In conversations regarding Sam Harris on a recent post, it was brought to my attention that Harris is collaborating with a noted Muslim reformer, Maajid Nawaz, on a forthcoming e-book. This, along with Harris’s statements that he does not think all Muslims are terrorists, was used to claim that I was misrepresenting Harris’s views.
When I said that “Maher and Harris would have you believe that violent “jihadists” à la ISIS / ISIL / IS / [insert other initialism permutation of your choice here] represent all Muslims”, I was referring back, in the case of Harris, to his paper trail regarding Islam. All the protesting that he doesn’t think all Muslims are like that doesn’t eliminate his history of writing about Muslims and Islam.
He said this recently:
Whatever the prospects are for moving Islam out of the Middle Ages, hope lies not with obscurantists like Reza Aslan but with reformers like Maajid Nawaz. The litmus test for intellectual honesty on this point—which so many liberals fail—is to admit that one can draw a straight line from specific doctrines in Islam to the intolerance and violence we see in the Muslim world. Nawaz admits this. I don’t want to give the impression that he and I view Islam exactly the same. In fact, we are now having a written exchange that we will publish as an ebook in the coming months—and I am learning a lot from it. But Nawaz admits that the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community is an enormous problem. Unlike Aslan, he insists that his fellow Muslims must find some way to reinterpret and reform the faith. He believes that Islam has the intellectual resources to do this. I certainly hope he’s right. One thing is clear, however: Muslims must be obliged to do the work of reinterpretation—and for this we need honest conversation.
Sam Harris, Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?
I can’t agree enough with that particular statement. We need reinterpretation and honest conversation from Muslims, something we don’t get from Reza Aslan types. I cannot agree with the things that Harris has said before, which seem to contradict that openness and willingness to engage with reformers (all emphasis is mine).
I would not want to create the impression that most Muslims support ISIS, nor would I want to give any shelter or inspiration to the hatred of Muslims as people. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences, not about 1.5 billion nominal Muslims, many of whom do not take their religion very seriously.
Yes, many Muslims happily ignore the apostasy and blasphemy of their neighbors, view women as the moral equals of men, and consider anti-Semitism contemptible. But there are also Muslims who drink alcohol and eat bacon. All of these persuasions run counter to the explicit teachings of Islam to one or another degree.
How exactly does it help reformers of Islam and Muslim liberal progressives to say that they aren’t True Muslims™ who don’t follow True Islam™? I’d argue that saying so harms their cause. No one wants to be a called a fake.
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.
The civilized world being the non-Muslim world. Remember what I said about racialized language? This is it.
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.
Again, Harris is pushing the “True Muslims™ hate non-Muslims” angle, which I do not believe is helpful in the slightest in aiding those attempting to change Islam. Indeed, I believe he’s lending the violent types credence by doing so. Why? How does that help anyone?
To insist over and over that True Muslims™ are violent terrorists is to say that they are the true representatives of the True Islam™. My statement stands.
It may be that Harris is starting to recognize why it’s important to emphasize and support the work of Muslim reformers and progressives rather than calling them not Real Muslims™. It may be that Maajid Nawaz will help him to see the importance of ceasing his labeling of less violent and inhumane forms of Islam as not True Islam™. It may be that Harris does not and has never intended to be racialized in his criticism of Islam. Even given all that, I hardly misrepresented him. I, for one, am looking forward to that e-book.