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Sam Harris on the Reality of Islam

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Posted on Feb 7, 2006
From Wikipedia.org

This fragment of the Koran (Sura 33, Verse 73-74) translates in part as “...That God may chastise the hypocrites, men and women alike, and the idolaters, men and women alike…” (A.J. Arberry translation). Idolatry is at the center of the Muslim outrage over the satirical Muhammad cartoons.

By Sam Harris

Update #1 (2/08/2006 1:35 p.m. EST): Sam Harris responds to the comments and criticism of this piece. Jump to read.

Update #2: Cilck here for a Truthdig primer on who has, and who hasn’t re-published the controversial cartoons

Verses from the Koran
Pop Up: Quotations instructing observant Muslims to despise nonbelievers.

In recent days, crowds of thousands have gathered throughout the Muslim world—burning European embassies, issuing threats, and even taking hostages—in protest over 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper last September.  The problem is not merely that the cartoons were mildly derogatory.  The furor primarily erupted over the fact that the Prophet had been depicted at all. Many Muslims consider any physical rendering of Muhammad to be an act of idolatry.  And idolatry is punishable by death. Criticism of Muhammad or his teaching—which was also implicit in the cartoons—is considered blasphemy.  As it turns out, blasphemy is also punishable by death.  So pious Muslims have two reasons to “not accept less than a severing of the heads of those responsible,” as was recently elucidated by a preacher at the Al Omari mosque in Gaza.

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The religious hysteria has not been confined to the “extremists” of the Muslim world. Seventeen Arab governments issued a joint statement of protest, calling for the punishment of those responsible. Pakistan’s parliament unanimously condemned the drawings as a “vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign” that has “hurt the faith and feelings of Muslims all over the world.” Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while still seeking his nation’s entry into the European Union, nevertheless declared that the cartoons were an attack upon the “spiritual values” of Muslims everywhere. The leader of Lebanon’s governing Hezbollah faction observed that the whole episode could have been avoided if only the novelist Salman Rushdie had been properly slaughtered for writing “The Satanic Verses.”

Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Islam: On Aug. 17, 2005, an Iraqi insurgent helped collect the injured survivors of a car bombing, rushed them to a hospital and then detonated his own bomb, murdering those who were already mortally wounded as well as the doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives.  Where were the cries of outrage from the Muslim world? Religious sociopaths kill innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of Europe, blow up the offices of the U.N. and the Red Cross, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to collect candy from U.S. soldiers on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, behead them, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography in the Muslim world, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated “in defense of Islam.” But draw a picture of the Prophet, and pious mobs convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness.

It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims.  Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world.

Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe.  The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost—demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques. Political correctness and fears of racism have rendered many secular Europeans incapable of opposing the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. In an effort to appease the lunatic furor arising in the Muslim world in response to the publication of the Danish cartoons, many Western leaders have offered apologies for exercising the very freedoms that are constitutive of civil society in the 21st century.  The U.S. and British governments have chastised Denmark and the other countries that published the cartoons for privileging freedom of speech over religious sensitivity. It is not often that one sees the most powerful countries on Earth achieve new depths of weakness, moral exhaustion and geopolitical stupidity with a single gesture. This was appeasement at its most abject.

The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy—and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge. It is not at all clear how we should proceed in our dialogue with the Muslim world, but deluding ourselves with euphemisms is not the answer.  It now appears to be a truism in foreign policy circles that real reform in the Muslim world cannot be imposed from the outside.  But it is important to recognize why this is so—it is so because the Muslim world is utterly deranged by its religious tribalism. In confronting the religious literalism and ignorance of the Muslim world, we must appreciate how terrifyingly isolated Muslims have become in intellectual terms.  The problem is especially acute in the Arab world.  Consider: According to the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Reports, less than 2% of Arabs have access to the Internet. Arabs represent 5% of the world’s population and yet produce only 1% of the world’s books, most of them religious.  In fact, Spain translates more books into Spanish each year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the ninth century.

Our press should report on the terrifying state of discourse in the Arab press, exposing the degree to which it is a tissue of lies, conspiracy theories and exhortations to recapture the glories of the seventh century.  All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth.  Muslim moderates, wherever they are, must be given every tool necessary to win a war of ideas with their coreligionists.  Otherwise, we will have to win some very terrible wars in the future. It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness.  It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob.  It is reason.

Sam Harris is the author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” (W.W. Norton).  He can be reached through his website at www.samharris.org.

Sam Harris responds to comments and criticism

Anyone familiar with my work knows that I am extremely critical of all religious faiths.  I have argued elsewhere that the ascendancy of Christian conservatism in American politics should terrify and embarrass us.  I have argued that the religious dogmatism of the Jewish settlers could well be the cause of World War III. And yet, there are gradations to the evil that is done in name of God, and these gradations must be honestly observed. So let us now acknowledge the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim violence. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals. While liberals are leery of religious fundamentalism in general, they consistently imagine that all religions at their core teach the same thing and teach it equally well.  This is one of the many delusions borne of political correctness. Rather than continue to squander precious time, energy, and good will by denying the role that Islam now plays in perpetuating Muslim violence, we should urge Muslim communities, East and West, to reform the ideology of their religion.  This will not be easy, as the Koran and hadith offer precious little basis for a Muslim Enlightenment, but it is necessary. The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific notions of martyrdom and jihad that fully explain the character of Muslim violence. Unless the world’s Muslims can find some way of expunging the metaphysics that is fast turning their religion into a cult of death, we will ultimately face the same perversely destructive behavior throughout much of the world. It should be clear that I am not speaking about a race or an ethnicity here; I am speaking about the logical consequences of specific ideas.

Anyone who imagines that terrestrial concerns account for Muslim terrorism must answer questions of the following sort: Where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers? The Tibetans have suffered an occupation far more brutal, and far more cynical, than any that Britain, the United States, or Israel have ever imposed upon the Muslim world. Where are the throngs of Tibetans ready to perpetrate suicidal atrocities against Chinese noncombatants? They do not exist. What is the difference that makes the difference? The difference lies in the specific tenets of Islam. This is not to say that Buddhism could not help inspire suicidal violence. It can, and it has (Japan, World War II). But this concedes absolutely nothing to the apologists for Islam. As a Buddhist, one has to work extremely hard to justify such barbarism. One need not work nearly so hard as a Muslim.  If you doubt whether the comparison is valid, ask yourself where the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers are. Palestinian Christians also suffer the indignity of the Israeli occupation. This is practically a science experiment: take the same people, speaking the same language, put them in the same horrendous circumstance, but give them slightly different religious beliefs—and then watch what happens.  What happens is, they behave differently.

While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization. The world, from the point of view of Islam, is divided into the “House of Islam” and the “House of War,” and this latter designation should indicate how Muslims believe their differences with those who do not share their faith will be ultimately resolved. While there are undoubtedly some moderate Muslims who have decided to overlook the irrescindable militancy of their religion, Islam is undeniably a religion of conquest. The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed. The tenets of Islam simply do not admit of anything but a temporary sharing of power with the “enemies of God.” Devout Muslims can have no doubt about the reality of Paradise or about the efficacy of martyrdom as a means of getting there. Nor can they question the wisdom and reasonableness of killing people for what amount to theological grievances. In Islam, it is the moderate who is left to split hairs, because the basic thrust of the doctrine is undeniable: convert, subjugate, or kill unbelievers; kill apostates; and conquer the world.

It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is, after all, little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the September 11th hijackers may one day get their hands on nuclear weaponry. As Martin Rees, Britain’s Royal astronomer, has pointed out, there is no reason to expect that we will be any more successful at stopping nuclear proliferation, in small quantities, than we have been with respect to illegal drugs. If this is true, weapons of mass destruction will eventually be available to anyone who wants them.  It seems a truism to say that there is no possible future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us.


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By Mr. Wonderful, February 8, 2006 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just great: the first two comments ignore every specific in Sam’s essay and just start lecturing.

Guitarsandmore: What are people “mad as hell” about?  Cartoons in a newspaper?  That’s one of Sam’s points: in a free society, you’re perfectly free to be mad as hell, but you’re not perfectly free to riot, kill, threaten, and burn.  The Waco (it’s not an acronym or a radio station) analogy is absurd.

Fayez: “Everything you say is a lie”?  Please.  The Jews in Europe didn’t riot, kill, destroy, and burn when anti-Semitic slanders and lies were published and spread about them—as they still are, daily, in Arab countries. Sam isn’t condemning Islam because “it’s not like us.”  He’s condeming it—and he’s right—because it is proving itself unable to adapt to the rest of the world in which it (and we) must live.  No one is saying Moslems shouldn’t care if a paper prints a cartoon they find offensive.  They’re entitled to find it offensive.  That’s the price you pay for living in a free society—you get offended by the opinions and cartoons of people you don’t agree with.  But you’re not entitled to express your grievance by destroying lives and property.  This is not subject to debate; it’s the basis of civilization itself.  Would it be morally acceptable if I tracked you down and killed you because I didn’t like what you wrote here?  (Which I don’t; your equivalence of rioting Moslems and European Jews is offensive and ludicrous).  Of course not.  Then why do you defend these lunatic Moslem extremists?  Because they’re acting in defense of their religion?  So what?  If I don’t believe in Allah, am I likewise entitled to behead the first Moslem I can kidnap?  Because I’m “offended”?  This is a secular society (thank God).  Your religion can be sacred to you but it doesn’t mean it has to be sacred to me.  Believe what you want and deal with your feelings about it in private, and control yourself in public.  Is that so hard to grasp?

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By Tony Wicher, February 8, 2006 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As George Carlin says, somewhere between “live free or die” and “famous potatoes” the truth lies - probably a little closer to “famous potatoes”. Now I, for one, am a fan of Osama bin Laden. I see him as man of great integrity and bravery, an exceptional mind and a military strategist of the highest order. I see the attack on the World Trade Center as a military strike. It’s too bad bin Laden had to snuff the lives from 3000 innocent souls to make his point, but he did have a point, which is - “U.S. out of the Middle East”. It’s just that instead of marching around the World Trade Center with a sign, he blew it up, which you must admit got everybody’s attention in a much more effective way. I quite symathize with his aims, and I understand in this context what Muslims are mad about, namely the fact that they are being exploited, robbed and oppressed by Western imperialism (if you will forgive the use of a Marxist term).

On the other hand, I am an uncompromising advocate of civil liberties, especially freedom of expression. Like the Civil Liberties Union, to which I belong, I even support the freedom of speech of Nazis. Even antisemitism is protected as far as I am concerned. People can say “nigger” or “kike” or “camel jockey”  all they want. The right to publish offensive, racist cartoons is the right to be free I hate “politically correct” censorship. Muslims obvously have the right to publish all the antismitic, antichristian, anti U.S. cartoons they want in their newspapers. But to kill or physically intimidate people for what they say outrages me beyond my ability to express it.  It IS an attack on everything I hold sacred. For example, take that guy who killed the Dutch screenwriter Van Gogh - I say drawing and quartering is too good for that guy. That was not a military strike, that was a savage act of lunatic brutality. These cartoon riots are discrediting Muslims and all their legitimate conemnation of Western oppression.  Unfortunately, those who rightly condemn this attack on freedom are also discredited by the fact that Western imperialism is in fact oppressing Muslims.

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By KLW, February 8, 2006 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow, Fayez.  That was an awfully long post to contain no substance whatsoever.  What do we have here?  Emotional outbursts, an extended though unsupported attempt to compare Harris to Nazis and Fox News pundits, a bald assertion that his ‘statements about the ‘arab world’’ are not true, a call for him to be arrested and sued, and even outright name-calling… all that, but no attempt at any kind of argument or explanation of exactly what he said that you think is untrue and why.  I don’t think you are going to pursuade anyone here with that kind of half-baked tantrum.  If you really are a Palestinian Moslem, you aren’t serving as a good representative by displaying exactly the kind of intellectual bankruptcy Harris decries.

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By Bill Egnor, February 8, 2006 at 10:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Harris,

I think that you have hit the nail on the head. The question I have been, and continue to ask is; If Islam will show no tolerance to Western ideas and culture, why should we show any to Islam?

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By Ted Smith, February 8, 2006 at 10:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fayez

First of all calm down.  Mr Harris is not attacking you.

What he is trying to say, and he gives numerous easily verifiable examples, is that Islam has not reformed itself as yet into a format that is compatible with western values in the 21st century.

It’s quite easy to see that Islam is currently operating, in many countries, the way that Christianity (ie. the Catholic Church) was operating in Western Europe in the fourteenth century.

So, it’s clear to any objective observer that Islam is going to have to go thru its own “Enlightenment” and get rid of such discredited notions as “blasphemy”, eg.

Until that happens & the Imams “grow up” the average Muslim on the street is going to remain a victim of an outdated and demonstrably violent theology.

If you are really paying attention to this website, you will see that it is attempting to state clearly the truth to power wherever it arises and not just to Islam.

For another perspective take a look at:

“How has this cartoon crisis come about?” posted in the weblogs/News of telegraph.co.uk

This will show just how poorly the average Muslim is served by its purported “leaders”, both religious and governmental.

Ted

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By Jeff, February 8, 2006 at 10:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find it troubling that someone who disagrees with your views reduces themselves to name calling as defense for their views. Rather than put forward their ideas to explain why they might feel you’re wrong, they use kindergarden tactics to try and put you down, and thus they prove your entire article to be true.

I think it’s great that you’re out here saying what we all basically feel.

If we lived in a perfect world there wouldn’t be any religion, and just human respect for each other.

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By stephanie maltz, February 8, 2006 at 10:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Moslems protesteth too much, methinks. Nice touch on their part to completely sidestep the dangers of violent religious frenzy in the Islamic world, over cartoons.

I don’t recall that Jews acted in this way under the Nazis.

The comparison of modern muslim extremists to European Jews under the Third Reich is a scary lapse of logic.

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By John, February 8, 2006 at 10:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No, Fayez.  It’s not Sam Harris that’s “creepy” and “warped”.  It is you.  Your disfunction is immediately identified by the immediacy with which you aim your fire at the Jews.  This particular issue has nothing to do with the Jews, yet you immediately go there.

But while you’re blaming the Jews, is it the Jews fault that only 2% of the Arabs have internet access?  Is the the fault of the Jews that Spain has translated more books into Spanish than the Arab world has translated into Arabic since the 9th century?

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By James M Joiner wwww.anaveragepatriot.com, February 8, 2006 at 10:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have been writing about this and the realities of bush since 9/11 and it is good to see someone else that sees the reality of the situation. Very good!

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By John Patterson, February 8, 2006 at 10:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Until Sam and other secularists accept that there are negative spiritual forces, outside the empirical realm of our scientific all-seeing-eyes, they will never put a handle on their blame, except to point to religion itself as the issue.

Whatever “religion” one practices to defend against these influences, to strive to live by a common code of honor, a “golden rule” of social order, is honorable and admirable, and a confession of our own fallability.

Inevitably it is those in the postitons of leadership, the priests and preachers, the ahmans and clerics, rabbis and teachers, who develop and propogate perverted translations between believers and their books of wisdom. 

It is not the “masses” who are to blame, but their leaders who, in the guise of priesthood, represent these very negative spiritual influences, perverting the spiritual lives of the common people into zealous and misguided extremism.

Islam is just one example, yet it is surely the most radioactive one at this juncture in history.

But beneath it all, there are dark forces always at work, with names like greed and dominance, and lust for power, that every living human must contend with each day, especially those who have authority over others.

Until we find a way to put those demons aside and aproach our common goodness as the answer to our social ills, endless wars and cruel human exploitation will remain part of our daily debt, all for some Wall Street bottom line.

The blame for the violence in this world can not be placed on the masses, it must be pointed at their leaders, political and religious, whose influence is always the spark that lights the fires of ethnic and religious violence.

And even Muslim moderates become extremists when they get power, the ultimate corrupter, the same way our own Christian televangelists and radio preachers have used their new medium of power to corrupt so many simple folks into a culture of intolerance.

The answer lies in leveling the world’s population into a single class, and taking away the power structures that divide us into classes, one of leaders and one of sheep to be led.

The equality of mankind, and the direct connection between Mankind and the Golden Rule, sans clerics, priests, rabbis and preachers, is the future of hope for a world afflicted by greed and the lust for power and wealth.

JEP

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By Doug Tarnopol, February 8, 2006 at 10:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

OK, last comment (or else I’ll seem to be a cyber-wacko, if it’s not too late already):

Watch Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, theists and atheists alike.

Dig it, truthdiggers, and tell me whether you don’t think that this world wouldn’t be better off if we were surrounded by “irrational” religious types like Bono. I, for one, would push the proverbial (no pun intended) button if I could and make myself the one lone atheist in a world of people as courageous and b.s.-free as Bono, metaphysics aside.

Wouldn’t you? If not, why?

(When this gets bumped from the home page of C-SPAN, search this title on the site: “Bono & Pres. Bush at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast (2/2/2006).” Although I imagine “Bono” should do!

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By Paul, February 8, 2006 at 10:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is addressed to Fayez & any other moslem that reads this:

As usual you never directly answer any of the points that Sam Harris raises regarding direct quotes from the Koran. Instead of refuting the quotations in the Koran, you convienently ignore them.

Please have the guts to post yes or no answers to the following questions

1. Do you believe that the Koran is the literal word of God as told by Mohammed? Yes or no?

If the answer is yes:

2. As a good Moslem do you feel you have an obligation if God directs you do do someting that was laid down in the Koran to fulfil that obligation? Yes or No?

If the answer is yes:

3. If you directly overheard someone blaspheme against the Phrophet Mohammed would you kill him? Yes or No?

If the answer is no, why not? This was laid down clearly in the Koran as told by Mohammed, why would you not do what was commanded by him?

if the answer is yes, would you be prepared to spend the rest of your life in jail or even face execution?

My own feeling is that like 99% of all other moderate moslems you will ignore all the bits in the 7th century Koran that do not fit into your 21st Century existance or directly contravene modern laws and leave the killing and rioting to those that are allowed to do it in the extreme (mainly the Arab World)

Please be brave and answer directly, do not rant and rave about Nazi’s etc

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By And No Religion Too, February 8, 2006 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fayez

I disagree with your assessment of Mr. Harris. Mr Harris is simply advocating “intolerance of intolerance” and a way for our public discourse to be unshackled from political correctness. We cannot these days be openly critical of one’s religion. We recoil from it. Mr. Harris is desiring a return to reason and critical discourse…both things of which are completely devoid of in religion.

Make no mistake, Mr. Harris is not only critical of Islam, he is critical of Faith. This includes all religion that keeps perpetuating irrationality and ridiculous and inhuman behavior.

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By Terry, February 8, 2006 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How sad that the fundamental truth about fundamentalism is so taboo in the Western press, after all, we have our very own would-be Taliban - the Evangelicals.

The hostile comments posted are testimony to the irrationality of religion, & the blindness induced by the self-inflicted wound of a bleeding heart.

My question to the rampaging rabble: “Is your God so weak & impotent that he cannot defend himself even against the overwhelming onslaught of a handfull of badly-drawn cartoons?”
“Have you reconsidered the wisdom of continuously & unabashedly publishing the most vile slanders imaginable about the Jews in the Arab press?”

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By droid, February 8, 2006 at 10:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Theorem 1 of sociobiology:
The more genes that you share the more altruism you’ll show.

Corollary 1:
If A and B are different they will fight until C, who is more different, comes along. A and B will then band together and fight C. When C is vanquished they will return to fighting each other.

My guess is that facts and logic will be of little use in responding to either Fayez or guitarsandmore.

To answer Mr. Rodney King:
Nature prevents us from “just all getting along”

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By Michael Germain, February 8, 2006 at 10:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sam you nailed it. While it is true that colonialism, oil addiction, and blind support of Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians certainly adds fuel to the fire, Muslims need to demonstrate that they have the slightest idea what freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion (or freedom FROM religion)really mean.

Where are the moderate voices in the Islamic community?  I want to live in a secular society, not one dominated by religion.  The Christian Fundamentalists are not much different than the radical Islamists.  That is not the kind of world I want to live it.

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By Wolfchen, February 8, 2006 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Blind Faith is a Disease of the Mind and Heart

Formalized religions, indeed, are opiates of the mind.  Blind faith in any religion or dogma is an insult to the harmonious developments of humankind.  Critical thinking is one of the greatest gifts bestowed by whatever has created us.

Clear, analytical thoughts are threats to dictators.  That’s why fanaticism of any kind, religious and temporal, fosters and relies on blind faith.  The easiest way to keep the masses subservient is to instill in them the belief that they should never question the righteousness of tyranny.  Enslave the mind and the body will follow. 

Fanaticism should be avoided like the plague.  It should be remembered that religion is as it is practiced, not just preached.  Religion is not just some words whose meaning can be manipulated to augment any cause.  Its sum total is highlighted by the manner in which it is practiced.  Look at the evils that have be practiced in the names of religions throughout history.  Such crimes against nature are perpetuated by the exercise of blind faith onto stupidity. 

Those who believe and insist that Islam is beyond criticism are guilty of the very fascism they accuse others of practicing.  The same can be said of the Pat Robertson type mentalities in the Christian faith.  A curse infests both camps.  They all are insults and assaults on the better dimensions of our natures.  Those who would disguise tyranny with a deceptive cloak of righteousness must nauseate any worthwhile God.

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By Michelle, February 8, 2006 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How dare the last commenter, Fayez, compare Harris to Hitler! It is you who is creepy, not to mention completely ignorant.

I think what has upset some people is their inference that Harris is attacking one faith. There’s your mistake. He is questioning them all. This is why, Fayez, he does not belong on the Fox News Network. He is not speaking on behalf of the conservative christian movement.

I am so thankful that my parents did not incorporate religion into my upbringing. They neither praised or denounced it. I was allowed the freedom to choose what made sense to me—a freedom that so many people of faith claim their God gives them, but seldom employ it. It deeply saddens me to think of the lives that have been taken by persons of faith, men and women who truly believe that killing themselves and murdering ‘infidels’ is going to buy them into an afterlife.

As for the statement about inserting the word ‘Jew’ into Harris’ article and implying that it would read just like Nazi propaganda, I have this to say: We could probably find a cooking recipe, replace some of the words with ‘Jew’ and all marvel at how it read just like something Hitler would have writen. Harris is not advocating the eradication of people any more than Betty Crocker is. That was truly a cheap shot, Fayez.


Fayez said “Why don’t you check out the jewish fanatics in Israel and the hate and murder they visit on the Palestinian people.”

That is Harris’ whole point. Why is the world tolerant of violent acts just because they are faith based? The offense you have taken to the above article has more to do with the defense of your own faith than anything else. It is you who should be compared to Pat Robertson and Fox News.

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By The Skeptical Cynic, February 8, 2006 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Having read Mr. Harris’s book The End of Faith, I have to concur with his piece on the reality of Islam.  This piece appropriately focuses on Islam because of the current furor raised by the publication of political cartoons depicting the “prophet” Mohamed in a Danish newspaper.  Conduct an objective research into any solely “faith based’ institution and one discovers how truly irrational is the basis for its very being.  The fact that there are millions of believers in the three major monotheistic religions in the world does not make them any less irrational than an adult belief in Santa Claus.  They are all analogous to a cancerous malignancy to humanity overall.  Islam’s very modus operandi makes its malignancy the most acutely lethal and therefore the least “acceptable”.  The elements of Christianity’s and Judaism’s extremists are somewhat marginalized by degree so there is less concern among the “religiously naïve” for the ultimate threat to the health of humanity.  It is as if Islam were pancreatic or liver cancer.  Christianity being a less metastasizing form of cancer (they still do a great deal on proselytizing) but nonetheless but still lethal unless excised or eliminated by radiation and chemotherapy and should be so treated.  Judaism is the least threatening in that its members are far fewer and its extreme orthodox members remain so insular that proselytizing is little if any.  It is analogous to the callus on one’s big toe - doesn’t hurt, creates no problems and can be easily “treated” if it causes any discomfit.  Other “religions” although wide spread do not represent such malignancies but they certainly warrant having a wary eye on them as one would keep one’s eye on a sore that seemed to linger too long and not heal properly.

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By IBskeptical, February 8, 2006 at 10:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fayez,

You say of Mr. Harris that “you should be sued and arrested”.

On what grounds?  Last time I checked, the First Amendment guarantees his (and Truthdig’s) right to publish his opinion.

Perhaps you find Mr. Harris’ position a little extreme for your taste, even “creepy”.  But it is only a democratic and open society that can withstand such gadfly-ism.  You know as well as I do that if Mr. Harris were to try to publish this article anywhere in the Arab-speaking world that there would be a call for his head on a stick.

Unless, of course, he were to do as you suggest and substitute the word “jew” for “Moslem”.  Then he would be declared a great hero and defender of the faith, an inspiration to devout Muslims everywhere to perpetrate their own hatred and violence on Jews.

Might I suggest a book to you, Fayez: “The Trouble with Islam Today” by Irshad Manji, a fellow Muslim.  It might open your eyes to some of the realities of your own faith.

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By Ob fusc, February 8, 2006 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
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Let us take stock of the moral intuitions now on display in the House of Neoconservatism: On Aug. 17, 2005, just as on any other day in the past nearly three years American ground and air troops detonated bombs, murdering innocent civilians as well as doctors and nurses struggling to save their lives.

Where were the cries of outrage from the Western world? Religious sociopaths kill innocents by the hundreds in the capitols of the Middle East, blow up the offices of Al Jazeera and the hospitals, purposefully annihilate crowds of children gathered to play on the streets of Baghdad, kidnap journalists, and the videos of their butchery become the most popular form of pornography among servicemen and pro-war civilians, and no one utters a word of protest because these atrocities have been perpetrated “in defense of Democracy.” But write a threat on a placard, and pious commentators convulse with pious rage. One could hardly ask for a better example of religious dogmatism and its pseudo-morality eclipsing basic, human goodness.

Mr Harris you’re living in an alternate reality and have no right to comment on the Reality of Islam, or of anything else. How you can share publication space with Gore Vidal is, sincerely, a mystery to me.

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By Gerald Barron, February 8, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
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to 3189; Where are the voices of moderation.  Why do they call non Moslems infadels? Why did Moslems distroy the revered Buddha? Did the Buddhaist riot and kill?  I can not see a solution to the problem the world is faceing.  It is not just the Moslems it is all the fundamentlist.

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By B Crowe, February 8, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
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Seriously, if Muslems want to be seen as a peaceful people then why don’t they act in a peaceful manner?

Maybe everyone around the world should follow Islam’s lead; rioting and mayhem whenever we hear or see something that offends us. What better way to prove you’re a religion of peace?

Well time to burn my neighbours house down; he did insult me gravely with a ‘your momma so fat’ joke.

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By Martin Ferrini, February 8, 2006 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
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The truth hurts and it’s the only reasonable explanation for anyone intepreting this article as anything other than a fact based perspective of an aspect of truth. Anyone offended by this article was likely also offended by the satirical cartoons at the center of this recent firestorm which basically proves Mr. Harris’ point. When reason is trumped by faith, dogma and fear (which are often blurred together), extreme philosophy and behavior is the inevitable result. Isn’t it all too apparent that the facts of the unprovoked destruction of Iraq, the extreme reaction of the insurgency and our own public’s willingness to be led around by the nose for so long are all cut from the same cloth?

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By Tricia, February 8, 2006 at 10:02 am Link to this comment
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Thank you Sam Harris for once again reminding us that the greatest threat to humankind on this earth is our faulty beliefs that an external being we consistently define as God is going to save (his) people (all tribal religious groups believe this).  The irony is not only have we created a “god” in our image [regardless of what religion you practice], but if we step back and watch ourselves…we will see that what we are watching and experiencing is more about us “saving” god, than god saving us!

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By James Jones, February 8, 2006 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
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Can’t wait for your follow up article - Sam Harris on the Reality of Christianity, in which you eloquently condemn the religion of the African owning slave masters in America. Your pop-up verse could be: Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. (Matt. 24:45-46). If you get stuck for ideas, you could check in with “Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire” by Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

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By meme333, February 8, 2006 at 10:00 am Link to this comment
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I agree with Sam. People only possess as much freedom as they allow to others and they only allow to others as much as they possess.
All religious fanatics must place their hopes and trust in an afterlife because they have made a Hell of this life for themselves and wish the same for all others.
  Misery loves company.

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By Jonathan Allen, February 8, 2006 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
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Let me see if I can follow Mr. Fayez’s logic:

The Nazis made negative statements about the Jews.  Those proved to be unfair and untrue.  Mr. Harris made negative statements about the Arabs.  Therefore those must also be unfair and untrue.

Wow! With reasoning powers like that… (you finish the sentence.)

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By Mark, February 8, 2006 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
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Fayez-

“Everything you say is a lie.”  Oh?  Prove it.  Such hyperbole makes you look ridiculous.

Are you protesting car-bombings just as you protest against this article?

-Mark

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By George, February 8, 2006 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
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The last three sentences sum up the west’s problem in a terrifyingly clear way. It’s not that good people are doing nothing; many good people just don’t know what is good anymore.

The argument that secular morality is a contradiction in terms was exploded wonderfully by Sam Harris in his previous Truthdig essay. However, when people argue that secular morality is as dogmatic as the religious variety, there is a hard atom of truth in the accusation. As an abstract principle, applying reason to moral quandaries should result in a moral code that is singularly non-dogmatic. But in practice, even the most ethically-conscious among us will develop rules and codes of behaviour in order to live ‘the good life’.

The religious will squeeze these laws out of a bottle - the ten commandments, the koran - whereas the secular moralist will attempt to base her moral code on reason and compassion. She may then appear dogmatic in following this code, simply because it’s nigh on impossible to live one’s life questioning every individual action, attitude and value that one holds, and it’s a human trait to generalise individual decisions and actions into laws and codes.

Dogmatism creeps in when the secular code - rights and responsibilities, freedom of speech and the rejection of racism etc. - is confused for the real secular moral responsibility, which is simply *thinking*. So many on the left are paralysed intellectually because the cartoon affair sets two ideologic planks of liberalism against one another: the right to freedom of expression and the right of a minority to freedom from persecution. Somewhere along the line, ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’ for religious beliefs became confused in some people’s minds for the idea that criticism of religious beliefs is in itself wrong. It is not. Religious beliefs, whether one takles the ‘hard’ line that they are a dangerous neurological disorder or the ‘soft’ line that they are the folk-morality and wisdom of ages, can never take the place of hard thinking about the world as it is, and must *never* be allowed to assert privelege over the right to freely discuss, debate and settle issues in a democratic society. A little more first-principles thinking such as Sam Harris’s might go to substantially elevate the terms of this debate.

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By Jim Mason, February 8, 2006 at 9:52 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris:  Thanks for writing in defense of reason and humane values.  Hope you get this.  Didn’t know what to put in the URL window.  I am 68 and just retired newspaper reporter living alone 35 miles north of Richmond, Va. Jim

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By A.E. Buvan, February 8, 2006 at 9:51 am Link to this comment
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Clichés are still wonderful reminders and that history repeats itself is again witnessed by the Muslim outrage reminding me in my lifetime how horrible the Inquisition perpetrated by the very immature infantile Church bent on childish pursuits would have been and centuries later the same scenario unfolds with the Muslims at the helm.

History taught us that reasoning does not soothe a mob mentality bent on vengeance to appease an impotent God who cannot do the job himself with the flourish as he did in the Old Testament.

We should look again into history how mankind did finally overcome the rage of the Church and apply the same to the ritualistic Muslim mob for whom transcendence into civility is as impossible to attain as the promised virgins in the hereafter.

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By Marc, February 8, 2006 at 9:50 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris is absolutely right:  “In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world.” 

So true—what other religion TODAY is so violent and warped?  The litany of atrocities could go on, and yet it is a few cartoons that send the Muslim world into hysterics?  How is this NOT lunacy? 

I don’t see Hindus, Taoists, or Lutherans, for example, beheading captives then distributing the hideous proof on the internet.

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By rick rowley, February 8, 2006 at 9:47 am Link to this comment
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“The End of Faith” is so clear, honest, and well written and it confirms my own thoughts and experience on the in/human condition and troubled earth. The message of Reason and Love is the only crusade that seems to have a chance to saves us.

Do you know the latest on Jill Carroll-the news seemed to have forgotten her plight.

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By Dan, February 8, 2006 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
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Mr Harris,
Your words could not be more true.  No other social landscape has ever produced more conflict, delusion and progress-hinderance than faith-based religions.  Go to any pornographic site and time how long it takes to find a ‘naughty nun’.  Teasing religions is not new - Muslims of the world must understand that in the 21st century the idea of 72 dark eyed virgins in the afterlife is….well…laughable. Ancient books and scriptures reflect ancient ignorance - lets move forward shall we? 

Then again - I feel your book ‘The end of faith’ is perhaps 50 years ahead of its time.  The world is simply not ready to accept other possibilities.  Keep at it Sam, gotta start somewhere.
Dan

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By marko, February 8, 2006 at 9:45 am Link to this comment
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Fayez:

I think your response is great (not because you are right, in fact you are far from the truth) but because what you wrote is indicative of everything that is wrong with public discourse.  Mainly, reason being hijacked by emotions.  I mean you do realize that you just accused a respected intellectual of being a nazi because you disagree with him!!! He’s not saying kill them!! i dont understand how you can derive that from his article.  anybody who reads at a fifth grade level can see that, unless of course they dont want to.  He is simply making an argument that Islam is falsely painted as a peaceful religion (thus the violence).  So what do we do?  Kill em all? No of course not!!!! Only Ann Coulter would say something like that, and shes a wacko.  And no offense but you have to be seriously lacking in reason to beleive that.  Hes saying lets let moderate muslims MODERATE islam.  Lets stop sweeping the problem under the rug of political correctness.  Besides, in this case hes onl using Islam as an example of a broader practice: namely religous irrationality.  If you read his book you would see that he does not hold positive views on other western religions.  So when you say that he’s representing the western religions and culture, i think you are operating under false beliefs, unjustifed ones at that.  I have many muslim friends, and they are moderates.  But at the same time you cant deny that Islam has not undergone a reformation.  Its a very closed off and intolerante religion, that seeks tolerance of its intolerance in the west.  Now for practical reasons i generalize when i say islam, but i am obviously not referring to every muslim.  i think that a better response to the artcile would be a genuine defense of the faith.  If Sam Harris is arguing that the Quran justifies violence and that mainstream islam is dangeorus, then why is he wrong?  Show it?  Prove it? I cant because i havent read the Quran but im not about to accuse him of being a nazi.  You just advanced ad hominem attack against the author.  No matter what you say, unless you advance a reasonable argument against him, his points still stand!! you havent defended islam.  you just insulted Sam Harris.  Im not saying i have the answers, i really want to hear both sides of the argument.  Sam Harris could be right, he makes a lot of good points.  I want a thorough defense of the Quran and some indication that mainstream Islam is in fact tolerant.  But i dont see it. I think in the end, all everyone wants is a reasonable discussion on the topic, so that we can identify the problem and solve it.  But we cant get beyond our own personal prejudices to do that.  Its a sad state of affairs.

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By Marcos, February 8, 2006 at 9:40 am Link to this comment
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I think Mr. Harris makes some valid points in this article. It would be a shame to forget that the victims here are the Danes. Danish culture is one that greatly values freedom of self-expression, freedom of the press, socio-political criticism. humour and the arts. None of this however can be said for Islamic culture.
I think it speaks volumes about the Islamic world that the symbols of the Danish government such as the flag, the embassies, the consulates and the royal crest were attacked, the assumption that a newspaper is expressing the view of the government could only take place in countries where newspapers do just that. Independent newspapers are a rarity in Islamic countries. An independent press is a dream in most of them. Often independent journalists are totured, jailed and killed in Islamic countries with no recourse to justice. Even foreign journalists are killed in Islamic countries for reporting the truth.
Denmark has lost millions with this irrational boycott and over 100 people look like they will be losing their jobs.
Arab newspapers publish racist cartoons and never experience this kind of vitriol from their victims.
I was happy to see Norwegian, Polish, French and German newspapers re-printing these cartoons in sympathy with the Danish newspapers.
To add to the insanity, Iran is asking its cartoonits to publish Holocaust cartoons. This is just bizarre, what does this have anything to do with Denmark???
Unfortunately Christians in America are becoming more and more like Muslims, no center, all fringe.
It’s like the world has devolved into the middle ages, it’s a cultural/political emergency that must be addressed.

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By twg, February 8, 2006 at 9:40 am Link to this comment
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Thanks Sam for stating it all precisely and clearly.
Now let the ranters wave flags of allegiance at each other in lieu of discussion.
Would it help if we created a hologram of an Islamic prophet maintaining a stone age culture in cruel barbarism somewhere to distract the attention and ire of the righteous from 12 cartoons?
No, we in fact already have bunches of ‘em.

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By droid, February 8, 2006 at 9:38 am Link to this comment
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First law of sociobiology:
The more genes that you share the more altruism you’ll show.

Corollary 1:
If A and B are different they will fight until C, who is more different, comes along. A and B will then band together and fight C. When C is vanquished they will return to fighting each other.

My guess is that facts and logic will be of little use in responding to either Fayez or guitarsandmore.

To answer Mr. Rodney King:
Nature prevents us from “just all getting along”

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By Doug Tarnopol, February 8, 2006 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
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I have to add that putting in the line about blowing up children taking candy from US soldiers in Baghdad is particularly revealing of Harris’ no-doubt fully reasonable politics:

1. It immediately brings to mind the image of the good US soldier in Europe after winning the “good” war, WWII, to which this totally insane mess in Iraq has been ceaselessly compared, both in the run-up and in the seemingly interminable “endgame.”

2. There is no mention of the obvious connection between US imperialism (among other nations in the West, including Israel) and the intransigence and even violence of many in the Arab or Muslim world.

I imagine if they were truly reasonable, they should just sit down and take it rather than fight back asymmetrically.

Um, we are currently slaughtering people in a country that was wracked with horrific sanctions following a war in which we turned on a former ally who was no longer useful because…why, again? Oh, yes: every single “reason” for invading Iraq has been shown to be a premeditated lie.

Gee, I wonder why Muslims are so upset?

Again, to forestall the usual silly retort, I mean this as *explanation for* behavior, not *exculpation of* behavior.

But as long as you have God—oh, I’m sorry: “Reason”—on your side, you can go to sleep in your simplified world feeling all superior to hoi polloi.

Really, truthdig: just childish stuff.

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By Bruce Misanthrope Gary, February 8, 2006 at 9:35 am Link to this comment
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I’m 100% with you, Sam. I view “religion” as a tool developed by the genes during the past 50,000 years to enhance the effectiveness of warfare on the neighboring tribe. All the amity it preaches is for fellow tribesmen, and all the enmity preaching is for other tribesmen. I’m glad I got to see Europe 40 years ago when it was still European.

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By Harvey Ardman, February 8, 2006 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Fayez, I understand your discomfort at Mr. Harris’s remarks. And you have a point: what right does Mr. Harris have to hate and fear fanatic Islamicists? Does 9/11 give him that right? Do the Infitadas give him that right? Do the remarks of the Iranian President about the Holocaust give him that right? Does the determination of Hamas to extinguish the Israeli state give him that right?

Does he have the right to be concerned because the fanatics have taken the jokes of a Danish newspaper and used them as a vehicle to provoke riots, killings and embassy burnings? Does he have the right to fear because these groups have exhibited total intolerance for one of our most precious values, freedom of speech?

It’s not as if Mohammed is the only target of our “blasphemy.” We have—the West, I mean—blasphemed everything that can be blasphemed, in print, on TV, in the movies, on the Internet, including what we ourselves worship and hold sacred. That’s what freedom of speech is all about—not protecting the speech we like, but protecting the speech we hate.

I find the cartoon protests exceptionally disheartening, because they demonstrate to me why we cannot expect democracy and moderation from the Arab world. They simply do not understand the values that make democratic governments possible. It is not part of their experience. They are like those cats raised in cages with horizontal lines, unable to see the vertical ones.

How much of a step is it for the fanatic Islamacists to violently protest the Western consumption of pork or liquor, or the Western laws against polygamy? How hard is it to imagine them insisting that we alter these values to please them?

If Moslems come to the West for better jobs and better lives, we should welcome them. But they must recognize that they are joining a different society, with different rules and values. If they are too uncomfortable with that, they should not come.

And as for the Moslems who protest distant “blasphemy” from the comfort of their own countries, they must recognize that they cannot control what goes on in other countries. They have no right to abridge OUR freedoms, practiced in our nations.

They should stop demanding that Western governments apologize for the freedom of speech exercised by their citizens. Our governments do not have the standing to make such apologies. And I have only contempt for the Western governments that nonetheless try.

Some say it was unwise of those Danish editors to publish those cartoons. I think it was unwise for the Moslems to react as if their own newspapers had published them. If it were up to me, those cartoons would be on the front page of the NY Times tomorrow, if only because they are news.

The Moslems say the cartoons are an insult. Maybe so, but so is their reaction to freedom of speech, which is a central article of OUR faith.

There is a great divide between our two cultures and it seems wider than ever. We are confident enough of our beliefs to allow them to be regularly and frequently insulted. The Moslems seem to feel that words and pictures can somehow threaten their faith. This is a pity.

How ironic it is that the Pentagon is protesting editorial cartoons in the Washington Post and that the religious loonies here are angry that the final episode of Will and Grace may mock the crucifixion, and would like it banned.

It seems to me that religion and intolerance are so firmly linked that it is almost impossible to separate one from the other. This does not bode well for civilization, in my opinion.

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By walter a davis, February 8, 2006 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
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Dear Sam,
This is another reason why I think you need to add psychoanalysis—in its most radical and leftist form—to your analysis. [As you know, I offer such a framework in my forthcoming book—Deqth’s Dream Kingdom: The American Psyche since 9-11. (Available in the U.S. next month.)
The problem is, indeed, ALL forms of religion. Religion as mass psychosis.  An infantalization. As hysteria. But what is perhaps most disturbing is the refusal of any of ouyr media—with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer—to publish the cartoons.  The media has already capitulated to “the theocratic imperative.”  Which is shared by Bush-Robertson and all the reactionary fundamentalist zealots of xtianity. We should make T-shirt with Cristo’s “Piss Christ” on one side and the cartoon of the prophet with his bomb-head on the other.  And the t-shirts should have the following words on them.  On one side—Fuck your Fatwah.  On the other—there is no God and Mary is his mother.
regards,
walter a davis

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By SickOfBull, February 8, 2006 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
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Quote: “I am a Palestinian Moslem and I think you are inciting hate toward Moslems and Arabs and you should be sued and arrested”

Are you sure you don’t mean be-headed on television for your religious entertainment and continued enlightenment??

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By Jim Tomfohrde, February 8, 2006 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
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Thank you for having the “guts” to say what every other rational person knows but so many are afraid to say.  The publication of cartoons is not a reason to riot, it is simply an excuse.

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By Mike Power, February 8, 2006 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
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You’ve been reading too much Mark Steyn.

*Throughout Western Europe, Muslim immigrants show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet exploit these values to the utmost—demanding tolerance for their backwardness, their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the genocidal hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques.*

I live in England. My local shopkeeper is a Muslim, one of my doctors is a Muslim, my 80 year old mother-in-law (herself an Italian immigrant) lives in an area about 90% Muslim. The vast majority (who are NOT immigrants by the way but British born citizens) go about their business peaceably. Muslims are no less inclined to accept the secular values of their host (sic) countries than were Italian-American or orthodox Jews.
Indeed, if you insert the word Jew in place of Muslim you end up with views scarily close to those spouted in Europe in the 30’s. I find it astonishing that you and many others with similiar views, become animated at what you see as barbarism by Muslims when in fact it is the US which has killed and maimed more innocent people in the last 50 years than have been killed and maimed in the entire history of Islam. And, it seems, the US doesn’t intend to stop there. Is it really any less barbaric to bombard a town from the comfort of a jet plane than to blow oneself up in a bus queue? A strange morality.

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By lamberthaug@comcast.net, February 8, 2006 at 9:12 am Link to this comment
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Sam , you are so right!P lease write more about moderate theistic nonsense.The moderates must learn they are as superstitious as the fundamentalists! Why would a god need worship?Low self-esteem!Thanks.

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By Richard F. West, February 8, 2006 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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Dear Mr. Harris,
  I appreciate your intelligent analysis of the problems confronting our time.  Please keep up the good work.

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By A Rational Being, February 8, 2006 at 9:08 am Link to this comment
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Fayez,
you’ve just demonstrated Mr. Harris’s point nicely.

If you read Mr. Harris’s book “The End of Faith” you’ll see that he pulls no punches. Fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all equally dangerous.

And your reaction is consistent with fundamentalists of every faith. When your version of nonsense is questioned, you attack the messenger thus making rational discourse difficult if not impossible.

Consider the possiblity that your version of “reality” is just that, your version.  Consider that there might be other versions of “reality.” Harris makes it quite clear that several of these “realities” are quite incompatible and will lead to the destruction of all reality.

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By desastreuse, February 8, 2006 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
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Thank you, once again, for having the courage to say what needs to be said.  The scourge that is religion threatens to destabilize an already fragile balance among nations, ethnicities, and cultures.  As a species it seems we’ll never be able to truly rise about our humble beginnings.  More is the pity; we have terrific potential if only we could begin thinking rationally instead of consistently reacting with superstition, fear, and violence.

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By Deb, February 8, 2006 at 9:07 am Link to this comment
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First off, let me outline my spiritual beliefs:  I am not entirely secular or humanist.  I do believe that there is a dimension beyond our understanding.  I call it spirit sometimes, god others.  It’s more like Emerson’s Oversoul than it is like the God of Abraham, Jesus, or Muhammed.  That said, I do not and cannot know what this dimension wants or needs of me.  I suspect it needs nothing, and so I must turn the bulk of my attention and action where it is needed and wanted: in the temporal, physical world.
What ever this God/god/Spirit wants, I cannot accept that it includes the wholesale slaughter of one group of human beings by another—or even of one single human being by another single human.  This dimension is so far beyond our ken, that we cannot presume that it is insulted by our words, thoughts, or images.  Our only avenue to this dimension is through others.  We must respect, honor, and cherish each human that is born, to the best of our ability. We must grant everyone the freedom to live, to worship, to not worship, to laugh, to mock, to rejoice.
Uck!  I just re-read this!  Sounds like some of the worst dreck on beliefnet!  But it is what I believe—as long as I can have my cartoons!

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By Martin Wagner, February 8, 2006 at 9:06 am Link to this comment
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I am a Palestinian Moslem and I think you are inciting hate toward Moslems and Arabs and you should be sued and arrested,
Mr Harris, you really are creepy.

Anybody else notice the irony in the juxtaposition of these two statements? Yeah, real friends of free speech, these Moslems. Nothing at all creepy or fascistic about demanding people be arrested for expressing views critical of your own. Nothing “warped and weird” about firebombing embassies and going mob crazy over a handful of frickin’ cartoons, is there. Clearly guys like Fayez are so very different from the Nazis, right?

Having said that…I used to live in the middle east in the early 70’s. And I can say, at that time, that you couldn’t find a more pro-American, pro-capitalism, friendly bunch of people than the Islamic residents of Dubai. But over the decades, things changed. So “guitarsandmore” has a point: what caused 9/11 was 30 years of really really bad foreign policy from the US. But that doesn’t take away from the worst realities of Islamic fundamentalism.

The difference between the way Islam is currently being practiced in the mideast and the way fundamentalist Christianity is being practiced in the US is that in the Arab world, their versions of Pat Robertson (who calls for the death of people he doesn’t like all the time), James Dobson, et al, have taken over. It is true that the Koran is full of exhortations to murder unbelievers and heretics. So is the Bible. But in the west, there have been centuries of secular rationalist tradition to temper and hold at bay the worst impulses of Christianity. Had there not been, you’d see the mass mob violence among western Christians that we see all the time from Moslems in Europe and the mideast. As it is, over here, we only see Christianity show its worst forms of reactionary lunacy in isolated bursts of madness, such as abortion clinic bombings, or the recent gay-bar hatchet-attacker Jacob Robida.

The Moslem world desperately needs its age of enlightenment. Unfortunately, they may never get one, since the inmates are running the asylum over there. I agree with Sam that the world will never really be a safe place to live until religion itself goes the way of the dodo. But as that isn’t a realistic goal, one can only hope to see some degree of reason take root in the barren soil of the Moslem world, if only to the degree of allowing more of them to think, “Okay, that guy doesn’t share all of my views…but does that really mean I should MURDER him…?”

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By twodogmac, February 8, 2006 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
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I find this piece to be very thought-provoking.  The only problem with approaching Muslim fanatacism in this way is that the only logical conclusion to solving the problem (and it is a HUGE problem, for the reasons cited in the piece) is, as Mr. Harris points out, war and more war.  Whatever “moderate” Muslims may be out there do not seem to be making their presence felt in any sense.  And they lack the power (read: control of oil) to make any headway in this greedy backwards world today.

It is the multinational capitalist oil kingdom (that originates in the good ol USA) that will prevail regardless, that is the only certainty.  Meanwhile pathetic hypocrites such as our president can only come up with killing and maiming as a solution, and there does not appear to be any end in sight…..

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By David, February 8, 2006 at 9:04 am Link to this comment
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Fayez:

Are you familiar with Sam Harris’s writings? He’s an atheist; he consistently takes _all_ supernatural, mythological, superstitious religion to task, including Judaism and Christianity.

So, rather than railing blindly—does the truth hurt much?—why don’t you post a careful, point-by-point refutation of this essay, if you find it so inaccurate?

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By Doug Tarnopol, February 8, 2006 at 9:00 am Link to this comment
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How about reading some history and looking at Islam in practice over the years? As a Jew, I’d pick living under Islam than Christianity in the middle ages.

If you didn’t whittle down reality to texts, speech, and the actions of the most extreme (allowed, if not encouraged, by the authoritarian governments in the Mideast where the most violent demos have occurred), and if you took a century (or more) of Western domination and Israeli atrocities into account—for explanatory, not exculpatory reasons—you might get a clue.

But Dershie wouldn’t blurb your books anymore.

Pathetic. And I’m an atheist, remember.

I’m done being polite—not that my scribblings matter, of course. Who let this neocon moron onto truthdig? I can get this garbage at Fox.

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By Jack Berg, February 8, 2006 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
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The previous comment is hogwash! The real Nazis these days are the Islamic extremists. If we appease them now we will end up in the same situation as arose before the Second World War. I say enough is enough. We need to draw a line in the sand. If they want to live by their backward laws then let them - but they aren’t imposing them on the rest of us.

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By Proud Athiest, February 8, 2006 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
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Religion has been the single biggest cause of death and destruction since its earliest inceptions.  Humans are simply too superstitious and yes, too stupid to co-exist.

God in all his fictitious conceptions is a ridiculous myth that ignorant and intolerant muslims, christians, et. al., love to hide behind.  How fucking dumb is it that people have died over a simple cartoon? 

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.” - Mark Twain

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By Steve Tracy, February 8, 2006 at 8:52 am Link to this comment
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Just finished Mr. Harris’ book.  It mostly makes sense from a kind of sophomoric rationalist (you know, college kids formulating big thoughts in Stanford dorm rooms) point of view except for the fact that he focuses on Muslim and their backwardness. The Jews’ religion is even more archaic than Islam.  And the Christian religion is rooted firmly in the fourth century patriarchy.  And the Jews and the Christians already have WMDs and haven’t shown that much reticence to sell and use them.  Harris covers this in his book but still insists on the threat of Islam rather than the threat of Bush. Why is it that the Muslims scare him more?

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By caliban59, February 8, 2006 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
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I think both of you are mis-reading his writings. Riots and murder over a cartoon are not acceptable. Period. Yes, there is bigotry on both sides of this issue- but, as an example,  the US did not burn Saudi Arabia’s embassy after 9/11 even though the majority of hijackers there were from that country. We do not murder and burn things despite the hateful cartoons and messages printed in Arabic newspapers and aired on tv everyday. No one torched the Iranian embassy when the wacko who is their president denied the existence of the Holocaust and stated Israel and the Jews should die.

But , for some reason I do not understand, Muslim society seems to accept that killing and burning soemone’s else or their property over an IDEA is okay. Why is that? People say that it isn’t every Muslim- well, why can’t the moderate Muslims control these arsonists and murderers?

Whether we like it our not, there appears to be a fundamental difference between western ideas of free speech and Muslim ideas of free speech. Is it a clash of cultures? Of course. Does it mean war? I would hope not. But the West should not and must not give up his freedom of expression. Any idea, no matter how hateful, must be combatted with ideas- not murder and arson.

I do not support the war in Iraq and believe that the Muslim world must create its own political states- the US is wrong for trying to force ‘democracy’ on another country. Let the Muslim world choose its own course but don’t let them tell the rest of the free western world how to think or how to write.

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By arkix, February 8, 2006 at 6:46 am Link to this comment
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Oh, please. Harris is resolutely pre-reason and anti-superstition. Which is what religion is: superstition. It’s time everyone—Christians, Jews, Muslims—stopped using it as an excuse for all their worst behavior. And started accepting the fact that they live in a world where no one else is obligated to agree with them or follow their religious rules. Think Islam’s getting a bum rap, Fayez? Do something about it. Provide a positive image for the world, instead of another picture of a child wrapped in grenades.

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By BOOGIE, February 8, 2006 at 6:45 am Link to this comment
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Freedom of the press doesn’t mean the press is free from responsibility for what they publish. The fact is that the papers that published the cartoons knew that they were disliked in the Muslim world - there has been a boycott of Danish goods by many Muslims since the cartoons were 1st published last September. Instead of leaving it at that, the cartoons were republished by newspapers all over Europe, the same newspapers which are now condemning those people who are outraged by the cartoons. Freedom of speech also includes people being pissed off at things others have said about their religion.


You state:

“It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims.”

Perhaps it is you who needs some perspective. There are almost a billion Muslims worldwide. To condemn them all and their religion because of the actions of a few thousand and proclaim what the Muslim religion is or isn’t (are you a Muslim?) seems to be a bit of an overreaction, and does nothing but add fuel to the fire.

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By writerdd, February 8, 2006 at 6:25 am Link to this comment
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Sam, thanks for having the nerve to speak the truth.

It is time for us to stop cowering in the face of religious dogma that claims to spread love while it really spreads hate. We must speak out against the injustices created by belief in the supernatural and the doctrines of religion.

I don’t know what guitarsandmore suggests, but I for one don’t want a second date with a religion that treats women like dogs and reacts with violence to the publication of cartoons. CARTOOONS, for godssake. Get a grip people, this is dangerous. We will not prevail by caving in to the demands of fanatics.

President Bush is so fond of claiming that he is spreading democracy in the middle east, well let’s see him stand up for the freedom of speech that is the core of democracy. By apologizing for the publication of the cartoons, America is denying the very democracy we claims to cherish. Hypocracy serves no-one.

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By Anon, February 8, 2006 at 6:06 am Link to this comment
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Sam, thank you for your sanity.

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By Richard Noah, February 8, 2006 at 5:37 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Harris,

Your logic is impeccable, your examples are right-on and your courage is amazing.  Keep up the good fight.

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By ekarhu, February 8, 2006 at 3:14 am Link to this comment
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Sam,

“Muslim moderates, wherever they are, must be given every tool necessary to win a war of ideas with their coreligionists.”

Huh? Like Saddam Hussein or the Shaw? This is exactly what the problem is! Propping up unpopular moderate leaders has proven its effectiveness.  For people burning down buildings in protest, there is no distinction between the press and the government. Which is exactly the problem…


Like you said, most of the Muslim world has largely no recourse to information. So do you think that these protests about cartoons are organic or incited and fanned by backward government institutions. The same institutions that the US and Europe covertly and sometimes overtly undermine.

I am no fan of organized religion, but the Muslim world, unlike much of the Christian world, has a lot of problems. Problems that are quickly attributed to religion while ignoring poverty, historical legacies (colonization, lack of educational institutions) and corruption.

I usually enjoy your stuff but this piece was very shallow. When you discuss the books and lack there of in the Muslim world, you don’t mention poverty or illiteracy, both of which hark back to historical legacies and lack of good governance. Neither of which should be pinned solely on religion.

Your use of statistics smacks of ‘fear of a black planet’. Demographics change. That’s what they do.


E.

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By guitarsandmore, February 8, 2006 at 1:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Do you remember back as far as WACO Texas where the FBI bombarded those poor people with noise day and night for days on end? Then they paraded the tanks around the front of the house back and forth in threatening gestures.

You know when you torture, threaten, and intimidate people eventually they are going to crack. Then everything goes up in flames.

What you are seeing in the streets of Tehran is the people that are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.

We are way passed our first date with the Islamic countries but apparently some of us continue to act like adolescents on our first date. Make fun of their religion and make fun of their politics and make fun of their parents and what do you have? No second date.

Now imagine that these poor people can’t get away from you because you keep coming back for more (oil dates). Isn’t this harassment ? Wouldn’t you be called a stalker ?

Let’s all grow up a little more and stop teasing and tormenting each other.

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By Fayez, February 8, 2006 at 12:26 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Harris,
You are one who is clearly a very disturbed fella.
Wow! What hate. Really creepy!
Every thing you say is a lie.
Everything you said reminded me of the writings
of the European facsists who wrote of the jews
in the not so distant past.
Oh, yeah, the race or religion that is not ‘like us’‘
They are not of the traditional ‘Western’ religion
or of ‘our ways, of ‘our’ culture.
Why, the Nazi cartoons and articles said and showed,
they have ways that are so different, and they
do not assimilate.
It was pointed out that the jews have their own
cultural institutions, blah blah, ad nauseum.
If you took the word Moslem out of your post,
Mr. Harris, and put in the word jew or jews,
it would look exactly like those Nazi pamphlets.
Also, the broad statements about the Arab ‘world’
were not true.
Why don’t you check out the jewish fanatics in
Israel and the hate and murder they visit on the
Palestinian people.
I am a Palestinian Moslem and I think you are inciting hate toward Moslems and Arabs and you should be sued and arrested,
Mr Harris, you really are creepy.
You sound just like the rightwing nuts we see on Fox. Are you with Par Robertson?
Coulter, Malkin?
Cause that is exactly how they talk.
Why does Truthdig have you here,
I thought that this is a progressive site.
So warped, so wierd.
What a damn shame.

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