As Sam Harris notes here, he is responding in this piece to one I wrote about him last week. My further responses are interspersed below.
“Reply to Robert Spencer,” by Sam Harris, December 16, 2016:
Over at Frontpage Magazine and Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer has published an essay titled “Sam Harris and the Collapse of the Counter-Jihad Left: A Failure of Nerve.” Here is my brief response:
I’m sorry to say that your career as a mind reader is off to a poor start. In fact, almost every claim you make about me in your essay is false. Allow me to clarify a few points:
1. I didn’t oppose Trump because I’ve gone soft on Islam. I opposed him because I believe he is an ignoramus, a con man, and a malignantly selfish and unethical person. I’m now in the uncomfortable position of hoping I’m wrong.
2. I didn’t support Clinton because I’ve gone soft on Islam. I supported her—despite her countless flaws—because I judged her to be preferable to Trump. In fact, one reason I supported Clinton is that I thought she would act more aggressively against jihadists than Trump would. (You may recall that many Trump supporters, and even Trump himself, derided Clinton as a warmonger and worried that she would entangle us in further conflicts in the Middle East.) Of course, you may disagree with that assessment. You may even believe that killing jihadists isn’t the best way to frustrate their aims. These are fair points to debate. But I hope you will concede that my actual reasons for voting as I did (however misguided you may consider them) contradict what you have written about me.
In reality, I did not contend that Sam Harris supported Clinton because of her taking money from jihad-supporting states and denying the motivating ideology of the global jihad. What I actually said was that it was hard to see how anyone who was aware of the real nature and magnitude of the jihad threat could support a candidate who had done such things.
As for the idea that she would act more aggressively against jihadists than Trump would, that seems to me to be absurd, as abundantly illustrated by eight years of the Obama administration, the policies of which Clinton was certain to continue. That would have meant more strikes against high-profile targets (a la bin Laden, Awlaki), along with more money and armaments given to “moderates” who were actually Islamic jihadists, and more pouring of money into jihad-supporting nations, especially Pakistan. Trump has said he will end all this, call the threat by its actual name, and fight against it with more focus and force. He may not end up doing any of this. But the idea that she would have acted more aggressively than he against jihadists she didn’t even dare to name is unsupported by any facts.
3. Regarding Clinton’s public statements about Islam, and the money her foundation took from Islamist theocrats, I’m not aware of anyone who has criticized her more pointedly than I have. But (to turn this new cliché about Trump supporters around) I took Clinton “seriously but not literally” when she spoke about the war on terror. And I know, as you surely do, that she wouldn’t have trained her drones on the Amish. Despite Clinton’s obscurantism about Islam, I believe she understands that 100 percent of jihadists are Muslim. As you know, it’s possible to speak honestly about this state of affairs without being a bigot. In fact, I wrote a section of a speech that I thought Clinton ought to give, spelling out the link between Islamic doctrine and Muslim violence while disavowing bigotry:
Needless to say, she didn’t take my advice. The point, however, is that I expected her to agree with what I wrote there. And for that reason I found her habit of dissembling about the religious roots of jihadism as galling as you did. As for my views about Muslim immigration, they are detailed in that speech. Once again, you may want to debate my reasoning, but please don’t question my motives. I oppose Islamism and jihadism as much as you do.
It would have been nice if Clinton had given that speech, but she didn’t, and the contention that despite her “obscurantism about Islam, I believe she understands that 100 percent of jihadists are Muslim” is belied by her record. While she was Secretary of State, the U.S. knowingly aided al-Qaeda jihadists in Libya and Syria. No one who has a genuine understanding of the jihad imperative within Islam would ever have done that, no matter what the realpolitik advantages may have appeared to be.
4. Although I cover many other topics in my work, I believe I have discussed the religious roots of jihadism as clearly as anyone has—and the book I wrote with Maajid Nawaz is no exception. If you think I’ve experienced a “failure of nerve” since Maajid and I wrote Islam and the Future of Tolerance, I invite you or any of your readers to find fault with my most recent statements on the topic. For instance:
This was never at issue. As I wrote in my first piece: “It seems as if, as far as they are concerned, one may speak out against jihad terror and Sharia oppression as long as one is determined not to do anything about either one, and indeed, gives active support to those who are helping the forces of jihad advance in the West.” Thus I never claimed that he wasn’t speaking out. The problem was, is, and has always been that while speaking out, he supports people who are working in various ways, however wittingly or unwittingly in Clinton’s case, to advance the very things he opposes.
5. As for Keith Ellison, the only time I’ve mentioned him was in 2011. My remarks can be found here, and I suspect you will agree with them:
I confess that I haven’t followed what Ellison has said since. Perhaps he has spoken with greater candor about Islam in recent years, and perhaps he hasn’t. Maajid didn’t consult me before endorsing Ellison to head the DNC, and I’ll leave him to discuss his thinking on that point. I can say one thing to a moral certainty, however: Maajid is no longer an Islamist. In fact, he is one of the bravest opponents of Islamism I know. He is also a tireless critic of identity politics as practiced by CAIR and similar groups. I’m confident that if Ellison turns out to be just another shady liar like Reza Aslan or Dalia Mogahed, Maajid will disavow him.
Maybe he will. But there is plenty of available data now to raise serious questions about why Nawaz endorsed him in the first place. The Investigative Project has released audio of Ellison speaking at a fundraiser for his 2010 Congressional reelection campaign, sounding paranoid anti-Semitic themes and declaring that a vote for him was a vote against Israel’s supposed control of U.S. foreign policy. “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right?” And in 2008, he accepted $13,350 from MAS to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Muslim American Society is a Muslim Brotherhood organization: “In recent years, the U.S. Brotherhood operated under the name Muslim American Society, according to documents and interviews. One of the nation’s major Islamic groups, it was incorporated in Illinois in 1993 after a contentious debate among Brotherhood members.” That’s from the Chicago Tribune in 2004, in an article that is now carried on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website, Ikhwanweb. Ellison has spoken at a convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Yet ISNA has actually admitted its ties to Hamas, which styles itself the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Justice Department actually classified ISNA among entities “who are and/or were members of the US Muslim Brotherhood.” Also, CAIR raised large amounts of for Ellison’s first campaign, and he has spoken at numerous CAIR events. Yet CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case — so named by the Justice Department. CAIR officials have repeatedly refused to denounce Hamas and Hizballah as terrorist groups.
In light of all that, the question is not whether Nawaz is an “Islamist.” It is why, if he is not an “Islamist” and opposes “Islamism,” did Nawaz he endorse a man who is so obviously an “Islamist,” or at very least someone who is friendly to “Islamists” and enjoys their support? Why has Nawaz not bothered to address these concerns — because those who raised them are “right-wing Islamophobes”? Some may say it’s unfair to criticize Harris for something his collaborator did, and that’s fair enough. But imagine if I had co-written a book with someone who then endorsed David Duke of the KKK. Would my critics be silent in such a case? Should they be?
We each have a unique role to play in this war of ideas, Robert. And it would be only decent of you to recognize that Maajid has a harder job than either of us. In fact, the task he has set himself—to inspire a true commitment to secularism and liberal values throughout the Muslim world—may prove impossible. But the alternative is grim. I recommend that you stop questioning Maajid’s motives and give him your support—even if, for obvious reasons, he can’t afford to return the favor.
I would have been happy to give Nawaz my support, but he attacked me first, so I rather expect that he would not welcome that support, as even Harris tacitly admits by saying “even if, for obvious reasons, he can’t afford to return the favor.” I’m not sure those reasons are so obvious. Does Harris mean that because I am vilified unjustly as a “bigot” and “Islamophobe,” Nawaz has to keep me at a distance? This is interesting in light of the fact that Harris is also vilified as a “bigot” and “Islamophobe,” and has denounced such labeling for what it is: a cynical attempt to silence all criticism of Islam and jihad. If Nawaz and I have any significant differences, I would be happy to debate them in an open forum, but he is not even willing to do that.
In any case, the principal issue here has nothing to do with me. It has to do with whether Maajid Nawaz, because he has taken difficult positions and faced threats and abuse (as I have also), should be considered to be above all criticism and questioning. I have never asked for such a status myself, and have always been willing to debate serious people on the other side. The favor has seldom been returned, because Leftists and Islamic supremacists don’t want to engage their opponents; they want to demonize them and shut them down. Will Nawaz address the concerns about Ellison? Or is he to be given a free pass because he is such a stout fellow in other ways?
Lots of people manifest courage. That doesn’t make them infallible or impeccable. There are issues here that need to be addressed.
No doubt there is more to be said, but this short note will have to suffice for the time being. I invite you to publish it wherever you want. Perhaps it will clear up some confusion.
Thank you, Sam, for being so decent as to reply. I much appreciate that, as it is a rare quality among your colleagues. I hope your example will encourage them to make it less rare.