Sam Harris on Liberal denial of Islamic extremism
I have been a supporter of Sam Harris' book End of Faith, because I think it provides a much needed antidote to the pieties and politeness surrounding religios dogma in our society. But here I think he gets a lot of things wrong. Or rather, I think he's attacking a conspiracy theory America rather than Liberal America:
At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.While these statistics are somewhat disturbing, I don't think they suggest a particularly liberal form of malaise. Indeed, Harris does not even present evidence that these conspiracy theories were held more by Liberals than by those with other political leanings. Nor does he present evidence that Liberals hold more dangerous conspiracy theories than Conservatives do.
I find myself largely agreeing with Kevin Drum's critique:
It's that broad support that we need to target, and that's why we should focus our efforts on things like public diplomacy, economic engagement, and working seriously with multilateral institutions. It's not because liberals don't understand the threat, it's because liberals seem to be the only ones who do understand the threat these days — namely that public opinion in the Muslim world is our biggest problem, and conventional military action only makes this problem worse. Harris has some catching up to do if he wants to join the conversation.That being said, I think Harris does have a point that there is some real violent pathology in certain forms of Islam, and that it is more widespread than some kind-hearted liberals would like to think it is. But I think he misses the mark when he accuses liberals of letting our hatred of Bush blind us to the danger of Islamic extremism. I would say it's the opposite: because we liberals are aware of the danger of Islamic extremism, and because we see how much worse Bush's actions are making it, therefore we hate Bush.