Towards the end of the discussion between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz in Islam and the Future of Tolerance Nawaz says to Harris:
I appreciate your recognition that your wording has often contributed to this “clash of civilizations” narrative. . . . [W]e are duty bound to try and minimize it [i.e. the tendency of many people to hear only what they expect to hear from a given speaker] through careful wording, so thank you. (pp. 115-116, my own bolding in all quotations)
It appears that Maajid Nawaz has just heard Sam Harris admit that he has carelessly fanned the popular myth of the “clash of civilizations” scenario, the popular view that Islam and the West are incompatible and conflict is inevitable when they meet. Unfortunately it seems to me on reading this dialogue that Nawaz himself has at times tended to hear “only what he expected to hear” from Harris in his sincere efforts to establish a constructive dialogue.
But first, note that Harris truly did admit that sometimes he had contributed to that unhelpful “clash of civilizations” narrative:
Another thing I think we should discuss is the tension between honestly confronting the problems of conservative Islam, Islamism, and jihadism and feeding the narrative that “the West is at war with Islam.” I admit that I have often contributed to this narrative myself, and rather explicitly. (p 113)
Perhaps Harris is recollecting what he wrote in The End of Faith on pages 109
That is an unambiguous assertion that (1) we are at war with effectively the entire Muslim world and (2) bloodshed is (with near mathematical certainty) the inevitable consequence when our Western culture meets a Muslim culture.
But no, that’s not what Sam Harris says he meant when he is talking with Maajid Nawaz — and that raises the question of whether Maajid, with the very best of intentions, was too eager to stop hearing after he heard what he wanted to hear. Here is how Harris followed his remarks in Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
Of course, whenever I worry out loud about “the problem of Islam,” I’m talking about a more or less literal (you would say “vacuous”) reading of the Qur’an and ahadith. And I’m careful to say that we are not at war with all (or even most) Muslims. (pp. 113-114)
So nope, Sam Harris appears not to have recalled what he wrote in The End of Faith after all. In fact, on page 108 in that book he did speak of moderate Muslims, yes, but hardly in a way that is consistent with his above recollection:
So even those tiny few moderate Muslims hidden away like a tiny needle somewhere in that big haystack are only moderate for the time being — they differ from the majority only in the time schedule they have for when they kill all unbelievers.
Is it fair to bring up these unambiguous “clash of civilizations” statements by Sam Harris when reading his dialogue with Maajid Nawaz? Shouldn’t we be looking for the best and a change of heart so that the ex-radical, the one with the experience of being a leader of an extreme Islamist movement, might positively enlighten Harris to some extent? Would not such a shift be a positive step forward for a more informed way of publicly discussing today’s problems with Islamist extremism and jihadism? That was what I really was hoping and even to some extent expecting to see.
The sad fact is that since this book has appeared we have seen Harris repeat some of his worst “incomplete” information, his denial that he has ever said anything controversial — those who attack him have misrepresented him, he says, because, he says, he was really meaning only the most banal of truisms that everyone takes for granted anyway! — and that he does not resile from anything he has said in the past.
And after reading the new book I’m not surprised. Despite the high hopes expressed by Maajid Nawaz . . . . or rather, there is something amiss, something ajar, when those hopes are expressed in the same book that continues to advertise The End of Faith on the front cover (okay, that may have been a publisher’s decision over which neither author had any say) but then again we read a recommendation for the same work (as “suggested reading”) at the end of the book along with the approving signatures of both SH and MN. Did MN really commend that book as “suggested reading”?
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