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Sam Harris defends his silence on Gaza slaughter (or tries to anyway)

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Sam Harris, from Wikimedia commons

Sam Harris, from Wikimedia commons

Last year Glenn Greenwald wrote that Sam Harris is a military hawk. And Murtaza Hussain wrote that he is a bigot. If the latest buffoonery of Harris is any measure, they were being excessively generous. He’s got a podcast titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?”on his website about the war on Gaza. It says what he’s been saying for the past ten years: Netanyahu has the moral high ground. The IDF is brutalised by the Palestinians. And sympathy for their cause is a “moral illusion”. Like his hero Alan Dershowitz whose arguments he retails, and who beat him to the atheist lecture circuit by four years, Harris is shrewd enough to oppose the concept of a religion-based Jewish state because theology is the one fraud that he can see through. But the crimes and predations of secular Israel commands his full support. “I’m a great supporter of Israel” he told us on the book tour for The End of Faith, and his faith in militarism is one without end.

In fact, as one reads the transcript that accompanies the podcast, one realises that in spite of appearances to the contrary, his comments are not so much about Gaza, the three murdered Israeli teens for whose recovery Israel said it went to war, and whether Hamas was responsible for the abduction, over which there is much controversy, so much as why Israel is in the front lines of a global war between Islam and the West. He brings in topics that have no bearing on the matter at all such as international terrorist movements like al-Qaeda and ISIS. It’s all part of the same fight against Islam.

He wheels out the same worn arguments. Hamas, and Muslims generally, we are given to understand, hide behind civilians, and that accounts for the high death toll. Proof? None. That’s just what crazy Arabs do. They love shooting rockets out of their baby’s pram. But don’t you worry, he says, in spite of the fact that Muslims take cover behind their children, Israel is deterred by their use of human shields. Presumably when it’s not using them itself.

He argues the Hamas’s charter calls for the extinction of Israel. You would think its charter is the only document Hamas has ever published. Maybe they ran out of printers. It is a widely reported fact that Hamas accepts a two state solution on the 1967 borders. By a delightful inversion of morality, words on a paper outrage him more than bombing schools and hospitals and civilian infrastructure, more than the massacre of eight hundred civilians at the time of writing. He caricatures Gazans as a bunch of crazed Islamists when in fact the Palestinian resistance was secular until Israel began supporting Hamas as a counterweight to the PLO precisely because it did not want to make peace.

And in true Dershowitz form, Harris argues that Israel has exercised more restraint in its wars than America or Europe have in any of theirs. Plainly he’s never heard of Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, or the dozens of other victims of US aggression who did not set off bombs in America.

He claims that Israel’s neighbours harbour genocidal intentions towards Jews. That will surprise the 20,000 Jews who live in Iran, the 17,000 in Turkey and the 15,000 in Azerbaijan. How Palestinians without an army, navy or air force can commit genocide against a nuclear power at all even if they wanted to is not explained. Harris plays on the idea of lonesome Israel encircled by a sea of enemies. As Murray Rothbard noted, in fact Israel is a modern European power that does battle with third world enemies. It is true that anti-semitism is rife in Muslim countries, as is anti-Americanism, and this evil should be denounced, but it would be confined to the lunatic fringe if not for the aggressive posture of the United States and Israel.

There is nothing in his commentary about the economic blockade of Gaza by air, land, and sea, and nothing about the land grabs in the West Bank, except to note that whilst he condemns Jewish extremists, by which, like Dershowitz, he means religious extremists, the only kind who exist in the world naturally, “Israel’s continued appropriation of land has more than a little to do with her security concerns”. So not about expansionism then. Only Muslims do that.

It’s all about the Islamic threat to the West: We must stand with Israel because they are the enemies of our enemies. “The truth is”, he says, “we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized that yet”.

Harris talks like it’s still 9/11. Back then he was indignant with the left for criticising the Bush administration’s war in Iraq because “there are millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney”, and now he’s angry that people should condemn mass murder. Here he is saying that the Iraq war was a reasonable position that intelligent people can support and that it  should have been waged with multilateral backing–to defeat the Muslim threat:

“Intelligent people could disagree about whether it was the right thing to do to go into Iraq. But one thing is pretty clear, going in we should have gone in with everybody. We need a truly international effort. We need to convince civilised democracies everywhere that civilisation itself has genuine enemies. These totalitarian, theocratic, tribal eruptions on many parts of the globe on a hundred fronts. Many if not most of them are Muslims.”

He is most happy when he can frame the discussion of war in religious terms. Israel is post-religious and the Palestinians are not. Therefore secularists should side with Israel. America is post-religious and Muslims are not. Therefore secularists ought to side with America. And because Muslims often use religious language to discuss political matters, because they say “jihad” instead of “let’s fight back”, and because they call their dead “martyrs” instead of “fallen heroes”, their concerns are not territorial at all, they are irrational superstition about which there can be no prospects for dialogue.

This habit of always angling for the religious dimension of a conflict, or projecting religion into it where it does not exist, is a consistent pattern of his thought. Even when he has no tribal attachment to the warring sides, he does not ask “Who is the aggressor?”, but “Who is more religious?”. For instance, he mentions the Iran-Iraq war in this debate with Chris Hedges. To most people, that was a straightforward case of aggression by Saddam Hussein against Iran. But Harris does not see that. He is more outraged by the fact Iran used suicide volunteers to clear minefields. “The war between Iran and Iraq was characterised on the Iranian side by this massive campaign of suicide bombing where teenagers were just goaded out to clear minefields by their parents” he says. That is the real problem: Muslims and their martyrdom cult. Not the half a million dead, not Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, not the American support for his invasion in which Harris says “We weren’t involved”. No, the true problem is Iranians defending themselves by suicidal means.

Even when the “martyr” kills nobody but himself in order to clear mines, he is the object of horror and condemnation. When asked by Robert Scheer, the debate’s moderator, what is the difference fundamentally between a suicide bomber and a fighter bomber in Vietnam or the atomic bombers on Japan, he simply evades the question, saying that he doesn’t want to defend the Vietnam war.

In fact, in The End of Faith, Harris argues that Vietnam illustrates the humanity of America because Americans were horrified by My Lai, a response that much of the world is incapable of. After describing the massacre in detail, he says:

This is about as bad as human beings are capable of behaving. But what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us. The massacre at My Lai is remembered as a signature moment of shame for the American military. Even at the time, US soldiers were dumbstruck with horror by the behaviour of their comrades. One helicopter pilot who arrived on the scene ordered his subordinates to use their machine guns against their own troops if they did not stop killing villagers. As a culture we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents. We would do well to realize that much of the world has not.

(The End of Faith, Page 144)

What kind of charlatan holds up a war that slaughtered two million Vietnamese civilians as an example of America’s compassion? The only thing wrong with Vietnam was My Lai, you appreciate. The use of Agent Orange and depleted uranium, the widespread torture, Nixon’s readiness to deploy nuclear weapons, the 150,000 children born with birth defects– these had no effect on the conscience of America. But My Lai, well, that was a freak aberration.

Again, when he talks about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in this debate with Robert Wright he is alarmed not by the over one million Afghans killed by the invasion, and not by the fall of the socially-liberal if autocratic communists of the PDPA who upheld women’s rights to the Islamists, thanks to American support, but by what he claims is Afghan fighters setting up encampments in the field of fire so they could be bombed and thereby martyred. Ignore the fact that no fighting force could have defeated Russia if that was indeed their military strategy, what is striking here is that he considers suicidal actions more alarming than aggressive wars that destroy a nation. You can bomb whatever you like, just don’t kill yourself in the process: such is the cutting edge philosophy of our deep thinker.

And it is a popular philosophy. His post has garnered close to 140 thousand Facebook likes. There is a kind of atheist who is impressed by this grotesquery, who thinks religion is the only consideration that should inform morality. Ayn Rand, grand dame of another generation of atheists, declared the Palestinians savages. Now Harris declares them barbarians. Atheism used to be represented by high toned thinkers like Carl Sagan and A J Ayer. Today it’s been hijacked by cheap demagogues without sense or decency.

Theodore Sayeed

Theodore Sayeed is a contributor to Mondoweiss. He may be reached at: [email protected]

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41 Responses

  1. Maximus Decimus Meridius on August 2, 2014, 12:13 pm

    I think it’s been obvious for a long time that Harris, despite his masquerading as a proponent of the new oh-so-rational and oh-so-free-thinking atheism which was all the rage in the mid to late noughties, is nothing more nor less than a slightly more intelligent far-right anti-Muslim ranter a la Daniel Pipes or Pamela Geller. His ‘arguments’ lack depth or consistency. And there’s also the fact that Harris is shrewd enough to know that there’s everything to be gained and nothng to be lost, career wise, by being a shameless shill for Israel.

  2. seanmcbride on August 2, 2014, 1:18 pm

    I read this essay yesterday, and thought, this person is regarded as a serious public intellectual? This essay read like a tawdry high school paper — refulgent with intellectual dishonesty, twisted assertions about the world and weak reasoning.

    Scratch Sam Harris or Bill Maher and you will find a hardcore neocon — they are aggressively skeptical about everything in the world except Jewish ethnic nationalism — worthy targets of the ridicule they are so fond of dishing out.

    (Please don’t tell me that Sam Harris is Jewish — I don’t know anything about his ethnic or religious background.)

  3. geokat62 on August 2, 2014, 1:35 pm

    “As a culture we have clearly outgrown our tolerance for the deliberate torture and murder of innocents.”

    Leaving aside the murder of millions of Vietnamese, what about the torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib and gitmo? What about the slaughter of half a million Iraqi children from sanctions imposed on Iraq or the utter destruction of Fallujah in which Whiskey Pete was used? Is this the behavior of an enlightened culture?

    • Caruthers on August 3, 2014, 6:50 am

      Well, Harris does have the fact, on his side, that when Americans or Israelis or Europeans are caught beyond plausible denial committing atrocities, they will denounce those atrocities. They will denounce as “rogues” the soldiers who pulled the trigger, or the ” fog of war” or “mistake” that was responsible, or the evil enemy who “made us” torture and kill him.

  4. tokyobk on August 2, 2014, 1:56 pm

    Ha, the US virtues may outweigh our vices– I believe that but non-violent? Hardly. From the very beginning until the present. And 70 years ago is just one (american male) lifespan.
    roughly 70 years ago we burned Dresden to the ground with 25,000 people. And we made the canals in Tokyo boil with gasoline jelly: 100,000 civilians dead. And Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    I don’t think the Jewish communities you mention provide a very good example of your point that Jews could then and could again live comfortable in the Arab or Muslim world. They are the remnants of migrations, coerced, regretted, enticed (by Israel), and they are cowed. Baghdad once had more Jews by % than Manhattan.
    But you are quite right that there is no reason to assume that Jew hatred would be the same swamp hobby in the ME as it generally is and would be in the West w/o Israel shelling Gaza. For Harris, Islam is a permanent counter enlightenment and Muslims are essentially hostile and retrograde. He may have fancier presentation than other bigots but he is a bigot to be sure.

    • tokyobk on August 2, 2014, 2:21 pm

      no reason -not- to assume. History provides clear examples that in fact Islam is as or more tolerant of Jews than Christianity.

      • PeterAgur on August 2, 2014, 4:28 pm

        History provides many examples of tolerant Muslims and intolerant Christians, tolerant Christians and intolerant Muslims. The only thing that history makes clear is that it doesn’t make sense to speak of Islam being less or more tolerant of Jews than Christianity, neither Islam nor Christianity is homogenous.

      • tree on August 2, 2014, 5:54 pm

        History also shows that up until the advent of Zionism, Jews were also more tolerant of Islam than of Christianity. This can be easily explained by the inherent conflict between the religious tenets of Judaism and Christianity. In Christian belief, a repudiation of Jesus Christ is a repudiation of God. In Judaic belief, an acceptance of Jesus as God, is a worship of idols and false gods, and a repudiation of the true God. This is the original basis of the conflict between Christianity and Judaism. It is not only the basis of the original antagonism of Christianity towards Judaism, but also the basis of the original antagonism of Judaism towards Christianity. This Jewish antagonism was glossed over in the past because of the historic imbalance between the greater political power of Christians and the lesser political power of Jews. However, due to the increased political power of Jews, both in Israel and in the US, the original Judaic antagonism towards Christianity should not be glossed over. It is one important element of Israeli attitudes towards non-Jews.

        Islam and Judaism were less antagonistic towards each other due to the fact that Islam accepts Jewish prophets as their own and does not elevate either Jesus or Mohammed to God status. Islam also teaches respect for the People of the Book, whether Jews or Christians, while at the same time elevating its own belief system as the most correct and noble. Of course this elevation of one’s own belief system is no different from the tenets of Christianity or Judaism, which do likewise with their own belief system.

        Zionism changed the dynamic between Jew and Christians and Muslims with its Eurocentric orientation, as well as its core anti-semitism in rejecting Arab culture which was overwhelmingly Muslim in belief. Zionism also needed the power of European and American Christianity in order to prevail in Palestine, so its antagonism towards Christianity was blunted and redirected into encouraging Christian guilt and promoting Christian antagonism towards Islam.

        Zionism will eventually be seen by the vast majority of Jews, Christians and Muslims as a colossal moral mistake, but unfortunately not before it has perpetrated even more violence and atrocity.

      • just on August 2, 2014, 5:58 pm

        Impressive! thanks, tree.

      • tokyobk on August 2, 2014, 8:39 pm

        You might be right about all this. It is certainly true that an observant Jew is not supposed to pray in a church because of the monotheism issue you mentioned but is permitted to pray in a mosque.

      • aiman on August 2, 2014, 11:35 pm

        Excellent info. Thanks tree.

        I think of Zionism as not only the golden calf but also a justification for Pharaoh’s persecution of the Hebrews in the old story if that story has any lesson. Not to mention the Holocaust… Zionism’s entire character is based on might makes right. It is the enabler of the clash myth, it is not just the old colonialism but a more tribal one of blood and soil. Ranks right up Hindutva and al Qaeda.

    • cosmopolite on August 3, 2014, 12:40 am

      It is a stark fact that the conventional bombing of Japanese cities, 1944-45 may have killed about 1 million people. The fire bombing of Tokyo on 1 August 1945, the bombings of Dresden and of Hamburg were utterly apocalyptic, and will be strongly condemned once the USA and UK weaken sufficiently.

  5. seanmcbride on August 2, 2014, 1:58 pm

    From Wikipedia:

    “In The End of Faith, Harris is critical of the Jewish faith and its followers:”

    The gravity of Jewish suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow sense, the truth. […] the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning rod for intolerance to this day. […] Jews, insofar as they are religious, believe that they are bearers of a unique covenant with God. As a consequence, they have spent the last two thousand years collaborating with those who see them as different by seeing themselves as irretrievably so. Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion. Jewish settlers, by exercising their “freedom of belief” on contested land, are now one of the principal obstacles to peace in the Middle East.

    Ok — Harris is rather a bold freethinker on this subject. But how intellectually honest is he in discussing the degree to which these exceptionalist biblical attitudes have permeated mainstream Zionism and the attitudes of Israeli leaders?

    Harris said this in his recent essay:

    So, when we’re talking about the consequences of irrational beliefs based on scripture, the Jews are the least of the least offenders. But I have said many critical things about Judaism. Let me remind you that parts of Hebrew Bible—books like Leviticus and Exodus and Deuteronomy—are the most repellent, the most sickeningly unethical documents to be found in any religion. They’re worse than the Koran. They’re worse than any part of the New Testament. But the truth is, most Jews recognize this and don’t take these texts seriously. It’s simply a fact that most Jews and most Israelis are not guided by scripture—and that’s a very good thing.

    He flatly asserts that this is the case without offering any evidence. But one can turn up mountains of evidence from the Israeli and Jewish press that many Zionists — arguably most Zionists — have been deeply indoctrinated generally in the exceptionalist (often racist) and xenophobic attitudes which dominate books which Harris himself describes as “the most repellent, the most sickeningly unethical documents to be found in any religion.”

    Harris seems to be confused on these issues and is engaged in special pleading — crude propaganda really. Only he knows to what extent “warm” ethnic feelings towards Jewish nationalism may have undermined his ability to approach these issues rationally.

    By the way, if a self-described “rationalist” and “universalist” Irish-American or German-American exclaimed that we are all living in Ireland or that we are all in living in Germany, I would laugh out loud — that kind of ethnocentrism is way over the top. Sam Harris’s head is messed up in the same way that Bill Maher’s head is messed up.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on August 2, 2014, 5:42 pm

      I think Harris is one of those many who feel quite comfortable being critical of the ‘settlers’, because they’ve just decided that Israel ‘proper’ is rational and secular, whereas the ‘settlers’ are nutty religious fanatics. Of course, that’s not really the case – many ‘settlers’ are not particularly religious and just like the subsidised housing, and many in Israel itself are very religious. But making this artificial distinction allows the likes of Harris to apportion blame for what even he has to admit are Israel’s flaws, without criticising the country or society as a whole. Nonsense, of course.

      As the article says, Harris puts everything down to religion. He has said that the I/P conflict is people of different religions arguing over ‘god’s real estate deals’ or something like that. This has the convenient effect of making Israelis and Palestinians seem equal – as though one were not occupying the other – and also leaves out the obvious fact that this is a battle over land and dispossession. Even if all Palestinians were athiests, they’d feel exactly the same attachment to their land and would fight Zionism just as much. But because for Harris everything – certainly everything to do with Arabs and Muslims – has to be seen through the lens of religion, he cannot acknowledge that.

  6. bilal a on August 2, 2014, 2:15 pm

    scores of My Lai,s in this conflict, and all done by secularists, or as Chas Freeman calls them, the “Humanitarian Industrial Complex”:

    Who Is Behind Gaza’s Mass Execution?

    Chas Freeman – Obama’s Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East

  7. John Douglas on August 2, 2014, 2:25 pm

    “It is true that anti-semitism is rife in Muslim countries, as is anti-Americanism …”
    The correct parallel to anti-Americanism in this context is anti-Zionism or perhaps anti-Israelism. A former colleague of mine who hailed from Haifa and fought with Begin against the British describes a childhood in which “We were all Arabs then, Jewish Arabs, Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs.” He agreed that the Middle Eastern antipathy toward Israelis was more anti-colonialist than anti-Semitic.

  8. michelle on August 2, 2014, 3:07 pm

    “No more excuses. No more silence. No more violence.”
    do they really say that
    do they mean what they say
    do they apply this to every and all
    or do they care …. just not that much
    those paychecks that many are protecting are blood money
    what is the price of your soul
    G-d Bless

  9. jenin on August 2, 2014, 3:11 pm

    Mr. Sayeed, excellent and very astute article (again).

    To Sam Harris and Bill Maher and the like, white is black and black is white. The people who are actually doing the killing (in this case Israel) are always right because of their supposed superior morality merely by virtue of the fact that they are western and secular (ostensibly). The people who are being killed are always wrong, so long as they are Arab/Muslims, because supposedly they are being driven by religious belief. Basically, Arabs and Muslims are always wrong whatever they actually do or don’t do, and Westerners/US/Israel are always right, whatever they do or don’t do. It’s truly bizarre, as well as very upsetting that these idiots have any influence whatsoever. They are both ignorant, apparently incapable of truly rational and informed though, despite what they try to tell themselves and the world. In the end they are as driven by anti-Muslim/Arab bigotry as a religious person is by his or her religious beliefs, and should be disregarded by anyone and everyone, atheist or not.

  10. justicewillprevail on August 2, 2014, 3:25 pm

    And white colonialists would have written a similar diatribe against ‘black savages’ in the 19th and 20th Century, with the same indiscriminate demonisation and evocation of the ‘dark heart’ of the threat to ‘civilisation’. What a lot of effort and time to put into an irreducible ignorant, racist screed. It should be treated with the contempt it deserves, but somehow Muslims are fair game for treatment he would never dare give to black cultures. What a horrifying thought that he wants us to become as entrenched racist and pathologically violent as israel. Some people relish it, no doubt something to do with their pathetic personal insecurities and primitive boorish prejudices.

  11. eGuard on August 2, 2014, 4:01 pm

    Does his picture have to be this big?

  12. Palikari on August 2, 2014, 5:20 pm

    I like this guy! He’s right.

    G-d bless him.

  13. Faisal on August 2, 2014, 8:01 pm

    Sam “if 1/100 of the falsehoods and blanket statements I publicly made about Muslims were about another innocuous secondary characteristic; I would’ve been condemned to the outer limits of darkness a long time ago” Harris is grandly ignorant and obscurant – or both – of history, socioeconomics, demographics, humanities and political configurations of everything he talks about, for instance, he doesn’t mention this – of course – about “Israel”:

    1- The Zionist entity is the main sponsor and lobbyist for the Tel Aviv-aligned Arab regimes network stretching from King Mohammed VI to Sultan Qaboos; because Arab people having any say in their affairs is a major threat to Uncle Sam, apartheid and local dictatorships

    2- The Zionist entity worked tirelessly to foment religious and ethnic strife around it (e.g. The stealthly Zionist Wahhabi hate machine that spews exactly what Uncle Sam and Tel Aviv want, especially regarding Shiites) and aligning with sectarian forces (e.g. Two of the Sharon-friendly Phalangists became Presidents of Lebanon right after the 1982 “Israeli” invasion)

    3- The Zionist entity after invading Lebanon revived the southern Lebanese feudal power structures to undermine the otherwise sovereign and nationalist political parties and unions

    4- The Zionist entity works hard to derail scientific progress in the region by assassinating a lot of Arab scientists historically and contemporarily pressuring Western academia and scientific institutions to prevent Arab-Westerners from going too far ahead; not to mention targeting the Palestine Research Centre soon after invading Beirut

    5- The Zionist entity introduced terroristic methods virtually unknown to West Asia and North Africa (e.g. car, letter and ambulance bombs, blowing up embassies and hotels, etc. Not to mention the ensuing spying culture, paranoia and overestimating the usurping regime)

    6- The Zionist entity by both calling itself the “Jewish state” and its anti-Muslim violence forced the mostly Muslim Arab nationalist political factions to emphasize their Islam despite Arab nationalism initially being a secular movement; and the resulting malady of political violence across the region largely because while fighting monsters; it’s very often that you’ll become one yourself.

    Hating apartheid “Israel” is as expected and natural as hating the Al Saud kingdom of Wahhabi repression, the Ceaușescu Romania, the Lon Nol Cambodia or the Duvaliers Haiti. It has something to do with religion only to the likes of Harris and those who admire his cheap particularism and the even cheaper positivism that pervades Western irreligion and their wannabes.

  14. John Salisbury on August 2, 2014, 9:50 pm

    Sam has slightly lost his balance.Some Muslim countries like democratic Turkey and Indonesia indicate we shouldn’t be unremittingly bleak about Islam.We shouldn’t encourage them,however that the way forward is via Bronze Age texts written in Palestine area.Israel insisting that God hands out real estate might not be sending them the right message!

  15. surewin on August 2, 2014, 11:15 pm

    Why did you post a picture of Zoolander for an article about Sam Harris?

  16. cosmopolite on August 3, 2014, 12:49 am

    If there is no God, there is no Covenant. If there is no Covenant, there is no Chosen People. If there is neither Covenant nor Chosen People, then Zionism has no justification, and Ashkenazi Jews should extinguish their marginality via intermarriage with Christians and educated secular Muslims. I have no time for the assertion that the Jewish God does not exist, followed by the argument that the Palestinians deserve neither human rights nor sympathy, because they are economically and technologically backward. This is colonialist triumphalism of a very ugly kind.

  17. Caruthers on August 3, 2014, 1:16 am

    Hitler and associates, I understand, never employed suicide bombers . Auschwitz carried out its “task” without suicide bombers. This lack of suicidal fanaticism places them on a higher ethical plane, according to Harris, than fanatics who do employ suicide bombers.
    The SS officials in Schindler’s List were ethically superior to the Cuban rebel in Godfather 2, who blew himself up together with a captain (in Harris’ ethic).
    Most societies in which Jews were a not-very-powerful minority could have murdered them all. It follows by Harris logic that any Jews they did kill, they killed by accident.
    Harris prattles incessantly about Hamas’ charter. Does he think political parties’ platforms, written or oral, are, or should be, classified as an acts of war, by international law, which would justify acts of war, like unending sieges, in self-defense?
    When a hugely powerful country uses military force to impose military control and subjugation on an infinitely weaker population, Harris seems to think the latter has two “ethical” options: it can submit meekly to complete foreign control and domination, or it can fight pitched battles which would be acts of futile suicide; but if it employs the guerrilla tactics generally used by occupied resistance fighters, it is less ethical than the occupiers, because in that case it is “using human shields.” In fact, since, according to Harris, suicidal attacks are the most morally vile, even the pitched battle option is ethically unavailable to the weaker population.
    Thus, Harris’ position is that “might makes right.” The force used by the mightier occupying army to maintain subjugation of the weaker population is always more ethical than any force used by the latter in resistance to subjugation, because the latter can either engage in pitched battles which would be suicidal and therefore fanatical and evil, or it can use guerrilla-type tactics which involve “using human shields.”
    So Palestinians need to shut up and happily accept whatever control and subjugation and submission Israel demands. It is because of Muslim Antisemitism and an irrational love of terrorism for the sake of terrorism that they don’t.

  18. piotr on August 3, 2014, 10:02 am

    “Harris plays on the idea of lonesome Israel encircled by a sea of enemies. ”

    which is simultaneously marketed as “the only safe place for Jews” where they should flee to avoid iniquities heaped upon them in Brooklyn, Topeka, Boca Raton, Toronto, London, etc.

    Personally, my tastes are skewed because of my education (learned and thought logic), so the most unnerving is the association of a stream of nonsense with “Reason Project”. Their slogan should be “Fortunately, we are impervious to logic.” Even if we set the standard what a reasonable atheist fascist should say, Harris falls quite short, defending a theocracy against its religious opponents on the basis of that theocracy being more atheistic.

    Actually, I am familiar with “paleo-antisemitic” writings, and one of the tropes was that Judaism is only a pretend religion. From what I know, most paleo-antisemites actually like the existence of Israel and how that state bashes other Semites, so Zionists have to concentrate on neo-antisemites who believe in the concept of universal human rights and other harmful nonsense, and this is the role that Harris picks for himself.

    Even so, the role of National Zionist Orthodox Judaism in Israel is quite pervasive, and denying the religious motivation of the operation “Deliver 200 Philistine foreskins” (or is it 300?) is quite a stretch.

  19. seanmcbride on August 3, 2014, 10:57 am

    Bill Maher and Sam Harris agree that the Old Testament is a foul, toxic, psychopathic and genocidal document. Zionism is based on Old Testament myths, symbols, legends and memes.

    Are Maher and Harris capable of connecting a few dots or are their minds strictly compartmentalized on these matters? Have they heard the torrent of maniacal and bloodcurdling Old Testament rhetoric that has been flowing from the tongues of racist rabbis and militant settlers in Israel?

    These two dudes do not have their act together. On intellectual and ideological grounds they strongly oppose Abrahamic cultism — on emotional grounds, they feel strong ethnic loyalties to Israel and Jewish nationalism. To deal with these contradictory attitudes, they throw logic and reason right out the window.

    • Sassan on August 4, 2014, 11:25 am

      Zionism was a secular movement. Theodor Herzl was an atheist Jew. It is completely compatible. Israel for the most part is a secular state and is certainly the most secular country in the entire Middle East.

      • ASBizar on September 3, 2014, 6:00 pm

        This does not justify its actions though.

      • annie on September 4, 2014, 6:22 am

        Zionism was a secular movement.

        initially perhaps, not so much anymore.

  20. piotr on August 3, 2014, 7:22 pm

    Although gradations of Dispensational beliefs exist, I approximated that about 30 million Americans support the state of Israel due in part to their Dispensational beliefs. Furthermore, I found that lobbyist groups and Dispensational clergy leaders have mobilized such support for Israel and have played a significant role in influencing Congressional and Executive figures towards a decidedly pro-Israel perspective.
    Christians have their Dispentionalists, Jews have National Zionist Orthodox, and atheists have Sam Harris. Carping about Old Testament is missing the point in my opinion. Everybody knows that it is old, and nobody takes everything there seriously, except that ultra-Orthodox Jews go through considerable contortions to avoid rules like brother of the deceased husband having to marry his widow (rather than dismissing them with “You are gonna be kidding” laughter).

    Using Old Testament for blood curdling rhetoric is relatively new, I would estimate that there was a pause after the defeat of Bar Kochba that extended well after the creation of the State of Israel. When Kach movement appeared, it was a minority phenomenon. My impression is that it is in the last 40 years that rabid nationalism took over most of Jewish denominations.

    Sam Harris just cannot absorb new facts that contradict his wordview, so in his mind Israel is not a theocracy with clerics issuing fiery fatwas, slavishly followed by Jewish clerics in USA and other countries, but just another secular mildly fascistic regime.

    • seanmcbride on August 3, 2014, 7:51 pm


      My impression is that it is in the last 40 years that rabid nationalism took over most of Jewish denominations.

      And this may be the central issue regarding the Israel lobby that needs to be addressed (along with matter of the role of Christian Zionists you mention in your first two paragraphs).

      My main point consistently has been that the Jewish religious establishment — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — and their lead organizations in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (the single most powerful institution in the Israel lobby) — have been promoting a vision of Zionism grounded in Judaism.

      Until they change their views, Jewish dissidents like Phil Weiss, Peter Beinart and M.J. Rosenberg are not going to make any progress in changing American policies towards Israel — the opposition is much too powerful in terms of numbers, money and organizational reach.

      It is almost impossible to break through the mental barriers of political ideologues who beliefs are grounded in religion — they are fundamentally irrational and are not open to pragmatic arguments.

      Since the founding of Mondoweiss in 2006 until the present — 2014 — we have actually seen a major increase in the power of the Israel lobby over the US Congress (see the recent 100-0 pro-Israel vote). And Christian Zionists now largely dominate the Republican Party — even Rand Paul has been forced to bend to their will.

      I’ll wager that if you polled all the pro-Israel commenters who have posted on Mondoweiss over the last eight years, you would discover that the vast majority of them are religious Zionists. (Richard Witty, for instance, is a supporter of Chabad-Lubavitch.)

      • Sassan on August 4, 2014, 11:27 am

        I am Iranian-American atheist

  21. ASBizar on September 3, 2014, 5:58 pm


    I also analyzed his fallacies in detail in my weblog. Although he is generally immune to criticism

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