Harris on Islam II: Use Your Illusion

The comments are already coming in fast and furious on my response to Sam Harris’s Bombing Our Illusions (er, except that lost most of them through my own technical error - sorry!r), and Harris has written a rebuttal (not to my piece, but to his commenters). My reactions so far:

Harris acknowledges the violent and self-contradictory nature of portions of the Bible, but suggests that Islam’s message is far less ambiguous than that of the Bible.
In doing so, however, he fails to cite those Quranic passages that call for tolerance of other religions. Like the Bible, the Qu'ran appears to contradict itself in places - no more, no less. So why single out Islam?

Harris is correct in observing that Muslims once required people of other faiths to pay a “poll tax,”and that there appears to be tolerance of this practice among Muslims. I share his condemnation of this idea. He is selective in his use of history regarding Muslim tolerance of other faiths, however. While he’s absolutely correct to cite reprehensible practices by Muslim majorities in recent centuries, he fails to note that his critics are referring to Muslim treatment of minorities in earlier times – especially during the period that corresponded to the European “Dark Ages.”

I find much to agree with in his analysis of Robert Pape. While I still consider Pape’s work an important reference point, I tend to agree with Harris that Islamic terrorism is “an explicitly religious phenomenon that is inextricable from notions of martyrdom and jihad.” In defending the majority of the world’s Muslims from being slurred, I will not compromise my view of the evil that is Islamic terrorism – or of the theological aspects of that evil.

Regarding my own commenters and correspondents and correspondents thus far: They tend to list historical atrocities in Muslim lands, and then accuse me of being blind to them when I say that millions of Muslims have lived in peace. I’m not blind to these atrocities, nor am I condoning them, when I observe that the vast majority of Muslims (and in fact people of all beliefs) have lived peaceful lives. Those who argue than terrorism is inherent in Islam are begging my original question: Why aren’t there a million suicide bombers? That would only take one Muslim in a thousand!

Harris’ final paragraph offers a more moderate tone than was present in his first piece. He agrees we should “reach out to Muslims, not alienate them.” Nor can I disagree that “some ideas are worse than others.” To me, the idea of classifying 1 billion people based on the actions of a few is not one of the better ideas out there. That does not mean we need to blind ourselves to the flaws, and the risks, present in any strain of religious thought. I just hope we do so in the spirit of tolerance and open-mindedness, remembering that good as well as evil has been expressed in the name of faith.

NOTE: Original post and 20 comments deleted due to my own technical error as I tried (unsuccesfully) to combine them. Mea culpa. If your comment was lost and you're sure you got the better of me in the argument, you're probably right.