Sam Harris talks Islam, politics, Twitter, and Trump with Kara Swisher
Posted on May 8th, 2019


Sam Harris, the host of the podcast Making Sense, and author of books such as Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
 Courtesy Sam Harris

For the better part of two decades, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris has been a popular — and controversial — critic of organized religion, and in particular Islam. In a new episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, he said that although he disavows anyone in his audience who would use his work as justification for bigotry, he still believes that we need to have a tough conversation about violent jihadism and a culture of acceptance” from regular Muslims.

Islam has problems and points of conflict with modernity and secular culture and civil society, and a value like free speech that Mormonism doesn’t have, or the Anglican Communion doesn’t have, or Scientology,” Harris said, adding, All the beliefs around martyrdom explain the character of Muslim violence we’re seeing throughout the world. And if they had different doctrines, they would behave differently.

And I’m not talking about all Muslims, I’m talking about the power of specific ideas on a subset of adherents to Islam — and how big that subset is is open for debate,” he added. It’s not as small as we would like. It’s not as big as right-wing nutcases fear, but it’s big enough to be of significant consequence such for the rest of our lives, we are going to be talking about this problem.”

Recode’s Kara Swisher asked Harris to contrast two recent terror attacks: The Easter Sunday bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which were attributed to people inspired by or possibly directed by ISIS; and the mass shootings during services at two mosques in New Zealand, attributed to at least one man with apparent awareness of white supremacist internet memes. Harris compared the latter to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the United States, as an example of a crazy person who snaps.”

The cases that worry me the most are the cases where you have an ideology that’s so powerful and captivating that totally normal people, without real terrestrial grievances, can be inducted into it and do the unthinkable because of simply what they believe,” he said. White supremacy is an ideology, I’ll grant you. It doesn’t link up with so many good things in a person’s life that it is attracting psychologically normal non-beleaguered people into its fold.

In reality, white supremacy, and certainly murderous white supremacy, is the fringe of the fringe in our society and any society,” Harris added. And if you’re gonna link it up with Christianity, it is the fringe of the fringe of Christianity … You cannot remotely say any of those things about jihadism and Islam.”

The new episode is a wide-ranging conversation that also touches on — among other topics — why Harris rejects the idea of identity politics; why he also rejects and denounces President Trump; and whether Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey should shut the whole service down and declare it a wash.

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts, and Overcast.

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