It is safe to say that Allah is in the bad books of professional atheist Sam Harris. According to Harris:
Islam marries religious ecstasy and sectarian hatred in a way that other religions do not. Secular liberals who worry more about “Islamophobia” than about the actual doctrine of Islam are guilty of a failure of empathy. They fail not just with respect to the experience of innocent Muslims who are treated like slaves and criminals by this religion, but with respect to the inner lives of its true believers. Most secular people cannot begin to imagine what a (truly) devout Muslim feels. They are blind to the range of experiences that would cause an otherwise intelligent and psychologically healthy person to say, “I will happily die for this.” Unless you have tasted religious ecstasy, you cannot understand the danger of its being pointed in the wrong direction.
Besides their own unique brands of extremist myopia (one formed in Ivy League universities, another in the illiterate villages of a war-torn country) what Harris and the Taliban also have in common are that neither considers Malala to be a genuine Muslim. Without even the pretense of substantiating his argument, Harris claims that criminals such as al-Qaida and Al Shabab – universally denounced among religious authorities in the Muslim world – have “have as good a claim as any to being impeccable Muslims.”
It’s unlikely that anyone who possessed even the tiniest legitimate regard for Malala’s struggle would co-opt her views so blatantly to pursue their own seething bigotries against her culture and beliefs. Endorsing Malala’s Nobel-worthiness and using her photograph without paying even minimal attention to her own views is emblematic of Harris’ naked condescension toward the “millions of Muslim women, freethinkers, homosexuals, and apostates” whom he constantly promotes himself as the savior of.
Aside from his flailing attempt to add Malala to the list of brown women in distress rescued by his virtuous blogging, Harris repeats a litany of facile arguments about terrorist violence that appears to evince near-absolute ignorance about the subject. According to Harris, although the terrorists who attacked the Boston Marathon and a soldier in Woolwich, England, both claimed to be acting due to “military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and said that “the only reason we did this is because Muslims are dying daily,” he alone knows that this is a cheap ploy to distract from their single-minded religious ecstasy.
For a man who believes that the Iraq War was fought for a great “humanitarian purpose,” it is obviously impossible to fathom how such an action could result in any form of “blowback” other than a bouquet of flowers and profound thanks. Harris goes forward to claim that since neither of the attackers were Afghan or Iraqi themselves, this is thus proof that their actions were apolitical and rooted solely in religion. How Harris knows this secret truth – a belief that stands in complete contrast to the actual claims of the perpetrators – is never really explained.
In Harris’ universe if Muslim terrorists claim to be acting in the name of a political cause, they are actually acting in the name of Islam. If, however, an activist such as Malala Yousafzai claims to be acting in the name of Islam, she is actually standing up against Islam and her own barbaric culture. Her own claims to the contrary in this formulation are irrelevant; she is little more than a prop to be used for Harris’ own self-aggrandizement.
As he helpfully adds about Malala toward the end of his piece: Her nomination is said to have noticeably increased anti-Western sentiment in Pakistan — a fact that deserves some honest reflection on the part of Islam’s apologists …
Given her own words, Malala is ostensibly among the “Islam apologists” he is targeting; but this doesn’t come into play in Harris’ myopic worldview. Although Malala may claim to be a devout Muslim acting in accordance with Islam, this is merely an inconvenient detail that can be safely ignored. Harris doesn’t cite how exactly he knows that her nomination has increased “anti-Western sentiment” in Pakistan or what exactly he’s basing this belief on; but he doesn’t have to. It’s simply another expression of the naked ignorance and fear of the brown, Muslim hordes on the other side of the Earth, which Harris has built his career on.
This is part of a lamentable tendency among New Atheists to treat only the most repulsive manifestations of religion as real religion. Witness, for example, how in Christopher Hitchen’s God is not Great there is only a single reference to the more tolerant, moderate and progressive elements of faiths. And that’s to make the bizarre assertion that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – one of the most widely read and influential Christians of the twentieth century – was not really a Christian! In this way the malevolence of religion moves from the conclusion of the New Atheists argument to its premise: religion is bad because if its good, its not actually religion. To me that seems more like a belief founded on faith than one grounded in reason.