Words from Dawkins
Here Dawkins says:
Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?I am not sure how he can seriously describe Islam as an unmitigated evil. That is a really strong claim thrown up with no evidence, labeling the whole religion and apparently claiming there are no redeeming good features. Statements like this are ill thought out and entirely unnecessary. Not to mention the very vague 'supporting' which might well be interpreted in ways you don't like. Now geopolitics and religion in Africa are complicated topics. And the interventions of Christian missionaries may well be too. If there are religious people you disagree who nonetheless are challenging views you find more unpleasant then I am sure there is a lot to consider and it could be discussed carefully. You could point out the specific beliefs and practices in, say, some Islamic part of Africa, and compare them to the practices in some Christian part of Africa and possibly discuss a specific form of support you might give one to decrease the practise you don't like.
Dawkins has also tweeted
Haven't read Koran so couldn't quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil todayand later, in connection to critcism of this.
Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism.
Now I am cringing a little here at commenting on tweets. The format makes it very difficult to include caveats and make a point carefully in a single tweet and the way tweets can go viral seems like it is perfectly set up to create shit storms over accidental phrasing and language. This is probably why the media love it so much (it does spread information in interesting ways though).
However these tweets are great examples of how language can be use poorly and so provide good examples I can constructively criticise.
Dawkins explains the last tweet with:
Well clearly not but what feature of Islam is he comparing to Nazism here. It is not merely that they are both beliefs that have been derived from a particular text. He could have chosen to say "Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. "You don't have to read Keynes to have an opinion about Keynesianism." except that this doesn't make sense.Simile compares X & Y in one respect, not all. "He runs like a greyhound" doesn't mean you think he's a dog. Is that so hard to understand?
As far as i can tell what Dawkins is saying is that the ugly vile behaviour in Islam is so obvious and transparently grotesque, just as that of the nazis was, that there is no need to read the Koran to know it as such. I don't see how making comparisons of someones religion to Nazis helps persuade them that specific practices or beliefs they adopted as part of that are bad and should be stopped.
Instead I think what it feeds hatred of muslims. It is not difficult to point out that he doesn't need to read the Quran to know that some muslims support apostasy of subjugation of women and that they have cited Islam as the reason, without a nazi comparison or an over generalisation. If you wish to discuss really bad violence done in the name of Islam and compare it to violence that is universally condemned you may do so if you are precise. You can even say that murdering someone for the "crime" of apostasy is just as vile as murdering someone because of their race. It is just not necessary to label Islam as a whole (and therefore all believers) and compare the entire religion to Nazism in order to criticise specific ugly things supported by some in it's name.
Another issue are comments like this:
I would also love it if decent, 'moderate' Muslims would stand up and condemn the barbarisms that are carried out, or threatened, in their name.OK the context is for this a very sad story about a woman in Iran being sentenced to death by stoning/hanging for adultery. Dawkins is rightly upset. I am not sure if he means moderate muslims in Iran (who lack the political freedom to do much) or outside. But if he means the former there is a brave campaign by feminists in Iran a to end stoning and for the latter he should probably speak to muslims who work for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Anyway I mostly quoted this because it is the collective responsibility attack, which is rather common sadly and is an an inherently bigoted notion. Why are moderte muslims, who do not support violence or subjugation of women, many of whom just happen to have been born into Islam and maintained that faith, take responsibility for awful things done by other muslims? Why must they carry this burden of responsibility when, for example, I do not?
Then there is his (qualified) support of Geert Wilders.
Geert Wilders, if it should turn out that you are a racist or a gratuitous stirrer and provocateur I withdraw my respect, but on the strength of Fitna alone I salute you as a man of courage, who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy.
The thing is he's talking about this video. [Warning: it's vile] That video begins and ends with a picture of Mohammed with a bomb on his head and a fuse burning down. It shows a whole bunch of horrible acts perpetrated by muslims and terrible statements made by muslims. Then it shows how muslim numbers in Netherlands and europe have grown since 1900 (oh noes we're swamped I tell you) and at ~11.40 it has a paranoid ' the future of the netherlands?' set of scenes where islamists have taken over (presumably the pictures are from real atrocities by muslims elsewhere). Then it sums up the message at around 14.20 with
"Islam wants to rule, submit and seeks to destroy our western civilization.and then back to the Muhammed timebomb.
In 1945, Nazism was defeated in Europe.
In 1989, Communism was defeated in Europe.
Now, the islamic ideology has to be defeated.
Defend our freedom"
The obvious message is that islam is a ticking timebomb in europe and if we don't do something to stop it (muslim immigration I believe) then we will be taken over and run have to live under islam with female subjugation and murder of gay men, stoning for adultery etc. I really find it appalling that dawkins would support scaremongering like that, by an anti-immigration nut case.
I'm struggling to be constructive about this one. Geert Wilders is pushing a specifically Islamophobic message here and trying to manipulate emotions against muslims. Pointing to things like this does not help further reasoned criticism of bad practices and beliefs. I assume Dawkins misunderstood the video and I would simply ask him to watch it again and also read more about Geert Wilders.
Overall I cannot believe that Dawkins has bad intentions here. I think he is so used to getting unreasonable flak from some religious people who simply can't take criticism that sometimes he loses perspective and judgement on stuff like Fitna. I do not think he wants to see muslims discriminated against or harmed or stop immigration. With Harris I am a lot less clear and that is why I think his points are more difficult to comment on.
Words from Sam Harris
I worry about how much he talks about violence and the general tone of certain passages in the End of Faith and some articles he has written and I am also disturbed by his denial of Islamophobia. In general I would like it if he would explicitly acknowledge that hate groups which target people specifically because of their religious beliefs (rather than race) exist and the problem they cause for ordinary muslims. I would like him to criticise these groups and explain clearly to sympathisers how his views are different from those of groups like the EDL. In the US there is the Stop Islamisation of America group (who I haven't discussed because I don't know much more about them than what is on wiki) who seem Islamophobic, though their activities don't seem as physical as those of the EDL. I am sure there are others.
Harris has been strongly criticised for writing this in 2006
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.
He has written about this in his response to criticism
The whole purpose of that essay (written in 2006) was to express my concern that the political correctness of the Left has made it taboo to even notice the menace of political Islam, leaving only right-wing fanatics to do the job. Such fanatics are, as I thought I made clear, the wrong people to do this, being nearly as bad as jihadists themselves. I was not praising fascists: I was arguing that liberal confusion and cowardice was empowering them.
Perhaps the point is still not clear (can one ever be sure?). So, imagine: A copy of the Koran gets burned tomorrow—or is merely rumored to have been burned. What will happen if this act of desecration is widely publicized? Well, we can be sure that Muslims by the thousands, or even the tens of thousands, will riot—perhaps in a dozen countries. Scores of people may die as a result. Who can be counted upon to defend free speech in the face of this pious madness? Will the editorial page of The New York Times remind the world that free people should be free to burn the Koran, or any other book, without fear of being murdered? Probably not. But the secular Left will surely denounce the bigot who burned the book for his “religious insensitivity” and hold him largely (if not entirely) responsible for the resulting mayhem and loss of life. It will be left to crackpot pastors, white supremacists, and other jingoists on the far Right—and, of course, “Islamophobes” like me—to remind us that the First Amendment exists, that books don’t feel pain, and that the sensitivities of every other faith are regularly traduced without similar uprisings.
He is objecting to liberals being so soft on the "threat of Islam" that he thinks fascist are the ones who speak more sensibly than them (or, if we take the 'most' literally, anyone). I got that from the first article though saying 'most' makes it particularly difficult to defend. There are a wide range of views on Islam amongst liberals and I'm sure some liberals are far too lax on Islam and slip into some apologist bracket but many are not and when Sam Harris paints liberals as weak and fascists as making the most sense on "the threat of Islam" (despite hating their racism generally), he is handing free gift to the fascist, one they do not deserve. There are plenty of liberals who do not agree with Harris or fascists but are still critics of the subjugation of women and anti-gay attitudes which are quite prevalent in Islam.
In his Koran burning and riot speculation above, I think he describes a skewed vision of what would happen. If this happens our tv news and front covers of our papers will be flooded with images of angry muslims rioting. The airwaves will be filled with commentators condemning them, in both reasonable and unreasonable terms. Right wing shock jocks will have a field day, but it will not be only them and Fox news. It will be condemned on CNN, ABC NBC and yes the New York Times and the Washington Post. In the weeks after there will be many follow up stories about the dangers of Islam and the origin of extremism.
What might happen in addition to all this is that, if the riot doesn't occur immediately after the incident, there might be an editorial or two pointing out that the burning of the Koran is an attempt to stir up violence and a bit of a dickish thing to do. Given that it will result in a riot this may be a rather sensible point.
I am sure there will be plenty of editorials from more right wing (but not fascist) publications warning that it will happen and blaming Islam. There may even be some publications that want to stir the pot further by posting pictures of the Mohammed or encouraging people to burn a Quran in solidarity. To believe the rioting muslims won't be criticised by anyone but "crackpot pastors, white supremacists, and other jingoists on the far Right" and people like Harris who get called Islamophobes, shows a massively distorted perspective.
Sam Harris may think liberals are apologists for Islam but he should consider the possibility that it is his views that have wandered into paranoia concerning the threat of Islam, making absurd right wing nonsense seem reasonable to him.
The kind of paranoia from the extreme right in the wake of 9/11 was staggering and include suggestions that muslims living in America were turning into an Islamic state, that Islam will take take over Europe and America or indeed "the end of the world as we in the West" know it." I am really not sure how soft liberals would have to be to make this kind of view more sensible than theirs.
Perhaps I shouldn't believe he's serious about the comparison at all and is just criticising liberals. But the problem is exaggerated rhetoric, intended or not feeds people who believe we are in the middle of the Islamisation of Europe and America.
Sam Harris also gets criticsed for talking about preemptive nuclear strikes.
It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.
Sam Harris puts this in context because it has been misconstrued as advocating preemptive strikes generally. He isn't, I can see that, he is talking about a special hypothetical situation where an " Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry ". His notions are still disturbing.
An Islamist regime getting nuclear weapons is not sufficient to merit a preemptive nuclear strike. To put this in context the regime in North Korea is deeply disturbing and erratic but it would be insane to propose preemptive strikes on them just now , despite the recent threat to the US (even with better capabilities so they could actually hit her). Iran may acquire them but it would be insane to consider a preemptive nuclear strike. Were the Taliban (or even Al Quaida) to get control of Pakistan it would still be murderously insane, based on that alone, to consider a preemptive nuclear strike. Just because they favour using terrorist attacks to affect change (and they do have specific aims they are not just out to murder westeners) does not mean they will simply fire off nuclear weapons when they get them.
Secondly there is his notion that this would then trigger a series of responses that "much of the world’s population could be annihilated". This is a crazy end of the world fantasy that reeks of the paranoia we hear from extremist nutcases, but current geopolitics would have to change dramatically for there to be the kind of annihilating response from other muslim nations. Currently terrorism from various unpleasant groups like Al Quaida have tragically killed many innocent lives and in Islamic countries many muslim people are massively socially oppressed due to religious conservatism but Islamic are no where near powerful to actually pose a serious threat to western and have little chance of them being effective offensively in a war against rich western countries. The truth is western interventions in Afganistan and Iraq have killed far far more people than terrorism has or is likely to.
Think about the impact of this. He has suggested a horrific scenario created by muslims, discussed an unreasonable response and then drawn frightening hyperbolic conclusion that a significant chunk of us are killed as a result (and if you believe that's likely, go back and reconsider whats sufficient for a the preemptive strike). And all of this in the context of a time when we are involved in several interventionist wars in muslim countries, interventionist wars he discusses in the same book. Not to mention that this was written not long after a terrorist attack that killed thousands which has already made people frightened enough.
Such discussions (intended or otherwise) feed into paranoia about radical islam and beliefs that we need excessively violent response, if you've just considered dropping a nuclear weapon on them and thought about a large chunk of the western population wiped out, dropping a few bombs on some children in bagdad doesn't seems so horrifying does it?
In 2004 he wrote:
I am glad he immediately clarifies that he doesn't mean we are at war with all muslims after saying "We are at war with Islam." But this is still ugly stuff.Unless the world’s Muslims can find some way of expunging the metaphysics that is fast turning their religion into a cult of death, we will ultimately face the same perversely destructive behavior throughout much of the world.
Wherever these events occur, we will find Muslims tending to side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior.
It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism.” We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy — and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.
When you describe yourself as being at war with an idea (and I see no suggestion he does not mean an actual physical war) you are setting up a losing proposition. Clearly Harris means they are at war with us rather than suggesting we start one (though note he is discussing this in the context of a war the UK and US had started in Iraq). But it is the terrorists who want to frame this as a war on Islam so that all muslims feel threatened and are pulled into it.
In addition the world is a complicated place and you do public understand no good when you simply all issues with terrorism to a "war on Islam".
I also disagree with his view
In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.
Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.
I'm sorry but the only people who hold the moral high ground (if such a thing exists) in that depressing situation are those calling for peace and negotiation. That would incidentally be some Israelis and some Palestinians. I also cannot agree with his call for profiling at airports or his interpretation of what message a mosque near the World Trade Center site sends
The erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory—and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice.
I'm failing in my attempt to be constructive here and it's all got a bit finger pointy again, sorry. On these positions I just disagree fundamentally with what he is trying to say and find it abhorrent.
So while I know people who generally seem reasoned and balanced who like Sam Harris I am finding it hard to see why. I think he paints a violent picture of a world seriously close to the brink of collapse. A picture that is not remotely borne out by reality and a correct understanding of geopolitcs. And he paints this pending doom as being almost entirely a result of Islam.
Sam Harris: I am sorry if my reading of you is wrong but this is not the result of seeing a few phrases here and there. I have made a genuine attempt to read your articles and listen to things you say and this is the impression I have formed. I have tried to explain why with these references and quotes, but there is a lot more that I have seen that I don't like.
If I am wrong perhaps you could consider that this might have been helped by the language you use. If you want to change my mind you could start by acknowledging that anti-muslim hate groups exist , who target people because of their belief. You could explain clearly that you are aware that people get discriminated against and attacked purely because they are muslims and that this is wrong. You could acknowledge that there are people on the right who say absurd and ridiculous things about muslims and the threat they pose and that the things they say are bigoted and awful.