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Ch. 4 redux -- Muslims are bad 
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Post Ch. 4 redux -- Muslims are bad
Far from being politically correct, I agree with Harris that Islam consists of "bad beliefs" in more ways than one, just like other religions.

But Harris gives the impression that moderate Muslims are extremely rare. Yet just like the vast majority of Christians do not take the Bible literally -- even "fundamentalists" that say they do must ignore many passages or else they couldn't live in a modern society -- isn't that true for most Muslims with the Koran? I confess to knowing very little about ordinary culture in Muslim countries but isn't there a reason why there aren't a billion suicide bombers running around, or even a tiny fraction of that? If they all sincerely believed all those quotes from the Koran, then surely many more could overcome the natural reluctance to kill and die for their faith.

Harris uses a survey about suicide bombing to make this point, and I agree it sounds somewhat disturbing, but the question was whether it was ever justifiable "to defend Islam." What would a Christian say is justifiable "to defend Christianity"? Perhaps nuke a country? Hmmm, have we ever heard such a thing? It certainly wouldn't be "a column of zeros" as Harris answers for some of his hypothetical questions.



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Post Re: Ch. 4 redux -- Muslims are bad
An aside from Ch 4, p151

In proposing that foreign interventions are needed to rescue populations under despotic rule, Harris concludes that "we need a world government." He probably thinks this should be obvious to any intelligent person as the direction of progress in political organization. He acknowledges "it would require a degree of economic, cultural, and moral integration that we may never achieve." But while I agree that we should pursue exactly those kinds of integration, I disagree with the conclusion. It doesn't seem like he has thought very much about the problems of centralized power and the benefits of competing political entities.



Mon Nov 22, 2010 7:53 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4 redux -- Muslims are bad
I also believe we need a centralized government, but I confess I haven't read any books on the subject, or had a discussion that went into depth about it. How much money would be saved if each nation were to invest less in their militaries, and more in social technologies or improving infrastructure? The main problem as I see it is that it would have to be done correctly. The US government is good, perhaps the best so far, but it is far from ideal. We can do much better, and we must if there is to be a world government. But even when faced with that hurdle, we should have discussions about it and consider it objectively. The intellectual framework has it's roots in the present.



Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:34 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 4 redux -- Muslims are bad
Just finished this chapter. I'd read this book a few years ago, but probably not carefully enough. This time, Harris' chapter on Islam impressed me with its powerful argument, and I again want to remark that Harris is a damned good writer, probably the best of the "Horsemen" in my view, though I've only read a little of Dennett.

His attack is as much on Western liberalism, actually, as it is on Islam itself. Kudos to Harris; it takes some guts to go against a strong tide that tends to deny that others can be so "other" from us. Western liberals, a group that includes even many who don't consider themselves liberal politically, want above all to project an attitude of tolerance towards Muslims, and in doing so Harris simply believes we reject evidence before us. In other word, we Westerners are not fully reasoning where the threat posed by Islam is concerned.

Even as I write that, I feel some of the denial Harris is talking about, and I don't know what to make of it. I so strongly want to believe that there is exaggeration in Harris' warnings. Who would not want to avoid believing, as Harris does, that there is no alternative to war unless the Muslim faith undergoes a radical change? "Is Islam compatible with a civil society? Is it possible to believe what you must believe to be a good Muslim, to have military and economic power, and to not pose an unconscionable threat to the civil societies of others? I believe the answer to this question is no" (151-152).

Harris spends a good deal of space in the chapter attacking the arguments that 1) moderation of Muslim behavior--absent a retraction, in effect, of much Islamic scripture--offers us hope to emerge from our mess without further warfare, and that 2) the fury of hatred many Muslims show toward infidels is really a function of the humiliation they feel as the doormat of the West . The latter position is often used to place responsibility for Muslim terrorism on the West.

At the bottom of Harris' argument is the question of moral relativism. He passionately believes that moral relativism has gone too far in the present situation, that we need to not be afraid to say that some societies have less in terms of moral development than others. He believes as well that what is morally good can be objectively determined, and that science will play a role in this.
He gets into some of that in later chapters, but his full exposition is in his new book, The Moral Landscape.

Aside: I'm thinking now of the popular book Three cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Mortenson has sponsored the building of well over a hundred schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, mostly to educate girls. These are undoubtedly religious schools, but they're not madrassas by any means. Harris appears to have little confidence in efforts such as Mortenson's. Is Harris being defeatist?


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