There seems to be a lot of Sam Harris bashing of late, and the latest example of this is Mandy De Waal’s “Islamophobia and Sam Harris’ tyranny of ‘reason’” in the Daily Maverick.
Her article is, on the face of it, an attack on Harris’ anti-Islam stance, but a cursory analysis of the language she uses reveals that it is an attack on atheism and atheists in general. For example she says that Harris “intellectually clubs spiritual ‘gurus’ like Chopra, in much the same way fur hunters club baby seals.” Just to make sure we get the point that the spiritual and religious are cute and cuddly and atheists are filled with adamantine ruthlessness, she goes on in the following paragraph: “Intellectually clubbing seals is a practice fairly common among atheists”. She quotes Alister Mcgrath who called Richard Dawkins “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, promotes Harris’ atheism to a more general “misanthropy”, claims that Harris “grinds in the heel of hatred”, describes his followers as “rabid”, and his ideas are “hate speech”.
Sam Harris does not need me to defend him—he does a far better job at that than I could hope to–but what I want to do, now that we have established the purpose of Ms De Waal’s article, is to determine whether anything it contains makes sense–whether or not she has any valid points to make.
Her chief argument, apart from the unstated one of anti-atheism, is that criticism of Islam is not only pointless, it is counter-productive in that it raises the ire of Muslims and will do nothing to stop the growth of Islam.
The question that begs to be asked is whether Harris realises that his hate speech won’t diminish the growth of Islam, but may actually fuel it?
This idea is so silly it almost beggars belief. We shouldn’t tell the truth in order to protect liars? Harris’ aim is to point out the dangers of religious belief in general and Islam in particular; I’m sure he doesn’t entertain the expectation that Muslims everywhere will down Korans and become rational humanists in response to his ideas.
She accuses Harris of fuelling the anti-Islamic flames in order to promote his book sales and inflate the prices he is able to ask for public speaking appearances. This is begging the question: if Islam were not the dangerous and irrational force that he says it is, there would be no resonance amongst the public, his books wouldn’t sell and no one would want to hear him speak.
Then comes the truly bizarre notion that there is no connection between Islam and the terrorist atrocity of 9/11.
But Harris saves the full weight of his misanthropy for what he calls the “cult of death”, drawing a direct line between Islamic teachings and 9/11.
Really, Mandy? Are you seriously suggesting that there is no link between Islamic teachings and the destruction of the World Trade Centre? When the terrorists themselves made the link explicitly? You strain credulity to the breaking point.
Ms De Waal’s article is little more than an apologia for religion written in a style even more inflammatory than Harris’ own. I’m sure she was admonished, as was I, to always “respect religion”. It took a long time and considerable thought to question this notion of religion’s demand for a free pass; my realisation that there was no reason to respect irrational beliefs and every reason to hold them in contempt has been vindicated time and time again since, by the disgraceful, immoral, and, dare I say it, evil deeds of both Islamists and Christians.
There is no hope of peace until these beliefs are eradicated from the human psyche, and thinkers like Sam Harris are in the forefront of bringing rationalism to a wide audience.
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License