The Regressive Backlash to Maajid Nawaz & Sam Harris

Yesterday I watched on stream a talk done by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz at Harvard University on the opening of their new book “Islam and The Future of Tolerance” which is an attempt to open the intellectual conversation on Islamic reform . Personally I really liked the talk and particularly admired their frankness and civility. I do feel that they could’ve been a bit more adversarial in this talk though. The message I got from the presentation was that we must be able to criticise bad ideas – which is different from attacking people, and only through conversation and dialogue can we bring about effective change and discredit bad ideas.

There is a point in the talk where Maajid and Sam refer to “regressives” (I love how that term is sticking now) who use the vacuous term ‘Islamophobia’ (as opposed to anti-muslim bigotry which is real and serious) to shut down and obfuscate the discussion around Islam and the difficult issues surrounding it. It was obvious that Maajid was referring to Max Blumenthal and Nathan Lean who have called Maajid an “Islamophobe”, as well as Sam Harris’ “lapdog”. I also chuckled when Maajid told them to “stop and check their privilege”. I’m going to let that slide though I think he was being half funny with that comment.

I was expecting a backlash from the usual suspects but I did not expect the utter stupidity and brain-dead abuse I saw on twitter directed at both Sam and Maajid.

Firstly we had Max Blumenthal who was hate watching the talk and tweeting as he went along.

First of all, Max is being disingenuous. Sam Harris did not say “Islam is uniquely problematic”, he said that there are a “few variables” within Islam that are “uniquely problematic”. This may be a small point but it is I feel important to recognise the various nuances in one’s argument. A wonderful start for Max isn’t it?

As usual he had to do a cheap jibe at Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

It’s Interesting how Max thinks this is somehow a controversial statement bordering on bigotry. It is well known that you can read a very plausible interpretation of Sharia which mandates the punishment of homosexuals which is in some schools of thought is death. All ISIS is doing is putting these plausible interpretations into practice. Again,whether one agrees with their views or not, I must state that all they are doing is criticising ideas, not people.

Then alleged “comedian” Dean Obeidallah implies Sam Harris hates Muslims and is comparing him to well renowned anti-Semite Mel Gibson, the racist Paula Deen and Donald Trump, who has said ghastly things about Hispanic immigrants. To me this “comedian” is either immensely stupid or is immensely devious but I know he’s not funny. In the talk they touched on how worrying it is that hate crimes against Muslims are rising across Europe and why we must be very specific about ‘Islamism’ so that we do not allow the hysteria to fester and grow which may end up in discrimination against Muslims as individuals. But that seems to have gone over Dean’s head which means his comparisons are erroneous and really cheapen racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism which are real and serious problems.

Murtaza Hussain’s Racialism

Then we have Murtaza Hussain who is part of the Greenwald clique at The Intercept that has a special vendetta against Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. Murtaza himself helped popularise the notion that Sam Harris was a racist and had a very specific anti Muslim-agenda in this awful article on Al Jazeera. He also has a habit of ad hominem attacks instead of attacking the actual substance of the argument being put to him.

As we see here Murtaza goes straight to basically saying that Maajid Nawaz is an Uncle Tom without a moments hesitation by labelling him as Sam Harris’ “well coiffed monkey”. I will say that two thirds of the statement is correct. Maajid was “well coiffed” and looked very smart but to say that Maajid is being used by Sam Harris in order for Sam to hide his secret, neo-con, Islamophobic, white supremacist agenda so that he can sanitise what he really advocates (which Murtaza would have us believe is the creation of policies that will attack Muslims) is frankly not true. In fact, Sam himself states that his opinions were the ones that have been modified by Maajid and not the other way round.

You notice this by the fact that Sam is more nuanced when he discusses this topic as he uses words like Islamism, Jihadism and makes the necessary distinctions. For Murtaza this isn’t doesn’t matter and he’ll probably just glibly dismiss this as Sam sanitizing his views and masking his “agenda”.

Furthermore he doubles down here. Trust me if he was a white man and he labelled a brown skinned person as a “porch monkey” he would be fired. For those of you that don’t know “porch monkey” is a historical racial slur for black Americans and refers to Blacks being thought of as lazy. As if they have nothing better to do than to sit at their front porch of their home.

And he triples down. I really hope this obnoxious clown realises just how stupid he sounds here. I’m not going to comment as to whether Murtaza is a racist or not but he does use very racialized language in relation to Maajid Nawaz. It’s similar to how white racists would object to white people mixing with black people because it could bring dishonour on “the white race”. The principle with Murtaza is the same, to him the fact Maajid (a Muslim) is collaborating with Sam (an atheist) and are speaking in a very honest yet nuanced way about the problems currently facing Islam, Islamism and Jihadism today is to him the same as them attacking Muslims in general. Somehow, he feels the need to stop this by labelling Maajid as a “porch monkey” to portray him as part of the white supremacist “system” in order to discredit Maajid amongst Muslims. This just reveals he has no way of addressing either Maajid or Sam without having to resort to gutter racialized identity politics.

This is by no means the first time Murtaza has done this. Below you see him you see him call an ex-Muslim a “chamcha colonial leftover”. Chamcha in Urdu basically means an “ass kisser” so Murtaza’s insult is a variation of the native informant. This sort of tribal mentality that we label any reformist Muslim or ex-Muslim who criticises Islam in a way you don’t like as being a “native informant”, “porch monkey” or “house Muslim” is very dishonest and actually quite vile. Maajid and others should actually take it a sign of victory that he’s getting called these names as it shows that these ‘regressives’ have no arguments to refute him and can only resort to pitiful, racialized insults.

Finally we have this.

I really must take issue with what is being said above. The idea that certain issues can only be assigned to certain people (e.g only Muslims can talk about Islam) is just absurd. Islamism and Jihadism of course primarily harms Muslims and that fact should be acknowledged. However, it also affects non Muslims in regards to the fact that in some Muslim countries they persecute non Muslims. Sam Harris has even said this issue is the biggest global, moral and political issue of our time. So Iyad, get used to non Muslims being interested in this debate I’m sure you comment on a lot of topics that you are not directly related too so I could use the same facile argument against you. What matters is not the identity of the person making the argument but the content of what they are saying.

One must state that I don’t think Iyad is a “regressive”, I think he is a very interesting person who does say some wise things. However, in this instance I really must take issue with his quite frankly stupid tweet.

The secular liberal left has pretty much fractured. The were already cracks there in the aftermath of 9/11 best shown in the exchange Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens had looking into the origins of 9/11. However since the Ben Affleck-Sam Harris debacle on Real Time with Bill Maher I feel those cracks are wide open and there are two distinct sides in this argument that will define the secular left’s moral stance on this issue. On one side you have people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ali Rizvi, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Sarah Haider and many others whose basic argument is beliefs and ideas matter and when people act upon those ideas. When they say they do, we must take it seriously, fight vigorously against it and support those fighting against it and advocating reform.

While the ‘regressive’ opposition composed of characters like Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussian, the abysmal plagarist CJ Werleman, Cenk Uygur, Sam Seder etc who will do their utmost best to make excuses, crappy moral equivalences, engage in masochist self blame and general obfuscation which does not advance the idea of an honest debate but merely makes it toxic. This does not help Muslims nor non Muslims. Who wins this intellectual battle matters as it will define what the secular left stands for on this topic which is so important as the secular left is the only force in the world that is best placed to fight against Islamism and the forces of Jihadism. Think on that.

28 responses to “The Regressive Backlash to Maajid Nawaz & Sam Harris

  1. Even if Sam Harris had said Islam is ‘uniquely problematic,’ that would have been wrong how exactly? There aren’t exactly many Mormon organization fighting for Mormon supremacy or trying to overthrow secular societies to implement Mormonism, so in modern times Islam actually is fairly unique when it comes to the issues of terrorism and theocracy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I have to say that I’m disappointed by the ‘regressive’ side of this argument. Instead of addressing things with nuance and some thought, they seem to take the knee-jerk response of white-knighting a minority (in the USA) group. But they completely miss the deeper conversation. It is not like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ali Rizvi, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, or Sarah Haider are like the types who went after Ahmed and his clock. They are just discussing the difficult aspects of some Islamic tenets. The regressive side seems to have no problem going after Christianity for very same issues (gay discrimination, patriarchy, evolution denial, etc.) but don’t want to discuss the same issues in the context of Islam because Islam is a minority group (in the USA).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well written and I can certainly appreciate your take on the Harvard conversation two days ago. The backlash towards Harris and Nawaz is very troubling to say the least. It was a conversation between two extremely articulated adults with completely different backgrounds and ideologies coming together to get a better understanding of a different approach to the future of Islam.


  4. Thanks for this nuanced view of an interesting discussion, and for calling the knee-jerk hurling of racist accusations out for what it is. Shouting down an argument isn’t refuting it, and that sort of invective reveals far more about the person doing the shouting than it does about the target of the attack. You may well be right that such an intellectual mugging is an indication that these goons know they have no real arguments to offer, but it’s still an effort to shut down the discussion, and absent the deflation that it gets from careful viewers like you, it may yet work.


  5. I think this piece about the reactions to Sam & Maajid, demonstrates how some people “hear” words, but not the “meaning” they carry. That they, “hear” what isn’t necessarily said, but what they think they hear, may actually represent their own ignorance/bias. Pretty much in the same way that some can read religious text, and live a peaceful, respectful life, whilst others will read the same text, then happily kill themselves & others.
    And as for that chap called Murtaza. the words Hole and Ass come to mind….


  6. Hopefully I’m wrong, but you appear to have wilfully misrepresented Iyad’s point. He wasn’t saying that atheists shouldn’t be allowed to talk about Islam. He was saying that their opinion is irrelevant to intra-muslim dialogue.

    Maajid’s acting as if his persuading Harris that Islam can be liberalised somehow makes the prospect more likely. How? I don’t see that it has any effect on it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The reason an Iranian President said there are no gays in Iran, is because Iran is a theological Islamic state where homosexuality is punishable by death. No one there who is gay dares identify as such.


  8. Great article. It’s scary that the regressive side seems to have the majority on this issue! It’s painfully rough for me to listen to the Greenwald s of the world. I know, I know “we” are responsible for the azzidi women being kidnapped and raped, heads chopped off, gays killed, bloggers hacked to death etc. What sam and maajid are doing should be universally applauded. The real bigots are the cenks, glens, cj, reza’s. All about division of skin pigment for then

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 1. There can never be peace until Islam is stopped from operating in democracy’s.
    2. Let Saudi Arabia and Iran fight which is the true Islam.
    3 Mohammad murded thousands of men and woman he had 30 sex slaves 10 wife’s he took 20% of the profits from attacking non Moslems he sent out assassins to kill woman and men who he did not like he made his adopted son to divorce his wife so he could marry her and shagged a 9 year old girl on his wedding night This is not a prophet for the creator of the universe and us this is a gangster who’s greed made other people want to be part of his greed and enjoy all he enjoyed.
    4. And there is no witness to Mohammads hearing messages from God and all of the above about him would you let him into your home and be a friend of a person who did all the above.


  10. Im so glad Sam and majeed stands up and giving up! You get so angry with the load of shit these 2 haveto take. Its so unfair and just takes the focus from the problem to a biggot wordsallad of shit.

    Hope alot of people stand up and support Sam an majeed forward in the actual problems the world are facing now

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think this is a well thought-out and presented article. However, I wonder if it helps anyone at all to re-broadcast the stupidity of any of these idiots that were tweeting. You’re giving them a platform on which to stand and share their obviously retarded views. Why not just minimize their impact by ignoring their tweets, thereby confining their influence to the 3 or 4 dipshits that aren’t embarrassed to follow them. I think it’s dangerous to give their ideas any consideration whatsoever.


  12. These regressive liberals don’t seem to care at all about Islamic inspired violence, and even less about the victims of such violence. They blame this all on the Bush administration while simultaneously ignoring the Obama administration’s support for regime change in Libya. A humanitarian disaster, especially for Muslims they pretend to care about.
    Nigeria’s Boko Haram who’s greviences are purely religious and have nothing to do with US policy, is perhaps more deadly than the Islamic State, and is completely ignored as these regressive liberals cannot figure out who to place blame on without mentioning Islam in less than a positive light.
    If the West is so horrible and responsible for world persecution of Muslims, why then is every single Muslim refugee fleeing Syria bypassing the Islamic nations and heading straight to the hated West?
    I understand a liberals political reasons for dismissing Islamic violence, just not the morality..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sadly I get the feeling that underneath it all both Sam and Maajid really want the approval of these regressive douchebags who wouldn’t know their own buttholes from a hole in the ground. I love the counter narrative,it’s brilliant and so refreshing from the usual stupidity of the Left – but sometimes they try too hard to explain things to creepy people who have no interest in understanding.


  14. Pingback: Moderate Muslim Maajid Nawaz vilified by Left for trying to reform Islam « Why Evolution Is True·

  15. Anti-muslim bigotry can be used in every place where islamophobia is used. Just like the word racist is being anywhere to shut people up. Just like homophobia is used anywhere. How can you define an actual bigot?


  16. I sympathise with your revulsion at the reflexive and dishonest response of some on the left to criticism of Islam, you do a great job of outlining it above, particularly to do with Murtaza Hussain. But my problem with the use of “the regressive left” is that it is now being applied to basically anyone who doesn’t agree that Islam is 100% the root problem, and to create an easy us vs. them dynamic in debates that people can rally around. For example, Cenk Uygur is certainly NOT a “regressive” as I would understand the term. He has no problem criticizing Islamic doctrine, and does. He has no problem saying its a problem. He just doesn’t think it’s that much worse, in perspective, compared to other religions. That’s a legitimate POV, even if you don’t share it, and name calling doesn’t further the discussion.


  17. I sympathise with your revulsion at the reflexive and dishonest response of some on the left to criticism of Islam, you do a great job of outlining it above, particularly to do with Murtaza Hussain. But my problem with the use of “the regressive left” is that it is now being applied to basically anyone who doesn’t agree that Islam is 100% the root problem, and to create an easy us vs. them dynamic in debates that people can rally around. For example, Cenk Uygur is certainly NOT a “regressive” as I would understand the term. He has no problem criticizing Islamic doctrine, and does. He has no problem saying its a problem. He just doesn’t think it’s that much worse, in perspective, compared to other religions. That’s a legitimate POV, even if you don’t share it, and name calling doesn’t further the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what happens when people erase the critical distinction between Islam (a religion) and Islamism (a political tendency), which, ironically, is exactly what Islamists seek to do. I’ve even seen ISIS-esque pseudo-theology posted on this blog.


      • PW, may I ask firstly, where we have confused ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamism’ on this blog? And secondly, where there is any “ISIS-esque pseudo-theology” on this blog?


  18. Im not sure if the regressives have the majority of the debate but what I find disturbing is the champion government coverup leakers Glen Greenwald and others have completely go from hero to 0 in siding with theocratic islamist groups, making allies with them.. Basicaly the old term the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Ive now understood hes agenda. Others in this web of idiots are the Israel palestine obsessives like Max Blumenthal and CJ Werleman both bark at anyone who critises the religion of Islam as a racist, pro western, pro colonial, pro zionist, Neo conservative..Im am very fascinated at this trend of being llabled a pro israel supporter for being against extremism in the muslim community or the broader islamic world..They smear every reformer, every victim, muslim or non muslim speaking out against theocracy. I myself is on the left, but this has gone way to far to the point human rights itself is a form of us imperialism in their eyes.. They even bash their secular left counterparts from Middle eastern oppressive societies such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt ect…Even the counter government movements following the gezi park protests in Turkey were operated by a concerned liberal populous against creeping autocratic and theocratic tendencies.


  19. Show me a regressive liberal and I will show someone who has never actually read the Koran or studied the Hadith or the Sunna.

    Many of these mu mu’s actually have good intentions but they have forgotten the road to hell is paved with them! I would suggest that every real leftist left, bring a copy of the Koran and read it to their regressive liberal friends and show them that Isis IS Islam ! Those of us with open eyes must show these regressive liberals they are sleep walking to extinction.
    The Jihad-is killed out the left in Indonesia,Lebanon,Afghanistan and Iran. If these ideeot ting do not have enough brains to learn from history they can add themselves to the list !
    These dummies actually think that they are fighting for anti racism. Someone needs to explain to them that there is no such race as the Islam race or for that matter, the Christian, Buddhist or Hindu race. These are religions Not races ! If they want to talkum bout racism whey is dey long mout when it comes to 1400 years of Arab racism toward Africans,which by the way is justified by the prophet and his companions !? Whey dees regressive liberals when 10 million Africans murdered by dee’s Arabs in Sudan!? Whey dey long mout bout Mauritania and our bruda’s held in bondage and driven from dee
    land ?
    I believe the left will cease to have relevancy unless it can get itself together and stop taking up for this Quarashi white Arab male white supremacist ,misogynous ,expansionist death cult. I am ashamed of the left and regret ever being a part of it. How can you take up for a religion that practices and preaches child sexual abuse and mutilation against little girls?How can you proud feminists take up for a religion that promotes women beating ?
    This is despicable and it has to stop.!Those of us with open eyes must go on the offensive ! We must rally Progressives who have fled these sharia states and hold these regressive liberals to account. They must see real faces and hear real stories and look these people in the eye when they come with all dey foolishness. I can predict three possible out comes. Number 1 which has the current lead, is the regressive liberal road. Continue to fellate Islam and when they take over they will kindly thank for your services and slaughter you along with liberalism if you don’t convert. Road number 2 more and more white people join the far right cause they doin the job you should be doin and they take over kill every non white and all liberals . Or you can pull yo shit togetha and do what’s right and survive .


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