The Godless Spellchecker finds false memes about Israel and Sam Harris

Stephen Knight, aka “The Godless Spellchecker”, is punctilious in checking his and other people’s sources, which has resulted in his calling out prominent figures for misquotation, or, in the case of C. J. W*rl*m*n, putting the kibosh on his career because of rampant plagiarism.

In a new article on his site, “A lesson in ‘journalism’ with Ansar and W*rl*m*n” (I can’t spell the second name lest I lose a bet), Knight did some checking on two claims. The first was this September 7 tweet by He Who Cannot Be Named:


Apparently the man who emitted this tweet didn’t bother to check his sources; as Knight notes:

What [W*rl*m*n] fails to tell you however, is that not only is the footage from 2008, but the Palestinian detainee was shot with a rubber bullet, in the foot. Hardly desirable behaviour I’ll grant you – but it paints a slightly different picture than the one presented by Werleman. As a side note, the soldier responsible was arrested and convicted for his actions – by Israeli authorities.

. . .Cast your mind back to the time Werleman shared a similar video which he claimed to show ‘Israeli soldiers beating and torturing Palestinian detainees in occupied West Bank’.

Unfortunately for Werleman the soldiers were not Israeli. The detainees were not Palestinian. This wasn’t even the West Bank. This was footage of the Guatemalan army mistreating civilians. It seems nothing has been learned since this humiliating episode.

Go to Knight’s site to see the fun. Well, we’re used to W*rl*m*n’s sleazy behavior, but here’s a really irksome case. There’s a picture of Sam Harris circulating on Twitter along with a sentence he supposedly uttered:


Knowing Sam, and having read most of what he’s written, I was unfamiliar with that quote, and simply didn’t believe it. Seriously, do you think Harris would say “we should nuke all the Muslim countries”? That doesn’t even sound like his style of writing or speaking.

Well, Knight did his usual digging and found that this picture and quote had been retweeted by Ashgar Bukhari, whom Knight describes as “founder of the soft-Islamist group the Muslim Public Affairs Committee” and “the gentleman who claimed that ‘Zionists’ had stole his shoe.” (Remember that “shoe” video?)

It was also passed along by writer and commentator Mo Ansar, who has been largely discredited for fraudulent misrepresentation of his credentials.  Ansar became the voice of “moderate” Islam in Britain, but—see the video at Knight’s site—was actually an extremist who thought that thieves should have their limbs amputated.

Pressing Ansar for the source of Harris’s quote, Knight found out that, as expected, it was completely fabricated. Go to Godless Spellchecker to how Ansar waffled and sputtered when pressed for his sources. Ansar also managed to use the quote to tar the Qulliam foundation as a way of getting back at Maajid Nawaz, who had exposed Ansar’s extremism.

As we’ve seen, one of the manifestations of hatred for the New Atheists, even on the part of other atheists, is their willingness to take quotes out of context—Harris is particularly susceptible to this treatment—or, as in this case, to simply make up quotes. So willing are people to believe this stuff that they simply don’t bother to check. There’s a lot of bad faith out there, even among the godless, but not, praise Ceiling Cat, the Godless Spellchecker.


  1. Rich Sanderson
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Not at all surprised by the latest sleazy behaviour from CJ Werleman. The same creeps, obsessed with a hatred for Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, and the so-called “new atheists”, always keep cropping up.

    Mo Ansar, Glenn Greenwald, Nathan Lean, PZ Myers – all regressives who deserve one another and have a history of misrepresentation and bullying. They also have a group of socks/fleas who are even more abusive, and usually, very anti-semitic.

    With Werleman and Lean, it makes sense – they are funded by either Qatari or Saudi backers. For once, the conspiracy trope of “follow the money”, makes sense with regard to their abusive behaviour. Lean, by the way, is involved with TellMAMA, and his involvement severely damages their credibility.

    Excellent work by Godless Spellechecker as per usual.

  2. Cole
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I suspect that meme of Harris was fan-made as a joke and later used maliciously. It reads like it’s meant to be funny. I’ve seen things like this before and thought they were cute:

    “Hitler was right.”

    -Sam Harris

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      That’s how it comes across to me too. It reads like a parody, made by a Harris supporter, of a common straw-man version of Harris’s views.

    • horrabin
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Fake “memes”(which has unfortunately become the de facto internet term for “photo with quote”)done for the lulz. There’s a whole series of these with Richard Dawkins: paired with a Hitler quote or saying if every one in China jumped at the same time the earth would break in half.

  3. GodlessMarkets
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Just visited the website for the first time…it really is excellent…scroll down and there’s a fascinating article on tweets about Islam.

    The bs Sam Harris has to endure…

  4. Historian
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Taking quotes out of context or fabricating them or claiming to witness events that never happened (religion is particularly good at this) are probably as old as the day humans evolved the ability to speak. Fortunately, today’s fact checkers can limit the damage, but hardly eliminate it. Intellectual integrity seems to be a rare trait among humans. For those of us who believe in it, eternal vigilance is all we can do.

  5. somer
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Ansar alleged Harris said these things at a conference the latter never attended. The debate with Maajid dented Ansar’s credibility regarding Islamist beliefs but according to the comments and agreed by Stephen, the BBC and mainstream media only finally stopped giving a platform to Ansar after Private Eye reported that Ansar had tried to get Iain Dale (a media reporter) charged by the police over nothing. I remember reading the article in Private Eye; Ansar has a reputation for trying to get or getting people sacked, threatening to sue or reporting them to the police etc.

    And according to the Telegraph today (which I don’t normally read but via various twitter sites). The Midlands police are considering allowing Muslim officers to wear burquas in an attempt to boost diversity in the workplace.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted September 12, 2016 at 6:02 am | Permalink

      So, is there any way a burka clad police officer could arrest or charge or testify against a muslim man.
      What about a muslim cleric? I would seem an impossibility. To believe strongly enough to wear a burka must imply a strong belief in obeying men, cos god, over and above secular matters.

      This is so absurd on so many levels it beggars belief.

  6. Bill
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the worst thing about all this is the fact that Mo Ansar is supposed to be a “moderate” Muslim, and he is not the first “moderate” Muslim who gets proped up by the media and other moderates as examples of their faith.

    If these people are moderates, it is no surprise that islam is such a violent and oppressive religion.

  7. Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    “Praise be to Mephistopheles; for I am his dutiful slave and He is my venerated master.” — Sam Harris

    This is even more worrisome.

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Who attributes it to Harris? To me, it sounds like a line from some play.

  8. Bill
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Also you will notice that the media (salon) and the usual suspects (Glenn Grennwald) won’t report on these dishonest buffoons constantly making stuff up about atheists, but if Sam Harris or Richard D says something remotely controversial… well, we all know what happens.

    Thank Allah for people like Stephen Knight for exposing these people.

  9. jeffery
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Two statements I make frequently when replying to comments on articles about politics and/or religion: “Facts, and history, are things that you LOOK up, not MAKE up.” and, “Facts to a Teapublican are like Holy Water to a vampire.”

  10. somer
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    On a couple of websites Ive seen the same screen shot purporting to be from Mo Ansar twitter site (with his name and pic from a couple of years ago) where he defends Slavery in Islam and ask if, so long as “there is no oppression” (whatever that means) what could be wrong with such slavery.

    Tariq Ramadan has also managed to pass himself off as a moderate muslim, and has recently written articles critical of Quilliam and of the Prevent anti extremism program in Britain.Haras Rafiq of Quilliam

    Tariq is an academic who was born and raised in Switzerland, and whose grandfather was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, his father, Said Ramadhan, helped to export Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Tariq defends them and the Muslim brotherhood in a long interview with Mehdi Hasan and others.

    Tariq Ramadan began his academic career in Switzerland – always on subjects to do with Islam. Tariq Ramadan began lecturing at the University of Oxford in 2005, after being barred by the U.S. State Department from accepting a professorship in the US, and was appointed as a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford in 2009. In the past he hosted the program Islam and Life on Iran’s state channel, Press TV, and he was asked to leave his positions at the City of Rotterdam and Erasmus University because of this.

    The Muslim Brotherhood are careful to keep the nature of their ideology somewhat vague to Westerners. A lot of people think that the Muslim Brotherhood are moderate. I remember an article about 5 years ago by an academic in The Conversation website (Australian) anticipating that a Morsi government in Egypt might lead to a general moderation of extremism and resolution of problems in the ME because the Brotherhood, and Hamas (who are one of their offshoots) were really “moderate”. Recently the Late Night Live program on Radio National of the ABC discussed the life and writings of Sayyid Qutb – very favourably as essentially a cri de coeur against western oppression and materialism and call for empowerment. He was a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966 he was convicted of plotting the assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and was executed by hanging. Many Western observers see him as a key originator of Islamist ideology.

  11. Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    The problem with crap like this is it’s effective. People who don’t know Harris are going to assume it’s true, likewise those who don’t like him. And when it’s debunked the only people who are going to hear about it are those follow sites like The Godless Spellchecker, or WEIT, and already assumed it wasn’t.

    • mikeyc
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Exactly right and the misanthrope in me thinks the tactic is deliberate. It’s a ploy that is very commonly used.

    • mordacious1
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, whenever I see anything “negative” about Sam, I just assume it’s a malevolent lie and ignore it. Sam could get away with some awful stuff with me, because too many people have told such enormous whoppers about him in the past. Plus, anything coming out of W*rl*m*n’s mouth I consider not worth even listening to.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted September 11, 2016 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      Like when Ben Affleck went pre-armed with a negative attitude against Sam.

    • Posted September 12, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Worse: One of the talking heads on PBS NewsHour said (regarding the presidential candidates) that even debunking such obvious lies seems to support them, because all the ignorant do is hear the lie, again, making it stick better in their brains. I’m afraid he’s right.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Stephen Knight, once again, does an excellent job.

    It makes me angry and frustrated how many atheists are prepared to believe lies like this about Sam Harris. If you’ve read just one of his books, or listened to just one of his podcasts, it should be obvious to you that this quote just doesn’t sound like him.

    • Posted September 12, 2016 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Ditto regarding atheists believing lies about Jews, including extrapolating the bad behavior of one ultra-orthodox Jew, dressed visibly Jewish, to all Jews. Considering the effects of antisemitism through the ages, it would be no surprise to find more Jewish atheists, by percent, than Christian or Muslim atheists, especially since Jews don’t excommunicate their atheists or kill them.

      Of course, Sam Harris is also of Jewish heritage. I don’t recall whether he counts himself as Jewish, but he’s certainly close enough for antisemites, and isn’t that where it really counts?

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    As bad as misquotation is broad generalizations about what all atheists think.

    Terry Eagleton’s 2009 book “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate” creates a hideous (I hesitate to say ‘ungodly’) portmanteau “Ditchkins” and he then goes on to assure his readers that “Ditchkins says” which lets him off the hook for providing specific citations or analyzing the distinct structure of any atheist’s specific arguments.

    I sorta kinda liked his 2014 book “Culture and the Death of God” but the earlier book is a serious crime against clear thinking and reasoned argument.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Fabricating Harris quotes seems to be the prime gig for main chancers like Mo Ansar and Mister Asterisks.

  15. Posted September 9, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne, in the quote by Knight, you have first asterisked the name of Him Who Must Not Be Named, but then you have left it intact 3 times, so I fear a bit for your bet.

  16. Damien McLeod
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    I have most of Sam Harris’s books, I’ve read them, some several times, and listened to many of his podcasts. Being well familiar with his work I do not believe he said or would say anything like the statement attached to that picture, but I do know from personal experience that religious folk are congenital liars. They’ll make up BS at the drop of a hat. Making up fairy tales go hand in glove with their believing in fairy stories I guess.

    • Posted September 12, 2016 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      And if not congenital liars, they are taught early on to at least be congenial liars. How hard it must be to call out a liar who smiles and says he’s only interested in your welfare, to make sure you get into heaven (no matter what lack of welfare you “enjoy” on earth).

  17. Brendan Reid
    Posted September 10, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Also on the ongoing saga of Harris vs. He Must Not Be Named I highly recommend Harris’ August 17 podcast (at

    He reads and comments on a recent article from the polished ISIS propaganda magazine “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You”.

    Refutes the apologists’ perennial claim that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam.

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