World must confront jihadism’s roots in Islamic doctrine, says author

Jun 1, 2015

by JP O’ Malley

When Sam Harris speaks his mind people tend to listen, regardless of whether they agree with him or not. Take his controversial appearance last October on the prime time HBO television show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Harris began a conversation that night by claiming Western liberals have failed abysmally when it comes to challenging theocracy in the Muslim world.

“Liberals will criticize Christians,” announced Harris to the studio audience. “But when you want to talk about homosexuals and free thinkers in the Muslim world, liberals have failed us. We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia, where every criticism about the doctrine of Islam somehow gets conflated with bigotry of Muslims as people. And intellectually, that is just ridiculous,” concluded Harris that night.

Actor Ben Affleck, also a guest on the program, weighed in. His voice tight with anger, he called Harris’s ideas “gross” and “racist.” The clip now has over 2 million hits on YouTube.

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95 comments on “World must confront jihadism’s roots in Islamic doctrine, says author

  • Harris explained his concern was the size of the larger of two concentric circles. Minutes later, Affleck claimed Harris built his career on only the smaller one. That is profoundly dishonest.

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  • 2
    archsceptic says:

    Not so much dishonesty, more like incomprehension in the face of the uncomfortable notion that not only people that happen to have pale skin can have fascist theocratic tendencies too. Thereby lurching to the nearest get-out-of-jail-free card which of course is to play the race card – trumping all other debate and argument.

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  • 3
    voiceofarabi says:

    As a person who was born a Muslim, and know the Islamic world pretty well.. I have to say Sam and Bill are 100% correct in their reading.. but it is uncomfortable for many to hear, let alone understand and join the fight against.

    in Summary… Islam was hijacked in the 2nd Islamic century by politicians, and re-wrote many of the text that Muslims use today to help keep control of people back in ninth century.

    Today, there are two main streams that are acting like the politicians of the 2nd Islamic century… they are Muslim Brotherhood and Wahhabis (the sponsors of ISIS). Both of those are strongly supported by the West in General, and USA more directly. Muslim Brotherhood is based in the UK, and protected by the UK. Wahhabis are based in Saudi, and strongly protected by US of A…

    Islam needs reforms badly, but the powers above makes sure anyone who speaks of reform, gets killed.

    The sad part is… Hezbollah in Lebanon is the most reformed Islamic movement today (that’s capable and viable), and the West are doing everything they can in trying to kill them… go figure….. as they say, actions speak loader than words….

    So… USA & West = Radical Islamist (again.. I am sure there is a political benefit to be gained by the west..)

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  • Both Harris and Affleck were right, although both were using different meanings of the term “religion”.

    To Affleck, a given religion is defined by what the adherents of that religion believe, so for example Islam is that what Muslims believe in. This means that there are many different Islams, all of them right, and changeable over time.

    Harris on the other hand defines religion by the content of the alleged divine revelation, judging all adherents of that religion against the divine revelation, so for example, Muslims who don’t run about killing infidels are bad Muslims, and Christians who don’t run about killing gays are bad Christians.

    For me Affleck’s religion is just philosophy or ideology.

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  • 5
    Lorenzo says:

    I think Harris is totally right when he states that next to nobody in the western world is properly addressing the level of religious violence that is going on in the Islamic world. And I also think that he’s right about the cause of that -that stupid meme.
    It’s exactly like when you are told that you are sort of a nazi nostalgic if you dare say that Israel may overreact at times when in response to three colonists (read: invaders) allegedly killed by Palestinians (read: the invaded) bombs the Gaza stripes for weeks, including schools and hospitals. Fortunately, at least here in Europe, we are slowly getting over it -at least the Israel part.

    The equality “criticizing the mainstream political situation of the Islamic world = reckless racist” is just as idiotic as “criticizing Israel’s policy and warfare = reckless racist”.

    What I would caution against, though, is singling out Islam as “the mother of all the religious troubles we have right now”, because it just is not. It’s not true that Islam is the only religion that’s hideous against women: take a look at what’s happening in India, and that’s not rooted in Islam. It’s not the only religion that preaches for the killing of infidels and acts upon it: they all do and Islam is in good company of Hebraism in that respect, since we have a whole confessional state that hates to stay in its legitimate borders and bombs the locals if they dare react. Islam is not the only religion that’s awful toward minorities, they all are to a certain extent and you barely need two hands to count the decades from when, say, homosexuality stopped being a crime in Christian nations -and it’s not that much longer ago since we stopped killing them.
    All institutionalized religions, when taken even remotely to the letter, constitute a tremendous threat to what we came to call civilization and human rights. With no exceptions. Not one.

    That said, it’s true that since a decade or so Islam appears to be the most outwardly aggressive religion at its “taken to the letter” business, and that should be exposed. And it’s absolutely true that exposing this is not a racialist attitude (like the very noisy Affleck tries to sell…): it’s a critique of a particular ideology -and yes of those who hold that ideology true, but those people are not a “race”… the whole concept of “race” isn’t all that biologically valid and it has been demonstrated invalid for H.S.Sapiens.
    Same goes for theocracies, that should be condemned no matter how much oil they sell us (and, if I may, the best way to spank the Saudis would be to have a humongous investment in renewable energies). But that taps into another problem, which isn’t immediately related to religions as we know them: the utter and boundless worship of the western world for the money. But that’s another story, albeit not that less pernicious, and I’ll leave it for another time.

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  • Reform is the last thing that Islam needs. The Reformation of Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries, going into the 18th century wrecked Europe, devastated France, Germany and severely damaged much of central Europe, drove Catholicism into doctrinaire, rigid and violent dogmatism, slowing the intellectual and social development of southern and western Europe, the resulting zeal provided justification for the violent destruction of South America, the Caribbean and much of Africa and some of Asia. A Reformation in Islam is likely to be worse.

    Can the experience of Europe, which over 500 years has led to the gradual crumbling of Christianity now gathering pace every day, be used as a template for a much more rapid withering away of Islam? I don’t think that the world could stand five hundred years of what is going on now, and as things are at present there’s no sign of its stopping; a Reformation would make matters worse. The end of religions is becoming the only option, if life as we know it is to be rescued.

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  • More heat than light is emanating from a certain quarter here I think.

    Harris is no intellectual slouch and should be listened to.

    An understanding of the distinctions between Mecca and Medina Islam might come in handy.

    If infants in certain Islamic nations are being taught to hate and kill non Muslims, or those of a different creed, what chance do they have of leading happy and fulfilling lives?

    Fascism softens up the young; witness The Hitler Youth.

    In the UK there are Muslims who go to the pub; I once expressed surprise, albeit mock, at meeting one such, and he smiled and said something like: oh, all that, that doesn’t worry me; and a I dare say that quite a few Muslims go down the boozer now an then.

    Such is the cultural diversity outside of that immediate circle mentioned; or rather, the reality of life; but it is essential that those realities are prevented from impinging on the lives of the young prisoners of Islam; they must at all costs be prevented from thinking for themselves, otherwise, how would their lords and masters maintain and increase their power?

    No no, they mustn’t even entertain the notion of disobeying orders when told to don a suicide belt.

    We’ve had Muslims and Jews for neighbours for twenty two years; so what?

    Well, consider this: a bunch of IS thugs arrive at the door of our neighbours and us; who will get it first and worst?

    On balance, I think they’d get stuck into killing the Jews first, then their fellow Muslims, and then us.

    Almost all Muslims want to just get on with their lives in peace, but when Fascism rules the majority become irrelevant.

    The hard won rights and freedoms for which many lost their lives are under attack, and it’s high time people woke up to the fact!

    That fabricated, bloated, ugly “word”, – for want of a better word – “Islamophobia”, is a devious political construct desiged to be hidden behind by those with malevolent, grudging intent towards the free world.

    Yeah yeah, I know, some smart asses will moan about how “The West Was Won”; well, have they got any better ideas?

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  • It is a slippery problem. Embarrassingly it sounds like “hate the sin and love the sinner”.

    Another analogy might be reigning in your kid’s bad behaviour. You certainly do not hate your kids.

    Another analogy is mental illness. Muslims have been infected with a common delusion.

    There is a play called The Fire Bug which is germane about a landlord who had firebug tenants but could not bring himself to kick them out.

    We don’t have the right to meddle in religion generally, but we do have the right to meddle in measures designed to kill us.

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  • Hi voiceofarabi,

    Been awhile.

    in Summary… Islam was hijacked in the 2nd Islamic century by politicians, and re-wrote many of the text that Muslims use today to help keep control of people back in ninth century.

    Are you referring to the Hadiths? That’s interesting, I’ve read the Quran and the Bible again last year but I got fatigued by all the mad holy books so I never got onto the Hadiths yet, I wasn’t aware they were so contested. Is there much hope of them paying attention to scholars or is it a bit like different translations of the Bible that seem to suit certain religions better than others?

    I’m interested in what you think would happen if the west backed out of the Mid East. Let’s say some new battery technology comes along and we all get electric cars and there is no longer a motivation or money from the West being poured into to support one group against another. Would they reform or would they implode? What do you think would happen?


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  • 10
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi Reckless Monkey, it is good to read your comments again.. 🙂 ,

    You are correct.. I am referring to the Hadiths, and they are not really a translation of the Quran, they are conversations that the prophet had that someone overheard and decided to write down few hundred years later 🙂 (otherwise known as Chinese whispers)… some of these hadiths are openly going against what is written in the Quran. I am also referring to the Sharia’a

    They are (Hadiths) contested, and there are many scholars and organizations try to bring this out, but the threat of being labelled “Kafer” that must be killed puts a stop to any serious effort.

    What will happen to the middle east once the west pulls out?… I guess no one know for sure, but we can look at examples on the ground.. Yemen is just one example, were the state fails because of the sponsors negligence (in this case Saudi Arabia, who’s is sponsored by the US of A). Eventually, the people raise up, and will try to self correct and get rid of the cancer amongst them, in this case ISIS and Al Qaida.

    Another example is Afghanistan, which is not doing so well, but I guess Pakistan is not allowing Afghanistan people to raise up, or it could be that Afghanistan people (in general) are not educated to the same level as the Yemeni.. I really don’t know.

    Either way, I can see a similar path to the French revelation, which does some self correcting, followed by politicians hijacking the system and drive it to the ground again….

    take care.

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  • Almost all Muslims want to just get on with their lives in peace

    I think this is more along the lines of what Affleck was trying to express, however ineptly. It really doesn’t matter that not every Muslim is a bad guy when Fascism is leading the way, which is, I think, closer to what Harris was trying to convey in his argument. Either way, the “debate” was an intellectual mismatch at best. You have to give it to Affleck for thinking he could argue with the likes of Harris (or perhaps he was too in-over-his-head to know that he couldn’t), and you have to give it Harris for his patience in trying to explain his stance to someone who was too heated to even try to hear it.

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  • Don’t know who Sam Harris is but he’s grossly oversimplified a very complex issue. Seems to be ignoring a lot of inconvenient facts as well.

    Firstly Islam is not homogenous. There are the Hadiths added on after Mohammed’s death. There is the major schism between Sunni and Shia underpinning a lot of the problems in the Middle East, and then within each group there are numerous interpretations of what every single thing means. There are good and bad a Muslims.

    Secondly he ignores the fact that the Koran says different things for different contexts. There are parts written in war other parts in peace time. A lot of Muslims interpret it using that as a context.

    Thirdly he overestimates how much attention the extremists pay to “what Mohammed says”. People who’ve escaped from Syria and IS report that whilst IS are more than happy with the slavery parts, murder and rape in war parts they ignore the far less open to interpretation parts that proscribe smoking and drinking. As for smashing the archeological treasures from earlier religions to prevent the worship of false idols? Seems like they’re making as nice little profit selling artefacts from them to western collectors! IS are just as selective with their Koran as Sam.

    He also seems to ignore the brutality of Guantanamo Bay. The USA’s long history of interference in other countries. It’s propping up of brutal dictators that could match IS for barbarity. All of those are far bigger factors in the mess we see now than the Koran. tRonnie Reagan made the Taliban for example. A largely Muslim Afghanistan that was liberal could have rid itself of that extremism in the seventies if the US hadn’t helped them.

    And he ignores the fact that IS follow the extreme Wahhabi version of Islam. Not the version followed by groups in Palestine who have been left to rot because of the USAs links with Israel. Meanwhile our ‘friends’ in Saudi and Qatar are funding Wahhabism everywhere. It’s the interpretation of Islam that is the issue and the problem is that the most barbaric interpretation is from our pals with the oil and the money

    Sam seems to prefer the easy option. Blame a book that people view in different ways because the alternative is to look at your own contributions. The petrol you buy from dictators you have to prop up to keep prices low. The London property market kept buoyant by Qatari money etc.

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  • Alice; please!

    Clarity, is what Harris and others of his ilk are endeavouring to excavate; obfuscation is the stock in trade of those who head religions, and all movements intent on controlling the lives of people.

    We must all utilize our native ability to think for ourselves; that is the one thing that unifies us all.

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  • 17
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi Red Dog,

    I just wanted to say thank you for the link above. I read through the e-mail exchange, and it helped me understand who Sam Harris is…

    I don’t normally enjoy calling people idiots, but that who Sam Harris is.. he is just an intellectually able fool. (just my opinion.)

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  • 18
    Lorenzo says:

    Wow, that was an extremely intersting read. Thanks for posting.
    Also, as a side bonus, the conversation brought to my attention that there’s a lot of very recent history that I completely ignore and I really would need to know. This is probably due to the fact that, when that recent history was being made, I was just too young to understand or even remember the facts -and the subsequent, convenient, “hole of memory” has been busy swallowing it before I could access them.
    I really should read more of Chomsky’s work…

    Now I also know what it looks like the total and complete (and, based on the sole content of the exchange, reasonably justified) lack of intellectual consideration for your interlocutor… I suspect that Chomsky expected, or assumed, a level of intellectual finesse that Harris didn’t have -or was unwilling to show.

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  • 19
    Lorenzo says:

    Upon consideration and following the Red Dog’s, Alice’s and Voiceofarabi’s posts, I feel I should amend my previous comment: expanding and, in part, correcting it.
    Cause of major concern for me is this passage of mine:

    That said, it’s true that since a decade or so Islam appears to be the most outwardly aggressive religion at its “taken to the letter” business, and that should be exposed.

    There are extremely good reasons why Islam, or rather some factions of it, appear so outwardly aggressive in the last decades. And those reason must, of course, be part of the exposure. Because, historically, religion and ideologies in general are great motivators for atrocities (and even unawareness of those atrocities by the very same, low ranking perpetrators), they provide a comfortable handle behind the doctrine, for whoever figures out how to use them -or is put there by someone for some particular interests.

    While I’m not a fan of relgions (you guess) and I often state that some obnoxious traits are shared among virtually every institutionalized religion, in some contexts is important to recognize that “a religion” is actually an ensamble of currents and Islam is not an exception.
    I refer to Alice’s and Voiceofarabi’s comments fo a greater insight on that matter, because they obviously know more about the subject than I do.
    It is important to remark that, like most people who profess Christian religions are quite up to speed with human morals, same goes for most people who profess Islamic declinations.

    The violence that plagues the Islamic world these days wasn’t always there, in fact, when the christian world was caught in the European dark ages, the Islamic world was the flourishing and we owe much of the knowledge of classical thinkers, not to mention very important bits of maths, to Islamic scholars.

    Things went wrong, though, and didn’t do it by chance: while the turmoil and violence that plagues the Islamic world these days is being motivated, to the low ranking executors, with religion, those who hold the handle I mentioned above are there for historical reasons -that I only partly know of. For a glimpse into those reasons (and a rather large disappointment in Harris’ brightness) I refer to the content of Red Dog’s comment.

    Apolgies for my previous lack of insight on the matters above.

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  • 20
    archsceptic says:

    Sarah Haider of ex-muslims of America:
    Islam and the Necessity of Liberal Critique (AHA Conference 2015)

    Faisal Al-Mutar debates CJ Werleman at Apostacon 2014

    Sarah Haider and Faisal Al-Mutar both speaking with a typical and much needed clear minded critique of the subject at hand. It’s comical that CJ Werleman can’t scream “racist” in the above debate. Because you know that it would be his first instinct – and he would really, really like to, to close down the debate before it can begin.

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  • Colonel David Kilcullen, an Australian Army intelligence officer was recruited as an adviser to thee US Govt Bush 2 Iraq debacle.

    David Kilcullen was a senior adviser to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, when he helped to design and monitor the Iraq War troop “surge”. He was then a special adviser for counterinsurgency to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. From 2005 to 2006, he was chief strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department. He has also been an adviser to the British government, the Australian government, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. He is a former Australian Army officer and the author of The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains.

    He argues that ISIS is the collateral damage of US foreign policy. He says that ISIS would not exist if the US had not invaded Iraq, or that when they did invade Iraq, they had actually thought about and had a plan for post invasion reconstruction. The stupidity of this US invasion, concocted on criminally false intelligence, has sown the seeds for the ISIS firestorm we are now witnessing.

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  • 22
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I don’t normally enjoy calling people idiots, but that who Sam Harris is.. he is just an intellectually able fool. (just my opinion.)

    Disagreeing with Sam Harris is one thing but painting him as an idiot is not only unfair but blaringly untrue. I think you should read a few of his books and listen to a few of his conferences before you make this claim.

    For my part, my opinion is that if Sam Harris was an idiot, I doubt very much that Hitch would have befriended him since he was notoriously ruthless with actual fools… Unless you think that Christopher Hitchens was also an idiot?

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  • 23
    Lorenzo says:

    but painting him as an idiot is not only unfair but blaringly untrue.

    Honestly, based on the conversation he had with Chomsky, there aren’t many other ways to paint him… “Obtuse” and “simpleton” spring to mind.
    These may be all overstatements, since he may have been playing dumb for the sake of his argument, but the fact that it has happened once doesn’t speak in his favor. Being wrong is nothing shameful, refusing to correct oneself is, a lot.

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  • Glad you liked it. I thought it was fascinating as well. I was kind of surprised given how influential Chomsky is and how often this site posts things by or about Harris that no one from this site bothered to repost this. I agree with some of the other replies that calling Harris an idiot is a bit extreme, but on the other hand I think many people in the new atheist community give him far too much credit. Unlike people such as Dawkins or Krauss Harris has never done any actual scientific work worth mentioning and IMO (also unlike Dawkins and Krauss) his books on atheism, free will, etc. are very shallow.

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  • Speaking of refusing to correct oneself and being obtuse, I find this video fascinating:

    The title on youtube is a bit misleading, the video is a bunch of edited clips of Chomsky and B. F. Skinner talking about each other, I don’t think they ever debate in person. But its fascinating to see the difference between the two. Skinner is incredibly arrogant. One of the most influential essays in modern psychology was Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, Chomsky just demolished Skinner and in that video Skinner says something like “I would respond to what Chomsky wrote about my book but to do that I would have to read what he said which I’m not going to be bothered to do”

    Its just amazingly arrogant. Where as Chomsky sticks to the issues and never uses ad hominem attacks. Although, that video is not about politics so if you aren’t interested in cognitive psychology it wouldn’t be very interesting.

    I doubt Dawkins reads these comment but on the off chance he does I would love to see Dawkins and Chomsky debate the evolution of language. Chomsky says some things about evolution in some of his lectures that I don’t agree with (and its rare for me to not agree with him) and I think Dawkins views on the specific issues make more sense to me. I would love to hear the two of them debate in person or even just hear Dawkins response to Chomsky’s statements on the topic.

    One last thing, I do strongly recommend reading some of Chomsky’s books about politics. One or my favorites is Manufacturing Consent. He is often accused of being a “conspiracy theorist” when it comes to the media but in that book he lays out a very convincing case for how and why the media self censors. Its an old book so the examples are from wars like Vietnam but if anything it is even more relevant today.

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  • Harris also ignore the very strong evidence from people who have studied the region scientifically: collecting data, interviewing terrorists and the communities that support them, etc. All the actual research I’ve seen contradicts the notion that Islam (or religion in general) are the primary cause for terrorism. I’m talking about books like Dying to Win: The logic of suicide terrorism by Robert Pape from the University of Chicago and Talking to the Enemy by anthropologist Scott Atran. Through statistical analysis (most of Pape’s work) and actually talking to potential terrorist and their supporters (Atran’s work) what emerges is a clear picture that the main reason people resort to terrorism is outrage over seeing neighbors, friends, and loved ones lose their homes, be imprisoned without cause, tortured, maimed, and killed. Those are the things for example that potential terrorists said to Atran when he asked them why they do what they do. It wasn’t about schtuping virgins in the after life. It always amazes me that people like Harris and especially Dawkins essentially just ignore work by Pape, Atran and others and speak “from their gut” rather than look at actual research.

    BTW, just to be clear both Pape and Atran acknowledge that religion is a strong secondary cause for violence. Mainly having a religious difference between the occupiers and the occupied makes it much more likely that those being occupied will resort to violence and given the usual disparity between the weapons that the occupiers have and those that the occupied have terrorism is usually the only type of violence that they can resort to. Also, “occupied” here has a fairly wide definition, so for example Pape would include I think (I haven’t read him recently but I’m pretty sure I’m right about this) the current government of Iraq as still being occupied because the US has such immense influence over them. I also think that is the reason that ISIS is so succesful. The Iraq troops know that they are fighting more for American interests than their own so when the bullets start flying they feel no commitment to actual fighting.

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  • I don’t agree at all that it is “misguided”. It is only misguided if you believe that the stated reasons given by those in power in the US were the REAL reasons. US policy makers never really care about democracy. What they care about is enforcing and promoting US power and dominance over the world and by that standard the foreign policy has been very successful.

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    Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist who was a pioneer in generative grammar. Later he became an extreme left-wing propagandist and genocide denier[1][2]. He advocates holding America to an absolute standard of ethics in foreign relations, but has not held such a standard elsewhere. He tends to ignore such violations by other countries, even when they have been far worse. Fellow liberal academic, Arthur Schlesinger, once referred to Chomsky as “an intellectual crook.” [3]
    He is an institute professor of linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [4] and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.
    Chomsky is very critical of American and Israeli foreign policy, sympathizes with Palestinians and has shown support for the terrorist organization Hezbollah[5]. He has also been criticized for anti-Semitism. It should be noted that Chomsky comes from a Jewish family and in the past has spoken and written in Hebrew,[6] but it is possible to argue that he is a self hater.

    IMO, a highly unpleasant character no matter his intellectual brilliance.

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  • BTW, just to be clear both Pape and Atran acknowledge that religion is a strong secondary cause for violence. Mainly having a religious difference between the occupiers and the occupied

    Islamic Jihad is unique in being a requirement of that ‘religion’ to the point where those capable but unwilling are defined by Muhammad as “hypocrites” condemned to hell.

    This is NO ‘secondary cause’. Be clear about that.

    clear picture that the main reason people resort to terrorism is outrage over seeing neighbors, friends, and loved ones lose their homes, be imprisoned without cause, tortured, maimed, and killed. Those are the things for example that potential terrorists said to Atran when he asked

    WRONG. Of course terrorists will use Muslim victimhood as their ‘motivation’ but this does not explain the Islamic conquests, does it?
    Those were pure Jihad as ordered by Muhammad’s Koran; no, Red Dog, you have bought into the leftist fantasies of evil western colonialism and ignored the Muslim colonisation of the Arabian peninsula, North Africa, Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan, India and much of Europe… where was the ‘outrage’ then???

    Final thought- what is different about Islamic colonialism? For one thing, Islam NEVER gives back what it took and regards lands from which it was expelled as Islamic in perpetuity- Spain remains Al Andalus to Muslims…

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  • Do you only have one eye?

    As someone who, as a child and along with 400,000 other mainly ethnic Chinese, had his home and village burnt and was forced at gunpoint to relocate in euphemistically named “new villages” by the British in a again euphamistically named, ” police action” in Malaysia in the 50’s I think that I, and millions of others, have a somewhat more realistic, objective and evidence based view of colonialism than you do. A event such commonplace in the history of Western colonialism that it does not even rate a mention in history books.

    Your Western civilisation was built on slavery, genocide., racism, ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, ruthless violence, pillage etc and the Islamic conquests and behaviour are puny in comparison. What happening to the natives of both Americas?

    And your Western civilisation NEVER gave anything back either, we took up arms and forced you to give it back.

    Look at the historic record, the barbarians were Western civilisation, not Islam


    Neither I or my family bear any grudge or hatred against the British, my children and their children were all born there and are British .

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  • 33
    Lorenzo says:

    And for those who aren’t willing to invest 30 seconds looking up what “Conservapedia” is:

    Reporting the very first sentence, which is referenced from Der Spiegel:

    Conservapedia is an English-language wiki encyclopedia project written from a American conservative and Christian fundamentalist point of view.

    I think there’s little need to comment further, isn’t there?

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  • A person’s religion is defined by what they think and do, it is a form of life. A culture’s religion is the accepted or enforced prescriptions it imposes or expects of people.

    A book is is a book.

    It is not surprising that an intellectual would mistake a book for the actual thing.

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  • I agree with Richard Dawkins when he states in his book The God Delusion that:

    Moderation in faith fosters fanaticism.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

    I think ALL religions that are successful in making children and conforming adults believe such fairy tales as the virgin birth, rising from the dead, and the creation in 6 days should take the blame for atrocities past and present. The story of Noah’s Arc is a wildly ridiculous piece of science fiction. There are no benign religions. Actor Ben Affleck arguing in favor of 1.5 billion Muslims is wrong, wrong, wrong. He is a triadic and tries to hammer his viewpoints down everyone’s throat with his wrinkled brow, white knuckles, and sweaty palms.

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  • I wish to express my sincere appreciation to archsceptic for the presentation of the talk by Sarah Haider shown above. Her talk was superb and I think I agree with about everything she said.

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  • Islamic Jihad is unique in being a requirement… WRONG. Of course terrorists will use Muslim victimhood as their ‘motivation’ but this does not explain the Islamic conquests, does it?

    Just because you say it is true, even in capital letters doesn’t make it so. Have you looked at Pape’s results? He showed with various kinds of statistical analysis that Islam is only the most recent culture to embrace terrorism but by no means the first nor the most prevalent, at least not by certain ways of measurement. What is more, he showed that the same patterns he identified in Islamic terrorists could be found in Hindu terrorists, Communist (atheist) terrorists, Zionist terrorists and others.

    I realize that contradicts what your common sense tells you based on the images you are fed in the US dominated media but one of the first things you learn when you try to look at things scientifically is that your common sense is often wrong and that you have to look deeper than the facts that seem obvious and not take explanations at face value.

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  • IMO, a highly unpleasant character no matter his intellectual brilliance.

    Well, that is the same thing that critics say about Dawkins and I think it is for similar reasons. When you can’t refute the argument attack the person. I’ve heard Chomsky attacked with a lot of venom in person by people from the left and the right and he is always polite. But what is more he is one of the most approachable people I know for someone so well known. In any case though I don’t ultimately care if someone is a jerk or is a great guy. Christopher Hitchens could be a bit of a jerk at times. What matters are the strength of their arguments and their sources and Chomsky’s are always very strong.

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  • Regardless of the pros and cons of American foreign policies, it takes next to nothing to set religious groups in the Middle East at each others throats.

    For that reason I think any attempts to help matters is almost bound to end badly; and having a background of black gold doesn’t help.

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  • 40
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi again Red Dog,

    As a person who was born a Muslim, and lived and travelled amongst majority of Muslim nations (from north Africa all the way to Indonesia ), I would like to congratulate you on your understanding of the situation. You sir, have better understanding than some of the policy makers whom take a life or death decision on our behalf.

    Clearly, you are a well read, and well travelled person… I will be following your post more in the future.
    thank you.

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  • 41
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi JimJFox,

    I have lived long, and have met many people from many religions, and I have certainly met enough nut jobs that tend to go to extremes, especially in religion.. (for example, people who will be with me enjoying a pint in a pub, and you meet them a year later, and they would have a long beard, short dress, and speak the ISIS language.)

    You sir, have all the traits that these people exhibit…. my advice, have an open mind, and always remember, you have two ears and one mouth.. listen more and travel more…

    wish you luck.

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  • Hi JimJFoxNews

    Have you ever been in a bar, minding your own business and two guys, with too much drink start. The eyeball. A hint of aggression, followed by a response. A little escalation. Then a bit more aggression and a raised response. The aggression goes back and forth like a tennis ball, only getter stronger and stronger. And that’s when the fight begins.

    Jim, and your opposite number in ISIS, are the drunks in the bar. You are the same. Geller, over on another thread is also a drunk aggressor. Now I know what you are thinking (Channel Dirty Harry about now) David would never fight. Wrong. But you have to know when to fight, and which fights you can win. But more importantly, in winning the fight, have you just returned the ball, and the fight will continue or have you cured the cause of the fight. If in fighting, you don’t stop future fights, then why fight. America invading Iraq was one such fight. Stupid from the get go. Lies to justify it. And America has been trying to return the ball ever since. And loosing.

    Listen to what VoiceOfArabi said. Listen to Red Dog. They are right. There is wisdom in their words.

    U are wrong.

    America cannot point the bone at Islam, when it has a mirror of Islam in it’s own back yard. The christian evangelical fundamentalists are the American Taliban. Until America can neutralize their own nutters, they shouldn’t go pushing around other drunks in the bars.

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  • Stafford Gordon
    Jun 4, 2015 at 2:20 am

    Regardless of the pros and cons of American foreign policies, it takes next to nothing to set religious groups in the Middle East at each others throats.

    Deliberately undermining the strong regimes which were keeping the jihadists repressed, on the whimsical notion that removing powerful dictators would lead to western style democracy, was just delusional faith-style ideological thinking by meddling politicians like Bush and co.!

    For that reason I think any attempts to help matters is almost bound to end badly; and having a background of black gold doesn’t help.

    That provides the greed, motivation, corruption, and the weapons funding to escalate the problems.

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  • Perhaps a prime example of the political ineptitude, which has escalated problems, is the sort of politicians selected for key roles!

    Tony Blair is to be become the chairman of an organisation that combats anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
    The former UK prime minister will join the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, which has campaigned for tougher laws on extremism.

    Mr Blair is standing down this month as the Middle East (peace!!!) envoy representing the US, Russia, the UN and the EU.

    He will not be paid in his new role, but his faith foundation will reportedly receive an annual donation.

    The ECTR describes itself as an “opinion-making and advisory body”.

    It has called on European countries to bring in legislation creating clearer definitions of racism and anti-Semitism, boost educational programmes and make Holocaust denial a criminal offence.

    The organisation also wants governments to provide security at synagogues and Jewish schools.

    Writing in the Times (behind a paywall), Mr Blair and Moshe Kantor, a Russian-born businessman who co-founded the ECTR in 2008, said Europe was facing “dangerous times”.

    They said “economic decline fuels instability”, noting that the only three times in the past 100 years when the annual GDP growth in Europe went below 1% was just before World War One and World War Two and last year.

    Mr Blair and Mr Kantor, who is also President of the European Jewish Congress, highlighted a report on global anti-Semitic incidents by the Kantor Centre at Tel Aviv University which found last year was one of the worst years in the past decade.

    “Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, but one infecting the whole of society and needs to be tackled for the sake of us all.

    “It is our firm belief that it is not religion or faith per se that causes or foments conflict,” they added.

    His decision to quit as Middle East peace envoy post was announced in May.

    Sources said, however, that Mr Blair would “remain active” in the region in an informal role and was “fully committed to assisting the international community in its work with Israel and the Palestinians to bring about progress on the two-state solution”.

    Bush-buddy (impartial????) mediating warmongers for peace!!!! – There’s an interesting political concept!!!!

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  • There’s no denying that you’re right Alan: The Shah, Saddam and Gaddafi were all Western placemen in the traditionally short-sighted policies of our “Governments”, who were supposed to control matters at the behest of our “leaders”.

    But in the fifties Gamal Abdel Nasser imprisoned members of the Muslim Brotherhood of his own volition; neither approach seems to work.

    As I typed the above, I heard on the news that members of IS are now murdering members of the Taliban.

    What do you think the answer is Alan?

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  • Stafford Gordon
    Jun 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    What do you think the answer is Alan?

    Many things are now too messed up to have short-term answers., but getting some of the interfering nutty politicians, secret agencies and clandestine arms salesmen under civilised control, would be a good start.

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  • 48
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi Stafford and Alan,

    I don’t mean to butt in, but I think there is a way out.. let us look at history…

    over 200 years ago, America had lots of internal trouble and fighting as the British and French was meddling in its affairs. When brave American people kicked the British out and gained their true independence, the whole country settled down and prospered.

    Same is true in China (we all read about the opium wars), and Iran over the last 30 something years.

    It is true no country is perfect, and in Iran women are oppressed, and in china freedom of speech is limited, and in America large corporates rule and individuals generally are worse off (than Europe), but it is still better than living under the rule of the British (or any other occupier..).. would you agree…?

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  • voiceofarabi
    Jun 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Same is true in China (we all read about the opium wars), and Iran over the last 30 something years.

    The opium wars were unbridled, unregulated, international, corporate capitalism by a company more powerful than many states!

    and in America large corporates rule and individuals generally are worse off (than Europe), but it is still better than living under the rule of the British (or any other occupier..).. would you agree…?

    I’m not really in a position to judge on the the USA, – being in Europe and only having had short visits to two states in the USA! British colonial rule was certainly elitist and repressive of local interests, – as it was of its own workers back home.

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  • 50
    archsceptic says:

    For those who insist on playing a game of all-things-being-equal, by comparing the apples of what the West does wrong, with the oranges of what Islam does wrong – the obligation should then be yours to evaluate conversely – and measure what we do right, before you finalize your point-scoring.

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  • When the French rebelled against the monarchy in 1789 and…er… literally decapitated the government they created a vacuum filled by revolutionary zeal and nationalism awesomely consolidated by Napoleon and his military campaigns of conquest in Europe. We’re seeing a charade of this historical pattern happen in the Arab middle east, Central Asia and North Africa. Dictatorships fell like kingpins over the last decade or so; in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toppled Saddam Hussein and the Taliban; the ongoing civil war in Syria tentatively threatens the Assad regime. Into the vacuum, instead of “Vive la France” and “Liberte, egalite, Fraternite” we have Jihadism, virulent Islamic Fundamentalist Nationalism, Sharia Law, and “Allah u-Akbar.”

    Sam Harris does a good job describing the ideological elements of Islam that incline followers to commit crimes against humanity but he fails to examine more recent development in the region which unites revolutionary Arab nationalists around the nationalist religion of Islam to undertake territorial expansion and consolidate geopolitical prominence and power. They’re saying and doing the same thing that British, French, Germans, Americans, and Russians did in the 19th and 20th centuries… “We are exceptional. we are God’s chosen people. Our way of life and belief system is divinely ordained. We will not suffer humiliation any longer. We are Muslim revolutionaries and watch us grow, you heathens!!!”

    But wait! We in liberal western democracies need not tremble as we did before Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin. Islamist nationalists, hopelessly splintered into hostile sects, ethnic groups. and corrupt, primitive factions mired in impoverished societies will probably wind up waging a war of attrition. Against themselves.

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  • 52
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    What they care about is enforcing and promoting US power and dominance over the world and by that standard the foreign policy has been very successful.

    Well if that’s the case, then I don’t see much of that US power and dominance in Irak these days. What I do see is total chaos: near daily car bombings of Mosques and other public places along with the systematic killing of innocents and destruction of priceless archeological treasures by ISIS with no end in sight.

    How the legacy of such a venture can be called an example of successful foreign policy is baffling to me.

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  • 53
    Lorenzo says:


    8th paragrpaph of the transcript, third period:

    I did not misrepresent his views at all.

    He plainly did, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it still makes me think that he’s unable to understand Chomsky’s complaint, which has been explained very clearly in at least three points during the e-mail exchange. Furthermore, Harris hangs on to the convinction of his that Chomsky did not ponder the moral implication of meaning well and doing wrong… Chomsky explained very well that he did and why he rejects the notion.

    Harris sticks to his guns. It’s a human thing to do. I do find it a bit shameful when done in the face of a well founded argument -or out of unwillingness to understand that argument.

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  • Nearly Naked Ape said:

    Well if that’s the case, then I don’t see much of that US power and dominance in Irak these days. What I do see is total chaos: near daily car bombings of Mosques and other public places along with the systematic killing of innocents and destruction of priceless archeological treasures by ISIS with no end in sight.How the legacy of such a venture can be called an example of successful foreign policy is baffling to me.

    That’s because you aren’t thinking like a US policy maker. They don’t care about people getting blown up. Or to be more precise they don’t care about certain people getting blown up, namely civilians like the Iraqis. They care about oil contracts, justifying future war spending, etc. BTW, I’m not saying Iraq has been a great success even from that standpoint. ISIS for example taking control over oil fields THAT is something US policy makes care about. I was talking more about foreign policy in general.

    For example, the Vietnam war is almost always described as a failure but if you read the Pentagon Papers and other internal documents from the time that war was mostly a success. The main point was to contain the “bad example” of a nation taking control independent of the US and that they did very well. The devastation inflicted on Vietnam was brutal and served as an object lesson to other people in the region what would happen if they made the same mistake as the Vietnamese.

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  • Meanwhile disinformation and deceptive tricks are again hiding terrorism while pretending to deal with it!

    Eight out of 10 Malala suspects ‘secretly acquitted’

    Eight of the 10 men reportedly jailed for the attempted assassination of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai were acquitted, it has emerged.

    In April, officials in Pakistan said that 10 Taliban fighters had been found guilty and received 25-year jail terms.

    But sources have now confirmed to the BBC that only two of the men who stood trial were convicted.

    The secrecy surrounding the trial, which was held behind closed doors, raised suspicions over its validity.

    The court judgement – seen for the first time on Friday more than a month after the trial – claims that the two men convicted were those who shot Ms Yousafzai in 2012.

    It was previously thought that both the gunmen and the man who ordered the attack had fled to Afghanistan.

    Muneer Ahmed, a spokesman for the Pakistani High Commission in London, said on Friday that the eight men were acquitted because of a lack of evidence.

    Saleem Marwat, the district police chief in Swat, Pakistan, separately confirmed that only two men had been convicted.

    Mr Ahmed claimed that the original court judgement made it clear only two men had been convicted and blamed the confusion on misreporting.

    But Sayed Naeem, a public prosecutor in Swat, told the Associated Press news agency after the trial: “Each militant got 25 years in jail. It is life in prison for the 10 militants who were tried by an anti-terrorist court.” In Pakistan, a life sentence is 25 years.

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  • Affleck’s focus is on moderates. And let’s not make any bones about it: in terms of religions like Islam and Christianity, moderates are actually apostates. They’re sanctioned by their own religious leaders to ignore much of the original doctrine contained in their holy scriptures etc., simply to make it possible to live a reasonable and convenient life in the modern world while still thinking of yourself as a devout believer. This is something most religions, especially in the west, have come to terms with simply as a means of survival, to allow the religion to continue to exist. Affleck himself is a moderate Christian, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when faced with an atheist across the table like Sam Harris, he would come rushing to defense of the religious no matter what the details of the discussion were.

    Harris’ focus is on the doctrine itself. Fundamentalists are so called because they’re the ones who are still following the core fundamentals of their religion. No matter how many adherents of a religion are moderates, the core doctrine is still there, and as long as the religion exists there will always be fundamentalists who insist on putting it into practice. Moderates are mostly irrelevant, but they do serve to enable and legitimize the fundamentalists. Specific to Islam, the problem is that even if only a small percentage of its followers believe in heinous Sharia doctrine such as death for apostasy, death for blasphemy, death for adultery, amputation for theft etc., it’s still a huge number. There are approx. 1.5 billion Muslims in the world today. Polls indicate that roughly 25% of them believe in Sharia (and that’s said to be a very conservative estimate.) That’s nearly 400 million people. I have a difficult time ignoring that large of an elephant in the room.

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  • Red Dog: Your view of geopolitics in recent history is naive. Fledgling democracies started to mature in Western Europe and the United states after WWI. Women acquired the franchise. Then the catastrophe of the Great Worldwide Depression gave rise to the false promises of the totalitarian state -namely Fascism (Nazism) and Communism. Key segments of the public lost faith in democracy and capitalism and demanded the order direction, and modest prosperity apparently forthcoming from the regimes of Hitler and Stalin at the expense of liberty. At the end of WWII, Europe lay in rubble with the Soviets, occupying Eastern Europe, perched like a vulture eying a carcass on the borders. U.S. intervention with the Marshall plan and NATO (including the reform occupation of Japan) turned Europe toward unprecedented prosperity, liberal democracy and the welfare state (likewise Japan).

    To be sure subsequent events soured the process. Vietnam fought under the containment theory was a fiasco that saw U.S. military power kill over a million people. CIA machinations to put dictators friendly to U.S. interests in power while deposing dictators friendly to the Soviets, committed crimes in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. More recently, as you mention, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have helped turn the region into roiling chaos.

    The transcendent force of liberal democracy still spreads its influence from the exclusive axis of the United States and the European Union, (including Japan in Asia). Hopefully, the U,S. has learned some hard lessons and has much to repent, but mature democracies, no matter what their defects, must still fight to advance their interests and values in a world riddled with authoritarian regimes oppressing human rights, toxic, corrupt, kleptocracies keeping their people trembling in poverty; and worse the totalitarian death cults of Isis and other Islamic extremists. The accomplishments and progressive aspirations of Democracy since Hitler shot himself in the bunker have traveled far and wide throughout the world making great strides while also installing expedient dictatorships, pursuing selfish economic interests, fighting stupid wars, and, yes, committing crimes against humanity. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, modern western democracies are nonetheless better than the alternatives which are still very much with us. They are worth fighting for albeit with more care, diplomacy and altruism in the future

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  • 59
    chrisstopher says:

    I have mixed views on Sam Harris, I agree with alot of what he says, but I don’t know there seems to be something…cold and unemotional in his whole demeanor. He lacks charisma, I often get the impression from him that he would be the guy to willing pull the torture switch if it meant saving a million people. Maybe its what I am seeing as his ‘ ends justifys the means’ moral stance. Or perhaps I misread him?

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  • There is no sign of reform or intelligent debate where Islam has power propped up by oil money!
    Saudi court upholds blogger’s 10 years and 1,000 lashes

    .Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment on blogger Raif Badawi, despite a foreign outcry.

    Speaking from Canada, his wife Ensaf Haidar told news agency AFP, “this is a final decision that is irrevocable.”

    In March, the kingdom expressed “surprise and dismay” at international criticism over the punishment.

    At the time, the foreign ministry issued a statement saying it rejected interference in its internal affairs.

    In 2012, Badawi was arrested and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels”.

    .For four years he had been running the Liberal Saudi Network, which encouraged online debate on religious and political issues.

    Saudi authorities sent his case for review as global pressure to free Badawi mounted.

    Badawi received his first 50 lashes in January, but subsequent floggings have been postponed.

    Saudi Arabia enforces a strict version of Islamic law and does not tolerate political dissent.

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  • I read Harris’ most recent book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although, I confess I was a little put off by his endorsement of chemically-induced meditation. Overall, I think he has a very good grasp of the threat of modern Islam.

    I would recommend Ibn Warraq for further reading on the subject.

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  • He lacks charisma, I often get the impression from him that he would be the guy to willing pull the torture switch if it meant saving a million people.

    I presume you got that impression from his writing rather than his demeanour? He often uses such thought experiments in discussions of moral issues. His stance seems to be that he thinks torture should be illegal but that there are certain exceptional circumstances in which it would be ethical for the policing authorities to break the law.

    What would you do in the event of the thought experiment you present? If you knew the suspect had the information that could save a million people, would you pull the torture switch? What if the required information was the location of a nuclear device hidden somewhere in your home town/city?

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  • 64
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    @Red Dog:
    They care about oil contracts, justifying future war spending, etc. BTW, I’m not saying Iraq has been a great success even from that standpoint.

    That’s the point I was trying to make. Sorry if I haven’t expressed myself more clearly. I don’t disagree when you say that US policy makers don’t care about the lives of foreign nationals. They have proven that many times over.

    For example, the Vietnam war is almost always described as a failure but if you read the Pentagon Papers and other internal documents from the time that war was mostly a success.

    The Vietnam war is indeed a good example because it is the first time in history that the US was seen by many in the world as “the bad guy” and indeed they were. It was perceived by many as the beginning of the downfall of America’s image on the international scene.

    But to me, this cannot be anthing other than a major failure in every way that counts. One must not forget that the Pentagon Papers are written by the military high command in whose interest it is to spin the whole episode as a resounding success even if it’s clearly not. So I wouldn’t give those too papers much credit.

    I am still convinced that adopting a foreign policy that consists mainly in bullying every nation that tries to align with your ennemies (real or imagined) is a terribly bad idea and can only lead to disaster in the long run regardless of any (actual or alledged) short term benefits.

    Case in point, it’s presently backfiring big time and the US is alienating itself not only with many nations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa but also with its own liberal intelligentsia and the resentment is growing. This is NOT a recipe for success.

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  • 65
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    I have mixed views on Sam Harris, I agree with alot of what he says, but I don’t know there seems to be something…cold and unemotional in his whole demeanor.

    I’m glad you brought this up because this was at the back of my mind while I was reading the posts in this thread, many of which severly criticize Sam Harris to the point of calling him an idiot and qualifying his books as superficial which is way over the top IMO.

    I think this detail strikes a very basic chord about a lot of people’s perception of Sam Harris: he often rubs people the wrong way solely by his demeanor. His piercing hawkish stare, his owl-like blinking and unflinching facial expression probably contribute to this impression. This is unfortunate and it says a lot more about the people who dislike Harris than about Harris himself.

    Personally, I am not put off by those traits. Sam is a supremely confident and very disciplined man and many people are misled into confusing this for arrogance. Stafford Gordon said it best: Sam Harris is no intellectual slouch and I consider his self-confidence as perfectly legitimate. His personality should not make any difference to a fair-minded, objective commentator.

    Chomsky is a great intellectual. I strongly disagree with him on many things (the influence of religion on people for example) but I would never dream of calling him an idiot because I dislike his gravely voice.

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  • 66
    christopher says:

    Well, yes I do see the point of letting Sam Harris arguements stand or fall on their own merits. Indeed I admit I am guilty of an all to human reaction. From reading his books( I have read End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation), both of which I enjoyed and agreed with in many points. Howver I am still standing by what I am seeing as his ends justifies the means moral stance, presenting a hypothetical , torture or not torture, to save a city of millions, is to me still an the ends are noble , but the methods may not be , way of proceeding. Me, I won’t torture a terror suspect, for information, interrogate yes, torture no. But than there is the question of the difference between the too. I am also not saying that Harris should use emotional appeals to convey his points, far from that, but I am saying that having taken public speaking, and doing a number of speeches to an audience, how you come across has an effect on your audience just as much as what your saying.

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  • 67
    christopher says:

    Also, allowing torture under special circumstances I fear can lead all to easily to a sippery slope, if you can justify it once, it can be justified as permissible again and again, soon it becames a normal tool of policy. Kind of like giving miliary grade hardware to civilian police departments, well we have it lets use it, as the case in Ferguson Missouri demonstrated. I think there is very fine line between legally permissible and extra-judicial, and my point is evening allow methods such as torture once, the temptation to use them again and in other say non- terrorism r cases is to great to allow even there use in a save a million lives circumstance.

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  • Me, I won’t torture a terror suspect, for information, interrogate yes, torture no.

    OK, similar hypothetical. A security agent tortures the terrorist and obtains the location of the nuclear device in time to defuse it, thereby saving a million lives. He is found guilty of torture. You are the judge – what is your sentence?

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  • Doesn’t the thought experiment introduce the possibility of working back from it to less extreme cases where torture may still be justified?

    If that’s not the point of the experiment then doesn’t it become irrelevant? What would it add to arguments against the critics of real instances of torture?

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  • 70
    christopher says:

    I would declare a miss trial, torture being in this case inadmissible as evidence. That is assuming we are talking of a trial by jury and not a military tribunal. I have reservation about tortures effectiveness as a law enforcemnt of intellilgence gathering tool. Maybe part of my wishes to see us as better than that, not to stoop down to that level. totalatarian regimes torture, extremist use such tactics. In a broader context, we all hear alot about what the problem is, in a nutshell relgious extemism, oh heck , lets just be honest and say religion period. What I would like to see more of is why the western, secular humanist approach is the only sane alternative, I think it is, and I trust most people commenting on here would agree. That dispite various seens of omission and commision, the wetern enlightement ethos of open mindedness, free inquiry, and scientific rationalism is worth defending and is what will keep us from nhilism, darkness and barbarism. Maybe Harris, Dawkins, et. al to this in thier own fashion, Hitchens certainly did.

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  • 72
    christopher says:

    That is my point of objecting to torture, it becomes to much of temptation to use it in less extreme cases. The , hey it worked , we foiled this major plot, and saved the city, lets use it here, and here and here. My question has always been in presenting my hypothetical cases , is ok we justified it here, so why not here and here and in this instance. Soon, its a tool used in general law enforcement, and that leaves constitutional protections, and human rights wear exactly? Though I admire Sam Harris greatly I am stil not convinced that his moral stance doesn’t entail , ends justfiies the means thinking. Okay maybe I am being to moralistically absolute when I say that lines in the sand have to be drawn as to what we think it permissible to do, but I think that consequential morality in this cases is a dangerous slippery slope.

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  • This scenario comes up all the time. There is no example where these circumstances have ever existed, and it is an extremely unlikely scenario. Torture is an extremely unreliable interrogation technique. The statements and intelligence gained is often fabricated because the victim soon learns that the torture will stop when you say what the torturer wants to hear. They make it up in other words.

    During my training, we all read this book. The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe. I would commend it to anyone interested in what is the most effective way to gain intelligence from a captive prisoner. I employed techniques described in this book to great benefit through 31 years of this type of work.

    No to torture for obvious ethical reasons. But no also, because it doesn’t work, and information gained should be treated as tainted, which means to act, or waste resources would be considered foolish.

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  • The ticking-time bomb scenario ostensibly brings up a serious issue but on closer inspection the bomb is a dud even in imagination. Does anyone question the logic? How could the authorities apprehend a suspect unless he identified himself to them or an operative or a third party fingered him immediately after he or his accomplices planted and armed the bomb? Remember the scenario asks us to believe the time bomb is actually ticking. Presumably we are considering terrorists who typically strap explosives to their bodies. No warning, no tick, tick…just KABOOM! The scenario also includes the possibility of nuclear devices but what difference does that make? What terrorist bomber with an once of common sense would leave a bomb ticking away for several hours running the risk that someone will find it? No he would arm and detonate it promptly, probably momentarily, taking himself up with it before anyone could have the slightest chance to intervene. Only if the bomber had concern for his own safety would he put time and distance between himself and the explosion. Especially if the bomb were nuclear, the conspirators would not plan the attack around the survival of one man and certainly prepare for the contingency of operatives falling into the hands of authorities who would have time to torture him and extract actionable intelligence.

    Now the disclaimer. Yes, there have been situations where if the police had been able to capture a bomber “early” there would have been enough time to locate and defuse the bomb before it went off (we’ve seen the origin of this silliness in too many bad movies). Yes, someone wins the 30 million dollar lottery. It just doesn’t happen in real life. It would certainly not happen under this contrived, dramatized “terrorist” scenario.

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  • 76
    voiceofarabi says:

    The ticking-time bomb scenario is misleading for the following reason….

    It is based on the idea that there are crazy people (very different to us, and most likely inferior), who are for no reason trying to kill thousands, if not millions of people… (there are few of those, but not whole countries.)

    In reality, majority of what we call terror acts is retaliations for actions that one state have taken against another, for example, Vietnam, Iran, etc etc (one mans terrorist, is another mans freedom fighter – Nelson Mandela was labelled a terrorist, and conducted what we would term terror acts).

    So, the solution for the ticking-time bomb is to restrain our government and people from destabilising other countries and governments just because they don’t agree with us. (and not torture people…)

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  • Sam’s intent on the issue of torture it seemed to me at the time was to generate discussion. He made me think for example about the comparison between drone strikes and torture. He asked us to consider is it any less torture to have your legs blown off inadvertently (in collateral damage) in a drone strike than it does to be tortured (presumably if your legs are blown off the pain you are in at the time is torture). I came away with a much more anti-drone stance than before. And yet many societies and certainly the US are happy to support drone strikes but at the same time not support torture.

    At no time did he support either but asked us to think about the ethics of the situation. We cannot do that unless we bring up scenarios we may not like to consider. I don’t always agree with Sam Harris (for example his thinking about gun control is IMO completely wrong headed -although considering he situation understandable) however I think he is often accused of supporting things he does not because he brings up topics of conversation that are polarizing. The benefit is we all get thinking and the evidence of the tread above shows it works.

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  • 78
    voiceofarabi says:

    Hi Reckless Monkey,

    I agree with you, Sam Harris does bring up topics of conversation that many feel uncomfortable to talk about, and that’s very positive…

    I called him an idiot above not because of his topics… I did it because he was unable to admit his shortfalls (and we all have shortfalls – in fact, I have too many 🙂 ). For me, if you can’t admit you are wrong and your are below grown up age, then you are a child, and if you are at or above grown up age, then you are an idiot.

    The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem

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  • Above it is written that Harris ignores the fact that the Koran says different things for different contexts. There are parts written in war other parts in peace time. A lot of Muslims interpret it using that as a context.

    This is my response. A book that is overall non-violent but which can be interpreted in a violent way is still to blame for any atrocities that result.

    Genuinely decent people do not believe that a God will get involved in commanding a war. The Koran and Bible say he has. There is something twisted with hailing violent texts as being from God and infallible.

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  • 80
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    For me, if you can’t admit you are wrong and your are below grown up age, then you are a child, and if you are at or above grown up age, then you are an idiot.

    Hi Voiceofarabi,

    If we go by that standard, then it could also be argued that Noam Chomsky is an idiot. Let me explain.

    Harris accused Chomsky of calling him a religious fanatic and pointed him to a youtube video of him answering a question from a member of the audience during a conference.

    In that video, he indeed clearly and explicitly calls Harris (and Hitchens) religious fanatics who “believe in the state religion”. Watch the video if you don’t believe me:

    Now in his email exchange with Harris, Chomsky flat out denied having said this (!!!!). I believe what he said then was a very wrong and ill-informed thing to say and not admitting having said it makes him look dishonest and immature. My impression is that he was trying to save face at all costs (ego) but that doesn’t make Chomsky an idiot by any measure.

    Not being able to admit being wrong is indeed a very immature kind of behavior and it’s a lot more common than people realize. A few members of my family come to mind as I type this so I’m pretty sure it’s something that most people here have deal with this in one way or another in everyday life (being aware of it doesn’t make it any easier however).

    But I think an important distinction is in order though. Not being able to admit you are wrong has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with ego. And the smarter and more successful you are in life, add good looks and popularity, the more likely one is to have an inflated ego.

    But IMHO, Sam Harris is not like that however, at least I don’t think so. And I believe the reason is that he has an excellent sense of critical thinking and being smart and honest, he can and does apply it to himself (most of the time anyway), which is the most important role of critical thinking.

    Now that doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong (or immature) occasionally. We all do that at times but we tend to be more demanding of public figures than we are of the people we casually relate to. This is a typical form of cognitive bias and we all fall victim to it.

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  • Harris accused Chomsky of calling him a religious fanatic and pointed him to a youtube video of him answering a question from a member of the audience during a conference…. Now in his email exchange with Harris, Chomsky flat out denied having said this (!!!!).

    Where did Chomsky deny having said this? I read the whole exchange and can’t remember seeing that.

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  • The ticking time bomb is one of the most ridiculous justifications that is still being used. IMO it is right up there with Neville Chamberlain and not wanting to appease Hitler being used as an analogy for not negotiating with nations like Iran (ironic side bar the Shah of Iran that the US put in place to govern that nation actually DID openly admire Hitler). When you look at the people who were actually tortured they were tortured for days and days repeatedly. So its obvious that even by the “expert” torturers standards that torture doesn’t work over night, if it did they wouldn’t need to keep doing it. In point of fact if you listen to people who are actual experts in interrogation they will tell you that moral issues aside torture just doesn’t work. When you torture someone they will say whatever they think you want to hear to make it stop.

    The book The Black Banners by FBI interrogator Ali Soufan (who BTW was a Republican and voted for Bush) makes this all very clear. Soufan was an expert in Al Queda and middle east terrorism. He was one of the few interrogators who actually spoke arabic and was familiar with Islam. What he documents made me ashamed to be an American. Time and again he or others on his team were actually getting excellent information from Al Queda prisoners. It turns out (not much of a surprise) Al Queda doesn’t really treat its members all that good, there is a lot of unhappiness over things like the fact that a few people at the top get most of the resources while most of them have to live like dogs. So when they were captured and treated (to their surprise) with respect most of them were more than willing to flip and to start giving good information.

    Then in swoop the torture goons. These were people the CIA hired (most of them not actual career CIA) who knew nothing about interrogation. The cooperation stopped and we started getting BS stories about links to Iraq because that is what the torturer’s bosses wanted to hear.

    I should say for the record even if it DID work I would be against using torture ever. Period. You can make all the philosophical excuses for it you want but the bottom line is that no government should have the power to commit such heinous acts and that while “ticking time bombs” will be the excuse the actual use of it will be for sadism and have little to do with actual security.

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  • Sam’s intent on the issue of torture it seemed to me at the time was to generate discussion

    Dawkins has made the same excuse for Harris but I don’t buy it. The fact is that Harris published Op Eds justifying torture at a time when the US, for the first time in our history ever, was accepting torture as an officially sanctioned procedure for captured prisoners. If you just want to “generate discussion” you should make it clear that you aren’t in favor of the torture your government is actually doing.

    I think a highly relevant comparison is what Steven Pinker writes about racism and genetics in some of his books like The Blank Slate. He makes it clear that even though some people in the past and probably in the future use some of the science that he is describing as a justification for racism he is absolutely against it. In fact he gave one of the best explanations for why science about genetics should not support moral or politically racist policies that I’ve ever seen. Harris on the other hand never said he was against the actual torture the US was doing and his opinion pieces clearly were seen (and used by right wing commentators) to justify what the US was doing. What’s more since we’ve seen the results of torture, that the people tortured were often innocent, that the information they gave was mostly lies they said just to make the torture stop, this is all well documented see the book The Black Banner that I mention in a comment below, since that I have never heard Harris say clearly “we can now see that torture didn’t work and I was wrong to support it”.

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  • One must not forget that the Pentagon Papers are written by the military high command in whose interest it is to spin the whole episode as a resounding success even if it’s clearly not.

    No, you are simply wrong about that. The military are not idiots. They recognize that “believing their own bullshit” is a way to lose battles and they don’t like to do that. They are firm believers, as are most succesful businesses in having independent reviews of their own processes and honestly admitting mistakes… although of course they want to keep those admissions within the family and not publish them.

    Getting to The Pentagon Papers they absolutely were NOT written by the “military high command”. They were written by very smart people from the RAND corporation. BTW, RAND also sponsored some of the most innovative R&D in the US and had people like John Von Neumann on their payroll. Von Neuman was the guy who with Turing defined the mathematical foundation for digital computers and also invented game theory. It was these kinds of intellectuals, Daniel Ellsberg was one of them, who wrote the Pentagon Papers. The whole point of the papers was to provide an honest review of Vietnam and that is what it was. That is why Nixon and the government went nuts when it was given to the public.

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  • There is a petition demanding the release of Raif Badawi:

    The Saudi government of gangsters and thugs may be expressing ‘surprise and dismay’ at the fact that at present more than a million people have signed it.

    I would urge anyone with ten seconds or so to spare to follow the link above and add your name.

    Anvil Springstien.

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  • The thought experiment seems to be a response to the claim that torture is never justified. Also, Harris supports drone strikes, so his comparison between them and torture can be read as a challenge to others who support drone strikes but suddenly become squeamish about torture.

    I’m really not sure how we can read these things and come away with the opinion that Harris is neutral and only wants to generate discussion. I think it’s more natural to assume he’s not neutral and would like to persuade us that at least some instances of torture may be justified. And because his thought experiment can be ignored by critics of torture as hopelessly contrived, it’s purpose is likely just to introduce a starting point from which we can work back to real instances of torture.

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  • The Senate report on torture supported by CIA documents revealed that torture never extracted actionable intelligence. An FBI agent, who spoke fluent Arabic and happened to be a practicing Muslim, testified that the only productive way to interrogate was to gain the detainee’s trust and never come across as abusive. He obtained valuable information on many occasions. By contrast, under “enhanced interrogation techniques,” detainees will give false information that sounds like what the interrogators want to hear. Agents will be sent on wild goose chases all over the country trying to run down illusory leads wasting valuable personnel, resources and above all time in an exercise in futility.

    The background premise of torture proves useless or harmful to the purpose of interrogation unless the one in a million chance of coincidences line up perfectly. Terrorist cells do not operate like two teen-aged boys planning to shoot up a school. They do not march in lock step to carry out an attack with Peter, Paul and Mary assigned to carry out specific roles in a specific place synchronized on a clock. They have flexible back up plans, the option of postponing or calling off the operation or shifting the target using alternate perpetrators at a moment’s notice. If a key conspirator is captured, what he knows of previous “plans” for an attack will no longer exist.

    Sam Harris and Alan Dershowitz before him argued for the necessity of effective torture in the ticking-time bomb scenario. The false premise they slipped plausibly into the public debate is that there is such a thing as effective torture that yields immediately accurate information from a detainee. Torture like all methods of interrogation is time consuming and tick-tick-KABOOM is a paradox almost impossible to solve. The scenario is also anachronistic relying on coincidences which would not materialize in today’s technology and communication environment -something out of a dated thriller from 60s cinema. No high-tech bombers, would plant a device, certainly not a nuclear device, and put it on a mechanical timer then walk away from it relinquishing control over unanticipated circumstances. The whole operation would be under the cell’s real-time surveillance and control: the bomb, the site, the exact movements of the operatives and the terrorist command structure using multiple lines of internal electronic (and conventional) communication. Once armed the bomb could be set off by remote control instantly as required.

    There is no meat for credible public discussion on torture as a technique for interrogation.

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  • A few more responses. First, I agree that we mostly agree and some of this is me splitting hairs. Also, when I said the military aren’t idiots what I should have said is that many people in the military are not idiots. Unfortunately bureaucracies being what they are its often the idiots, the ass kissers and those good at covering their ass who fail upward and end up in charge.

    And when I say that the foreign policy of the US is mostly a success, I mean a success from the standpoint of the values of the people in charge, the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and that we have to recognize that for people like that their stated goals are seldom the actual goals.

    Finally, I also think that over the long haul even for the un-stated goals, essentially for US domination of the world, that these policies have and even more so in the future will come back to bite us in the ass. My fear is that as that happens, as the world gets to be a more desperate and unstable place due to escalating population and climate change that the US will fall back on the one thing it knows best how to do: use military force and the results for the whole world could be catastrophic.

    Oh and for those who live outside the US keep in mind that the US has now claimed and exercised the right to kill ANYONE we deem a threat no matter where they are and with no external independent judicial process. So far we’ve been killing people in places like Yemen and Pakistan so most people don’t even notice but I don’t think its all that much of a stretch to think that one day drone strikes could be coming to a neighborhood near you.

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  • 89
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    From the email exchange. Source:


    ” I have seen a video or two in which, when asked to comment about my views, or about the “new atheism” generally, you have said something disparaging. As I mention in my initial email, you have, on at least one occasion, referred to me as a “religious fanatic” who “worships the religion of the state.” You may have been talking about both Christopher Hitchens and me, given the way the question was posed.”


    “… As to my “misconceptions” about you, I’m interested to see that there is no credible source.”


    “And really, you’re “interested to see that there is no credible source” for my claim that you have called me a religious fanatic who worships the religion of the state? Is your own mouth a credible source? Watch this video and behold yourself speaking the very words I attributed to you: “

    -link to youtube video- (same as I posted above)


    “It turns out that you have published version of my views that are completely false, and that the only source you have for “the fact” that you cite is something on Youtube in which, as you wrote, that I “may have been talking about both Christopher Hitchens and [you], given the way the question was posed,” or maybe about Hitchens, whose views I know about, whereas in your case I only know about your published falsifications of my views, which readers of yours have sent to me, and which I didn’t bother to respond to. Therefore, the only meaningful debate could be about your published falsifications.”


    Chomsky’s last reply is the relevant part here. Chomsky is a linguist and skillfully makes his reply arduous to decipher but what he’s saying is clear nonetheless (highlighted in bold letters):

    The only source you produced about my views on you is a youtube video and that’s not good enough (!!!)

    He’s trying to use Sam’s words against him by twisting the meaning of “You may have been talking about Hitchens”. Sam was being overly generous by allowing that Chomsky’s comment may also have been about Hitchens and not just him but in the video, Chomsky clearly says THEY are religious fanatics” and THEY worship the religion of state”.

    Chomsky then somehow concludes that “therefore the only meaningful debate” could be about your published falsifications” which is code for “I’m not interested in debating what I said, forget about what I said, it doesn’t matter and I won’t acknowledge it…. Now can we go back to the “lies” you wrote about me?”

    Wow!! Talk about an artful circular argument. Chomsky is very skilled indeed. But he’s not fooling me. Why all this circumlocution? Couldn’t he just acknowledge that he really said Harris is a religious fanatic and get on with the discussion?

    No way! The great Prof. Chomsky cannot allow his precious ego to be bruised by a vulgar war-mongering, state fundamentalist like Harris now can he? This is a blatant example of linguistic brilliance at the service of denial and face saving. Unworthy of a great mind like Chomsky.

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  • Hi Sean_W,

    It’s been a while since I read his piece on comparison between drone strikes and torture, so it is entirely possible I’ve mis-read it.

    However my impression was he was asking people who don’t have a problem with collateral damage but are opposed to torture. I came away from the article having to question my own position against collateral damage so what ever Harris’s beliefs are to me not so much relevant as it is to have a position against any argument that might be brought to bear against torture or collateral damage. I found this quite troubling as I could not bring myself to think that every use of war is unjustified – but understanding that say defeating Hitler for example required the use of force and clearly killed many innocent parties. Was there another way of avoiding this or does the reality of despots mandate that there can never be complete pacifism?

    The only argument I can bring against torture (if I concede that blowing limbs of children in Berlin during the war was equally torture – for those involved) is that of intent and some form of agreement to limit combat to certain rules of war – as obscene as it sounds to me to even write this but try as I might I cannot come up with an answer that sounds less hypocritical than that. I have heard a lot of criticism about Harris himself, I have heard arguments about the lack of utility of torture which I’d be inclined to agree with. But I’ve yet to hear a good argument that sounds any less useful in relation to the comparative ethics of warfare and the collateral damage to comes along with it and torture itself. This doesn’t make me comfortable because I do not support torture under any circumstances, but I’m finding it harder to support any form of combat that results in collateral damage that doesn’t seem hollow and hypocritical to me. I’d come to this conclusion from reading his article, I’m far from happy with my lack of clarity, but I’m grateful to have had my cognitive faculties sufficiently confused. Hoping this discussion might help shed some light for me at least.

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  • Hi Melvin,

    I don’t disagree with anything you are saying here and if Harris does in fact support torture then I disagree with him also. Can you however give me a scenario in which lethal force that we know will cause collateral damage is any more ethical than torture? Are you saying that if a completely reliable method of torture (say some use of brain scanning to detect lies combined with some form of torture) would if reliable would be ethical?

    Let me be clear I’m not suggesting that you would support torture I just feel we need to be clear exactly why it is wrong and what level of force we are prepared to take in defense of our nation or civilization in general.

    I would say the reason to not torture should have nothing to do with it’s effectiveness – because that may in the future potentially change. We need a better reason. It strikes me that this is essentially the trolley problem. Or the there is one healthy person in the doctors office with healthy organs for the other 8 in need of transplants. I wouldn’t wish to live in a society in which I could at any time have my organs harvested, it would make me even less inclined to visit the doctor, or mechanic, or dentist etc. For me its about the social contract, I’ve signed the organ donor card but you can bloody well wait until I’m dead. I find this is the best I can offer in relation to torture and I suspect that ethically it’s probably not a sufficient or complete enough response.

    I now feel that almost every act of violence in war is likely to result in much the same, targeted missiles cause far less collateral damage today than area bombing did in WW2 but they still regularly inflict damage that I now find it hard to see as different from torture. So the question I ask of myself and I suppose the one I’d be interested in hearing answered from those so convinced that Harris is simply a warmonger, then are you a complete pacifist? If so how would that have worked against the likes of Hitler (I give Hitler as an example because by doing so I hope to avoid current situations like the middle east – I realize there is no modern equivalent but I’d like to know how things could have been handled differently)? And what level of violence against innocents are you willing to tolerate to defeat such an regime? I think it’s important that we are all clear about what we are prepared to do before we do it, or have it done on our behalves.

    A couple of Australians were recently executed in Indonesia for drug smuggling. Australia does not have a death penalty, however the Indonesian authorities were informed of these guys when a parent who feared what might happen if they were caught informed the Australian Federal Police in the hope they would be stopped before they left to Indonesia, instead the AFP informed the Indonesians that these guys were heading over and what they had planned and they were caught tried and now executed. Now to me the AFP executed these guys as much as the Indonesians did. This is a clear case of not having ethical standards in place before they acted. They could not execute these people here but were perfectly happy if someone else did, therefore we executed these people ourselves and complaining about our moral high standards in relation to the death penalty is hypocritical at best and murder at worst. Likewise in terms of rules of war or what we are prepared to do I want it to be very clear, what violence are we prepared to commit to and in what circumstances. If we are ruling out torture then should we not also rule out equivalent forms of violence such as targeted missile attacks on known terrorist leaders unless we can be sure there will be no civilian casualties?

    Are people here suggesting that drones strikes are never justified or only that the current use of drone strikes have been unjustified? I’d be very interested to see people put their cards on the table rather than just criticizing the like of Harris for bringing up the discussion. Exactly when is it okay to harm others? Is it ever justifiable to risk harm on innocents? I for one feel uncomfortable and conflicted about this, maybe because I am uneducated, dim, selfish, a combination of these factors or it’s just very, very complicated and I don’t have a good answer. It seems to me that an awful lot of people here do not have any conflict about this at all. I’d either like to have their certainty (which will take more than Sam Harris is a warmonger – if he is it still doesn’t answer the questions he raises “how is accepting collateral damage different to torture?”) or I’d at least like to hear when people think it is okay for innocent lives to be lost in defense of civilization.


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  • It’s also noteworthy that he called for the actual torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and talks of the ethical necessity of torture in the war on terror. He, of course, condemned the scandals of prisoner abuse which emerged from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, though I’m not sure how sincere he was being considering he referred to those interned there as “scrofulous young men, many of whom were caught in the very act of trying to kill our soldiers”

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  • Not strictly true. Harris has written on Pape and Atran. Unfortunately his critiques of their work are either distortions or, if we are being more generous, misreadings or failures to read all their work on terrorism. (Possible given that Harris admitted to not reading much Chomsky when writing his critique on him).

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  • Hi Reckless Monkey,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I haven’t been ignoring your post, I just haven’t been able to write an adequate response.

    Quickly though I’d like to say that I don’t think Harris supports torture to the extent many of his critics have claimed. I do think it’s fair to read him as trying to persuade others that there may be times when torture is justified.


    I’d look at his likening of torture to collateral damage for weaknesses, is it really relevant?

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