Atheist Sam Harris and Islamism apologist Cenk Uygur engaged in a face-off debate on Uygur’s cable show, The Young Turks, over whether or not Islam is violent. During the three-hour debate, Uygur accused Harris of being biased against Islam.
The interview was informative and wide-reaching on its subject matter, but it featured a constantly interrupting Uygur, who pounced on many points before Harris was through responding, only to agree somewhat with Harris’s points when Harris was allowed to finish expounding on them.
At the top of the interview, Harris went on a tear against the many commentators he feels have taken him out of context and distorted his views, even calling what many of them have said about him–including Uygur–a form of “pure slander.”
At one point, Uygur bristled at Harris’s claims that Islam is a particularly violent religion because of the image of Mohammad himself. Uygur claimed that nearly every religious text has some violence in it. But Harris countered that among the world’s religions, only Mohammad is portrayed as a vicious warrior figure. Jesus, by comparison, is presented as a “hippie who got crucified.”
Harris cautioned, as he often has, that he is not claiming that every Muslim is terror-prone. But he did note that Islam is currently the only major religion that supports stoning, homosexual hangings, honor killings, and other extreme violence.
Still, the discussion was mostly civil, and Harris got the last ten minutes to go into detail about some of his more controversial statements.
But these controversial statements are hardly anything new. Harris has been at the forefront of criticizing Islam for over a decade.
In 2004, for instance, Harris asserted that we are in a war against Islam, but not a war against “all Muslims”:
It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism.” We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy–and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.
Certainly, Harris has been a lightning rod for criticism since the early 2000s, and opponents abound. Recently, Muslim apologist Reza Aslan accused Harris of being paranoid and said that he thinks Harris feels that “he is completely under siege by everyone, that everyone is out to get him.”
Aslan also called Harris “uninformed” and “unsophisticated.”
Along with Bill Maher, Harris was one member of the tag team who slapped down lefty actor Ben Affleck on Islam a few weeks ago when Affleck tried to claim that Islam is not a radical ideology.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.