Scott Eric Kaufman – Friend or Foe?

Scott Eric Kaufman’s Salon article headlines with

Sam Harris slams liberals who “followed Noam Chomsky off the edge of the world”

and sub-headlines with

He’s right to criticize Chomsky’s solipsistic view of foreign policy, but this might not be the best way to do it

Damned with faint praise.

Scott leaves a few things just hanging there, tempting regressives to read their warped view into it.

but that didn’t stop him [Harris] from slagging Chomsky and those who believe in the pernicious effect of American policy on the world at large.

That, in the context of the Harris-Chomsky exchange and the response of those that thought Chomsky ‘won’, implies Harris is slagging Chomsky and those who believe in the pernicious effect of American policy on the world at large, for not thinking there’s a pernicious effect of American policy on the world at large. He does think there is such an effect, and he says so.

The very specific point Harris is making in this context is that while that effect is true, it’s the regressives that claim that to be the major factor in the rise of Islamism and terrorism from Islamic extremists, to the extent that they almost ignore the effect of Islam, and many even deny Islam is a serious causal factor – and they take that position because to them to do otherwise would be lending support to fascist racist ‘Islamophobes’.

The irony is that, as Harris points out, that leaves a gap in public discourse of the tabloid readers the only serious critics of the connection between Islam and and extremism are the xenophobes and racists. Harris laments the fact that the regressive apologetics for Islam, in the guise of supporting Muslims from persecution, leave this window open for the fascist racists.

And the double irony is that the regressive then claim, very explicitly, that Harris is endorsing xenophobia and racism for pointing that out. Talk about shooting the messenger. For the many that haven’t actually read Harris, and even some that have yet have been persuaded by the regressive narrative about him, the direct impression you get when following people like Greenwald, Aslan, Uygur, (and, FFS, Werleman) is that Harris is a neocon racist bigot – and that impression comes from explicit statements to that effect.

The subtle misrepresentation by Scott doesn’t stop there:

While he is correct … exonerating America of all responsibility for the current crises in the Middle East is just as fallacious a position. (Which, polemics aside, Harris no doubt knows.)

No fucking doubt!? He’s said so, many times over. There really is no doubt, because he’s been explicit. Why not say so? It is doubly fallacious of you, Scott, to leave this hanging in the air as if that were otherwise, as if he’d given regressives like Greenwald every opportunity to conclude he thinks America is a totally benevolent actor.

In that specific context of good intentions this is the state of play:

The USA is in principle a democracy that declares equality for all, and it is backed up by the Constitution, and even includes an explicit declaration of the freedom of religious belief. The US has about the clearest most benign declaration of its intent, better than pretty much any other state. Islam, and states that are dominated by Islam, in their laws and constitutional declarations, are very specifically oppressive in the treatment of people – they are far from supportive of equality.

That is the difference of ‘intent’ that Harris refers to.

And it is correct that critics of the USA should speak up when it fails to uphold those principles – which it does often, because of a combination of people of bad intent and greed, vested interests, xenophobic protectionism, and great big doses of incompetence and ignorance. And who is denying that the total fuck-up in Iraq – going in when they should not, coming out too soon, leaving it vulnerable – and the mishandling of Syria, has left the region wide open for the emergence of ISIS.

And Harris does not complains about the focus on those problems – Harris always acknowledged them.

However, the regressive are in denial when it comes to Islam. They are happy to criticise states like Saudi, and even more, the USA, and UK, for befriending Saudi at the expense of those that Saudi oppresses and kills. But they deny any connection with Islam and its doctrines. And yet if you press many ‘moderate’ Muslims on very specific problems with Islam, they evade and evade, until eventually they will insist that, yes, death for apostasy and blasphemy is what they believe in – and many more immoral positions too (ah, but only when a true Caliphate comes along, so such immoral acts are just fine in that ‘context’).

Even if liberal Muslims and non-Muslims agreed that there was a ‘one true Islam’ that is a ‘religion of peace’, and that the texts of Islam required great scholarship to really figure out how you get from the violent texts to a religion of peace, there remains this problem:

The way the texts of Islam are presented, the Quran as the inerrant word of God faithfully reproduced by Muhammed, and the Hadith as a true representation of his words, acts and ideas, then that still leaves Islamic texts open to literalist interpretation, to be used to indoctrinate the gullible into violent jihad. Islam is the main problem with Islamic extremism.

Take some British kid, of Pakistani heritage, sometimes suffering racist slurs and discrimination. If it wasn’t for Islam, what on earth would persuade him that the place to be is fighting Christians, Yazidis, and other Muslims, in the sands of Syria and Iraq? The whole context of the narrative that gets him there is Islamic.

Bonus – Misrepresentation of Maajid Nawaz

His co-author Nawaz was equally adamant that the problem is Islam.

[My emphasis]

What’s the context of this statement? You do know it really misrepresents Nawaz? Nawaz denies the regressive denial, that it has anything to do with Islam. He says it has something to do with Islam, not that Islam is the problem. His point is that the religion of Islam too easily allows for the ancient violent texts of Islam (which both Harris and Nawaz acknowledge is present in religious texts of other religions) to be all too easily used to justify Islamism and Islamic terrorism.

And not only that, the nastier side of Islam is explicitly or tacitly subscribed to by many ‘moderate’ Muslims (in ‘context’). The works of Islam are historic sources, and should remain intact as such, but the reform Nawaz calls for is the very reform engaged in by many Muslims who do reject the violence and the persecution expressed in the texts; and they do reject punishment for apostasy, blasphemy and sexual behaviour.

And more to the context that Maajid Nawaz is talking about that makes him and Harris oppose regressives, is that the persecution of Muslims is mostly and most violently carried out by Muslims.

In Britain there have been some racist and anti-Muslim attacks that have been deplorable. But can you point out how many have resulted in serious injury or death? Even in the UK I can point to more serious harm coming to Muslims and ex-Muslims at the hands of Muslims than at the hands of white racist non-Muslims. Look closer at some of the insular Islamic communities in Britain, and really look at the minorities within minorities that Maajid Nawaz speaks out for.

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