Friday, May 9, 2008

Contradiction Watch 2

Update: Sloppy Watch/Weaselly Watch

A reader in the comments section below helpfully pointed out one important flaw with the premise of this blog essay
to wit, that the crucial Sam Harris quote I used to demonstrate one pole of Robert Spencers contradiction was not located in the essay of Harriss which Spencer unreservedly praised, but came rather from a separate talk Harris gave.

While my reader has noted other statements from the Harris essay that could be used to represent the anti-Islam pole of the contradiction, they are not as stark as the one I provided in #1 below: they permit too much of a fudge factor for master weasels like Spencer. Even if Spencer becomes aware of the stark statement by Harris, what would he do? It is highly likely, given the way Spencer has comported himself in the past in such tight spots of near-contradiction created by his gymnastic sophistry, that he would find a way to weasel out, somehow: he would use masterfully slippery language
combined with unnecessary, bristly prickliness spiced with an arrogant wit intended to affect a relaxed nonchalanceto simultaneously continue supporting Harris unreservedly and continue standing firmly for his equivocal non-position regarding the condemnation of Islam. Furthermore, it has been four days since a reader of Jihad Watch posted (on May 6) the crucial Sam Harris quote in the comments field of the Dhimmi Watch article; so Spencer has had ample time to weigh in with his response, whether weaselly, or whether cogently (I have noticed his eagle eye spot and respond to comments in numerous different comments fields over the yearsthough here, as in other ways, he could maintain plausible deniability if he chooses). In general principle, then, my post here is still relevant.

However, in my haste to put up this post, I have been sloppy: I had not read the Harris essay closely enough. I now see problems with Harris. He is not the unequivocally no-nonsense critic of Islam I took him to be: while he excellently frames many aspects of our Problem of Islam, he also regrettably uses such asymptotic terms as
Islamist; and one quote particularly is troubling:

Only our willingness to openly criticize Islam for its all-too-obvious failings can make it safe for Muslim moderates, secularists, apostatesand, indeed, womento rise up and reform their faith.

This quote absurdly calling for Islamic reform could have come straight out from the Spencerian mill. (It also goes a long way toward explaining why his essay managed to be accepted for publication by the notoriously soft-on-Islam venue, The Huffington Post, of all places—as Spencer put it, tossing a light pebble in his own glass house.)

I nevertheless retain my original post, which follows in its entirety. Readers will note that what I have written directly above contradicts my
Conclusion at the end belowbut unlike Spencer, I will not try to weasel out of my contradiction: I avow it, and I decidedly choose only one of its positions (that Sam Harris, alas, fails in a couple of key ways to be the kind of anti-Islam analyst we need).

Here follows my post in its entirety:

#1 and #2 below will show that Robert Spencer contradicts himself at best
—or is engaging in gymnastic sophistry at worst.

I cannot think of a third option to explain the incompatibility between #1 and #2:

  • We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so.

    — Sam Harris, from his essay Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks.

  • Sam Harris speaks truth to power. . . All of this essay is excellent.

    Robert Spencer, from the Dhimmi Watch article that features an extended excerpt of the Sam Harris essay.

  • To say that Islam is a dangerous, violent religion is simplistic and misleading because Islam is many things.

    Robert Spencer, from this Jihad Watch article.


Enough is enough. We need our leaders and analysts in the Anti-Islam Movement to cut the bull. Sam Harris does an admirable job in his essay. Spencer is still dancing around the central point. In fact, he can
t really be said to be part of the Anti-Islam Movement, can he? For, in his own words, he is not anti-Islam”!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Harris' "We are at war with Islam" quote was from a different source, probably from his book 'The End of Faith.' Hence, Spencer has not contradicted himself here in terms of endorsing an unqualified condemnation of all of Islam.

Yet Harris does say it, in more words, in the cited Huff post article, but the closest he comes in actual labeling is this: "...the world's most important culture war: the zero-sum conflict between civil society and traditional Islam."

...and again from the Huff post article:

"All of their talk about how benign Islam "really" is, and about how the problem of fundamentalism exists in all religions, only obfuscates what may be the most pressing issue of our time: Islam, as it is currently understood and practiced by vast numbers of the world's Muslims, is antithetical to civil society."

The other three quotes in Kinana's post in that dhimmiwatch thread were from Harris' address to an atheist organization.