Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sam Harris: Right message, wrong topic

Sam Harris describes what truly moderate Muslims ought to be saying about their faith. And he's not wrong. But tying this in with the Not-at-Ground Zero Not-a-mosque is unwise at best. If as "Gnu Atheists" (that seems to be the new in vogue term) we don't want people to mistake our forthright criticism as bigotry, then we should not be cheering on the voices of bigots!

I'm so disillusioned right now. Harris, Hitchens, Susan Jacoby, to a certain extent Coyne and PZ... they are all jumping on the "Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque"-(which is not a mosque)-"at Ground Zero"-(which is not at Ground Zero)-"but they shouldn't!" bandwagon, failing to see that they are playing right into the hands of Christianist theocrats and partisan demagogues. Judging from the links on, I suspect he may have fallen for it too.

Now is not the time, folks. The opposition to Park51 is primarily based on xenophobia and "Christianofascist" activism, not on high-minded critiques of Islamic theology. Those who truly value secularism and liberalism need to be speaking out against the former, because that's the threat right now.

I'm glad Harris invoked the "Danish cartoon controversy", because it occurs to me that the atheist community is making the same misstep that the moderate Muslim community made in the wake of that whole brouhaha. When there are people burning embassies and making death threats over a fucking cartoon, even mentioning that you happen to find the cartoons distasteful makes you look like a grade-A asshole. Similarly, when there are angry mobs hassling dark-skinned construction workers near Ground Zero, when there are mainstream candidates for Congress declaring that Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment -- bringing up your philosophical positions on the dangers of Islamic theology in that context makes you come across like a real jerkoff.

Priorities, people. Fight the theocratic xenophobes first. Then worry about whether Imam Rauf -- who may be many things, but is clearly not a theocrat -- is doing enough to promote moderation among his fellow Muslims.

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