In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with David Frum about the presidency of Donald Trump.
David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. In 2001–02, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris answers questions from listeners about his conversation with Jordan Peterson, the reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos at U.C. Berkeley, the “Muslim ban,” the echo chamber of social media, Trump’s lies, the value of the humanities, the ethics of ending aging, whether consciousness can be an illusion, evolution and morality, free speech and other topics.
Sam Harris and Bill Maher spoke about President Trump’s travel ban, Islamic extremism, and other topics on REAL TIME (2/3/17).
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris and Joseph Goldstein answer questions about the practice of mindfulness. They discuss negative emotions, the importance of ethics, the concept of enlightenment, and other topics.
A conference at Asilomar organized by the Future of Life Institute
Panel discussion moderated by Max Tegmark, including Elon Musk, Stuart Russell, Bart Selman, Ray Kurzweil, David Chalmers, Nick Bostrom, Demis Hassabis, Sam Harris, and Jaan Tallinn.
President Trump has had a busy first week in office, displaying the anarchic grandiosity, callousness, and ineptitude of which he seems uniquely capable. He is every inch what we knew him to be: a malignant Chauncey Gardiner. And now our institutions have begun to shudder at his whim. The fact that atheists like me can’t find the time to worry about the religious crackpots he has brought with him into power is a measure of how bad the man is. Christian fundamentalism has become the least of our concerns. Our democracy has been engulfed by a hurricane of lies.
Many readers have asked me to comment on the president’s executive order suspending immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries. I believe I’ve stated my positions on the relevant topics fairly clearly. But perhaps a brief summary is in order.
1. I did everything I could to make the case against Trump prior to the election (while many of the liberals now attacking me for enabling his “Islamophobia” actively undermined the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, even in the final days of the campaign).
2. I think Trump’s “Muslim ban” is a terrible policy. Not only is it unethical with respect to the plight of refugees, it is bound to be ineffective in stopping the spread of Islamism. As many have pointed out, it is also internally inconsistent: It doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, or Lebanon, any of which has been a more fertile source of jihadist terrorism than several of the countries Trump named.
3. However, most of what is being said in opposition to Trump’s order is thoroughly contaminated by identity politics and liberal delusion. The Left seems determined to empower the Right by continuing to lie about the problem of Islamism. As David Frum recently wrote, “When liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals won’t do.” I have been saying as much for more than a decade—and am vilified by my fellow liberals whenever I do.
4. It is perfectly possible—and increasingly necessary—to speak about the ideological roots of Islamism and jihadism, and even about the unique need for reform within mainstream Islam itself, without lapsing into bigotry or disregarding the suffering of refugees. Indeed, when one understands the problem for what it is, one realizes that secular Muslims, liberal Muslims, and former Muslims are among the most desirable allies to have in the West—and, indeed, such people are the primary victims of Islamist intolerance and jihadist terror in Muslim-majority countries.
5. If liberals who refuse to speak honestly on these topics continue to march with Islamists, denigrate free speech, and oppose the work of the real reformers in the Muslim community, they will only further provoke and empower Trump. And Trump, in turn, will empower Islamists the world over by threatening the civil liberties of all Muslims within his reach.
6. The next acts of jihadist terrorism to take place on American soil will most likely be met with terrifyingly blunt (and even illegal) countermeasures by the Trump administration. If all that liberals can do in response is continue to lie about the causes of terrorism and lock arms with Islamists, we have some very rough times ahead.
7. If you are listening to obscurantists like Linda Sarsour, Dalia Mogahed, Reza Aslan, and representatives of CAIR, and denigrating true secularists and reformers like Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Raheel Raza, and Sarah Haider, you are part of the problem.
Nothing that I have said or written about Islam, the war on terror, or even “profiling” stands in contradiction to these points.
What we need, above all, is a new center to our politics—one that defends secularism, science, and free speech against their enemies on both the Left and the Right. And now we each must choose between supporting that civilizing project or joining in the chaos to come.
I recently interviewed the psychologist Jordan B. Peterson on the Waking Up podcast. As I said at the beginning of our conversation, I’d received more listener requests for him than for Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Edward Snowden—or, indeed, any other person on earth.
The resulting exchange, however, was not what our mutual fans were hoping for. Rather than discuss religion and atheism, or the relationship between science and ethics, we spent two hours debating what it means to say that a proposition is (or seems to be) “true.” This is a not trivial problem in philosophy. But the place at which Peterson and I got stuck was a strange one. He seemed to be claiming that any belief system compatible with our survival must be true, and any that gets us killed must be false. As I tried to show, this view makes no sense, and I couldn’t quite convince myself that Peterson actually held it. The response on social media suggests that most listeners found our exchange as perplexing and frustrating as I did.
The main criticism directed at me has been that once we hit this impasse, I wasn’t a gracious enough host to let the dialogue proceed to other topics. I understand this complaint (and even anticipated it during the dialogue itself). But I feared that if we moved on to discuss the validity of religious faith, the power of myth, the reality of Jungian archetypes, or any of the more ethereal topics for which Peterson has become a celebrated exponent, without first agreeing on how sane and reasonable people can differentiate fact from fantasy, we were doomed to talk past each other with every sentence.
Peterson and I ended the podcast on a civil note, and I promised to have him back if our listeners wanted us to attempt to address other topics. He has since tried to clarify his position in a series of emails, one of which he has read publicly.
Here is part of that text (as emailed to me), in which he speaks about the necessity of finding a basis for ethics (i.e., answering the question “How should we act in the world?”) within a Darwinian framework:
Here’s an answer: individually, such that the family thrives; at the family level, so that society thrives; at the societal level, so that the ecosystem thrives—today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and across time. That’s the ultimate Piagetian equilibrated state (and Piaget, by the way—although few know this—was trying to solve the problem of the relationship between science and ethics. That’s what drove him his entire life).
The individual who acts in this manner is the mythological hero, who confronts the unknown with attention and intent to communicate, who obtains the gold from the eternal dragon of chaos (an evolved representation of the predatory/promising domain beyond the safety of the campfire), and who distributes that gold to the community. He rescues the youthful virgin from the predatory reptile. That’s St. George. It’s the oldest story we know of. It’s in the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian creation myth, upon which the opening lines of Genesis are historically predicated. Can’t you see the evolutionary relationship?
That’s the archetypal hero. That’s first, a way of behaving; second, a representation of acting; third, a way of organizing society around that action and representation; fourth, a society that then selects, through masculine competition, for the best contender to that representation; fifth, what is selected for by women, who peel off the top of the masculine competition. They outsource the impossible cognitive task of mate selection to the male dominance hierarchy. A hero emerges at the top of the competition. He gets all the girls. Human females are mother nature, the selection apparatus, the choosy maters (that female chimps are not).
The archetypal hero is a super-meme. It has been around so long that we have adapted, biologically, to its existence, just as we have adapted in every way to the three hundred million year old dominance hierarchy, which is more permanent—more real, even from a strictly realist perspective—than such evanescent phenomena as amphibians, reptiles, and mammals: older even [than] trees. The closer you are to the archetypal hero, the more likely you are, at least as a male, to win the dominance hierarchy contest that makes you attractive to women.
If Dawkins was wiser, he would have been Carl Jung. An archetype is the ultimate meme.
I trust that these are the sorts of claims that Peterson would have made had we moved on from the narrow question of what makes a statement true (or more true than its rivals). And I have no doubt that many of Peterson’s fans will think that the above passage puts his view on firmer footing. I disagree. In fact, I’m pretty sure I disagree with most of what Peterson says here, insofar as I understand it. Has human evolution actually selected for males that closely conform to the heroism of St. George? And is this really the oldest story we know? Aren’t there other stories just as old, reflecting quite different values that might also have adaptive advantages? And in what sense do archetypes even exist? These quibbles aside, isn’t it obvious that most of what we consider ethical—indeed, almost everything we value—now stands outside the logic of evolution?
In the year 2017, the question “How should we act in the world?” simply isn’t reducible to Darwinism. In fact, most answers to this question arise in utter defiance of the evolutionary imperatives that produced us. Caring for disabled children would most likely have been maladaptive for our ancestors during any conditions of scarcity—while cannibalism recommended itself from time to time in every corner of the globe. How much inspiration should we draw from the fact that killing and eating children is also an ancient “archetype”? Overcoming tribalism, xenophobia, honor violence, and other forms of apish barbarity has been unthinkable for hundreds of millennia—that is, until now. And our moral progress on these fronts is the basis of our most enlightened answers to Peterson’s question.
We didn’t evolve to do science, or to build institutions that last for generations, but we must do these things to thrive. Thriving requires the survival of the species, of course, but it’s not reducible to that. Getting our genes into the next generation simply isn’t our only (or even our primary) goal—and it surely isn’t the foundation of our ethics. If we were true Darwinians, every man’s deepest desire would be to continually donate sperm to sperm banks so that he could sire thousands of children for whom he’d have no further responsibility. If we really viewed the world from the perspective of our genes, no other answer to the question “How should we act in the world?” would seem more fitting. I’ll let readers judge how closely this maps onto the human minds with which they’re acquainted.
Peterson believes that there is an inverse symmetry to our views on the relationship between facts and values. According to him, I see “ethics as nested inside scientific realism,” whereas he sees “scientific realism as nested inside Darwinian competition” (which he views in ethical terms). A clearer way of stating this is that he thinks I locate all values within a system of truth claims, whereas he locates all truth claims in a system that selects for a single value: survival. Hence our stalemate.
But I have always said that the scientific worldview presupposes the validity of certain values—logical consistency (up to a point), explanatory elegance, respect for evidence, and so forth. This is why I think Hume’s famous gap between “is” (facts) and “ought” (values) is misleading on the topic of morality. We can easily reverse direction and discover that we won’t get to “is” without first obeying certain “oughts.” For instance, to understand what the cause of an illness is, one ought to pay attention to regularities in the body and in the environment that coincide with it. (Additionally, we now know that one ought to emphasize material causes, rather than sympathetic magic or the evil eye.) Facts and values are connected.
However, the fact that some values lie at the foundation of our scientific worldview does not suggest that all scientific truth claims can be judged on the basis of the single (Darwinian) criterion of whether the claimants survive long enough to breed. On the contrary, this assertion is quite obviously false (as I believe I demonstrated throughout our podcast). We can easily imagine our species being outcompeted by one that has no understanding whatsoever of the cosmos. Would a lethal swarm of disease-bearing insects possess a worldview superior to our own by virtue of eradicating us? The question answers itself—because no insect could even pose it. Mere survival doesn’t suggest anything about the intellectual or ethical achievement of the survivors.
Some who listened to my conversation with Peterson thought that in objecting to his conception of truth, I was endorsing materialism or denying that the mind could play any role in determining the character of reality. But that isn’t the case. I was merely arguing that Peterson’s peculiar form of pragmatism, anchored to the lone value of survival, can’t capture what we mean by “truth” (or even what most pragmatists mean by it).
I remain open to further exchanges with Peterson. But given the volume of complaints I’ve received about our first podcast, I need to know that my regular listeners really want that.
So I’ve launched a one-question poll on Twitter. If you have an opinion on the topic, please take a moment to answer it:
Should @jordanbpeterson and I do a second podcast in which we attempt to discuss religion, atheism, ethics and other topics?— Sam Harris (@SamHarrisOrg) January 23, 2017
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with psychologist Jordan B. Peterson about freedom of speech and the nature of truth.
Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and Professor at the University of Toronto. He formerly taught at Harvard University and has published numerous articles on drug abuse, alcoholism and aggression. He is the author of Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with author Lawrence Wright about al-Qaeda & ISIS, Arab culture, 9/11 conspiracy theories, the migrant crisis in Europe, Scientology, parallels between L. Ron Hubbard and Donald Trump, the Satanic cult panic, and other topics.
Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. His works of nonfiction include In the New World, Remembering Satan, The Looming Tower, Going Clear, and Thirteen Days in September. He has also written a novel, God’s Favorite. His books have received many prizes and honors, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower. His most recent book is The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.
As I continue to increase the scope of my work—which currently includes podcasts, books, audiobooks, videos, public talks, an app, blog posts, op-eds, documentary and television interviews, and other projects—the time has come to expand my team. I’m now looking for a full-time creative projects manager.
As my creative projects manager, you will help oversee my various publishing channels, which include:
I will be bouncing ideas off you and seeking your advice. Working with me will also put you in contact with some very interesting people. However, you will also have to function as an executive assistant — keeping my calendar, sorting through the 34,000+ emails currently in my inbox, booking podcast guests, planning my live events, etc.
The job will undoubtedly change over time. In fact, one of your primary responsibilities will be to find ways to help me that I haven’t thought of yet. If you are the right person for this position, we will eventually need to hire someone to do all the things you shouldn’t be doing, and our team will grow.
You will be able to do most of this work from home and generally set your own hours. However, you will occasionally need to be available during the evenings and on weekends. Pay will be competitive.Job Requirements
You needn’t have read all my books or listened to all my podcasts, but it is important that you be very familiar with my work and committed to furthering it. If you’re not a fan of the way I tackle polarizing topics and cross boundaries between intellectual disciplines, this isn’t the job for you.
You must be highly organized and well-informed. You should be a careful reader, writer, and editor, and you must have a strong sense of design as applied to apps, websites, videos, book covers, etc. Whatever your background, you should already possess the skills and experience that will make you effective in this role.
You must have:
And at least one of the following:
Please don’t apply for this position if your primary goal is to apprentice with me so that you can become an author, podcaster, science communicator, etc. To do this job well, you must actually want to be my creative projects manager.
If you think you’d be a good fit for this position, please complete the application linked below.
Wishing you all the best,
SamCreative Projects Manager Application
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Richard Dawkins at a live event in Los Angeles (second of two). They discuss Richard’s experience of having a stroke, the genetic future of humanity, the analogy between genes and memes, the “extended phenotype,” Islam and bigotry, the biology of race, how to find meaning without religion, and other topics.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Maajid Nawaz about the Southern Poverty Law Center, Robert Spencer, Keith Ellison, moderate Muslims, Shadi Hamid’s notion of “Islamic exceptionalism,” the migrant crisis in Europe, foreign interventions, Trump, Putin, Obama’s legacy, and other topics.
Maajid Nawaz is a counter-extremist, author, columnist, broadcaster and Founding Chairman of Quilliam – a globally active organization focusing on matters of integration, citizenship & identity, religious freedom, immigration, extremism, and terrorism. Maajid’s work is informed by years spent in his youth as a leadership member of a global Islamist group, and his gradual transformation towards liberal democratic values. Having served four years as an Amnesty International adopted “prisoner of conscience” in Egypt, Maajid is now a leading critic of Islamism, while remaining a secular liberal Muslim.
Maajid is an Honorary Associate of the UK’s National Secular Society, a weekly columnist for the Daily Beast, a monthly columnist for the liberal UK paper the ‘Jewish News’ and LBC radio’s weekend afternoon radio host. He also provides occasional columns for the London Times, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among others. Maajid was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate in London’s Hampstead & Kilburn for the May 2015 British General Election.
A British-Pakistani born in Essex, Maajid speaks English, Arabic, and Urdu, holds a BA (Hons) from SOAS in Arabic and Law and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics (LSE).
Wherever we look, we find otherwise sane men and women making extraordinary efforts to avoid changing their minds.
Of course, many people are reluctant to be seen changing their minds, even though they might be willing to change them in private, seemingly on their own terms—perhaps while reading a book. This fear of losing face is a sign of fundamental confusion. Here it is useful to take the audience’s perspective: Tenaciously clinging to your beliefs past the point where their falsity has been clearly demonstrated does not make you look good. We have all witnessed men and women of great reputation embarrass themselves in this way. I know at least one eminent scholar who wouldn’t admit to any trouble on his side of a debate stage were he to be suddenly engulfed in flames.
If the facts are not on your side, or your argument is flawed, any attempt to save face is to lose it twice over. And yet many of us find this lesson hard to learn. To the extent that we can learn it, we acquire a superpower of sorts. In fact, a person who surrenders immediately when shown to be in error will appear not to have lost the argument at all. Rather, he will merely afford others the pleasure of having educated him.
Intellectual honesty allows us to stand outside ourselves and to think in ways that others can (and should) find compelling. It rests on the understanding that wanting something to be true isn’t a reason to believe that it is true—rather, it is further cause to worry that we might be out of touch with reality in the first place. In this sense, intellectual honesty makes real knowledge possible.
Our scientific, cultural, and moral progress is almost entirely the product of successful acts of persuasion. Therefore, an inability (or refusal) to reason honestly is a social problem. Indeed, to defy the logical expectations of others—to disregard the very standards of reasonableness that you demand of them —is a form of hostility. And when the stakes are high, it becomes an invitation to violence.
In fact, we live in a perpetual choice between conversation and violence. Consequently, few things are more important than a willingness to follow evidence and argument wherever they lead. The ability to change our minds, even on important points—especially on important points—is the only basis for hope that the human causes of human misery can be finally overcome.
[206 contributors; 143,000 words:] Scott Aaronson, Anthony Aguirre, Adam Alter, Ross Anderson, Samuel Arbesman, Simon Baron-Cohen, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Thomas Bass, Nicolas Baumard, Gregory Benford, Jeremy Bernstein, Laura Betzig, Susan Blackmore, Giulio Boccaletti, Ian Bogost, Joshua Bongard, Raphael Bousso, Stewart Brand, David M. Buss, Jimena Canales, Nicholas Carr, Sean Carroll, Leo Chalupa, Ashvin Chhabra, Jaeweon Cho, Nicholas A. Christakis, Brian Christian, David Christian, George Church, Andy Clark, Gregory Cochran, Jerry A. Coyne, Helena Cronin, David Dalrymple, Richard Dawkins, Aubrey de Grey, Luca DeBiase, Sarah Demers, Daniel C. Dennett, Emanuel Derman, David DeSteno, Diana Deutsch, Keith Devlin, Jared Diamond, Rolf Dobelli, Scott Draves, George Dyson, Nick Enfield, Brian Eno, Juan Enriquez, Nancy Etcoff, Dylan Evans, Daniel Everett, Christine Finn, Stuart Firestein, Helen Fisher, Tecumseh Fitch, Jessica Flack, Steve Fuller, Howard Gardner, Michael Gazzaniga, James Geary, Amanda Gefter, Neil Gershenfeld, Gerd Gigerenzer, Bruno Giussani, Nigel Goldenfeld, Dan Goleman, Beatrice Golomb, Alison Gopnik, Kurt Gray, Tom Griffiths, June Gruber, Hans Halvorson, Sam Harris, Cesar Hidalgo, Roger Highfield, W. Daniel Hillis, Michael Hochberg, Donald Hoffman, Jim Holt, Bruce Hood, Daniel Hook, John Horgan, Sabine Hossenfelder, Nicholas Humphrey, Joichi Ito, Nina Jablonski, Jennifer Jacquet, Matthew O. Jackson, Kate Jeffery, Koo Jeong A, Gordon Kane, Stuart Kauffman, Kevin Kelly, Katherine Kinzler, Gary Klein, Jon Kleinberg, Brian Knutson, Bart Kosko, Stephen Kosslyn, Kai Krause, Lawrence Krauss, Coco Krumme, Robert Kurzban, Peter Lee, Cristine Legare, Martin Lercher, Margaret Levi, Janna Levin, Daniel Lieberman, Matthew Lieberman, Andre Linde, Antony Garrett Lisi, Mario Livio, Seth Lloyd, Tania Lombrozo, Jonathan B. Losos, Ziyad Marar, John Markoff, Chiara Marletto, Barnaby Marsh, Abigail Marsh, Ursula Martin, John C. Mather, Ian McEwan, Hugo Mercier, Yuri Milner, Read Montague, Richard Muller, Priyamvada Natarajan, John Naughton, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Richard Nisbett, Tor Nørretranders, Michael Norton, Peter Norvig, Hans Ulrich Obrist, James J. O’Donnell, Steve Omohundro, Bruce Parker, Irene Pepperberg, Clifford Pickover, Steven Pinker, David Pizarro, Robert Plomin, Ernst Pöppel, William Poundstone, Robert Provine, Richard Prum, Matthew Putman, Steven Quartz, David Queller, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Lisa Randall, Abbas Raza, Azra Raza, Martin Rees, Diana Reiss, Siobhan Roberts, Daniel Rockmore, Andrés Roemer, Phil Rosenzweig, Carlo Rovelli, David Rowan, Doulgas Rushkoff, Paul Saffo, Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Buddhini Samarasinghe, Robert Sapolsky, Roger Schank, Maximilian Schich, Laurence C. Smith, Simone Schnall, Bruce Schneier, Oliver Scott Curry, Gino Segre, Charles Seife, Terrence J. Sejnowski, Eldar Shafir, Michael Shermer, Seth Shostak, Gerald Smallberg, Lee Smolin, Dan Sperber, Paul Steinhardt, Victoria Stodden, Rory Sutherland, Melanie Swan, Tim Taylor, Max Tegmark, Richard Thaler, Frank Tipler, John Tooby, Eric Topol, Barbara Tversky, Athena Vouloumanos, Adam Waytz, Eric Weinstein, Linda Wilbrecht, Frank Wilczek, Jason Wilkes, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, Victoria Wyatt, Itai Yanai, Dustin Yellin
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Garry Kasparov about the problem of waning American power, the rise of Putin, the coming presidency of Donald Trump, computer chess, the future of artificial intelligence, and other topics.
Garry Kasparov spent twenty years as the world’s number one ranked chess player. In 2005, he retired from professional chess to lead the pro-democracy opposition against Vladimir Putin, from street protests to coalition building. In 2012, he was named chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, succeeding Václav Havel. He has been a contributing editor to the Wall Street Journal since 1991, and he is a senior visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School. His 2007 book, How Life Imitates Chess, has been published in twenty-six languages. He lives in self-imposed exile in New York with his wife Dasha and their children. His most recent book is Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped.
Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris
Nature: Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39589 (2016)
People often discount evidence that contradicts their firmly held beliefs. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that govern this behavior. We used neuroimaging to investigate the neural systems involved in maintaining belief in the face of counterevidence, presenting 40 liberals with arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views. Challenges to political beliefs produced increased activity in the default mode network—a set of interconnected structures associated with self-representation and disengagement from the external world. Trials with greater belief resistance showed increased response in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex. We also found that participants who changed their minds more showed less BOLD signal in the insula and the amygdala when evaluating counterevidence. These results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.
In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Richard Dawkins at a live event in Los Angeles (first of two). They cover religion, Jurassic Park, artificial intelligence, elitism, continuing human evolution, and other topics.
Over at Frontpage Magazine and Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer has published an essay titled “Sam Harris and the Collapse of the Counter-Jihad Left: A Failure of Nerve.” Here is my brief response:
I’m sorry to say that your career as a mind reader is off to a poor start. In fact, almost every claim you make about me in your essay is false. Allow me to clarify a few points:
1. I didn’t oppose Trump because I’ve gone soft on Islam. I opposed him because I believe he is an ignoramus, a con man, and a malignantly selfish and unethical person. I’m now in the uncomfortable position of hoping I’m wrong.
2. I didn’t support Clinton because I’ve gone soft on Islam. I supported her—despite her countless flaws—because I judged her to be preferable to Trump. In fact, one reason I supported Clinton is that I thought she would act more aggressively against jihadists than Trump would. (You may recall that many Trump supporters, and even Trump himself, derided Clinton as a warmonger and worried that she would entangle us in further conflicts in the Middle East.) Of course, you may disagree with that assessment. You may even believe that killing jihadists isn’t the best way to frustrate their aims. These are fair points to debate. But I hope you will concede that my actual reasons for voting as I did (however misguided you may consider them) contradict what you have written about me.
3. Regarding Clinton’s public statements about Islam, and the money her foundation took from Islamist theocrats, I’m not aware of anyone who has criticized her more pointedly than I have. But (to turn this new cliché about Trump supporters around) I took Clinton “seriously but not literally” when she spoke about the war on terror. And I know, as you surely do, that she wouldn’t have trained her drones on the Amish. Despite Clinton’s obscurantism about Islam, I believe she understands that 100 percent of jihadists are Muslim. As you know, it’s possible to speak honestly about this state of affairs without being a bigot. In fact, I wrote a section of a speech that I thought Clinton ought to give, spelling out the link between Islamic doctrine and Muslim violence while disavowing bigotry:
Needless to say, she didn’t take my advice. The point, however, is that I expected her to agree with what I wrote there. And for that reason I found her habit of dissembling about the religious roots of jihadism as galling as you did. As for my views about Muslim immigration, they are detailed in that speech. Once again, you may want to debate my reasoning, but please don’t question my motives. I oppose Islamism and jihadism as much as you do.
4. Although I cover many other topics in my work, I believe I have discussed the religious roots of jihadism as clearly as anyone has—and the book I wrote with Maajid Nawaz is no exception. If you think I’ve experienced a “failure of nerve” since Maajid and I wrote Islam and the Future of Tolerance, I invite you or any of your readers to find fault with my most recent statements on the topic. For instance:
5. As for Keith Ellison, the only time I’ve mentioned him was in 2011. My remarks can be found here, and I suspect you will agree with them:
I confess that I haven’t followed what Ellison has said since. Perhaps he has spoken with greater candor about Islam in recent years, and perhaps he hasn’t. Maajid didn’t consult me before endorsing Ellison to head the DNC, and I’ll leave him to discuss his thinking on that point. I can say one thing to a moral certainty, however: Maajid is no longer an Islamist. In fact, he is one of the bravest opponents of Islamism I know. He is also a tireless critic of identity politics as practiced by CAIR and similar groups. I’m confident that if Ellison turns out to be just another shady liar like Reza Aslan or Dalia Mogahed, Maajid will disavow him.
We each have a unique role to play in this war of ideas, Robert. And it would be only decent of you to recognize that Maajid has a harder job than either of us. In fact, the task he has set himself—to inspire a true commitment to secularism and liberal values throughout the Muslim world—may prove impossible. But the alternative is grim. I recommend that you stop questioning Maajid’s motives and give him your support—even if, for obvious reasons, he can’t afford to return the favor.
No doubt there is more to be said, but this short note will have to suffice for the time being. I invite you to publish it wherever you want. Perhaps it will clear up some confusion.