Sam Harris has a new post with some comments on the recent Norway terrorist attacks which left me scratching my head a bit.
I have no issue with the first half, and agree that perhaps “Christian Fundamentalist” is the wrong label to attach to Breivik, especially given his deluded rantings that he calls a manifesto.
But then Harris jumps into this:
One can only hope that the horror and outrage provoked by Breivik’s behavior will temper the growing enthusiasm for right-wing, racist nationalism in Europe. However, one now fears the swing of another pendulum: We are bound to hear a lot of deluded talk about the dangers of “Islamophobia” and about the need to address the threat of “terrorism” in purely generic terms.
The emergence of “Christian” terrorism in Europe does absolutely nothing to diminish or simplify the problem of Islam—its repression of women, its hostility toward free speech, and its all-too-facile and frequent resort to threats and violence. Islam remains the most retrograde and ill-behaved religion on earth. And the final irony of Breivik’s despicable life is that he has made that truth even more difficult to speak about.
Which, on its face, is true, yet seems to quickly focus on the wrong issues.
If we’re just going to focus on the West, then “the problem of Islam” may be relatively minor compared to people like Breivik. The overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks in Europe over the past decade have not been due to Islamists, but rather to the Islamophobic white nationalists.
As Mehdi Hasan, editor of the New Statesman, has pointed out, figures compiled by Europol, the European police agency, suggest that the threat of Islamist terrorism is minimal compared with “ethno-nationalist” and “separatist” terrorism. According to Europol, in 2006, one out of 498 documented terrorist attacks across Europe could be classed as “Islamist”; in 2007, the figure rose to just four out of 583 - less than one per cent of the total. By contrast, 517 attacks across the continent were claimed by – or attributed to – nationalist or separatist terrorist groups, such as ETA in Spain.
It’s further worrying that Breivik’s scribblings mirror the regressive anti-feminist approach of the more repressive Islamic writers.
I think Harris really missed the chance to put a greater criticism out there on this issue, instead returning to his favourite topic. He could have exposed how it was Breivik’s absolutism and self-deluded belief that he held the Truth that allowed him to commit these atrocities. These faults are features of all major religions, and are what allow “good people to do bad things.”
I much prefer the words of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg: “Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity, but never naiveties.”
Stoltenberg isn’t calling for us to ignore sexism and abuse within Muslim communities (especially those within our own countries), but to rather reach out to these people and work in a humane way to improve conditions for all. Our goal should be the eradication of irrational beliefs through peaceful and democratic means.
Finally, in light of my words a couple days ago, here is a very tangible danger to associating ourselves with the wrong groups in our fight for secularism. Harris mentions how Ayaan Hirsi Ali was praised in Breivik’s work.
I’m not saying we need to abandon our works or temper our criticisms (Islam is still bad, but at least equally bad are self-righteous men and women like Breivik), but we need to recognize the absolutists and ensure we do not further their polarizing agenda. And on a more practical level, any association with the bigots will only work against us on a PR level.