Islam and the failure of western liberalism


Following is text from a dialogue I had on Facebook on Islam and the various charges of anti-Muslim bigotry that have been hurled, unfairly in my view, against Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, particularly after the infamous flare-up on “Real Time with Bill Maher” between Harris and Ben Affleck, and Dawkins’ series of Tweets on Ahmed Mohamed and his clock.

The discussion began when Steve Shives, who has been critical of Harris’s stance on profiling Muslims at airports, posted an article titled, “Atheists Have an Anti-Muslim Bigotry Problem,” by Trav Mamone at

The article opened with this:

On Monday, September 14, Ahmed Mohamed, a fourteen-year-old student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, was arrested after school officials believed his homemade clock was a bomb.Although Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd knew it wasn’t a bomb, Mohamed was arrested anyway on charges of bringing a “hoax bomb” to school. As soon as the story broke nationwide, many people vocally expressed support for Mohamed with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed, including many within the secular community—the Center for Inquiry, Sarah Morehead, and the American Humanist Association to name a few.

However, despite the overwhelming support for Mohamed, some prominent atheists instead chose to attack him. On September 18, Real Time host Bill Maher defended Mohamed’s arrest because “for the last thirty years, it’s been one culture that has been blowing shit up over and over again” [Correction: Bill Maher did say Ahmed Mohamed deserves an apology]. Also, Richard Dawkins suggested on Twitter that perhaps Mohamed “wanted to be arrested”(although, to be fair, Dawkins did condemn the police for arresting him). Indeed, Maher and Dawkins are two examples of prominent atheists whose criticisms of Islam only promote anti-Muslim bigotry. …

Here is the pertinent video referenced in the article, in which Maher, Mark Cuban and others discuss Ahmed’s case:

This is what I posted to Shives in reaction to the article’s basic thesis, that Harris, Dawkins and Maher are bigots:


Disappointing to see you take this stance since it’s not true.

To which, Edward Delaney responded:

It isn’t? You’ve never encountered anti-Muslim bigots in the atheist community?


It’s not true because the story Steve referenced is full of obfuscations. It specifically mentioned criticisms of Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins. Maher said Ahmed deserves an apology and “they were wrong,” referring to police and educational officials. Maher did not defend Ahmed’s arrest, as the story claims, so that was wrong. The story also cited Dawkins for claiming Ahmed wanted to be arrested, but the story even admits that Dawkins later condemned the police for the arrest.

On to the denigrating claim against Sam Harris. The man has collaborated with a Muslim reformer and has made the point ad nauseam now that he is only critical of the bad ideas behind Islam, not of the believers themselves.

If you all are prepared to reprimand Harris for speaking out on intolerance toward Islamic principles of jihad and matrydom, then I hope you all are also prepared to reprimand yourselves for intolerance against Christ worship, vicarious redemption and blood sacrifice because frankly, through the eyes of an atheist in which all messianic religions are equally noxious, I see no difference.


“Maher said Ahmed deserves an apology and “they were wrong,” referring to police and educational officials. Maher did not defend Ahmed’s arrest”, he said those things, but he also defended the arrest.
“cited Dawkins for claiming Ahmed wanted to be arrested, but the story even admits that Dawkins later condemned the police for the arrest. ”
And you do or don’t agree? Not sure how this makes it untrue, are you saying he didn’t say it in the first place or he didn’t condemn it?
As far as Harris goes, it’s not merely being intolerant towards jihad and martyrdom that anyone is prepared to reprimand him for. The guy said “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”
There’s no way that’s not a bigoted comment.

It sounds like the article is true and that you just don’t like what it’s saying for some reason.


I think the general tenor of the article was intellectually dishonest and misplaced. A reasonable person seeking to look at this issue without the PC blinders cannot watch the Maher video and conclude that Maher defended the arrest itself. He defended the fact that officials aired on the side of caution, given that the shooting took place half an hour away in Garland, and he said Ahmed deserved an apology. When Mark Cuban said “he should have not been arrested but he should have opened his mouth and had a conversation about it,” Maher said “right.” Police and school officials clearly overreacted and should have, if they were going to do anything, conducted an on-site investigation without taking the kid off in cuffs, but I don’t think what Maher said was a defense of the arrest. I was just pointing out that the article uses the rather strong word, “attack,” in criticizing what Maher and Dawkins have actually said on the subject. In what universe have Maher and Dawkins “attacked” Ahmed? To suggest such makes them sound like raving, hate-filled bigots who cannot tell the difference between criticizing bad ideas and tearing down individuals as people, and it’s absurd.

On Harris, the first thing to say is looking for individuals who might be terrorists at airports — in other words, those who fit a certain profile — is not “racial profiling,” as the article suggests. It’s just profiling in the general sense. Law enforcement look for suspicious people all the time who fit a certain profile. Followers of literalists readings of the Koran and hadith — potential Muslim jihadists, in other words — are obviously not of any one race and can be white, black or anywhere in between and can come from virtually any nation on earth. In any case, Harris’ point — I don’t actually think it’s tenable in practice — was more about excluding certain people from the “profile” of who we should be looking for and not wasting precious resources on people who are clearly not jihadists purely for fairness’ sake (80-year-olds in wheel chairs, for instance). To suggest anything else is an oversimplification of what he has said. If not “Muslims,” what other word would you have suggested he use to look for potential jihadists who take their marching orders directly from the Koran and the hadith? I think it’s safe to say radicalized Quakers and Jains aren’t going to cause any problems at airports. It’s this kind of dishonesty about what the actual problem is — those who adhere to literal interpretations of the Koran and hadith and who seek to unmake modernity in establishing a caliphate — that is going to get us nowhere.

That’s where the conversation has ended at the moment. I will update this file if Delaney or someone else offers a retort. I realized that once I criticized Shives, whom I agree with on more topics than not by the way, and came to the defense of Harris and Co., the discussion would take a predictable turn, with little attempts to actually understand Harris’ arguments, and so-called liberals — and with them a veritable cavalcade of dishonest sophists like Reza Aslan, Dean Obeidallah, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uygur and other Muslim apologists, claiming to be dedicated to free speech and enlightenment principles but who are quick to castigate someone as bigoted and Islamophobic for daring to hold Islam to higher standards than those on offer from the 15th century.

If the point hasn’t been made clearly enough made by now, political correctness and “soft” western liberal sensibilities, the kind that led to Affleck’s embarrassing display on Maher’s show, are doing a disservice to progressivism itself at the expense of the real victims in all this, namely women, gays, freethinkers and skeptics who have to live in the shadows in places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria precisely because of the literalist strain of Islam and its multigenerational grip on the region.

Islamism is the symptom, and religion is the poison.

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

2 Comments on "Islam and the failure of western liberalism"

  1. Steve Shives has begun sinking to the level of intellectual dishonesty of the likes of Glenn Greenwald by falsely attributing things to Sam Harris and Dawkins, including being bigots and wilfully misrepresenting their words.

    Some of his followers have tried pointing out his inaccuracies and simply been banned or had their comments deleted.

    Shades reminiscent of CJ Werlemen trying to fling shit at Sam Harris to get more attention. Unsure what his true motives are, he doesnt come across dishonest like Werlemen though. Perhaps he’s incapable of distinguishing criticism of islam from genuine bigotry toward muslims?

  2. Jay: I'm with you. I don't know if I have been banned or not since I have largely stopped watching his stuff because of the issues you mention, but I was one of his followers who disagreed with him on his opinion of Harris, and we sparred a time or two in the comment section on Facebook. After checking, it appears that he has indeed "defriended" me on Facebook. I haven't thought to look because frankly, I wasn't terribly interested in hearing what he had to say anymore, since he apparently is only interested in dismissing Harris and Dawkins as bigots rather than actually taking the time to read and understand their arguments. This unwillingness to honestly deal with what they have actually said, particularly with Harris, rather than what he perceives are their prejudices, of course, negatively colors whatever else he might have to say on other topics, so I have tuned out for now. If you have followed Harris since The End of Faith was released through today, you will find that he has been remarkably consistent on the topic of Islam and religion in general. In my view, Harris hasn't changed, and I don't recall liberals bashing him after his The End of Faith came out. He was endlessly praised. What about A Letter to a Christian Nation? Where are the liberals saying that Harris hates Christians? Liberals in their quickness to castigate those who dare to challenge Islam are the ones who have changed.

    Like you, I certainly thought Shives was more reasonable and intellectually honest than people like Greenwald and Werleman, and for awhile, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    You said: "Perhaps he's incapable of distinguishing criticism of islam from genuine bigotry toward muslims?" I doubt that this is the case, since he's clearly capable of making and understanding nuanced arguments on other topics. I think it's either that Shives hasn't read or listened to Harris' full argument on Islam and jihadism or he is simply falling in lockstep with the regressives because it's easier, that's the path of least resistance, and of course, he'll win more fawning supporters that way.

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