(Updated) Sam Harris’ Islamophobia: A Black Muslim Response

(Updated) Sam Harris’ Islamophobia: A Black Muslim Response February 12, 2017


Read Part One Here: Bill Maher’s Islamophobia: A Black Muslim Response

(Editorial Note: 2/16/2017: This article has been updated in which Hakeem Muhammad responds to several criticisms of the article)

An essential element of Bill Maher and Sam Harris’s political philosophy is the belief that Muslims are a disproportionate cause of terrorism. In a recent televised interview with Harris that, Bill Maher states,“We are never going to defeat terrorism until we reform Islam. And we’ll never reform Islam if we can’t talk.” This particular statement almost makes it appear as though Maher believes that Muslims have a monopoly on terrorism.

As an antidote the moral backwardness of the Islamic world,   Maher has continuously advocated that “liberals need to stand up for liberal principles.” However, as is typical of Islamophobes, Bill Maher refuses to apply the same moral standard which he applies to Muslims upon his own worldview.  Let’s take a look at the liberal principles of one of the core philosophers of the very worldview which Bill Maher extols.

                                                John Locke: A pioneer of Liberal Principles. 

John Locke is credited with pioneering the liberal principles which Bill Maher widely promotes. At the core of these liberal principles is the belief that human beings have a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However, what appears as a major contradiction in John Locke’s political philosophy emerges clearly, when we see for example that Locke was a major investor in the Royal African Company. In addition to this, John Locke was an active secretary in the Council Trade and Plantation. These two organizations played an active and integral role in the transatlantic slave trade which robbed Africans from their homeland.

Far from believing in the right of life for Africans, political scientist Dr. Andrew Valls notes that Locke in fact believed that slave masters had,”Absolute power over their slaves, and thus the right to kill with impunity.” In light of this, how exactly does one reconcile the fact that one of western world’s most revered philosophers justified anti-black slavery whilst simultaneously believing that human beings had the right to life and liberty?

Simply put, Locke did not believe blacks were humans and argued that the failure of Africans to establish a civil authority to preserve their rights through entering into a social contract meant they were not entitled to natural rights. John Locke utilized liberal principles to fully endorse anti-black slavery. Additionally, this pioneer of liberal thought would not have seen a contradiction between the enslavement of black people and liberal principles.

The Hypocrisy of Bill Maher’s Moralizing of Muslims

Both Maher and Harris hold Muslims such as Keith Ellison accountable for a fringe interpretation of Islam which are utilized to justify terrorism. Yet, neither of them have much to say when the interpretation of liberalism as advocated by its founding father, Locke, was utilized to justify the enslavement of black people. Liberalism has been fully complicit in anti-black terrorism.

Wacquant in  Deadly symbiosis: when ghetto and prison meet and mesh, indicates that neo-liberalism as an economic system as made it so that large segments of uneducated blacks are assigned to economic redundancy.

Harris and Maher like to hold Muslims accountable for extremist interpretations of their faith by fringe groups. Surely then, it is reasonable to hold Harris and Maher accountable when the core thinkers of their worldview used liberal principles to justify the enslavement of black people.

As a “moderate liberals”, shouldn’t Harris at least be seeking to distance himself from the extremist views of Locke who denied black people a value to life?

As a “moderate liberal” Harris should at least be devoting time calling for a reform to liberalism which extends a value to life for black folks?

Sam Harris and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Unfortunately, Harris does the exact opposite of this when he recently evoked the very same racist epistemology of the enlightenment to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement as “irrational.” Harris’ argument for why the Black Lives Matter Movement is irrational is predicated upon his belief that 99 of 100 of the shootings of black people are “legitimate.

Even if Harris’ contrived statistics are true(which they are not), it is completely erroneous to reduce the Black Lives Matter movement to an issue of police shootings. The contemporary Black Lives Matter movement calls for the overall valuing of the very black life. Liberal philosophers adamantly denied a value to life for black people and they shaped the world as we know it. The Black Lives Matter movement should be seen as a response to a world crafted by the very liberal principles which denied black people humanity.

Police shootings of black youth are only one manifestation of an overarching system that devalues black life. In every facet of society from health care to employment, black life is devalued. Take for example, due to racist city-planning black people are disproportionately live near toxic waste dumps in comparison to white people.

Police violence is also not limited to shootings of black people. Police commander, Jon Graham Burge kidnapped and tortured hundreds of black people in order to get them to confess to crimes they did not commit. At its inception, the Chicago Police Department hired within  its department various Irish gangs who carried out lethal riots in the black community.

When Harris states that 99 of 100 of the shootings of black people are “legitimate,” one must ask when does his starting point of his analysis begin?  After all, some of the earliest police in this country functioned as slave catchers who were employed to capture Africans who escaped from slavery. 

Maher and Harris devote a significant about of their airwaves to discussing the need to reform Islam. However, they have devoted no airwaves discussing the complicity of liberalism in anti-black terrorism. Nor have they bothered to address the systemic inequities and violence that result from a worldview which excluded black people from natural rights.

Instead, Harris proves himself to be an apologist for white supremacy based upon the flimsy arguments he gives for dismissing the Black Lives Matter Movement as “irrational.”

                                                                         Real Talk Moment. 

I say to Harris and Maher: you all have been playing this game of pretending that white liberals are angels of light. You want us to believe that you all are so rational, reasonable, and peaceful. You want us Muslims to believe that we are backwards, irrational, and violent. You all have sought to make Muslims feel as though we are inferior and you have moralized upon Muslims.

As a result of constant islamophobic bullying, you have apologetic Muslims walking around with their heads hung low. This moralizing may work upon apologetic Muslims, but you aren’t going to pull that small time stuff over on this Black Muslim.  You all are really no better than your  forefathers utilized liberal principles to justify the most brutal acts of anti-black terrorism.

Sincerely, Hakeem Muhammad.


Click  to read responses to critics of this article.

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