The Unholy Trinity
The Independent, April 12, 2013
Edited by Andy Ross
This just in: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are
accused of Islamophobia.
All are accused by Nathan Lean, Murtaza
Hussain, and Glenn Greenwald of New Atheist bigotry.
Edited by Andy Ross
Richard Dawkins thinks people who believe in a divine creator are
stupid. Followers of the Muslim faith have come to occupy a special
place in his line of fire.
Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late
Christopher Hitchens are atheists with attitudes, as polemical as they
are passionate, brash as they are brainy, and they view anyone who does
not share their unholier-than-thou worldview with skepticism and scorn.
Atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though
Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix. But after 9/11 the New
Atheists became the new Islamophobes. Harris: "Islam, more than any
other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a
thoroughgoing cult of death."
For Harris, suicide bombers and
terrorists have understood their faith rightly. "The idea that Islam is
a 'peaceful religion hijacked by extremists' is a fantasy, and is now a
particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge."
tweeting on March 25: "Of course you can have an opinion about Islam
without having read the Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to
have an opinion about Nazism."
Dutch politician Geert Wilders
"hates Islam" and produced an amateurish flick called
Fitna in 2008,
chockablock with racist images. Dawkins wrote to Wilders: "On the
strength of 'Fitna' alone, I salute you as a man of courage who has the
balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy."
The New Atheists have
embraced the monster narrative of the day.
Edited by Andy Ross
Racism has often been cloaked in the guise of disinterested scientific
inquiry. The New Atheists give a veneer of scientific respectability to
today's bigotry in their attempt to critique religious thought. In
practice, they exhibit many of the same tendencies as did their racist
Richard Dawkins refers to "Islamic barbarians" and
Christopher Hitchens airs outright bloodlust towards Muslims. Sam Harris
makes sweeping generalizations about a civilization encompassing over a
billion people, coupled with fevered warnings about the demographic
threat they pose to Western civilization. Harris: "It is time we
admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with
Harris sees the conflict between Israel and Palestine in
religious terms: "Liberals ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally
murder non-combatants, while we and the Israelis seek to avoid doing so.
Muslims use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral
damage we and the Israelis cause … there is no question that the
Israelis now hold the moral high ground."
Harris engages in a
nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors practiced in
their discussion of Negroes. Harris and those like him disguise
weaponized racism with disinterested scientific observation: "The people
who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are
The right to criticize Islam or any other
religion as a system of belief is as fundamental as the right of any
religious adherent to practice their faith. But by resurrecting
scientific racism and its violent corollaries, Harris is heir to one of
the most disreputable intellectual lineages in modern history.
Edited by Andy Ross
Nathan Lean and Murtaza Hussain say Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and
Christopher Hitchens embrace anti-Muslim bigotry masquerading as
New Atheists have flirted with and at times
vigorously embraced irrational anti-Muslim animus. Harris posted our
his blog. I say Harris and others like him spout and promote
Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism. Harris: "While the
other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it
is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the
emergence of a global civilization."
Harris: "We are at war with
Islam." He repeatedly distinguishes between "civilized" people and
Muslims: "All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology
that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth."
criticism of religion morphs into an undue focus on Islam, I find
objections to the New Atheists completely warranted. That's true of
Dawkins' proclamations and of Hitchens' various grotesque invocations of
Islam to justify violence. And it's true of Harris' claims that Islam
poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other
religions of the world pose.
Harris advocates a wide range of
vile policies aimed primarily at Muslims, from torture, to steadfast
support for Israel, to anti-Muslim profiling, to state violence. He
sided with Americans opposing the building of a Muslim community center
near Ground Zero: "The erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this
atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory —
and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with
decadence and cowardice."
I mistrust the behavior of westerners
like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time
condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the sins of
their own country. The American government has brought more violence,
aggression, suffering, misery, and degradation to the world over the
last decade than any other. Harris wrote in 2004 that "we are now mired
in a religious war in Iraq and elsewhere" and meant that those Muslims
whose country we invaded and destroyed were engaged in a vicious and
primitive religious war. He dismissed the US attack on Iraq as a war in
which "civilized human beings are now attempting, at considerable cost
to themselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people". Western violence
and aggression is civilized and elevated, Muslim violence primitive and
savage. That is a blatant double standard.
Harris: "The outrage
that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the
product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege
for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no
matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant.
Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine
provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with
other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior."
Theodore Sayeed: "For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their
'reflexive solidarity' with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display
his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and
the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work."
Harris claims that Islamophobia is "a term of propaganda designed to
protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism
of it with racism and xenophobia". Islamophobia signifies:
1 Irrational condemnations of all members of
a group or the group itself based on the bad acts of individuals in that
2 A disproportionate fixation on
that group for sins committed at least to an equal extent by many other
3 Sweeping claims about the
members of that group unjustified by their actual individual acts and
I believe this fits Harris.
By Andrew Zak Williams
New Statesman, April 2013
Edited by Andy Ross
New Atheists have recently been accused of
Islamophobia. Sam Harris imagines a radical Islamist state acquiring long
range nuclear weaponry. An avowedly suicidal regime makes nuclear deterrence
a worthless currency. Harris anticipates the possibility that the United
States may find itself having to press the button first. But so do we all.
One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that
no believer should be expected to respond. But Islam's holy book, taken
literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn't be
tolerated by any humanist ethos. These tenets and precepts have real
consequences and repercussions for all of us.
We are used to seeing
Muslim spokespersons choosing the aftermath of a terrorist attack carried
out in the Prophet's name to practise mealy-mouthed equivocation at the
price of heartfelt sympathy. Then again, many moderate Muslims are at the
front of the queue deploring much that is done in the name of their faith.
The atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry
leveled against those who point out that a religion that harbors such extremes
has some explaining to do. Resort to the tag "Islamophobia" is justified
only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely
if the religion is held up to scrutiny.
AR Hard blows: Harris is right to feel
aggrieved. But all this mud wrestling is a routine skirmish in the war of
For my money, savoring the Harris quotes anew is the joy
in this exchange.