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Sam Harris slurs Malala: Famed atheist wrongly co-opts teenager’s views

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Harris seems a bit desperate these days.

By Murtaza Hussain Salon.com

In an era of narcissistic self-obsession, there’s something to be said for the value of self-awareness. This week, atheist philosopher Sam Harris leapt forward to claim Malala Yousafzai as another trophy in his one-man jihad against Muslims and the weak-kneed “Muslim-apologists” he perceives on the left.

That Harris has been denounced as a crude, pseudo-intellectual bigot for his various tirades about the monolithic evil of Muslims didn’t do much to deter him; but what was most interesting about his latest missive was its complete disregard for Malala’s actual words and opinions. Either he didn’t listen to her words at all before plastering her face on his website or he was too contemptuous of her to think it necessary.

According to Harris:

Given the requisite beliefs…. an entire culture will support such evil. Malala is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. She is an extraordinarily brave and eloquent girl who is doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do—stand up to the misogyny of traditional Islam

It’s worth pausing here to listen to whether Malala thinks that she is standing up to her own evil culture and the misogyny of “traditional Islam”:

“The Taliban think we are not Muslims, but we are. We believe in God more than they do, and we trust him to protect us…..I’m still following my own culture, Pashtun culture….Islam says that it is not only each child’s right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility.”

Whatever one thinks of this, given that these are Malala’s beliefs, anyone with a modicum of decency or respect for her would not go ahead and use her suffering as a tool to attack the very things she is fighting to defend. Yet Harris takes up this opportunity with great vigor. For him it doesn’t matter whether Malala believed she was defending traditional Islam, because anyone who tries to differentiate Islam from the acts of extremists are part of the “tsunami of stupidity and violence breaking simultaneously on a hundred shores … the determination that ‘moderate’ Islam not be blamed for the acts of extremists.’”

Besides their own unique brands of extremist myopia (one formed in Ivy League universities, another in the illiterate villages of a war-torn country) what Harris and the Taliban also have in common are that neither considers Malala to be a genuine Muslim. Without even the pretense of substantiating his argument, Harris claims that criminals such as al-Qaida and Al Shabab – universally denounced among religious authorities in the Muslim world – have “have as good a claim as any to being impeccable Muslims.”

It’s unlikely that anyone who possessed even the tiniest legitimate regard for Malala’s struggle would co-opt her views so blatantly to pursue their own seething bigotries against her culture and beliefs. Endorsing Malala’s Nobel-worthiness and using her photograph without paying even minimal attention to her own views is emblematic of Harris’ naked condescension toward the “millions of Muslim women, freethinkers, homosexuals, and apostates” whom he constantly promotes himself as the savior of.

Aside from his flailing attempt to add Malala to the list of brown women in distress rescued by his virtuous blogging, Harris repeats a litany of facile arguments about terrorist violence that appears to evince near-absolute ignorance about the subject. According to Harris, although the terrorists who attacked the Boston Marathon and a soldier in Woolwich, England, both claimed to be acting due to “military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and said that “the only reason we did this is because Muslims are dying daily,” he alone knows that this is a cheap ploy to distract from their single-minded religious ecstasy.

For a man who believes that the Iraq War was fought for a great “humanitarian purpose,” it is obviously impossible to fathom how such an action could result in any form of “blowback” other than a bouquet of flowers and profound thanks. Harris goes forward to claim that since neither of the attackers were Afghan or Iraqi themselves, this is thus proof that their actions were apolitical and rooted solely in religion. How Harris knows this secret truth – a belief that stands in complete contrast to the actual claims of the perpetrators – is never really explained.

In Harris’ universe if Muslim terrorists claim to be acting in the name of a political cause, they are actually acting in the name of Islam. If, however, an activist such as Malala Yousafzai claims to be acting in the name of Islam, she is actually standing up against Islam and her own barbaric culture. Her own claims to the contrary in this formulation are irrelevant; she is little more than a prop to be used for Harris’ own self-aggrandizement.

As he helpfully adds about Malala toward the end of his piece: Her nomination is said to have noticeably increased anti-Western sentiment in Pakistan — a fact that deserves some honest reflection on the part of Islam’s apologists …

Given her own words, Malala is ostensibly among the “Islam apologists” he is targeting; but this doesn’t come into play in Harris’ myopic worldview. Although Malala may claim to be a devout Muslim acting in accordance with Islam, this is merely an inconvenient detail that can be safely ignored. Harris doesn’t cite how exactly he knows that her nomination has increased “anti-Western sentiment” in Pakistan or what exactly he’s basing this belief on; but he doesn’t have to. It’s simply another expression of the naked ignorance and fear of the brown, Muslim hordes on the other side of the Earth, which Harris has built his career on.

When you don’t even feel you have to listen to the voices of the people whose cause you’re championing, it’s a reasonable indication of the fact that this has less to do with them than with you. Malala Yousafzai deserves to be respected and understood on her own terms; Harris’ cringe-worthy attempt to co-opt her name and image is yet another ugly episode in an increasingly sordid intellectual career.

Murtaza Hussain writes on foreign policy and civil liberties for Al Jazeera and Prism Magazine. Follow on Twitter at @mazmhussain.

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  • El Cid

    It would appear his statistical concepts are wanting. A sample must be random if it is to represent the population…clearly not possible in that environment. Also he has no personal reference to that environment, never been there, or even close.

    Further any conclusions drawn from such a skewed sample is meaningless. As they say: There are statistics and statisticians, then there are statisticians who lie with statistics

  • El Cid

    Ha, ha, ha…the moderator did not have the courtesy, integrity or the honesty to allow the last concluding para…deleted it.

    This is how the dehumanization is done and the humanity taken out of the Taliban while the propaganda and rumors are spread Goebbels like around the World.

    But at least the whole post was not deleted as has been done often before.

    How do you people live with yourself and call yourself fair and just, even Muslim…talk about Spencer and Geller, what to believe now.
    Shame..!

  • El Cid

    You have misunderstood or are misinterpreting the premise. She has all the right to give up her religion, if she has one or has not done so already. That was not the contention.

    But no right to dehumanize and ‘light’ up others for death and destruction at call, dime, and Drone of the Farangi. That is what was implied. That is what she was/is doing.

    To stop her, an agent of the Farangi, from causing death and destruction of the families and homes of others is acceptable in Islam and war. Retaliation is mandatory, preemption is wisdom.

    The Taliban failed, their resolve crumbled, their aim wavered, compromised in their hesitation and compassion in pulling the trigger on a girl…never happens when faced with a uniformed invader.

    Shataan does not hesitate to use a child or a school uniform…Taliban don’t kill innocents, or those who appear so. The mind was ready to pull the trigger, heart and emotion said “No” and betrayed the mind.

    The Taliban are gentle just kind hospitable people…but hard on the Crusader Invader–western propaganda notwithstanding.

  • El Cid

    Intelligence work is done in separate ‘need to know’ units. No one knows how the pieces fit, or where. Only the very top ones have the key.

    Mallala did her unit. Only the Taliban were smarter. Much smarter and compassionate considering what she was doing to them.

    Warned her father ones orally. Thrice in writing. He rejected them, their compassionate warning and its repeated urgency.

    His handlers assured him, not to worry…that they are on it. They can handle it. Pakistan is rife with multiple layers of foreign operatives…a small army of them, of various persuasion.

  • El Cid

    “Intelligence agencies worthy of the name do not recruiteleven-year-olds.”

    They do.
    The top of the line Do.
    You obviously know nothing of them. How they operate.

    One correction. Mallala was offered for recruitment at age nine, not eleven as the media proclaims…by her father.

    This was after an older highly intelligent athletic prominent girl in Mingora, Swat, was first identified by agents, operating researching the area, and approached her and her parents.

    She and her parents were horrified. Totally and angrily rejected the offer, removed her from the school and ventured out only under armed guard…threatened retaliation if the pestering continued.

    As the word of the scandal spread, Mallala’s father seized the opportunity and promised to groom her till she was ready for the initiation…for regular payments, gifts, and promises of future rewards and visa/residence abroad.

    At eleven she was ready…

  • El Cid

    “Have you actually read what Malala has said?”

    You do me injustice…consider that I too indulge in ad-hominem as some of your ilk here do?

    ” innocent young woman as some sort of rabid wolf, fully engaged in a deliberate, diabolical plot to destroy Islam.”

    You don’t have the half of it:
    Shataan looks after Its own Demon Seed.

    As for innocence: Allah often puts the signature of ‘Angelic Innocence’ on ones face…even as Shataan stamps its own in return for temporal reward.

    And as they say a Picture is worth a Thousand Words:
    Demon Seed Mallala and Graced of Allah Nabella:
    [The Flip Tests Given in Sura89:15-16]
    Diabolical Evil vs Angelic Innocence…

  • El Cid

    “Then they should immediately give up their tribalism, ethnic supremacy, and brutality.”

    …a statement resultant of Western Brainwashing Propaganda and its internalization without a second thought or insight.

    Have you ever met a ‘Taliban’, whatever that is? Been to their land, know their culture, speak or understand their language, been host or guest to them? Broken bread, supped with them?

    If not, then you fail the litmus test required by the Noble Qur’an: Verify a rumor, spread it not. Most comments here fail that test.

    And your little xenophobic tribal group here exhibit the attributes you allege to others.

    Projection much?

  • Tanveer Khan

    Ah, I guess that’s true.

  • Sam Seed

    Yes, Master Khan.

  • Sam Seed

    Oops! How did that happen????

  • Tanveer Khan

    Are you saying that with age you get to know yourself more or something, Senor Sam?

  • Sam Seed

    But age does….

    “All types of knowledge, ultimately mean self knowledge.”

  • Guest

    But age does…

    “All types of knowledge, ultimately mean self knowledge”.

  • Tanveer Khan

    Knowledge does not discriminate. 🙂

  • Sam Seed

    Superb! Can’t believe you’re 14 Master Khan.

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