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
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.