This blog is about a book. If you look at my ‘about’ tab, under Frat Friday, think of topics 1, 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, and 13. While I will not include my personal religious or political opinions today, the book I want to talk about is about religion and politics. It is a lot about hate, causes, and it’s certainly in the news. The religion is Islam. The book is Islam and the Future of Tolerance by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. It is a dialog (not a debate) and only about 120 to 140 pages long. I preferred the audio version with Sam and Maajid reading their parts, but it’s a good read.
On Amazon, 315 reviews awarded an average of 4.5 stars with 92% being either 4 or 5 stars. Most of the low critiques are more personal attacks on the authors with little concern for future readers of the book. I read the book and will read it again.
Both men are intelligent, experts in their fields, and well-spoken.
Harris is a well-known American atheist, philosopher, neuroscientist, and author of several books.
Nawaz is a British Muslim and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. He is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he left in 2007 when he renounced his Islamist past. He now advocates Secular Islam.
“What is Islamism? Islam is a religion; Islamism is the desire to impose any version of that religion on society. It’s the politicization of my own religion. What is Jihadism? The use of force to spread Islamism.” ~ Maajid Nawaz
“The only conclusion I can draw from everything you’ve just said is that the problem of ideology is far worse than most people suppose.” ~ Sam Harris
The essence and differences
While the two people in the dialogue have vastly different views on religion, they each allow a pass for the other in order to have this discussion. What they do agree upon is that there is a significant problem and threat within the Islamic faith regarding danger from some of the members. I’m not sure that they agree on who is dangerous, or how many, or exactly why.
(Not addressing this conversation, but similar ones.) “The people I really worry about when we have this conversation are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims – all vulnerable…in many cases violently assaulted or killed….” ~ Maajid Nawaz
It may take more than one pass through to glean their exact positions. Precision of understanding and clear definition of terms are goals of both men, something Harris works to ensure. They agree that the discussion needs to take place, but efforts are confounded by people on both the fundamentalist right (mostly Muslims) and what Nawaz refers to as the regressive left (or liberals).
“…The general picture is of a white, liberal non-Muslim who equates any criticism of Islamic doctrines with bigotry, ‘Islamophobia,’ or even ‘racism.’…they deny any connection between heartfelt religious beliefs and Muslim violence….de facto organs of Islamist apology – The Guardian, Salon, The Nation, Alternet, and so forth. This has made it very difficult to have public conversations of the sort we are having.” ~ Sam Harris
The biggest problem for America, if not the world
Europe currently faces a much greater problem than America in dealing with Islamists. By comparison with Europe, America has 3.3 million Muslims (1%), while France (9.6%), Belgium (6%), and United Kingdom (4.5%) have Muslims as significantly higher percentages of their total population. What Harris and Nawaz agree on is that attempts to discuss how to solve the problems created by Islamic Extremism are taboo topics.
I think they have a point. While Sam points to the fundamentals of Islam as problematic, understanding of his basic premises regarding religion (and the same can be said of virtually any contemporary, well-known atheist) reveals that he gives no religion a pass – especially no Abrahamic religion.
The context of what is said
“One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.” ~ Sam Harris
The best way to follow what these two men are saying is to know the context of what they are saying supported by their beliefs or philosophy. To do this, it would be helpful to read other books, particularly Harris’s The End of Faith.
They’re both attacked continually and called insulting names and threatened. Both spend a good deal of effort justifying their positions and protecting themselves. Both have done TED talks that are worth viewing to understand their positions.
Sam Harris link to TED.
Maajid Nawaz link to TED.
The video is good up to the Q&A part, but kind of long. Link to Youtube discussion at Harvard University (over an hour).