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

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on 27 Comments
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.  

Donald
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27 Responses

  1. a blah chick
    a blah chick on October 11, 2014, 2:50 pm

    Sullivan had a column up recently that was really stupid. In it he argued that Hamas needs to be defeated because they hate Jews and if they ever get their hands on Jews they would kill them. Yes, Israel has killed innocents but they don’t mean to and anyway they’re not trying to kill all the Arabs.

    So, for Sullivan the imaginary massacres of Jews at the hands of Hamas are WAY more awful than the real massacres by Israel. That’s how these idiots think.

    Also someone needs to tell Sully about Max Blumenthal, Dan Cohen and other Jewish folk who were in Gaza recently and yet managed to keep from being massacred.

    Idiot.

    • just
      just on October 11, 2014, 4:36 pm

      I’ll second that.

      He sounds like the dadgum fools in SA who opposed the end to Apartheid b/c they feared for their lives and that the “native” massacres/blowback would begin.

      Their ‘fears’ never materialized.

    • ASBizar
      ASBizar on November 23, 2014, 10:08 pm

      “Sullivan had a column up recently that was really stupid. In it he argued that Hamas needs to be defeated because they hate Jews and if they ever get their hands on Jews they would kill them. Yes, Israel has killed innocents but they don’t mean to and anyway they’re not trying to kill all the Arabs”
      Sounds very much like Sam Harris

  2. oldgeezer
    oldgeezer on October 11, 2014, 5:00 pm

    Well in all seriousness how many people do excuse suicide bombing? In my opinion there are few, if any, but there are many people who do understand that people who are in desperate circumstances can do desperate things. That the real issue is cleaning up the issues that led to such actions being spawned in the first place.

    And I remain unconvinced that western atrocities rival those perpetrated by religious extremists. I think we are several leagues ahead of them. Slitting someone’s throat is truly barbaric but it’s less barbaric than the one ton bomb which wipes out dozens in order to get one person. In terms of violence between Muslims and the west, it is the west doing the vast majority of the killing. And we don’t only kill in reaction. We will willingly kill to get the dictator of our choice. Muslim on Muslim violence is also horrific but so was the civil wars in the Uk and US. Or any other nation. So was WW I and WW II. This tribal violence does not diminish our responsibility for the lives we have taken.

    People in the middle east have a great share of reponsibility for what happens over there. We have a great share of responsibility for our intereference and creation of the breeding ground and conditions. We need to be here to help any forces of peace and otherwise we need to stop feeding the war groups and militias (this includes Israel).

    • oldgeezer
      oldgeezer on October 11, 2014, 5:00 pm

      A one ton bomb is NOT less barbaric. Sorry

    • Donald
      Donald on October 12, 2014, 12:49 pm

      “And I remain unconvinced that western atrocities rival those perpetrated by religious extremists. I think we are several leagues ahead of them. ”

      I take your point, though I suspect that if ISIS had some planes and 1 ton bombs at its disposal it would happily use them. Anyway, it would be a great step forward if people like Sullivan would go so far as to admit that suicide bombings and beheadings are no worse than the preferred Western methods of killing innocents. (On that list I would also include harsh sanctions of the sort that were imposed on Iraq, which probably killed hundreds of thousands.)

      • MRW
        MRW on October 17, 2014, 9:32 pm

        @Donald,

        . . . it would be a great step forward if people like Sullivan would go so far as to admit that suicide bombings and beheadings are no worse than the preferred Western methods of killing innocents . . .

        I could not agree more. I find that as I age, my lack of patience with the sophistry of nationally sanctioned murder stabs me with visceral derision and disgust. I heard a show on NPR with Millennials this past week, and how they reject the American Exceptionalism poobah and doodah; I do too. The bleating, the highhandedness, the self-righteous presumption that we can end lives because we exist über alles, because we’re Americans, leaves me cold, leaves me repulsed by our lack of moral character.

        We’ve now bought the concept of The Other that we can do anything to when this country was formed on the idea that we are a nation of Others governed by law.

    • Eva Smagacz
      Eva Smagacz on October 13, 2014, 8:12 am

      Depends what you mean by “excuse” of suicide bombing?

      We seem to accepted as gospel that suicide bombings are uniquely evil, and when you ask why arguments do not stack up – it’s one of the things “everybody knows”: Jerusalem is undivided, eternal capital of Israel, Capitalism is a best economic system for all, Gays are an abomination in the eyes of The Lord.

  3. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson on October 11, 2014, 10:40 pm

    RE: “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)” ~ Donald

    FROM WIKIPEDIA [Play the white man]:

    ‘Play the white man’ is a term used in parts of England meaning to be decent and trustworthy in one’s actions.[citation needed]
    The origin of the phrase is obscure. The term carries with it a reference to an obligation which outnumbered English civil administrators in the latter years of the British Empire might have considered themselves to be under: that is, the obligation to uphold respect for their county abroad by maintaining personal standards of behaviour and fairness which darker-skinned native peoples could respect [citation needed]. The act of calling upon someone to remember his personal moral obligations in this way is expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’. On the other hand, the racially neutral colour white has long been associated with pureness and virtue. The phrase is losing popularity in common parlance, because the term is considered by many to be racist – it clearly implies that “white” behaviour is “better”.
    A similar expression in the United States is “That’s mighty white of you”, meaning, “Thank you for being fair”. Among African Americans, this phrase is said in response to being patronized or told what to think.[1]

    SOURCE – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_the_white_man

    • JLewisDickerson
      JLewisDickerson on October 11, 2014, 10:48 pm

      P.S. I should add that Donald used “mighty white of him” as sarcasm (as opposed to the rascist way it has been used in England) in a manner similar to the way African Americans (sarcastically) use “that’s mighty white of you” in response to being patronized or told what to think.

  4. Frankie P
    Frankie P on October 12, 2014, 3:04 am

    Mehdi Hasan nails it!

  5. bilal a
    bilal a on October 12, 2014, 3:11 am

    Sullivan and his extremist caricature Rod Dreher both come out of the Israeli peretz young man at the TNR line of conservatism, as do many clever writers and defenders of Israel

    Why Anders Breivik’s Manifesto Mentions Me
    By Rod Dreher

    http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2011/07/26/why_anders_breiviks_manifesto_mentions_me_106290.html

    Noah Millamn on Dreher and Sullivan

    Dreher and Sullivan alike are Christians. I’m not. They assume that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” means that Christianity has acted as a historic brake on violence. As a Jew, I have to question that assumption. After all, the number of Christian countries in history that have been governed according to principles of non-violence is exactly zero. Someone from a religious tradition whose founding texts articulated rules about when violence is justified or permitted might look at the long history of Christian violence – not just violence by Christians, but violence undertaken with the Church’s encouragement and undertaken in the name of Jesus – and say: gee, maybe saying “turn the other cheek” backfires, makes all violence seem equally sinful, and therefore opens the gate to truly horrific behavior?

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/millman/against-seriousness/

  6. annie
    annie on October 12, 2014, 1:09 pm

    at bottom he’s still a privileged affluent white man born in Britain and living in the US.

    i’d just like to register my complaint with this opening. i think it’s unfair and frankly rude. “at bottom”, or, iow, basically..reduces sullivan to ..to what? what does “born in Britain and living in the US” even mean in terms of his ideas.

    ok, i will read the rest now, but i just had to say that.

    • annie
      annie on October 12, 2014, 3:41 pm

      other than that, really good report donald. i gagged when he said him and sam were one, or whatever his wording was. sullivan is just really clueless on this. i’m glad his readers wrote in and glad he published them. hope he really listens too.

    • Donald
      Donald on October 12, 2014, 10:40 pm

      “i think it’s unfair and frankly rude. “at bottom”, or, iow, basically..reduces sullivan to ..to what? what does “born in Britain and living in the US” even mean in terms of his ideas. ”

      I don’t think it’s unfair and I’d say it again and couldn’t care less about rudeness to Sullivan, given the enormous amount of despicable crap he has written over his career. I like him better now, but there’s still vestiges of the old Sully still present.. Maybe you’re thinking of the attack on Shipman as a WASP and that I’m doing the same thing to Sullivan. The difference here is that Shipman doesn’t deserve such an attack, but Sullivan does though I think he is changing for the better (while still having a long way to go). Sullivan is friends with the British historian Ferguson (who is married to Hirsi Ali), who wrote sympathetic accounts of British imperialism and who in the early 00’s seemed to think that America was supposed to pick up the mantle of British imperialism and go forth and “civilize” the world, with bombs if need be. It was supposedly our role after WWII, when Britain lost its Empire and the US became the leader of the “free world” and if anything, the fall of the Soviet empire increased thinking along those grandiose lines. I think a lot of US foreign policy types and those who hang around them (i.e., journalists and writers) think in those terms. This is why so much of the mainstream lined up with Bush in support of the invasion of Iraq.

      If you read magazines like “The New Republic” (which Sullivan used to edit) or “Commentary” or “National Review” or the foreign policy pieces in the Sunday NYT magazine or the editorial page or any other place where the “intellectuals” who write about foreign policy like to publish deep thoughts for their subscribers, you’d pick up on the fact that these people think they are the civilized ones who get to judge the rest of the world. Their own virtue is taken for granted. That’s why they can judge Hamas actions by one standard, and the actions of Israel and the US by another. By definition, Israel and the US have good intentions, though they may make mistakes, but Hamas is evil personified. This attitude isn’t limited to the I/P conflict–if you have spent a couple of decades or more reading the magazines I just mentioned, you’d see this as a common theme. And in many cases it’s coupled with a bit of nostalgia towards the old colonial empires–I used to see this in the neocon magazine “Commentary”, for instance.

      So yeah, Sullivan and Harris and Maher all see themselves as civilized Westerners existing on a higher plane than the people they judge. That’s what I’m talking about, and yes, if Sullivan had been born in Egypt or Syria or Russia or India or somewhere else, I suspect his views would be very different. He might still be a jerk, but his notions of who is unquestionably civilized and who isn’t would be different.

  7. eGuard
    eGuard on October 12, 2014, 6:08 pm

    Andrew Sullivan is an interesting guy who often writes movingly on a great many subjects What good is that when he fails with the big topics he pics?

    We have enough publicists explaining the US and Israel out of the Middle East wars. Concluding stuff that they hid there themselves in the previous paragraph. Fantasy reasoning. Boring.

    Integrity check: What did Sullivan write during the 52-days attack on Gaza, when he really could have said something?

  8. W.Jones
    W.Jones on October 12, 2014, 8:16 pm

    Didnt Maher or Sa Harris say that 90% of Muslims agree with death for apostasy?

    The real number is NOT THAT high though:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/02/what-the-muslim-world-believes-on-everything-from-alcohol-to-honor-killings-in-8-maps-and-4-charts/

  9. Donald
    Donald on October 12, 2014, 10:54 pm

    Though again, having said all these harsh things Sullivan deserves credit for printing some pretty tough criticisms of his own position on his blog. He has definitely come a long way from where he was in 2001 (and before). Most days he is definitely worth reading.. I subscribe to his blog and will probably renew this coming year. But occasionally he writes something that reminds me of what he used to be like.

  10. PilgrimSoul
    PilgrimSoul on October 13, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Islamophobia is no small matter to the Muslims of Oklahoma. The estimated 40,000 Muslims of that great state are currently being attacked by a very organized group in the Republican Party. John Bennett, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, says that all Muslims in Oklahoma are “just as bad as ISIS,” and that Islam is a “cancer that needs to be cut out of America.” He has started to hint that there might be mass violence against Muslims unless they convert to Bennett’s religion. There is a so-called Counter-Terrorism Caucus in the Oklahoma legislature that was working the anti-Sharia Law angle, and is now promoting the idea that there is a clear and present danger arising from the very existence of innocent Muslim families living in the state.

    The state Republican leadership has given the go-ahead to a full-throttle Islamophobia campaign, and the national RNC is allowing this to go forward. It appears to be a trial balloon effort by the Republican Party to re-brand itself as a neo-fascist, Islamophobic party in the mid-south (Tennessee and Oklahoma mainly at present) in election years especially.
    They had a big meeting at a church a couple of days ago at which Frank Gaffney was the main speaker. Bennett and the other Republican Islamophobes from the Oklahoma legislature were there cheering him on.

    Fox News contributed to the crisis by doing an interview with a mentally disturbed man who claims that a certain Mosque in Oklahoma was teaching terrorism. Everything he said was bogus. Do you think the law enforcement group that paid him to “infiltrate” that Mosque in 2011 will admit that he is making up everything he said? Not likely, not if the law enforcement is local. That Fox News interview was the lowest thing I’ve seen yet from Fox. It, along with the harangues of the Republicans in state government, are putting lives at risk in a state with a lot of ignorance, a lot of good old boys, a lot of economic misery, and very little organization on the part of progressives.

    Most of the people spewing the increasingly violent rhetoric against these innocent Muslims families are right-wing evangelicals. It’s very hard to get a platform to make the case for religious liberty, because daily journalism is hard right Republican, and there is a total of one alternative weekly in the whole state, and it is backing away from the whole controversy. NPR is unreliable since they sold out to the Koch Brothers, and there is a very active right-wing talk show “host” who is promoting a violent hard line against Muslims. So how do progressives organize to make the case for religious liberty, and the basic human rights of the beleaguered Muslim community in the state of Oklahoma?

    If you have ideas about progressive individuals, media or organizations in Oklahoma that might help oppose these blatant calls for violence against innocent Muslim families, please write to the Interfaith Freedom Foundation with any ideas you may have.

    Write to [email protected] or [email protected].

  11. John Salisbury
    John Salisbury on October 13, 2014, 8:50 pm

    I like Sam Harris Bill Maher too.But they just don’t seem to see Palestinian suffering. That undermines their credibility.Sad.

  12. Faisal
    Faisal on October 16, 2014, 10:42 am

    I became wary of Sullivan after noticing his habit of praising and condemning everybody in his articles (e.g. JSIL’s sectarianism and apartheid are objectionable; only to write in the next sentence that his “criticism” might cause others to “accuse him of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism”) – really? Anti-Zionism is a charge now? Or quoting positively the likes of ADL and that ex-Cpl at the Atlantic or calling JSIL “a rambunctious democracy” among many others.

    He just wants to as much clout as possible with the far right, the right and the centre-right that Americans and Europeans call “liberals” or “social democrats”, reminds me of how the neoliberal MSNBC maintains its stature as “progressive” by standing next to the neocon CNN and the social Darwinian FOX News. But his schtick doesn’t stick with actual progressives, leftists and anarchists.

    Finally Mondoweiss, what’s wrong with the comment system? Comments can’t be edited or even deleted. And the hyperlinks are botched too. Why not switch to Disqus for instance?

  13. TheThomas
    TheThomas on October 18, 2014, 1:09 pm

    bigots like Sam Harris and Bill Maher.
    Why are the Bigots? The believe cloud man does not exist…..he doesn’t!

    There is nothing more controlling and bigoted than religion. Religios people tell what to think, how to think,who you should or shouldn’t associate with, and what your “family values” should be. There is nothing on the planet more dangerous than religion. More people have died in the name of religion than anything else.

    This world won’t be really free until the voodoo of religion disappears, and the sooner the better.

    Sam and Bill, keep up the good work!

    • ASBizar
      ASBizar on November 23, 2014, 10:16 pm

      Hey Thomas

      Nobody here is in love with religion, the point is justifying West crimes against the Muslims, because Muslims are “backward” and “uncivilized”. This is not just the criticism of religion (I myself am irreligious), but painting all the Muslims with a broad brush to justify profiling them, torturing them, or “war on terror” has nothing reasonable, justified or civilized about it.

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