Andrew Sullivan should stop giving a pass to Sam Harris and Bill Maher’s bigotry

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Andrew Sullivan is an interesting guy who often writes movingly on a great many subjects, but at bottom he’s still a privileged affluent white man born in Britain and living in the US.  Consequently he doesn’t make a distinction between criticizing Islamic extremism and support for bigots like Sam Harris and Bill Maher.  Sullivan has come a long way from the days following 9/11 when he was shrieking about fifth columns, but he still seems to have double standards on bigotry.  He would never be  friends with a Muslim who defended suicide bombing or be happy to have a civil disagreement with someone like that, but Sam Harris and Bill Maher are both Westerners who allegedly share liberal Western values, so if they defend Israeli war crimes that’s merely a difference of opinion so far as Sullivan is concerned. Sullivan acknowledges that Christians have problems and Jews have problems and others commit atrocities and he even admits that many Muslims are wonderful people (mighty white of him), but there’s not a word about what Juan Cole just wrote about –much of Islamic extremism has roots in humiliation by the West.
Fortunately some of Sullivan’s readers tried to clue him in– Dissents Of The Day.
Sam Harris, from Wikimedia commons
Sam Harris, from Wikimedia commons

I would add a further point. One sometimes reads that Western imperialism can’t be an important factor in the rise of Islamic extremism, because other parts of the world suffered even more horribly and none of those other regions produced suicide bombers who attacked Western targets.  Hitchens himself used that argument once.   It’s a strange and bizarrely narcissistic argument.   The fact is that Western colonialism did  elicit extremely violent reactions in other parts of the world, but those reactions mostly manifested themselves within those regions.  So Western imperialism gave birth to post-colonial dictatorships, ethnic violence,  violent liberation movements and wars that in various parts of the world killed many millions of people, sometimes followed, as in the case of Cambodia, by a peace that killed even more people than the war.  It’s true that Al Qaeda gave us 9/11, but 9/11 is one drop in the ocean of violence that future historians will write about when they look back at the post-WWII era.  The Middle East only seems exceptionally violent to us now because American commentators  have the historical memory of a mayfly.

Sullivan should criticize Islamic extremism in all its forms.  But how can someone claim to want the spread of liberal values and then stand side by side with the likes of Harris or Maher, who make excuses for Israeli war crimes?  Surely, alongside the religious fanatics who kill for their faith, we should add the self-described secular liberals who wish to kill for theirs, who make justifications for atrocities that rival those committed by religious fanatics. Perhaps there is a problem with some Western liberals, just as there is a problem with some Muslims, Christians, and Jews.  

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