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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?
The Chinese philosopher is one who dreams with one eye open, who views life with love and sweet irony, who mixes his cynicism with a kindly tolerance, and who alternately wakes up from life's dream and then nods again, feeling more alive when he is dreaming than when he is awake.
Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living