Friday, November 27, 2015
Sam Harris and the Future of Ignorance -- Chapter 1
Sam Harris begins his dialogue with Maajid Nawaz in the book Islam and the Future of Tolerance by talking about “the prospects for reforming the faith” … something that Maajid Nawaz is interested in doing. Perhaps, however, what has to be reformed is the understanding of various Muslims and non-Muslims with respect to the nature of Islam.
Dr. Harris assumes that he understands Islam, but he provides plenty of evidence in his books that such is not the case. In fact, Dr. Harris is presumptuous in precisely the same way as many fundamentalists are presumptuous for they all seem to be incapable of considering the possibility that they might be wrong about – along with quite a few other things -- their understanding concerning the nature of Islam.
At a dinner gathering associated with the Intelligence Squared debate in October 2010, Dr. Harris criticized Maajid Nawaz for arguing in the debate that Islam is a religion of peace which has been hijacked by extremists because, according to Dr. Harris, “Islam isn’t a religion of peace, and the so-called ‘extremists’ are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine.”
What is the evidence that the “extremists” are implementing “the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine”? What “actual doctrine of the faith” is Dr. Harris talking about, and on what is he basing his claim concerning the nature of such a doctrine? Moreover, what makes the reading of the “extremists” the most honest one?
Dr. Harris proclaims to Maajid Nawaz that: “Someone has to try to reform Islam from within. … But the path of reform appears to be one of pretense. You seem obliged to pretend that the doctrine is something other than it is – for instance, you must pretend that jihad is just an inner spiritual struggle, whereas it’s primarily a doctrine of holy war.”
What is the evidential basis for Dr. Harris claiming that jihad is primarily a doctrine of war? He just makes the claim … he never backs it up … he never demonstrates how Islam and the Qur’an demand that jihad must primarily be understood as a doctrine of physical war and that any conflict with others on the part of Muslims automatically gives expression to holy war.
On the other hand, contrary to what Maajid Nawaz claims, the Qur’an should not be understood in terms of the historical contexts in which certain passages of the Qur’an were revealed. Rather, while those historical events might have been the occasion when revelation was manifested, the Qur’an must be understood as a whole, and the application of the Qur’an must be done in accordance with what constitutes the best way of engaging a given set of circumstances through the entirety of the Qur’an’s teachings and not just this or that cherry-picked passage of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an is guidance, not a rulebook or a law book. The Qur’an gives expression to a nuanced, multi-dimensional, rich, insightful understanding concerning the nature of existence and an individual’s relationship to such existence. One must draw from the entirety of that understanding when engaging experience or one does injustice to the guidance.
According to Nawaz: “… what can unite us is a set of religion-neutral values. By focusing on the universality of human, democratic, and secular values, we can arrive at some common ground.”
This all sounds very good, but it is almost meaningless. While there might be values that are held in common by humanists and Islam, those values are not necessarily religion-neutral because we don’t know where ideas come from … goodness, truth, character, value, justice, peace, harmony, and so on are concepts that refer to issues that have to do with the possible nature of the universe, and until we know the underlying nature of the reality to which such concepts give expression or what makes our understanding of such concepts possible, then, all one can say is that there are a number of potential points of intersection where non-believers and believers might be able to reach an agreement about how to proceed in order to provide everyone with an opportunity to continue to be able to seek the truth concerning the nature of reality.
Just what does Nawaz mean when he talks about the “universality of human, democratic, and secular values”? Such values are universal in what sense? There are many different ways of parsing ideas such as: freedom, rights, fairness, justice, democracy, and so on.
The foregoing words might be universally used. However, there are tremendous differences in meanings … it is a Tower of Babel.
Maajid Nawaz states: “Religion doesn’t inherently speak for itself; no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice.”
I disagree with him. If I write something, then, what is written gives expression to my voice.
If Nawaz, or anyone else, wishes to interpret what I am saying in some other way, then that interpretation gives expression to their voice. Nonetheless, to try to give priority to their interpretation over what I am intending through the writing is to try to deny my voice.
Moreover, reality has its own voice. It is what it is.
If a certain section of scripture – and this sentence is intended to be hypothetical in character -- gives expression to the voice of reality, then, in what sense does such scripture not have its own voice? If religion is a process of seeking to access the truth concerning the nature of reality, then, in what sense does that reality not have its own voice, and isn’t one of the problems that plagues many modes of understanding (whether in the case of religion or the case of science) a function of how people often seek to give priority to their own voice over the voice of reality, and, thereby, discount what reality has to say?
Nawaz goes on to argue that: “I asserted that Islam is a religion of peace simply because the vast majority of Muslims today do not subscribe to its being a religion of war. If it holds that Islam is only what its adherents interpret it to be, then it is currently a religion of peace.”
Deen – or the way of Islam -- is neither a matter of interpretation nor a matter of majority vote. One has to be opened up to the reality of Deen.
One cannot impose one’s own ideas onto it. Furthermore, one cannot impose the agreements of a collective set of individuals upon the nature of truth.
Although Nawaz wants to challenge “the narrative of violence that has been popularized by” militant fundamentalists, he is, in fact, introducing his own narrative into the discourse. In the process he has deprived Islam of its own voice … the voice that God has given it and the voice that needs to be heard in order for an individual to be opened up to the essential nature of Islam.
The book Islam and the Future of Tolerance has a footnote on page 8 that talks about a 2013 PEW poll conducted in eleven Muslim majority countries and shows that “support for suicide bombing against civilians in defense of Islam has declined in recent years.” Nonetheless, the footnote goes on to list the percentages by country “who still think that this form of violence against non-combatants is ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ justified are sobering … Egypt 25%; Indonesia, 6%; Jordan, 12%; Lebanon, 33%; Malaysia, 27%, Nigeria, 8%; Pakistan, 3%; Palestinian territories, 62%, Senegal, 18%; Tunisia, 12%, and Turkey 16%.”
What does it actually mean when someone says that killing noncombatants is “sometimes” or “often” justified? Does it mean that they are prepared to do it themselves? Does it mean that while they wouldn’t necessarily engage in such acts themselves, voicing such things is the only options they are being given by the pollsters to express their disagreement with the way that the United States, Britain, or Israel goes about killing people with impunity? Or, does it mean that they are angry, and, therefore, they are prepared to say something violent because that is how they feel, but, if push came to shove, they would not commit that sort of violence? Unless one can meaningfully and precisely translate the extent to which words can be transformed into certain kinds of acts of violence, then, all such polls indicate is someone’s willingness to speak the language of violence without necessarily being willing to act out the language of violence.
Millions of people around the world – including Sam Harris (for example, see page 129 of the 2005 Norton paperback edition of The End of Faith) -- use words of violence. However, only a very limited number of those individuals ever put those words into the sort of motion that ends in physical violence.
Moreover, what does it mean that: “… support for suicide bombing against civilians … has declined in recent years”? Is the decline due to the way in which some individuals have had a chance to reflect on such actions and, therefore, no longer feel that those actions are justified … even though at some point they might have been reluctantly sympathetic to that sort of behavior?
What has brought about such a decline? More importantly, if such opinions can change, then, what conclusions, if any, can one draw from an opinion poll except that, perhaps, one cannot necessarily be certain of just what those polls are reflecting or tapping into?
Relative to the United States, the vast majority of countries in the world that are not in a state or war consist of people who, if given a choice, are, for the most part, not violent. The United States, on the other hand, is one of the most violent countries in the world – both domestically and internationally, and the latter includes the unprovoked invasion of numerous countries around the world including Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Vietnam, Yemen, Syria, Cuba, and so on that has led to the death of millions of people.
Whatever the shortcomings of the foregoing countries might be America is more of a terrorist nation than any of the foregoing countries or peoples. America has long been a country that propagandizes about the speck of terrorism in someone else’s eye while ignoring the beam of terrorism in its own.
While discussing various military conflicts in the world, Dr. Harris indicates that many Muslims viewed some of those operations as being sacrilegious … no matter how evil or secular the target of Western power happens to be. Dr. Harris says: “Saddam Hussein was the perfect example: he was a universally hated secular tyrant. But the moment a coalition of non-Muslim states attacked him, much of the Muslim world was outraged that ‘Muslim lands’ were being invaded by infidels
As usual, Dr. Harris has got his facts wrong. The several invasions of Iraq by a coalition of countries involved quite a few Muslim nations, and, therefore, infidels were not invading Muslim lands, but, rather, the invasion was carried out by a group of countries that, in one way or another, consisted of soldiers who could be considered to be “people of the book” (e.g., Christian, Jewish, and Muslim), but each of those countries had its own reasons – almost invariably bad ones – for invading Iraq.
Saddam Hussein might have been a secular tyrant, but the United States was quite happy with him when he was doing its bidding in, among other things, the horrendous Iran-Iraq war. It wasn’t until Saddam Hussein started to work toward undermining the Petro-dollar by advocating the implementation of a new gold standard for making oil purchases on the international market that Saddam Hussein began to fall out of favor with the United States.
While, most murderously, Saddam Hussein did gas his own people, nonetheless, it was the West who supplied him with the chemical materials that enabled him to carry out that job. Moreover, Winston Churchill arranged for the Iraqi people to be gassed long before Saddam Hussein came up with the idea, and, perhaps, the actions of the supposedly great icon of British history who got away with such reprehensible actions inspired Saddam Hussein to follow suit.
In 1990, the case against Saddam Hussein’s tyranny purportedly was so strong that the United States felt compelled to fabricate evidence in order to persuade the Saudis that the Iraqi army was massing along the border to Saudi Arabia when satellite imagery indicated this was not the case. In addition, in order to obtain Congressional permission to carry out a military attack on Iraq, elements within the U.S. government arranged for the daughter of a high-Kuwaiti official to lie during a hearing before Congress by claiming (falsely) that she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers taking babies from incubators in Kuwait and smashing them on the hospital floors … testimony that helped turn the tide of opinion within the United States in general, and the U.S. Congress in particular, to look favorably upon the idea of military action against Iraq.
In addition, let us not forget the role of Ambassador April Glaspie in helping to convince Saddam Hussein that the United States had no interest in Iraq’s border dispute with Kuwait. By doing so, the United States misled Saddam Hussein and, thereby, helped make possible all the carnage that followed.
All the United States had to do was to let Saddam Hussein know that it would not look favorably on any invasion of, or attack on, Kuwait, and the crisis could have been averted … at least for the moment. However, by playing games with Saddam Hussein, the United States government is, in part, culpable in relation to the tragic events that followed.
Moreover, one should keep in mind that both George W. Bush and Colin Powell went before the United Nations and put forth manufactured evidence in order to get international approval for the United States’ desired illegal war with Iraq in 2003. Indeed, apparently, information is now coming out via the e-mail controversy involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Bush, Powell, and Tony Blair conspired to generate an array of false information in order to try to justify their intention to invade Iraq.
What is problematic about the United States invading Iraq – both through the 1990s as well as beginning in 2003 – is that there was no real justification for such actions. The United States -- together with a morally challenged group of coalition partners -- invaded a sovereign country without provocation and, in the process, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent non-combatants.
Whatever Saddam Hussein’s sins might have been, they were his sins and not the sins of the Iraqi people. The United States, and its coalition partners, perpetrated war crimes against the people of Iraq
Whatever the tyrannical sins of Saddam Hussein might have been, the terrorist actions in Iraq by the United States along with its partners in crime were far worse. The United States destroyed the infrastructure of a once viable country, killed its citizens by the hundreds of thousands – many of whom were children -- detained and tortured large numbers of innocent citizens in places like Abu Ghraib, as well in a number of illegal black sites, and helped push the entire Middle East into a destabilized freefall.
Was Saddam Hussein a terrible tyrant? Yes, he was, but where is the evidence that Saddam Hussein did anything remotely like what the United States and its allies did to the people of Iraq? In fact, the evidence indicates that the US military and its allies killed hundreds of times more innocent Iraqis than Saddam Hussein did.
Dr. Harris states: “One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths.” As usual, Dr. Harris frames things in a way that suits what appear to be demagogic purposes.
What are the 39 countries of the US led coalition but an exercise intended to whip up in-group loyalty in order to ferment in-group hostility against their out-group target -- namely, the people of Iraq? Why blame religion for doing what many, if not most, social groups – religious and secular -- have done throughout history?
Moreover, what is Sam Harris doing by going after religion if not engaging in an exercise that seeks to establish an “out-group” with respect to those whom he and others who think like him can feel justified in harboring hostilities toward the members of such a group? Dr. Harris is so busy wagging his finger at religion for making in-group and out-group distinctions that he apparently fails to see that he is engaged in precisely the same kind of activity with his diatribes against religion.
The problem is not religion per se. The problem is human beings who use social forms of control, persuasion, indoctrination, and propaganda to create “us” and “them” scenarios for reasons having to do with the exercise of power.
While referring to Maajid Nawaz’s distinction between “revolutionary Islamists” and “jihadists,” Dr. Harris refers to a group of Muslims who: “… apparently wake each morning yearning to kill infidels and apostates. Many of them also seem eager to be martyred in the process. Most of us refer to these people as jihadists.” Although years ago, I employed such terminology myself on several occasions, nonetheless, I think there are some problems entailed by such usage.
First of all, the primary sense of jihad – the greater jihad to which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) referred -- is an individual’s struggle with his or her ego or nafs. This dimension of jihad remains relevant even if there had never been any armed conflicts involving Muslims throughout history.
By referring to fundamentalists as jihadists, one corrupts the idea of jihad – even in its minor, lesser sense. While the idea of jihad does encompass the possibility of using physical force to defend a Muslim community, any use of force that does not serve the more basic and greater sense of opposing the machinations of the ego is an inappropriate use of force and, therefore, does not give expression to the notion of jihad.
The people to whom Dr. Harris is referring are not jihadists. They are narcissistic, ideological psychopaths.
Like narcissists, the individuals to whom Dr. Harris is referring are deeply enamored with themselves. Like narcissists, those people are incredibly delusional concerning their own sense of self-worth, and they become belligerent toward anyone who does not agree with their inflated sense of self-worth or takes exception with the manner in which they filter reality in accordance with their delusional belief systems concerning themselves and the world.
Like psychopaths, the people to whom Dr. Harris is referring have no conscience with respect to either destroying the lives of others or causing others pain. Like psychopaths, such individuals have poor impulse control and have little insight into the problematic nature of their own behavior. Like psychopaths, such individuals are interested only in their own gratification, and they don’t care who has to suffer while they go about seeking to realize such gratification. Like psychopaths, the people to whom Dr. Harris is alluding are willing to engage in risky behavior with little appreciation for the consequences that might arise through pursuing that sort of risky behavior. Like psychopaths, such individuals are inclined toward manipulating and controlling situations to serve their own desire to pursue one, or another, form of self-gratification. Like psychopaths, they tend to use people and, then, discard them when the latter individuals no longer serve the purposes of the former individuals.
Finally, the narcissistic psychopathy that afflicts the individuals to whom Dr. Harris is making reference entails being ideologically driven rather than being due to some set of biological, social and/or set of psychological conditions. That ideology is thoroughly delusional, and, therefore, everything they think, feel, and do is filtered through that delusional system of understanding.
To refer to them as jihadists – as Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz do -- frames the conversation in a way that attempts to give some degree of unwarranted credence to their manner of portraying Islam. Such a usage gives the impression that what they are doing is just one of many, possible, legitimate ways of engaging or reading Islam.
However, there is absolutely nothing in the delusional systems of the manner in which fundamentalists and extremists understand things or in their manner of conducting themselves that reflects the teachings of Islam. Such individuals are deeply disturbed … emotionally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.
The Qur’an is very clear (Surah 2, Verse 256). There can be no element of force or compulsion present in the matter of Deen or the way in which one engages Islam.
Whoever treats Islam as if it were an imperialistic creed that is intended to control the people of the world and to which all of the people on Earth are required to submit has failed to come to grips with even the most rudimentary teaching of Islam. Islam is, first and foremost, a matter of free choice.
Maajid Nawaz says that: “… Islam is a traditional religion like any other, replete with sects, denominations, and variant readings. But Islamism is the desire to impose any of those readings on society. It is commonly expressed as the desire to enforce a version of shari’ah as law. Political Islamists seek to impose their views through the ballot box … Revolutionary Islamists seek change from outside the system in one clean sweep. Militant Islamists are jihadists.”
Although many people of faith might have their interpretations and understandings of what is entailed by their approach to religion, one must distinguish between what a religion might actually mean and what various people take it to mean. Again, Nawaz seems comfortable with taking away the voice of religion itself – and this is true independently of whether religion is a human construction or it is something that is given through the nature of reality.
Individual Muslims and Muslim communities might be “replete with sects, denominations, and variant readings.” However, Islam is not a function of any of those sects, denominations, or variant readings, irrespective of whether such hermeneutical orientations are considered individually or collectively.
To whatever extent a person seeks to impose his or her ideas about Islam on other people – whether through political, legal, revolutionary, or military means – then, such an approach is rooted in a misunderstanding of the tenets of Islam. However one wishes to interpret this or that passage in the Qur’an, such passages must all be modulated in accordance with, among other things, the light of the Surah 2, Verse 256, and any “reading” of the Qur’an that ignores Surah 2, Verse 256 will be in error.
To the best of my understanding, the term shari’ah appears just once in the Qur’an. In Surah 45, Verse 18, one finds: “O Prophet, We have put you on the Right Way (shari’ah) concerning the Deen (way of Islam), so follow it, and do not yield to the desires of ignorant people.”
In Arabic, the noun shari’ah refers to a place where animals go for purposes of being able to drink water. The related verb shar’a involves the act of ‘taking a drink’. By extension, both the noun and the verb forms allude to a path, road, or way that leads to a place where one might take a drink.
There is another word, shari’, that is derived from the same root as the two foregoing terms. This other word refers to a lawgiver, legislator, or one who determines the law, but, as well, this term also can refer to a street, path, or way.
If one brings all of the foregoing senses into juxtaposition with one another, one arrives at the following sort of understanding. Shari’ah is a way, path, or means that leads to a place where one will have access to something that, like water, is of existential import … a set of circumstances that reality has organized into a means through which the individual, the way, the process of traversing the path, the act of drinking, and the value of what is imbibed are linked with one another.
The sense of law that is associated with the foregoing understanding has to do with the ordered nature of existence. God is the One Who has arranged reality in the way it is, and God is the one who has created the individual, the path, the water, and that which will happen when that water is drunk.
Being put on the Right Way – shari’ah – with respect to Deen, or the way of Islam, refers to the process of coming to realize one’s relationship with reality’s existential nature. Shari’ah has nothing to do with a legal system intended to control people or society, and shari’ah has everything to do with a process of struggling to find, and journey along, the path that will provide one with an opportunity to drink that which will assist one to realize one’s relationship with Being.
I consider both Dr. Harris and Maajid Nawaz to belong to the group of ignorant people with respect to whom the Qur’an was warning the Prophet against yielding to their desires concerning matters of Deen. They toss all kinds of terms about when it comes to Islam, but they have no understanding of what it is they are doing.
Dr. Harris refers to various groups that have analyzed the elections of Muslim-majority countries over the last 40 years and goes on to state: “This suggests that 15 percent of the world’s Muslims are Islamists” – that is, people who wish to impose their beliefs on others through one means or another.
He goes on to argue: “However, poll results on the topic of shari’ah generally show much higher levels of support for implementation – killing adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, and so forth. I’m not sure what to think about a society in which 15% of people vote for an Islamist party, but 40 percent or even 60 percent want apostates killed.”
Even if one were to accept the foregoing analyses and poll results, there is a strange sort of inconsistency between the poll results and the results of election in Muslim-majority countries over the last forty years. If the so-called Islamists are all about shari’ah – at least as they understand it -- and if 40-60% of the people are in favor of the sort of severe punishments that are mentioned by Dr. Harris which forms part of what the Islamists are promoting, then, why isn’t the support for the fundamentalist approach to things up around 40-60% rather than holding at roughly 15% for more than 40 years?
Conceivably, people respond to polling questions in a way that they think will be least problematic or threatening for themselves and their families. After all, the person being polled has no idea who the person or people doing the polling will talk to about what they hear from this or that individual who is responding to the poll … better to respond in a fashion that meets the expectations of fundamentalists rather than to say something that might get the individuals answering the questions in trouble.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Harris’ information is accurate and reflects the actual position of Muslims worldwide. To answer Dr. Harris’ question, what I would make of such societies is that Muslim leaders – educational, political, legal, and spiritual – have done a terrible job of teaching their respective peoples about the actual nature of Islam.
Let’s approach the foregoing issues from a different vantage point. How many people in the United States believe that it was right to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent noncombatants in Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that neither country invaded the United States nor, prior to such invasions, took one American life?
The pretext for invading Afghanistan is that its government was giving safe harbor to Osama bin Laden and his followers. However, the Taliban government at the time of the invasion said that they would be willing to turn bin Laden over to US authorities if the latter would provide the Afghan government with proof that bin Laden did what the US claimed he did (e.g., arranged the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington), but the United States rejected that offer.
Incidentally, Robert Mueller who was the head of the FBI at the time of the September 11, 2001 events publically stated that there was no paper trail or hard evidence that tied bin Laden to 9/11. Moreover, on a number of occasions, bin Laden indicated during several interviews with media representatives that he did not have anything to do with 9/11.
Terrorists often take credit for atrocities irrespective of whether they did them or not … since this is, after all, a way of helping to bring a sense of terror into the lives of the people being targeted. Yet, on several occasions, bin Laden publicly disavowed any connection to the events of 9/11.
Much of the so-called information concerning bin Laden’s alleged involvement with 9/11 came from an individual (Khalid Shaikh Mohammed) who was water-boarded by the CIA at least 183 times and whom the CIA would not permit the 9/11 Commission to interview directly. Therefore, whatever information came via Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is completely unreliable and has not been substantiated in any independent manner that is not also substantially tainted with respect to its methodology or process of analyzing the data gained through such methodology.
Moreover, even if bin Laden were complicit in some way with the events of 9/11, the United States did not have such evidence at the time it invaded Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. When, prior to the invasion, NATO asked the United States to provide evidence that Afghanistan was involved in the events of 9/11, Colin Powell promised to give NATO such evidence but never did so, and, therefore, there was no legal grounds for either NATO or the United States to become involved in the Afghanistan invasion because, according to the rules of engagement of NATO, a member country must be able to show hard, concrete evidence that one, or more, of the members of NATO have been attacked by another country in order for an attack on the latter country to be justified … and this was not done by the United States.
The United States government did not provide evidence to NATO members that the Afghani government co-operated with bin Laden, or co-operated with other individuals, to attack the United States on September 11, 2001. Furthermore, the United States government did not provide the members of NATO with evidence that bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and even if the United States government had been able to provide such evidence, the rules of engagement governing the conditions under which NATO members may go to war involve the aggression of countries against one, or more, NATO members rather than the acts of a small group of non-governmental criminals.
Millions of people in the United States were caught up in the fog of war created by the US government and its media puppets during the hysteria and the climate of fear that were generated following the events of 9/11. Vast portions of the population of the United States wanted Muslim blood, and they didn’t care whether the Muslims were innocent or guilty.
For example, first Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, during a 60 Minutes interview, and, then, Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, during an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, both responded to a question about whether, or not, the US actions in Iraq during the first Gulf War were worth it given that as many as 500,000 innocent people died there and especially given that many of these casualties were children. Both of the aforementioned individuals indicated that what had been gained through the US’s actions in Iraq was worth the price that was paid for by Iraqi lives.
Unfortunately, nothing was really gained. The world did not become a safer, better, more stable place.
Instead, Iraq was destroyed, millions of people in that country were killed or displaced, the Middle East was destabilized, and the actions of the United States in that region were a primary cause underlying the rise of such psychopathic groups as the Islamic State.
One might think that attitudes of people like Madeline Albright and Bill Richardson, could not get much more barbaric. Then, however, one remembers that it was the United States that used ‘Shock and Awe’ as a form of collective reprisal or punishment against the Iraqi people as retribution for the sins of Saddam Hussein, as well as committed extensive acts of torture in locations such as Abu Ghraib, and used white phosphorus in places like Fallujah, as well as extensively made use of depleted uranium throughout Iraq (and the latter is deeply implicated in the massive increases in cancer and birth defects that have been recorded among Iraqis).
When one recalls such horrors, one realizes that the West is also filled with its share of narcissistic, psychopathic ideologues. The only thing that distinguishes the narcissistic, psychopathic ideologues of the West from their counterparts in various fundamentalist groups in the Middle East is that the West has conducted its psychopathic acts of barbarity on a far, far greater scale than have the fundamentalist groups in the Middle East.
And just in case people like Sam Harris forget – as he seems to be wont to do -- using collective punishment against the Iraqi people for things that Saddam Hussein did, and/or invading countries without provocation, and/or torturing its citizens, and/or using white phosphorous on the inhabitants of such countries, as well as using munitions made with depleted uranium to attack those people are all in contravention of international agreements. The West likes to think of itself as civilized, but its actions indicate otherwise.
One can acknowledge that many, if not most, of the individuals who are members of the Islamic State are narcissistic, psychopathic ideologues. Yet, despite all of their terrible, reprehensible, and vicious actions, those people don’t begin to approach the magnitude of the atrocities that the United States has visited upon, among others, the people of Afghanistan for the past fourteen years, along with the people of Iraq for more than a quarter of a century … and Iraq is another country that had nothing to do with 9/11 except in the power-drunk, delusional thinking of people like Dick Cheney and his minions.
Dr. Harris is worried about the number of so-called Islamists (people who supposedly wish to impose their religious beliefs on others) around the world as being in the vicinity of 20%. Perhaps he should be just as worried, if not more so, about the 40-70% of Americans (depending on the issue) who have supported, and continue to support, the militaristic and imperialistic policies of numerous US administrations to actively work to help bring about the death and displacement of millions of innocent people in Korea, Honduras, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, Palestine, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and beyond … the same type of mentality that helped commit genocide with respect to Native Peoples in North America and instituted a series of racist policies concerning African-Americans that continues to operate right up until the present time.
Martin Luther King, Jr. got it right nearly 50 years ago during a speech he gave in 1967 against the war in Vietnam. He stated that: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” is the United States government, and one might add that the greatest perpetrator of terrorism in the world has been, and continues to be, the United States government.
Dr. Harris vociferously and constantly criticizes, and rightly so, the misguided Muslims who serve as suicide bombers. Too bad he doesn’t spend as much time and energy criticizing the far more egregious misguided actions of the United States government when it comes to the dispensing of violence, death, and destruction around the world.
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