The Unholy Trinity

By Jerome Taylor
The Independent, April 12, 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

This just in: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are accused of Islamophobia.
All are accused by Nathan Lean, Murtaza Hussain, and Glenn Greenwald of New Atheist bigotry.

Islamophobia 1

Nathan Lean

Edited by Andy Ross

Richard Dawkins thinks people who believe in a divine creator are stupid. Followers of the Muslim faith have come to occupy a special place in his line of fire.

Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens are atheists with attitudes, as polemical as they are passionate, brash as they are brainy, and they view anyone who does not share their unholier-than-thou worldview with skepticism and scorn.

Atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix. But after 9/11 the New Atheists became the new Islamophobes. Harris: "Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death."

For Harris, suicide bombers and terrorists have understood their faith rightly. "The idea that Islam is a 'peaceful religion hijacked by extremists' is a fantasy, and is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge."

Dawkins, tweeting on March 25: "Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about Nazism."

Dutch politician Geert Wilders "hates Islam" and produced an amateurish flick called Fitna in 2008, chockablock with racist images. Dawkins wrote to Wilders: "On the strength of 'Fitna' alone, I salute you as a man of courage who has the balls to stand up to a monstrous enemy."

The New Atheists have embraced the monster narrative of the day.

Islamophobia 2

Murtaza Hussain

Edited by Andy Ross

Racism has often been cloaked in the guise of disinterested scientific inquiry. The New Atheists give a veneer of scientific respectability to today's bigotry in their attempt to critique religious thought. In practice, they exhibit many of the same tendencies as did their racist predecessors.

Richard Dawkins refers to "Islamic barbarians" and Christopher Hitchens airs outright bloodlust towards Muslims. Sam Harris makes sweeping generalizations about a civilization encompassing over a billion people, coupled with fevered warnings about the demographic threat they pose to Western civilization. Harris: "It is time we admitted that we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam."

Harris sees the conflict between Israel and Palestine in religious terms: "Liberals ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder non-combatants, while we and the Israelis seek to avoid doing so. Muslims use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause … there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground."

Harris engages in a nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors practiced in their discussion of Negroes. Harris and those like him disguise weaponized racism with disinterested scientific observation: "The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists."

The right to criticize Islam or any other religion as a system of belief is as fundamental as the right of any religious adherent to practice their faith. But by resurrecting scientific racism and its violent corollaries, Harris is heir to one of the most disreputable intellectual lineages in modern history.

Islamophobia 3

Glenn Greenwald

Edited by Andy Ross

Nathan Lean and Murtaza Hussain say Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens embrace anti-Muslim bigotry masquerading as rational atheism.

New Atheists have flirted with and at times vigorously embraced irrational anti-Muslim animus. Harris posted our exchange on his blog. I say Harris and others like him spout and promote Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism. Harris: "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."

Harris: "We are at war with Islam." He repeatedly distinguishes between "civilized" people and Muslims: "All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth."

When criticism of religion morphs into an undue focus on Islam, I find objections to the New Atheists completely warranted. That's true of Dawkins' proclamations and of Hitchens' various grotesque invocations of Islam to justify violence. And it's true of Harris' claims that Islam poses unique threats beyond what Christianity, Judaism, and the other religions of the world pose.

Harris advocates a wide range of vile policies aimed primarily at Muslims, from torture, to steadfast support for Israel, to anti-Muslim profiling, to state violence. He sided with Americans opposing the building of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero: "The erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory — and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice."

I mistrust the behavior of westerners like Harris (and Hitchens and Dawkins) who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the sins of their own country. The American government has brought more violence, aggression, suffering, misery, and degradation to the world over the last decade than any other. Harris wrote in 2004 that "we are now mired in a religious war in Iraq and elsewhere" and meant that those Muslims whose country we invaded and destroyed were engaged in a vicious and primitive religious war. He dismissed the US attack on Iraq as a war in which "civilized human beings are now attempting, at considerable cost to themselves, to improve life for the Iraqi people". Western violence and aggression is civilized and elevated, Muslim violence primitive and savage. That is a blatant double standard.

Harris: "The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands — no matter how well intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant. Because of what they believe about God and the afterlife and the divine provenance of the Koran, devout Muslims tend to reflexively side with other Muslims, no matter how sociopathic their behavior."

Theodore Sayeed: "For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their 'reflexive solidarity' with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work."

Harris claims that Islamophobia is "a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia". Islamophobia signifies:

1 Irrational condemnations of all members of a group or the group itself based on the bad acts of individuals in that group
2 A disproportionate fixation on that group for sins committed at least to an equal extent by many other groups
3 Sweeping claims about the members of that group unjustified by their actual individual acts and beliefs

I believe this fits Harris.


By Andrew Zak Williams
New Statesman, April 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

New Atheists have recently been accused of Islamophobia. Sam Harris imagines a radical Islamist state acquiring long range nuclear weaponry. An avowedly suicidal regime makes nuclear deterrence a worthless currency. Harris anticipates the possibility that the United States may find itself having to press the button first. But so do we all.

One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that no believer should be expected to respond. But Islam's holy book, taken literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn't be tolerated by any humanist ethos. These tenets and precepts have real consequences and repercussions for all of us.

We are used to seeing Muslim spokespersons choosing the aftermath of a terrorist attack carried out in the Prophet's name to practise mealy-mouthed equivocation at the price of heartfelt sympathy. Then again, many moderate Muslims are at the front of the queue deploring much that is done in the name of their faith.

The atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry leveled against those who point out that a religion that harbors such extremes has some explaining to do. Resort to the tag "Islamophobia" is justified only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely if the religion is held up to scrutiny.


AR Hard blows: Harris is right to feel aggrieved. But all this mud wrestling is a routine skirmish in the war of civilizations.
For my money, savoring the Harris quotes anew is the joy in this exchange.