Sunday, December 20, 2015

  • Sunday, December 20, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon

harrisIt is always a pleasure to discover a writer / thinker whose thoughts can serve as a sort-of baseline, or measure, of one's own.

Neuroscientist / Philosopher Sam Harris is just such a guy.

His first book is a 2004 offering entitled, The End of Faith.  His most recent isIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, co-written with British Muslim reformer, Maajid Nawaz.

For most of his career Harris wrote about the intersection between faith, rationality, and cognition from the perspective of a mystically-inclined atheistneuroscientist.

{To those of you who may wonder how one can be both an atheist and mystically-inclined one need only point to the example of Mahayana Buddhism.}

In recent years, however, he has focused on the rise of political Islam and the theocratic-ideological roots of that heinous head-chopping movement.  His interlocutor, Nawaz, is a Muslim reformer and former Islamist.  Both men overcame their ideological differences in order to find common ground and both serve as a model on how to speak with those with whom we may have serious disagreements.

I want to emphasize two aspects of Harris' thinking that very much caught my attention and that I take simply to be commonsense... but important and often overlooked commonsense.  These are the link between behavior and belief and the significance of intention as an ethical matter and oneof predicting likely future behavior.  Harris relates both to political Islam and the ongoing siege of the Jews in the Middle East.

The Link Between Behavior and Belief

Academics, politicians, and journalists have been searching high-and-low for thereasons why Jihadis rammed two commercial jets into the World Trade Center, killing around three thousand innocent people on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent rise of political Islam throughout the Middle East and Europe following the so-called "Arab Spring."

The answers put forth by the purveyors of public opinion generally center aroundsocio-economic factors and the history of western and American imperialism in the Middle East.

In this way the West tends to blame itself for the violence against it.

What Harris suggests is that if we want to understand the rise of political Islam then we must listen to what they have to say about themselves.  What he, therefore, argues is that there is a direct and obvious line between belief and behavior.

Belief drives behavior.

Thus if we listen to what the Islamists say about themselves it becomes clear that they are primarily driven by a fundamentalist, Salafist, seventh-century vision of Islamic dominance and the restoration of the Caliphate under al-Sharia and all the head-chopping that entails.

This does not mean that political or socio-economic factors should be dismissed.

What this does mean - despite Barack Obama's admonishments otherwise - is that the reasons for the rise of the Jihad are directly connected to Islamic primary sources, i.e., the Qur'an and the hadiths.

Chomksy and the Significance of Intention

Harris, like numerous others before him, recently clashed with MIT linguist and left political icon, Noam Chomsky.

Harris approached Chomsky in the hope that, as with his conversation with Nawaz,they could explore the political and ideological differences between them, within the academic tradition of collegiality, and thereby lay-out in a coherentmanner their differences for you and I to consider.

This was not to be and Harris published the email conversation between the two of them as a lesson on the difficulty of speaking entrapped within what I call "ideological blinkertude."

What struck me most about the conversation, however, was Harris' focus on the ethical significance of intention.

Chomsky is, essentially, a peddler of the moral equivalency canard.  He hassuggested that there is no greater source of terrorism in the world outside of Washington D.C.

In support of his thesis he notes Bill Clinton's 1998 bombing of the l-Shifa pharmaceutical plantin Sudan and suggests that the negative effects on Sudanese society were at least as bad, and probably far worse, than anything that the United States suffered after 9/11.

Clinton claimed that the plant was manufacturing chemical weapons and had ties with al-Qaeda, which is why it needed to be taken out.  Chomksy claims thatthe attack was a wanton act of retaliation for the US embassy bombing that left 200 dead in that same country, that sameyear.

What Harris argues is that the difference is one of intention and that intentionmatters.  The people who flew those commercial jets into the World Trade Center intended to kill as many innocent people as possible.  Clinton, if we can believe his own stated intentions, did not desire to aimlessly murder people, but to prevent the creation of chemical weaponry in Sudan coming directly on the heels of the embassy bombing.

Harris, I would argue, is quite correct.

Intention does matter both for ethical reasons and because it indicates how the actor is likely to behave in the future.

Chomsky may argue that the "road to hell is paved with good intentions," and he is undoubtedly correct, but from an ethical perspective intention still matters and, as Harris points out, it demonstrates the likely behavior of the individualor the group going forward.

Will the Real Racist Please Stand Up?

I first became aware of Harris when Ben Affleck decided to get into his face on Bill Maher's Real Time a few months ago:

Essentially, all Harris said, quite rightly, is that criticisms of the doctrinesof Islam get immediately conflated, on the progressive-left, with bigotry or "racism" toward Muslims as people.

Then, not surprisingly, the well-meaning Ben Affleck rushed forward to do precisely that.

Affleck is an intelligent guy - as I am sure that Matt Damon can attest- but he is wrong to conflate criticisms of Islamic doctrine, or criticisms of political Islam, with bigotry towards Muslims, in general.

In fact, without realizing it, Affleck slipped into the very bigotry that he claims to find "gross."

Anyone who thinks that criticism of political Islam (or radical Islam or Islamism) is the same as bigotry toward Muslims, in general, is unwittingly suggesting that all Muslims are essentially Jihadis.

Now that is bigotry.

Ben Affleck is a serious guy, a significant artist, writer, producer, actor, andan intelligent man with a heart in the right place.

But he is simply wrong on this matter.

I very much hope that upon reflection he gives Harris the consideration that hiswork deserves.

Michael Lumish is a blogger at the Israel Thrives blog as well as a regular contributor/blogger at Times of Israel and Jews Down Under.

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 11 years and over 22,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

This blog may be a labor of love for me, but it takes a lot of effort, time and money. For over 18 years and 38,000 articles I have been providing accurate, original news that would have remained unnoticed. I've written hundreds of scoops and sometimes my reporting ends up making a real difference. I appreciate any donations you can give to keep this blog going.


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