Sam Harris, http://www.samharris.org; neuroscientist, writer, blogger, podcaster, philosopher, historian, political commentator, atheist
Bill Maher, http://www.billmaher.com; comedian, actor, host and producer of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” political and social commentator and provocateur
Gad Saad, (born 1964) is a Lebanese-Canadian evolutionary behavioural scientist at the John Molson School of Business(Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada) who is known for applying evolutionary psychology to marketing and consumer behaviour. He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences and Darwinian Consumption (2008–2018) and has a blog at Psychology Today titled Homo Consumericus. www.wikipedia.com
Dear Sam Harris:
Since the advent of the podcast, I have found only about three that I return to with any regularity. Of those three, yours is the one I listen to most often. I’m not sure exactly when I discovered you, but I believe it was on Real Time with Bill Maher, some years ago. At any rate, I am a great admirer of yours. There have been some times that I felt very ignorant when listening to podcasts showing the depth of your knowledge. You are a polymath, and I can come nowhere near your eloquence or vocabulary. This is not, however, a sycophantic, venerating letter. There have been some comments you made on your podcast that have made me more than a tad uncomfortable. I know you get tired of talking about your messages on Islam, but there are a couple of things I am asking to ‘discuss.’
First, let me say that I am one of those liberals whom you regularly denigrate, and I wear the label proudly. I also agree completely with you and Bill Maher, as well as your more recent guess, Gad Saad that political correctness has gone to the point of making itself ridiculous. Protests at colleges over what someone chooses as a Halloween costume? Really? And yes, I was one of those who clenched at criticism of any religion-despite being an atheist. I was raised in the bible belt, in a baptist home, and I would have to leave the vast majority of my family behind if I couldn’t at least tolerant of their religious and conservative political views. But of course, as a southern woman, I am well practiced in the art of the smile and nod.
That said, I have been made uncomfortable by some of your rhetoric about Islam, though there have been some moments that began to lead me to question my thoughts on the subject. I suppose the first time I said, “Hmmmmm” to a comment of yours was during that infamous Real Time episode with Ben Affleck, October 6, 2014. Your responses to him were so cogent and ardent (and calm) that I believe anyone reasonable person would have at least given pause to consider your points. Yes, “THE mother lode of bad ideas” was probably excessive, given the number of horribly bad ideas about these days.
When I heard your reading of the Jihadi mission to exterminate any atheists, Christians, Jews, gays, etc. I began to question the friendships I’ve had for many years with those Muslims you and Gad Saad discussed on October 6. You know the ones, “…any individual Muslim may be a lovely person.”
But the more I considered your conversation with Mr. Saad, the more it reminded me of a few anecdotal tidbits from my life’s experience. For example, my maternal grandmother sustained a serious burn as a child, and for the rest of her life was afraid of fire. She cooked, because it was her duty as a wife and the mother of nine. But when in her eighties my mother took her on a trip to the Philippines, and while watching a native fire ceremony, she went into a full-blown panic attack because of the flames. Another is that my mother has completely irrational feelings about alcohol because, as a small child she someone who was drunk behave very violently. I was also reminded of all the people who have said to me, “I’m scared of dogs because a dog bit me when I was a child.” In my attempt to be rational but tolerant with those people, I am tempted to ask, “I’m sorry, how many dogs bit you? One? Out of the billions of dogs in the world?”
So when you introduced Mr. Saad with, “You may be the best person to speak on this because you have lived it…” I’m sorry, I disagree. First, he said that his family fled Lebanon, but his parents continued to go back until they were ultimately kidnapped. Since they left Lebanon because of how dangerous it was becoming, especially for Jews, how could something terrible happening have been unexpected? No one can dodge bullets forever. And now he is afraid that Jihadism is moving to the west more quickly that we are coming up with solutions to prevent the radicalization of the Muslims already living here, or stopping their terror attacks. I completely understand how frightening events in a child’s life can color them as adults, so I can sort of understand where Mr. Saad is coming from. But I shut down when he talked about his daughter being afraid of a woman in a hijab, so he picked her up and left the park. If it was signaled in any way to that woman why they left as soon as she arrived, I feel very sorry for her. She was very likely there because Muslim children also need to play outside. The way we treat people matters, whoever they are, and no matter how much we differ from them. But I also feel sorry for Mr. Saad’s daughter. No one should (in my opinion) teach their children to live in fear of “the other,” but especially not simply because of the way they dress. If I recall the videos I’ve seen of all the female suicide bombers, their bombs did show in their hijabs. And they behaved in a certain way before they removed the cover they had over their clothing. But more than that, I wonder where he would stop with that judgment of anyone who doesn’t dress the way he thinks they should. Does he believe that George Zimmerman was right to shoot Trayvon Martin because he wore a hoodie? I like to celebrate the differences between people, so I believe that a completely khaki and button down society would be a bad thing. Homogeneity is not beneficial to humans in any way. And early humans did mate with Neanderthals, though they look completely different, so it can lead to good things when people overlook their differences, and come together for a common purpose.
But this letter is really directed to you, because I have something to offer for your ponderance that may help calm your fears of Islamic extremists (which is estimated to be only 12% of Muslims.) And it comes from a place of history. Judaism is roughly about 6000 years old. When that religion began, their mythology told them that they were the “chosen people” of God. And their writers went so far as to give them permission to commit war against all the people in all the lands around them who worshiped any gods but the god of Abraham, to sack the cities and temples for their riches, and to rape their women and kill their men. They have been conflated with several ethnic groups that were called “habiru,” who were considered mercenaries and marauders. There have been historians who suggested the word “habiru” might have later been translated to “Hebrew, though a learned Jewish friend of mine says that this claim has been disproved. They amassed much treasure from the plunder, and lots of people died at their hands. Lots of Jews died as a result of these voices from God as well. Female adulterers, witches, babies, people who had particular diseases, and on and on. But Jews have not behaved in that way in thousands of years. They have evolved, and most of those I know are peaceful, loving people who are devoted to family and country. Yes, there are pockets of violence in the Jewish community, and some very bellicose politicians in Israel. But most are not at all that way.
I was surprised a bit by the repetition of your “Islam is the only religion today…” with the manifesto to destroy all infidels, because there was a time when Christianity did too. In “The End of Faith Episode Three” you talk at length about the inquisition, which lasted 300 years, from 1515 CE to 1826 CE. There were also the Crusades, which lasted from 1095 to 1291 CE, in which Christians sent armies to torture, pillage and destroy any lands or peoples who did not bow down to their God. Torture, burning, rape, and other things the “PC police would probably now call “war crimes” were commonplace. This seems to me to be exactly what Islamic terrorists are exhorted to do now. Which is why I’m surprised at such a rational thinker as yourself believes that these people will remain passionate about their mission long enough to complete it. Christians aren’t killing people anymore, though they did it in horrible, grotesque, unthinkable ways for many hundreds of years. Yes, some fundamentalists still talk about killing gays, and people who disagree with them, they talk about denying atheists the right to vote, and worse, but it is only talk, and it is a very small minority who still find such ideas acceptable. This religious fervor will not last. Yes, they could do a great deal of damage with their 21st century weapons, should they ever get them. Yes, many people, mostly Muslims it seems at this stage, including the elderly and children may die. But there will be a moment that hits the leaders and gives them a eureka moment, a catastrophic revelation, that will cause them to say, “No. This isn’t working and it is wrong. We must stop this.” And considering how slavishly converts to Jihadism adhere to the pronouncements of “Death to America,” surely they will follow. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems that when religions begin with the mission to destroy anyone who disagrees with them, they do that, and then they evolve. Christianity has come a very long way from the crusades to the inquisition to “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God,” to the Children of God and it’s all about ‘free love,’ in the 60s. Judaism has come a very long way from sack and destroy to a peaceful and scholarly religion, who are a threat to no one outside the Palestinian territories.
When I was in college I had a professor, who’s name I can’t remember, but he was the first person I ever met who referred to himself as “Persian.” But he did not identify with Islam, or the Iranian culture. In part of our course we talked about some religious history, including Islam. He talked about how the early Muslims were told that if they wanted to spread this new religion worldwide, they should send soldiers to every country they wanted to conquer for the prophet and destroy its history and culture. So they went in and put the torch to libraries, galleries, schools, and left an empty place for their religion to fill. Just as Judaism and Christianity did when they were young. Islam was founded in the 7th century CE. It is about seven hundred years younger than Christianity, and about five thousand years younger than Judaism.
Make no mistake, I don’t want to die from an act of terrorism. Or poison, or fire or by gunfire or drowning. I don’t want my loved ones to be killed or maimed in any of these ways either. And I completely understand that it may sound as if I’m making light of the threat. I am not. However, as I know you’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times, statistically your chances of being killed by some random white guy with a gun is far higher than any chance you will be killed by an Islamic terrorist. But you have said that those statistics don’t matter because of the fact that Islam is the only religion today that is actively advocating such behavior. I keep going back to history, but any time a group with a mission is outnumbered and outgunned by a large, better equipped military, they turn to terrorism. Remember the American Revolution? That’s exactly how the ‘farmer soldiers’ defeated the British. I know your argument to that one is about those 21st century weapons, and that is a good one. But they aren’t using those, so I’m just not sure they have them. Though the possibility of that happening in the future does exist. Except that there are many people, women and young girls in particular, who are beginning to stand against the Taliban and such oppressive regimes that deny them personhood and even education.
In his book “Our Better Angels,” your friend Stephen Pinker talks about how much less violent humans are becoming. We are evolving as a species, though we have a long way to go. Though violence still exists, and sociopaths and psychopaths, and desperate maniacs and addicts who commit acts of violence. There may always be such people. But change is possible, and will happen, is in fact happening. I must add that I was a bit relieved when, at the end of your podcast with Gad Saad, you did admit that you don’t want the fashion police or thought police telling people what they should wear or how to think. Hate and hate speech should be protected, no matter how vile. But, as I’ve said many times and in many places, just because the speech is protected doesn’t mean it is free from consequences. So public shame, banishment, firing from one’s job when people say things that are heinous, will have to do. At least until Islam grows up, as the other two of the “big three” have done.
http://www.wikipedia.com “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is a sermon written by British Colonial Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards, preached to his own congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts to unknown effect, and again on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut.Like Edwards’ other works, it combines vivid imagery of Hell with observations of the world and citations of the scripture. It is Edwards’ most famous written work, is a fitting representation of his preaching style, and is widely studied by Christians and historians, providing a glimpse into the theology of the Great Awakening of c. 1730–1755.
http://www.wikipedia.com Steven Arthur “Steve” Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-born American cognitive scientist, psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.
http://www.wikipedia.com The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is a 2011 book by Steven Pinker, in which he argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short run and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred. In a conversation with Richard Dawkins he states that in last four decades in the United States, the rate of rape has gone down by 80%. He admits that because of the vanishing communication gap, today, the number of reportings of violence has risen giving people an impression of rising rapes, abuses and other violent activities.