuing Harris’ goal of “finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform (Islam)” by performing their own variation of the Jedi mind trick:

    “Islam is a religion of peace.”
    “There is no incitement to violence in the Quran.”
    “ISIS is an extreme fringe rejected by virtually all Muslims.”
    “These are not the infidels you’re looking for.”

    If so — will it work?

    Before we start to snicker maybe we should remember the persuasive power of repetition coupled with great confidence. The general public falls for it all the time — and now let’s focus on how well it works for the religious. Hell, mindless droning and repeating the same phrases with various flavors of assurance seems especially popular in Islam in particular. Recite the Quran in the original Arabic even if you have no understanding whatsoever and claim, over and over, that you have been inspired (Peace Be Upon Him.)

    I suppose it’s not a totally implausible tactic — assuming that’s what it is.

    • Kevin
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. Validate Islam by essentially making people think it is and truly purports to be innocuous. Except that right now, most religions are becoming more transparent and seemingly arbitrary as people become more educated. Religions want and need to have an edge to them. We are seeing this now as secularization forces boisterousness in religions.

      There are a few humans who really want religion to be right and they are the ones most willing to sacrifice everything for it. I am not sure any human-level-Jedi trick will work with them.

      • Sastra
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        It’s also an old teacher’s trick I think: praise children for what you want them to become.

        “I’m SO glad I’m substitute teaching for THIS class: you’re the most polite, respectful kids in the whole school. We always have such FUN!”

        It works only when they want your respect. By definition, religion must scorn the material world as either lower or insufficient without the special spiritual supernatural dimension. The humanist- leaning religions are forced to assert their superiority by denigrating gnu atheists and their “scientism” (without being able to claim any unique insights) while the fundamentalist-leaning religions separate themselves from The World by just getting weirder and weirder, choosing then between imposing their views and isolating their views: anything but reasoned dialogue.

        • Kevin
          Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          I forgot about some of my teaching tricks. I used to punish innocent kids in class for cheating, knowing who the real culprits were. This method utilized guilt, and, of course, was done at the immediate cost of having the innocent kid(s) demoralized.

          This method was used numerous times and the method universally produced admission from the guilty parties and a stop to any future cheating. I did eventually confide with the innocent parties that they were not at fault. Another interesting result of these episodes was that classes became stronger and there was greater respect and trust among classmates. Strange.

          • Sastra
            Posted September 12, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

            Very strange. It is not a strategy which would have occurred to me.

  6. Scote
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “we must honestly admit to ourselves what is motivating them”

    True, and part of that is not over simplifying the issues either way, neither all for or against Islam as the cause. Islam is a highly significant and pernicious factor that needs to be recognized as such, but not the only factor.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      There’s some apologetics already. Of course it’s not the only factor: some soldiers just want the fun of killing, others to leave home, etc. But all you’re doing is obfuscating stuff by saying that religion is not 100% of the motivation for the actions.

      One thing is for sure: if there were no religion, this wouldn’t be happening. I doubt that you could say that about your “other factors.”

      • Cole
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        I’ll have to reread your and Sam’s post to locate the passage wherein you claim all Muslims are 100% motivated by religion to do evil and that there are no additional contributing factors. When I do, I’m going to shame you SO HARD.

        Next time, be a good liberal and riddle your post with tedious qualifiers. 🙂

      • Scote
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Apologetics? Not at all. Merlely a factual acknowledgement human psychology is complex. I hope the forum doesn’t dogpile and PZ on me by jumping to conclusions because I argue to treat complex issues as complex. I am in no way excusing the role of Islam in *Islamic* State.

        I think Islam is a religion that is particularly dangerous because it combines religion and state, making criticism of the state blasphemy and punishable by death. However I also recognize that the kind of sociopathic brutality that is occurring under Islamic Sate also occurs under secular dictatorships. So it’s not possible to put all of the blame solely on Islam. We should neither excuse Islam nor extend to it exclusive blame in complex situations. Syria’s dictator is Muslim, for example, and used bilogical wrapons on his own people. Was that because of Islam? I’d say “no.”

        Gven the horrible power vacuum in the Middle East after US bombed much of their infrastructure into rubble there would be something going on, some reaction, some power grab regardless of religion’. Would it involve beheadings? Maybe not, but it could involve atrocities. Atrocities are often enabled by the group think and of lack of critical thinking common to many religions but are not limited to them.

        Please understand I’m not defending Islam, I definitely think it has made the situation in the Middle East worse, but I shouldn’t have to keep saying that over and over again in order to have nuanced conversation with atheists like myself.

        • GBJames
          Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          There’s that word “nuance” again. I hate that word. Usually when I see “nuanced” it is being used to distract from a fact somebody doesn’t want to directly address.

          • Scote
            Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            Given that I have explicitly called out Islam as being dangerous and pernicious would you care to explain, specifically, what your generic complaint has to do with my post other than the fact I used a specific word?

            • GBJames
              Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

              The word “nuance” is commonly used to distract.

              Jerry responded to your earlier post having picked up on a vibe that is all too common… “Yeah, but…”. The objection that there are more than one factor at work is not helpful. There is ALWAYS more than one variable involved in human/social situations. But the MAIN one in Middle East conflicts, that so many people do their best to avoid, is religion.

              My reaction to your use of the word “nuanced” was that it seems to reflect a need to get past the “Islam is dangerous” part and shift the conversation elsewhere. (Where? I’m guessing “colonialism”. Amerika. Oil barons.)

              In answer to your question about Assad… You seem to think that since the victims are “his own people” that religion couldn’t possibly be involved. But just like Christianity, there are some Muslims that aren’t “real” Muslims. Christians slaughtered each other for centuries because some of them were “true” Christians and others were heretics.

              Sectarian differences play a major role in Syria’s civil war.

              Bush/Cheney lit the fuse. But Islam is the explosive. And we don’t need to nuance our way from honestly recognizing the religious nature of these conflicts.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

            I hate that that word has been ruined! It used to be a good word before it was abused. Maybe “nuance” will declare a jihad.

            • Nikos Apostolakis
              Posted September 13, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink


      • CB
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Problem with that statement is that there never has been any group of people without a religion.

        • Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

          Exhibit A. The regular posters here. Case closed.


          • CB
            Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

            Good luck with that.

        • GBJames
          Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink


          Never been a group of people without religion?

          Come visit my family. Go to an FFRF convention.

          Are you hallucinating or did I misunderstand you?

          • CB
            Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

            I never meant to draw WTF’s in response. And I was being slightly ironic. But also I feel there is a continuum from fundamentalist fanaticism to dogmatism to strongly held beliefs etc and not clearly definable boundaries. And one can grow into the other under pressure. I am not attracted to FFRF, tho’ maybe I should read more about it. There is to my mind a dogmatic element in the atheist movement- but that is a trap for all movements-even some Buddhists. Maybe that is the only way we learn-falling into traps and figuring out why. Thanks for your response.

            • GBJames
              Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:30 am | Permalink

              I wasn’t suggestion that you need to be attracted to FFRF or any other group of atheists. I’m just pointing out that a large number of “groups without religion” exist.

              • CB
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                Well, they say they are free from religion. But then we likely differ in what we each are willing to call religion. And I acknowledge that I likely have a much looser definition than you. Monotheism does not cover the whole spectrum and to me,for this conversation,has more to do with dogmatic ideas. Hardening of the categories.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                I see. You’re among the “atheism is a religion” crowd. Under that umbrella you are correct, there has never been a group that lacked religion.

                I’m of the “all living things are fish” crowd. I eat nothing but fish products. Every day I walk our fish. My wife and children are all covered with scales.

                It has been a pleasure talking with you, my fishy friend.

              • Posted September 12, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

                Fish? We’re all segmented worms, my friends! (Our spines attest to that!)


              • CB
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                Aha, I see you need to categorise. No, I am of the try to understand how the mind works tribe.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                To paraphrase someone upstream, there’s never been a human being who didn’t categorize.

              • CB
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                To reply to GB James,
                Yes, but we categorize too quickly. Anyway, this is fun but possibly not too useful.
                Categorisation has a tendency to turn into religion.. If anything I am a Buddhist , plus being a biologist with a thorough education in evolution and
                I do not quibble with the atheist point of view. And I do think we progress as humans (moral, intelligent beings)by much the same way as evolution proceeds.We stand on whatever we inherit as genetics, education or understanding or whatever hand we have been dealt and hopefully are open to how that fares in a larger context.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                Categorization is fundamental to language. There is no communication in the absence of categorization.

              • CB
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                Well, are you a splitter or a lumper? We categorise, theorise and then either stick like glue out of personal defensiveness or possibly use it as a weapon to negate other points of view or else we use it, more properly,as a provisional intellectual structure, not explanation,until more data come in.Meanwhile the world goes on and we have to act. Categorization is misused as a putdown.

              • GBJames
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

                Splitters and lumpers both categorize. Nobody doesn’t categorize.

          • E.A. Blair
            Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

            I can see CB’s point if you replace “group of people” with “culture” or “nation”. Even the supposedly (so-called) atheistic (so-called) communist states*, while officially repudiating religion, never managed to stamp it out entirely.

            *With the possible exception of North Korea – I have no idea what passes for religion at whatever grassroots level they have left.

            • E.A. Blair
              Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

              You will, however, find significant numbers of subcultures without religion.

            • Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

              Well, yes, but that’s not what CB said.


            • GBJames
              Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:24 am | Permalink

              FWIW, I think Christopher Hitchens had it right when he said that North Korea was very much a religious state…

              “Yet even Orwell did not dare to have it said that “Big Brother’s” birth was attended by miraculous signs and portents – such as birds hailing the glorious event by singing in human words. Nor did the Inner Party of Airship One/Oceania spend billions of scarce dollars, at a time of horrific famine, to prove that the ludicrous mammal Kim Il-Sung and his pathetic mammal son, Kim Jong-Il, were two incarnations of the same person. (In this version of the Arian heresy so much condemned by Athanasius, North Korea is unique in having a dead man as head of state: Kim Jong-Il is the head of the party and the army but the presidency is held in perpetuity by his deceased father, which makes the country a necrocracy or mausolocracy as well as a regime that is only one figure short of a Trinity.)

              “The afterlife is not mentioned in North Korea, because the idea of a defection in any direction is very strongly discouraged, but as against that it is not claimed that the two Kims will continue to dominate you after you are dead. Students of the subject can easily see that what we have in North Korea is not so much an extreme form of Communism—the term is hardly mentioned amid the storms of ecstatic dedication—as a debased yet refined form of Confucianism and ancestor worship.”

              • E.A. Blair
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                I also forgot about Juche

            • Posted September 16, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

              I call NK the deliberate three-way oxymoron of a confucian stalinist theocracy. The state is about worshipping Dear Leader, etc. so it is religious in the “ancestor worship” sense, and in the sense that DL is held in some sort of divine awe or the like, officially.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Sure it may not be everything but why infantilize these people by supposing that they don’t really mean what they say and are only reacting to evil done to them?

      Religion gets no pass & it’s time to stop treating the religious like children when they do something foul in the name of their religion.

  7. eric
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?

    I like the specificity, I think it cuts through a lot of the gray area. I think one problem with many critiques of religious belief is that belief in general doesn’t correlate with murderous behavior. its not smoking and cancer, it’s more like background radiation and cancer – the correlation is so low that, if there is one, its swamped by noise.

    But the specificity here gets rid of that problem. Extreme beliefs about jihad, martyrdom, the proper punishment for apostasy – there is probably a much stronger and more easily identified correlation there. Something we can really point to and say “cigarette. Lung cancer.”

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that’s a good analogy.

      As a practical matter, the American military presence certainly paved the road for the Caliphate. We destabilized the region and practically guaranteed that there would be a thriving and fircely-motivated opposition that was well-equipped and well-trained (granted, indirectly) by our own military. So, in that sense, yes, the Western liberals are right: it’s our imperialist fault…but they, especially Obama, aren’t willing to admit our responsibility is so direct, even if it’s the result of our own hubris and naïveté.

      But, even if we built and lit the careless campfire, the out-of-control forest fire that now rages is fueled overwhelmingly by religion.

      What the liberals are doing is claiming that, since the conflagration started with a match, we must consider it a match fire, not a forest fire, and we mustn’t dare blame drought or excessive dead undergrowth from poor management or widespread disease or anything other than that one single original match for the blaze.

      In reality, whatever the cause, it’s a fire that’s caught the crowns and is going to burn down the entire forest and arguing over what started it whilst pretending that it’s anything other than a full-blown forest fire is idiotic.

      And the fuel that’s burning is Islam, fanned by the wind of extremism — with the two setting up their own self-propagating circulation patterns: a firestorm of extremist Islam.

      Not a pretty sight at all, and why we shouldn’t be so careless with our campfires (and matches) and practice much better forest husbandry…but we’ve still got this extremist Islam firestorm to deal with, and it’s extremist Islamic flames that are out of control and threaten so much.

      I’ll note, though…sure seems to me that Obama is proposing we douse the flames with gasoline and dynamite, with only token and woefully inadequate attention put to clearing firebreaks and applying retardant. Gee, I wonder what could possibly go worng with this plan?



      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        I have heard analysts claim that even though the war in the middle east was stupid, the ISIL phenomenon would have occurred regardless & much earlier & without the West being so condemned.

        • Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          Considering that the Caliphate wouldn’t have a prayer without a significant power vacuum and the Hussein regime showed no signs of implosion before we blasted it back to the stone age, I’m not sure I buy into that analysis….


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 12, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

            IIRC the Hussein regime was anticipated to fall a part.

            • Posted September 12, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

              Yes…but by Bush & Co. The same team that anticipated that Iraqi civilians would welcome us with open arms and bouquets of flowers the moment we were finished bombing the ever living shit out of them. The same ones who thought Chalabi was honest. The same ones who thought Saddam had a nuclear weapons program and massive chemical weapons stockpiles. The same ones….


              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted September 12, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                I don’t know that it was the same. I’m not sure who tried to advise Bush not to invade for those reasons.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted September 12, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        “As a practical matter, the American military presence certainly paved the road for the Caliphate.”
        And didn’t just pave the road, but put a lot of the vehicles and weapons on it that they are running around with (Daily Fail article from lazy googling).

  8. Kevin
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Ceiling Cat bless Sam. Reminds me of the incredulity that I have had to endure listening to people who work towards US national security interests, either directly or indirectly, and tell me with a straight face, that religion plays either no role or a very small role in the violence of the Middle East.

    What blinds people from identifying religious motivations is the insecurity of their own beliefs. The major concern of Christian people is that they are aware that to deny Islam as a religion on grounds that it is founded by psychopathic illiterates is to deny the majority of the foundational beliefs of their own religion.

    It is the un-embraced truth of religion: If you choose to sit next to the crazies, you are going to have to sit next to all the crazies.

  9. E.A. Blair
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink


  10. Posted September 11, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Here in Germany one problem is that conservatives condemn Muslims and Islam generally, because “they don’t belong in Germany”. It’s not only nationalistic idiocy that causes this, but also the fact that there is little separation between church and state here. (They’ve managed mosque/state separation quite well here so far!) The tax dept, for example, collects €11 billion per year in church taxes.

    Muslims are quite openly discriminated against here (significantly worse that in the UK or, I imagine, the US).

    It would be easier to make the necessary and important criticisms of Islam here, if a whole lot of racist loons didn’t take it as an open invitation to further discriminate against and alienate German Muslims.

    What’s missing here is real separation between religion and state; strong and enforced anti-discrimination laws to protect Muslims in the workplace and in public life; and strong protection of Muslims against being harassed or murdered by other Muslims if they speak out or live freely.

    These aspects of civil society are the first places where ISIS needs to be fought. Supporting civil rights and secularism is identical to opposing everything these assholes stand for. And preventing or hindering these things is ceding important ground to them.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Nationalism is such a strange thing & I almost feel like it is on the down swing former British colonies (I could be wrong) while on the upswing in Europe.

      • Posted September 12, 2014 at 12:05 am | Permalink

        Yeh, that’s my impression too. In the UK, post-colonial guilt seems (to me) to have gone too far, with all the Islamist apologetics masquerading as multiculturalism. That happens rarely in Germany, (having not been much of a colonizer for the most part). But there is a downside….

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    [This became longish, because I lifted out strong quotes. I think the subject merits that.]

    In the interest of looking as objectively as possible on the motivations of ISIS, I call bull on predictions that do not include religion.

    I will come back to that at the end. Let me get there by way of my summation of the swedish media inage:

    A recurrent meme is that ISIS are extremist, and therefore religion shares no blame.

    – Longer analyses includes all the “arabian spring” nations that have current problems and starts with colonialism. [Ibid.]

    Colonialism should be included as a potential motivation, because ISIS uses colonialism and the Sykes-Pinot line for support. They staged a symbolic “crushing of the Sykes-Pinot line” by publishing images of a bulldozer moving desert sand June 20th.

    – People cast blame on US. Patrick Cocburn, which seems negative to US and positive to Russia according to his published book titles [Wikipedia], implies that US is nearly as implicit in initiating ISIS in Iraq as Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. This time they didn’t give arms directly to the terrorist group to be, but to Al-Qaida enemies among other Sunnis in Iraq. Those were later recruited by ISIS. [Ibid.]

    And now I come to the obvious and major motivation of ISIS that is religion. I have found only one person who has contacted an ISIS member.

    – ISIS terrorists/imams want to “save” people. In fact, they are brainwashed to believe they have to:

    “On Sunday, I spoke again with Abu Adil.

    “You must understand, Mr Nuri, that if I, or we, do not try to lead you in the right direction – to find Allah (God) and follow the right prophet – I become an accomplice, I will also be punished for your sins, and worse than you. I have to save my own soul, my own life, actually. My mission is to open your eyes, get you to follow us and be a part of the Great Caliphate. “”

    – When they kidnap children to force them to convert, they “save” them too:

    “I ask him if the kidnapped children.

    “We have not kidnapped any children. We have saved the child. Now they will grow up under the right path – the Qur’an.””

    – And when they serial rape women, they “marry” them:

    “So I asked if Niqah Jihad. Did he know what it was for something?

    “Of course I do: women from all over the world come here to participate in our holy war. But they commit no sin, they get married. ”

    Niqah Jihad is still a new concept forced on us since Isis or ICE took our consciousness. “Niqah” means marriage. But in practice, “marries” a woman with many different men per day. An imam consecrates the pair and then stands outside the room while the man raped the woman. Then he separates them. Now she is ready for the next marriage and the next divorce.”

    – The main goal is to institute as large a theocracy as possible:

    “”What are your goals?” I ask before Abu Adil go to eat dinner.

    “We’ve reached our goal, we have been using Allah’s (God’s) help built our caliphate. We have only one goal left and that is to get the whole world to follow the right path. We must liberate Jerusalem.””

    [As it turns out, they also want to “crush” Iran/Shiites.]

    No religion? All religion, by their own words! I rest my case.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Excuses for the bad formatting. All the bullet points should have been bold, and the first has an edit error. Let me try again:

      – ISIS terrorists want to “save” people. In fact, they are brainwashed to believe they have to:

      – When they kidnap children to force them to convert, they “save” them too:

      – And when they serial rape women, they “marry” them:

      – The main goal is to institute as large a theocracy as possible:.

      And of course some of the bad spelling is due to Google Translate, some due to me. :-/

  12. thh1859
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s essential to get Russia and China on board.

  13. worried secularist
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Letting Islam off the hook as motivation for ISIS is simply a variant on the “No true Scotsman” argument.

    As for the anti-colonial argument, recall that these “Muslim lands” were themselves colonized by Islam.

  14. Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Harris is on the money with this. In a way, it is insulting to ISIS and other such groups to claim it is not real/true Islam they represent. They claim they’re doing this crap out of faith to their god and his commands to them. Yes, it is Islam and it is their religion that that motivates them to do what they do. Not agreeing with what they’re doing does not make it any less religious to those doing it. Are the christian conservatives who hate gays and preach the crap they do not “true” christians? Hell, to me, they are the very core of it. Way to go Sam Harris. We need more like him.

  15. David Evans
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    When Harris writes

    “It is not an accident that millions of Muslims recite the shahadah or make pilgrimage to Mecca.”

    he weakens his argument. The shahadah is a simple statement

    “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

    Neither that nor making a pilgrimage are indications of a violent religion. Christians also recite creeds and make pilgrimages. He has better arguments than that.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      Harris didn’t suggest that the shahadah or haj are acts of violence. The idea was that just as it’s clear that people say the shahadah or go to Mecca because they are Muslims, people slaughter in the name of Allah because they are Muslims.
      You don’t have to agree with Harris (though I think you should 🙂 ), but don’t think that he is fool enough to believe that everything Muslims do is violent.

    • Isaac
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that argument is meant to prove that Islam is a violent religion. Rather, it’s offered as evidence that millions of muslims really do take their scriptures seriously. In other words, they do what they do because it says so in their holy books. I think you missed the point.

  16. Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    “What would they have to say to convince you that it really was religion that motivated them?”

    This question is right on the money.

    Another perhaps helpful question that never seems to be considered is this: If it is all about colonialism and the humiliation of local culture by Western influences, where please are the Guatemalan, Angolan or Burmese civilian-murdering suicide bombers, for example? Apparently there are different ways of reacting to past colonialism, so what makes the difference?

  17. colnago80
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Glenn Greenwald is a fanatical Israel basher. Anyone who goes to his new website will be appalled at his visceral hatred of that country. He is also a fanatic basher of the USA. Based on reading a few posts on his blog, which I will not link to, it seems to be his opinion that the US and Israel are responsible for most of the trouble in the world.

    I stopped going to his website after he failed to respond to my challenge to travel to the Gaza Strip and interview the officials there, including Ishmael Haniyeh. Of course, he will do no such thing because, as an out of the closet gay man, he knows full well that he would be fortunate to exit the
    Gaza Strip other then feet first. The Hamas terrorists who run that place are fanatical haters of homosexuals and an out of the closet gay man is subject to summery execution if caught.

    In a response to an earlier comment of mine on another thread, he said that he felt no obligation to condemn the attitude of the authorities in Muslim countries for their anti-gay bigotry.

  18. thanku
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    What enlightened, civilized, no bull discussion. Rara avis.

  19. Posted September 11, 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Well said Sam! Islam, more than any other religion, I think is facing the greatest challenge due to the onslaught of undeniable and unshakable scientific facts! 1,450 years ago it shot in its foot and locked all its escape routes by its own medieval dogmas and now being cornered by science, which has mockingly negated all its so-called truths about the world. Like a candle that flickers brighter before it dies out, it’s making its final attempt to resuscitate through its blind faith believers who are desperately trying to make it stand on the crutches of ideology based on nothing but figments of human imagination. The so-called educated Muslims are also giving it a very helping hand but in vain. Left alone most of the highly religious societies will self-destruct–Islamic one to start with. But such destruction will have long and across-the-border repercussions. The only solution is lock-up all the mullah and mutawwas for ever, scientifically educate the general public and put a leash on religiosity; restrict it to only inside the homes and mosques. No place else should have any reflections or symbols of Islam. In short, You need a stronger Kamal Ata Turk in every Muslim society! Unfortunately the more science and technology is progressing and propagating the more religious some societies are becoming–Islamic being at the top at present. For every sci-educated person there seems to be a thousand religious idiots. With all the scientific tools these idiots want to go back to medieval times. They should be stripped of all the high-tech tools and armories, given only the swords, and sent back to villages of mud houses and narrow streets, exposed to strong elements and see how they can survive there. How can there be a caliphate with mobiles, vehicles, guns n bullets, etc.?
    Thanks a lot!
    Your ardent fan,
    Anwar Ali Khan
    Prof. of English

  20. Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    A dissent. I’m inclined to give the President a lot of slack when he puts so much effort into drawing distinctions between Islam and ISIS in a speech like this. It’s basic diplomacy.

    Obviously the Obama Administration has decided to escalate military operations against ISIS. A successful, sustained effort is going to require enormous cooperation from countries having significant devout Muslim (especially Sunni) populations. In the comfort of my home office, there’s no downside to me pondering the intriguing things Sam Harris has to say. But these are things that, if spoken by the President of the United States, would sink an Arab-supported coalition against ISIS before it even left the dock. The President is not a liberal scholar mainlining PC tolerance. He’s a world leader trying to balance countervailing and complicated interests.

    When you want prospective allies to commit lives and resources to armed conflict, you show solidarity against the enemy. You objectify and vilify the enemy. You don’t take this opportunity to point out that, gosh, the enemy and the allies sure do have an awful lot in common. There’s another time for the reformation/modernization conversation (which, by the way, happens frequently–to uneven effect–via diplomatic, cultural, and other channels).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      I think Obama could actually achieve diplomacy and be truthful. If he simply stated that the US enjoys good relations with many Islamic nations but these guys do not speak for those nations and they are dangerous so the US will work with its allies, including those in the Middle East to mitigate this threat.

      I think that would do it. I honestly think Obama is addressing the American public when he speaks of ISIL not being Islamic – as if to say, “look, don’t act like yokels and go harass brown people you know”. I don’t think he is addressing Islamic leaders.

      • Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Diana. Regarding you first point, perhaps. But there’s benefit in completely delegitimizing the bad guys by drawing stark (but arguable) black lines between ideologies. Of course, then there’s a question of whether one loses too much credibility thereby . . . . Glad I’m not the President.

        Your second point is persuasive. I wonder if it runs counter to your first a tad, though. If Obama were more forthright in drawing a straight line from the Koran to ISIS, to what extent might that fuel anti-Islamic (or anti-Sikh, or anti-not-quite-lily-white, as experience has shown) hooliganism?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:14 am | Permalink

          It’s hard to say what hooliganism against minority religions the truth might cause but I think if Obama thinks there will be trouble, calling it out as unacceptable and addressing it would go a long way of curbing it. Typically those people who would do such things, are looking for any excuse to do so.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      When you want prospective allies to commit lives and resources to armed conflict, you show solidarity against the enemy. You objectify and vilify the enemy. You don’t take this opportunity to point out that, gosh, the enemy and the allies sure do have an awful lot in common.

      Yes, that’s common “wisdom” in these matters.

      The only problem is…we have overwhelmingly painfully hard empirical evidence that that’s exactly what gets us into these problems in the first place.

      Usama bin Laden was our ally against the Soviets, and we helped him create al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein was our ally against Iran. I don’t know if we directly supported the infant ISIS / ISIL / Caliphate, but we sure as fuck were (and still are) supporting their spiritual cohorts in our efforts to destabilize Assad in Syria.

      And those aren’t isolated examples…if there’s any thread that weaves together the story of American foreign affairs for the past century or so, it’s the steel cable of blowback. We have the reverse Midas curse; everything we touch turns to shit.

      …and, yet, we can’t stop touching….


      • Posted September 11, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Ben. My wisdom is immune from irony quotes. 🙂

        You raise a related but separate point. My contention, and the post by Sam Harris, are focused on how the Obama Administration, having decided that it needs to hammer ISIS harder and longer, is characterizing ISIS to build support among Muslim allies. In other words, how does Obama sell the decision?

        You seem to be questioning the prudence of the decision itself, because it may have consequences that doesn’t justify the intervention. Yeah, sure. It might, it might not. Bottom line is that we are stuck in the position of having to choose the least awful option from a fairly short but extremely costly menu of awfuls. I don’t know which we should pick.

        But I am confident that once we’ve picked one requiring extensive and enduring support from Muslim allies, it’s probably not constructive for the President to explain how their beliefs are more in alignment with the bad guys’ than with ours.

        (Or am I misreading your comment entirely? Are you saying that a President who has decided to expand military operations against ISIS should neither vilify ISIS nor assuage the religious sensitivities of regional allies he’s trying to court? Your “that’s exactly what gets us into these problems” statement suggests as much, but I don’t think that’s exactly what you meant. If it is, you’ve lost me from the get-go.)

        • Posted September 11, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          Correction/clarification to second long paragraph:

          You seem to be questioning the prudence of the decision itself, because it may have negative consequences that outweigh the benefits of the intervention.

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          The worst thing about Obama’s speech is that, while denying that Allah is on the side of the IS, he can’t stop trumpeting that the (Xtian) Gawd is on his. That’s not designed to sell anything to the Muslim world: it’s purely for domestic consumption, and pandering to the religious Right who are his domestic enemies anyway.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      Perhaps basic diplomacy can be improved upon. The status quo is not exactly what I would call swell.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    When I watched the Obama address last night I was yelling at the TV: Yes, it’s Islam! Stop infantilizing!

    Sam nailed it!

  22. Marella
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    “so contemptuous of the West that any reaction by Muslims can be blamed on colonialism,”

    And so contemptuous of Muslims that they think they don’t understand their own motivations, and are so fragile that a bit of colonialism turns them into crazed murderers of whoever happens to be nearest. This attitude is not nearly as “progressive” and enlightened as its adherents imagine. It is thoroughly racist in fact, as it assumes a completely different standard of behaviour for Muslims than the civilized world. The poor simple Muslims can’t be expected to behave themselves, it’s not their fault, they were colonized. Which completely ignores the many peoples who were colonized for far longer, but who haven’t devolved into anarchy and brutality.

  23. Peter Robbins
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes diplomacy requires diplomacy.

  24. Randy Schenck
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris speaks the truth and to call out Obama on this pathetic attempt to take religion away from it’s central part in this mess is absolutely essential if we are to ever stop spinning our wheels in the Islamic world.

    After a decade of failure in Iraq there is now suddenly to be togetherness with Sunni and Shea to fight the new common enemy ISIS? It is nonsense to think this. As Andrew Bacevich said today on Public TV, we have no strategy in sight to prevent the next ISIS and the next from popping up all over the middle east. So how is this “new” fight going to solve anything?

    So let’s see….we have no real strategy and we can’t even admit this is a religious inspired group. Good Luck with that.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      I presume Obama would be reasonably grateful to hear any reasonable, rational, cogent strategy recommendation anyone might care to offer.

      • Peter Robbins
        Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        According to some foreign-policy experts on this website, fastest way to get Muslims to kill ISIS fighters would be to convince them that ISIS is full of apostates, infidels and enemies of Islam. Obama is doing what wrong again?

  25. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    “…Obama’s mealymouthed attitude towards ISIS — meant, of course, to avoid upsetting the rest of the Muslim world.”

    The second half of this is exactly correct. The “mealy-mouthed” part is off-base: while the President may think and feel many different things about ISIS personally, every word he reads aloud in official White House foreign policy speeches on live teevee is *all about* achieving policy objectives.

    In this case, he needs just about all of the non-bloodthirsty Muslim world to buy in to and go along with his we-just-do-air-support strategy if it is to have any chance to succeed.

  26. Posted September 11, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I largely agree with Harris and Jerry on this. However, and please forgive me if I read to much into this, I think that this post also falls to the trap of trying too hard to not look like bigotry, especially in the paragraph before the last one.
    I am really not in the business of defending religion in general or any particular religion, but Islam and Muslims are nowadays different from any other existing religion. Of course you can find Christians, Jews and Buddhists do terrible things in the name of their religions, but you cannot find any mainstream leader of those religions who openly advocates violence. However, you can easily find prominent Muslim religious leaders who preach violence and death.
    Also, what’s exception in other religions is the norm in Islam.
    I fully recognize that Muslim cultures were at times tolerant (at least in contemporary terms), but in our time, it’s a violent culture like no other modern religion.

  27. Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Reading through Sam’s piece and the comments here, one is struck by the myopia of the debate: what is the relationship of ISIS to Islam? Everyone agrees that ISIS is a bad bunch. There’s a lot of disagreement over the origins of that bad bunch, how much religion plays, how much other cultural factors play, but everyone agrees that ISIS is bad. Except, of course, for whoever pays their bills; someone evidently likes them.

    What’s lacking in Sam’s and most everyone else’s comments is a suggestion about what to do about it. Sam said maybe missiles are the best we can do yet. Someone in the comments mentioned stepping up our military response. Someone else questioned the wisdom of throwing dynamite on a fire; but for the most part, most people have ignored the crux of the problem: which is “so what?” So what are we going to do about it?

    From the outside, it looks like an internal sectarian argument amongst the Muslims and it’s for them to straighten out. ISIS, no more than any other Muslim terrorist group, offers scant worry for the West. They don’t even control a country, much less are able to mount an attack on any Western country. They are hardly a threat to Europe, much less us. I don’t see that we have any responsibility or reason to enter into the fray. My rule is, when Norway, Chad, and Bhutan decide to go into, we will follow. Until then, I advise we stay put.

    What’s most disturbing is how easily we fall for their bait. When such groups attack us, they do so, not to inflict serious harm on us, only to inflict symbolic harm. They know that we respond, not to real harm, but to perceived offenses. What they are looking for is our response; they want us to bomb them, to send in troops. They know that they strengthen their cause by making a common enemy, and that as their common enemy, we becomes more prominent when we take military action against anyone in the Mideast. They know that we will never be careful and we will always have collateral damage. They are fighting a propaganda war, and we are fighting a real war. We don’t stand a chance.

    You know what I do what I don’t like someone? I don’t do business with them. I avoid them. I don’t ask them to my house. I don’t sit down and have a beer with them. I sympathize with their children. I don’t let them come to the party. But I don’t shoot them.

    It’s not an easy case.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      The thousands who are slaughtered by those fanatics cannot choose not to do business with ISIS.
      The idea that the world should do nothing more than showing empathy to the victims of ISIS fanatics shows to me how little the world changed from the Holocaust and Rwanda. The civilized world mustn’t let this continue.
      Collateral damage isn’t a result of not being careful, but of weapons being dangerous, as they are designed to be, and the nature of fighting in populated areas.

    • Posted September 12, 2014 at 3:02 am | Permalink

      Yeah, your suggestion worked real well with Nazi Germany. After all, they didn’t do anything to us: they were just messing with Poland. What the bloody hell did we get involved with that about? After all, it was simply an intra-European dispute.


    • GBJames
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      “There’s a lot of disagreement over the origins of that bad bunch, how much religion plays, how much other cultural factors play, but everyone agrees that ISIS is bad.”

      Everyone agrees they are “bad guys”. What is at issue here is what you describe as “a lot of disagreement”. There should be none, IMO.

      So let me ask you this: What would it take for you to conclude that ISIS was primarily motivated by Islam? What would they need to say? What would they need to do? Is there anything that would allow you to draw what seems to me is an obvious conclusion?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      I’m surprised you think that ISIS is not a threat to the West when they recruit and radicalize citizens of western countries so that they may return and commit terrorist acts on those countries of what they call “the infidels”.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      This does not seem to be a criticism about Sam’s article, the OP or the comments. This is a change of subject. A related subject to be sure, but not the same subject that Sam addressed in this particular article, that is the topic of this OP and comments.

      It is indeed likely that Sam and many of the commenters here have engaged in discussions on the subject you deem is more important, but elsewhere.

  28. Isaac
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of pusillanimous liberals and spineless apologists for Islam, this story made me nauseous. It looks like Ayan Hirsi Ali is facing fierce opposition, now from Yale students, who want their university to revoke her invitation to speak there. What was most galling was to find among the list of cosigners, not only Muslim organizations which anyone could have predicted, but even the AHA (Yale Atheists and Agnostics). I hope the University will stand its ground and ignore the shrieks of the brainwashed buffoons opposing this talk.

    • Posted September 11, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      I never thought that I would have almost as much disdain for fellow liberals as I do for backward conservatives. These liberal apologists for Islam are a loathsome cocktail of smugness, willful ignorance, hypocrisy, and even cowardice.

      The liberal opposition to someone like Hirsi Ali is the most galling. Here is someone who has experienced real oppression from a full-fledged patriarchal, misogynistic religion, and many liberals, rather than standing with her for her bravery, would side with her oppressors in order to shut her up. How dare she puncture their little fantasy that the West is not to blame for all of the ills of the world.

      • GBJames
        Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:19 am | Permalink

        I’m in the same boat. My own brother (a fellow liberal) even called me a bigot for not offering sufficient respect. It is to the great shame of liberals that so many of us have failed this way.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:09 am | Permalink

          It’s a blind spot with liberals – they can’t reconcile a love of multi-culturalism, a disdain for colonialism with guys that are from another country that suffered colonialism actually being the baddies.

  29. Hempenstein
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Bill Maher on Charlie Rose a couple nights ago (~8:30-14:00) tracks along the same lines. Charlie tries to get him to soft-pedal but Maher’s not having any of it.

  30. merilee
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink


  31. Posted September 11, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    The claim from the mushheads (soft-thinking liberal apologists for Islam)is apparently that ISIS would not be butchering Christians or other non-Islamic religious people if not for the effects of Western colonialism. Take away Western imperialism, and apparently they would have no motivation whatsoever to kill infidels.

    But if you read the Koran for 10 minutes, or listen to preachments of many popular Islamic leaders, it would be abundantly clear that the religion is saturated in hating the infidel. It takes an incredibly selective mind to ignore all that and pick out the few verses in the Koran that are not soaked in blood and misogyny.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      I am having the same argument on another site. Exactly. The. Same.

    • Matthew
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      I mean, sure, but all religions are more or less the same in that respect. And while (thankfully) Christians in the developed world ignore 95% of the Bible, if you go to some crazy Christian forums right about now, you’ll see calls for violence and beheading and wanton violence against “Arabs” that would give you nightmares.

      What worries me is how close our constant “War on Terror” (perceived by many Americans as a war against Islam, which it pretty much is) will bring us towards Christian theocracy. Read Bush’s 2nd inaugural. Instead of playing into ISIL’s hands and fulfilling their expectations, and simulataneously increasing Christian fervor here at home, we should simply stay above the fray. For once, after well over a century of interventionism, we could just try it.

  32. Keith Cook
    Posted September 11, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Religion, global warming, population growth are major planetary concerns, not just country by country, religion by religion, issue by issue. So how can you give ‘it’ a major kick in the arse! Harris is pointing in the right direction. You confine religion to the curious, like Morris Dancing.. a fossil of a meme that is now a piece of junk. Like junk genes once were, useful but not anymore.
    I consider all extremist groups, like the caliphate a bunch of ideological driven thugs and Islam is guilty along with the rest of religion and the judges? that’s us and journalist apologists (not interested on what religion) and to which is the point, are always out.

  33. TJR
    Posted September 12, 2014 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Syria and Iraq are weakened by years of war. An army of fanatical moslems arises and conquers them both.

    Is this 2014 or 636?

    The argument that ISIS are not properly islamic is bizarre, given that this is looking like an action replay of how islam spread in the first place.

    (Unless of course you accept the view that islam was only invented after the arab conquest).

  34. Danbite
    Posted September 12, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I agree with Sam Harris that Islam is a bad idea. But I’m glad he’s not the President of the USA. Imagine if the President gave a speech lambasting Islam as bad and why Christianity is better, and even going s far as to point out that ISIS are the true adherents of Islam and the rest of Muslims dont really take their religion seriously. And btw, can we ask you guys to destroy ISIS for us please.

    • GBJames
      Posted September 12, 2014 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      But you imply a false choice. There are at least two ways to not “osculate the rump” of Islam. One is to “lambast Islam as bad”. The other is to NOT make false claims that “no religion condones violence”. The President did not need to go into bullshit land in order to “not lambast”.

      He could have not addressed this issue at all. The fact that he did suggests to me that he knows that religion is the root of this problem but wants to actively pretend it isn’t.

      • Kevin
        Posted September 12, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        I have a theory that society, in general, has many people who actively pretend. At company meetings, at public meetings, in the paper, etc. Even if they do not believe in prayer, for example, they will still say that someone is in their prayers.

      • Danbite
        Posted September 12, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

        I have never heard the President say anything to suggest that he thinks religion is the root of any of the world’s problems. He’s probably not secretly an atheist.

        I think he simply thinks the right way any religion is practiced today is to practice it along western liberal ideals. Of course this means picking and choosing from scripture. Moderates never had a problem doing that.

  35. Jeffery
    Posted September 15, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The “real” Muslims (jihadists) are counting on the myth of “moderate Islam” to confuse their opponents and delay any meaningful reaction to their anti-life agenda. Another thing they can count on is the worn-out Christian creed of, “They’re not really Muslims; it’s just a small group of crazy fanatics; why can’t we just all get along?” which has flown in the face of harsh reality for decades, now. Obama’s speech was tailored as much to show that he is, indeed, a “defender of the faith” as it was to say, “They’re not really Muslims”: with elections coming up, he’s anxious to not portray the Democratic Party as being “anti-religion” (you can guarantee that 90% of what’s said by politicians in any election year is self-serving bullshit). Christian leaders know on a gut level that, should the criticism of a religion, even one as demented as Islam, be encouraged, it might be THEIR turn, next.

    As I’ve said here before: Hitler never advocated the genital mutilation of women; he never decreed that they be covered from head to foot; he never banned alcohol (although he was against it) or the playing of music. THESE CREATURES ARE WORSE THAN HITLER! And, as Hitler did, in “Mein Kampf”, they have made it perfectly clear what they intend to do.

    Where’s the outrage? Where’s the crowds of Christians demonstrating against the barbaric atrocities of this perverted cult? I despair for the rationality of this country.

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