Sam Harris’ Critics Are Misrepresenting His Words in an Effort to Discredit Him

Back in January, Sam Harris invited his co-author and friend Maajid Nawaz on his podcast to discuss a number of issues including the Christmas market massacre in Germany, in which a Tunisian man, urged by ISIS, drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing at least 12 of them.

SamMaajidMSNBC

Opponents of immigration and refugee resettlement in European countries were quick to point to the massacre as a defense of their beliefs. If you didn’t allow Muslims (or people from Islamic nations) into your country, they said, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

Harris wanted Nawaz to respond to that argument. Did those people have a point?

But to set up that question, Harris played devil’s advocate. He put himself in the shoes of people who say these kinds of things and made the anti-immigration case himself for the sole purpose of setting the scene for Nawaz’s response.

Here’s what he said in context:

… As a counterpoint to all of the hopeful noises you just made, I would just like to offer this.

This is kind of a gut reaction that I know millions upon millions of people are having to things like what we just saw in Germany — the recent atrocity at the Christmas market… You see something like this, and this is happening in the context of this wave of immigration coming into Europe by virtue of, largely by virtue of the war in Syria, although there are other reasons.

And there’s just the brute fact that 100% of Jihadists are Muslim, right? These are not the Amish. They are not the Scientologists. They are not the Anglicans. If you take a community of Muslims from Syria or Iraq or any other country on Earth and place them in the heart of Europe, you are importing, by definition, some percentage, however small, of radicalized people. Or people who will be prone to radicalism at some future date where they just decide to start watching too many Anwar al-Awlaki videos, you know?… This only happens to Muslims or people who are likely to become Muslim, right?

So you see this massacre in the Christmas market, and I think many people will feel: What is the fucking point of having more Muslims in your society? It seems perfectly rational to say “We don’t want any more! We have enough,” right? And certainly, increasing the percentage is not a help to anyone who loves freedom of speech and any of the other liberal values that you and I just spoke about maximizing. It’s not worth the trouble, and if we can figure out some way to keep the number of Muslims down in any society, whether we’re honest about this, or whether we do this covertly, clearly it’s rational to want to do this. And this is where someone like Robert Spencer would say “Amen,” I would presume. Can you speak to that despair? Again, this is not an expression of xenophobia. This is the implication of statistics, and the fact that it’s only rational not to want to live in a world that looks more and more like Jerusalem at the height of the Intifada, right?

With that theoretical argument now out in the open, Nawaz was free to respond as he wished. (Incidentally, he didn’t agree with a ban on immigration or refugee resettlement. He called for a “controlled and paced immigration.”)

But what’s happened with that clip over the past few days has been astounding.

A random person on Twitter clipped the audio of the portion I bolded in the transcript above and sent it out with the caption, “Listen: Maajid Nawaz nods along Sam Harris’ eloquently genocidal rhetoric on Muslims.” As if Sam Harris was advocating for that exaggerated position himself.


I doubt anyone would’ve noticed that tweet… except that Reza Aslan, the religious apologist who thinks faith shouldn’t be blamed for faith-based terrorism, fell for the lie and spread it even further. Like all good “scholars” do.

He even used the caption “Just in case there’s still a few idiots out there who think Sam Harris is some kind of ‘liberal’ defending liberal ideals.”


Since then, other commentators including Rula Jebreal, Max Blumenthal, and Dean Obeidallah have all taken that clip and amplified it, telling their audiences that it represented Harris’ actual beliefs.

That leaves Harris in the unenviable position of trying to correct his ideological opponents on a matter they’ve already misinterpreted and refuse to apologize for.

They refused to do any research. They couldn’t be bothered to hear the clip in context. They merely heard the words, assumed the worst of Harris, and ran with it. It’s the exact opposite of what any honest critic would do.

I’m surprised Ben Affleck hasn’t jumped into the mix to call Harris a racist.

It just goes to show you how difficult it is to have these conversations. If you have to lie about your opponents’ position in order to discredit their views, it says far more about you than them.

I asked Harris last night what he thought about the uninformed, unfair tweets from Aslan and others. He passed along this message:

The audio clip from my recent podcast with Maajid Nawaz that was recently circulated on Twitter was edited so as to make me sound totally opposed to Muslim immigration. (In fact, it left out any mention of immigration, so it could have been heard as a call for ethnic cleansing of some sort.) Maajid was made to seem totally acquiescent to these views. Needless to say, the misrepresentation was deliberate.

The most charitable interpretation of what followed is that the more prominent Muslims who circulated the clip were just intellectually lazy and guilty of confirmation bias. But there is far too much history here for that to have been the case. I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think we have a moral obligation to let in as many Syrian refugees as we can properly vet. I’ve also said that secular, liberal, tolerant Muslims are the most important people on earth — and that if I had control of our immigration policy, I’d move them to the front of the line for citizenship. As you probably know, I’ve also been very supportive of ex-Muslims and Muslim reformers and count several among my friends. And yet, Reza Aslan, Rula Jebreal, Dean Obeidallah, along with dozens of other “moderate” Muslims (and their Left-wing enablers) have spent years attacking me as a “racist” who favors a “genocide” against Muslims.

Reza Aslan was the most prominent person to circulate the clip, and he knows exactly what my views are on immigration, Trump’s travel ban, and all other relevant points. He knows how close I am with Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and that I make every effort to support them. He knows, therefore, that accusations of racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, etc. are lies. In fact, in all these years, I don’t think he’s ever attacked me for a view that I actually hold — which is quite a feat.

I want to point out something that many of our readers will not have thought about, but which all these Muslim apologists well understand: Spreading lies about a person’s “racism” and support for “genocide” is dangerous. We are nowhere near the terrain of good faith debate here. These are utterly irresponsible, malicious people, doing conscious harm to our public conversation — and doing whatever they can to destroy the reputations (and more) of those of us who, at considerable personal risk, attempt to have rational conversations about some of the most important issues of our time. This is asymmetric warfare: One side has few security concerns and no scruples. (None of these Muslims is worried about being killed by an atheist or a Muslim reformer.) The other is frequently threatened and does its best to abide by the highest standards of intellectual honesty.

Here is the situation at its starkest: These people aren’t fit to tie Maajid’s shoes, and yet they are doing everything in their power to make his courageous and necessary work more dangerous. It is despicable.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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