Friday, August 08, 2014

In midst of Gaza Conflict, Religious Dispatches Finds an Opportunity to Attack Sam Harris and Lie About Hamas

Atheist thinker Sam Harris has a new podcast with text and supplemental text, "Why I Don't Criticize Israel," in which he does in fact criticize Israel. To mention four specifics, he attacks the concept of a "Jewish" state, criticizes Jewish extremists (though underplays their significance and incorrectly assumes they are declining), calls for an end to funding of settlements, and says the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes.

On the other hand, Harris correctly says that the Israelis have used restraint and then he says something true that was almost guaranteed to get him in trouble with certain people.

Here is the major point of Harris' article.

The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews. 
As might be expected, the religious progressive site "Religious Dispatches" is up quickly with an attack on Harris. It's not RD's first attack on Harris.  Harris was denounced as an Homophobes (he responded here), attacked for criticizing the Quran, attacked for criticizing Obama's pick to head the National Institute of Health, and attacked him in an article urging Atheists to oppose Islamophobia, and naturally his book on morality was lambasted.

There's nothing some people like more than the opportunity to attack an atheist and promote a benign view of Islam. So it is not surprising that Religious Dispatches has an attack on Harris' views on the Gaza conflict.

Ussaid Siddiqui's article "In Gaza Siege, Atheist Author Sam Harris Finds Yet Another Opportunity to Disparage Islam " avoids confronting Harris's essential point with some intellectual flim-flam.

British Muslim activist Mehdi Hasan took a different tack recently when he wrote an honest and revealing article: "The sorry truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected the British Muslim community".It's too bad Siddiqui didn't have the same intellectual courage to confront a real, urgent problem, instead of dishing up cheap Harris-bashing.

What we get instead is a confused and, at least in part, dishonest attack on Harris. Siddiqui writes that the Hamas Charter "allegedly" advocates the destruction of Israel and asserts, to refute Harris, "before the [2006] parliamentary elections, Hamas removed the call to destroy Israel from their charter." (emphasis added)

Siddiqui accuses Harris of "discount[ing]" this.  With good reason since it didn't happen.

The omission  was only in the Hamas electoral platform. Hamas has not altered, changed, or amended its charter.

Confusing the Hamas Charter and its election manifesto is a an elementary mistake that a competent journalist would not make and which a reputable website like Religious Dispatches should have caught.
 
The Hamas Charter is, in fact, one of the most hateful, antisemitic, and genocidal document around. To use "allegedly" as Siddiqui does is simple dishonet,

Chapter Seven of the Hamas Charter, for example, states "The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: 'The day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say 'O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

And, Siddiqui would have us believe that there are no theological roots to Islamic antisemitism.

It should also be noted the Siddiqui writes that Christians make up nearly 20 percent of the Palestinian population. In fact, according to wikipedia, the figure is 6 percent.
  
A simple fact gone wrong, but perhaps not so simply.  Siddiqui doesn't want to confront the extremism of Hamas, so instead of discussing Harris' views and the present reality of Hamas and other Islamist groups, he presents a long digression about the non-golden and non-anti-golden age of Islamic tolerance.  Siddiqui imputes to Harris an essentialist view of Islamic hostility to Jews that Harris does not assert in this article.  Harris does not argue, at least in this podcast/article that Muslim anti-semitism goes back to the origins of Islam. The effort to refute views that Harris does not advance is really misplaced.

Just this week, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan, refused to disavow his assertion that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood in matzah. It might be nice if religious progressives paid attention to Hamas's antisemitism instead of engaging in Sam Harris-bashing.

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