Sam Harris and the Paris terror attack
SAM HARRIS writes in his book, “The End of Faith,” that violence and murder are rooted in the Muslim religion itself. He argues that the world “is filled with poor, uneducated, and exploited peoples who do not commit terrorism that has become so commonplace among Muslims.” To support this idea, he claims that the Muslim world “has no shortage of educated and prosperous men and women, suffering little more than their infatuation with Koranic eschatology, who are eager to murder infidels for God’s sake.” For a Muslim, the world “is divided into the ‘House of Islam’ and the ‘House of War,’” Harris says. The neuroscientist seems to suggest that all Muslims, including women and children, are preordained toward violence.
The main thesis of his attack against Islam is that the holy war against infidels is a central feature of the Muslim faith. Harris cites Bernard Lewis, who has claimed that the duty of jihad will continue until all the world either adopts or submits to Muslim rule. Specifically, Harris tells us that hadiths justify attacks upon infidels and apostates. He further notes that if a Muslim loses his faith, the normative response, under Islam, is to kill him. In almost equating Islam to a religion of death, he adds that “the justice of killing apostates is a matter of mainstream acceptance, if not practice.”
Harris points out that because of our belief in God, acts of atrocities have occurred in the history of humankind. To prove his claim, Harris includes a historical survey of some of the events that hounded the Christian faith. For instance, during the Dark Ages, he claims that the Inquisition was nothing but the medieval Church’s infatuation with the eradication of heresy. And according to him, it came with murderous consequences. Harris notes that the “Holy Inquisition, beginning in 1184, was ordered by Pope Lucius III, to crush the Cathars and that it was in 1215, that the Inquisition used barbaric torture to extract confessions.”
Harris points out, in no uncertain terms, that “the men who perpetuated this were men of God—popes, bishops, friars, and priests,” and he even suggests that St. Augustine endorsed torture, saying that the saint suggested that “if torture can be used to those who break the laws of men, then it is appropriate to use it to those who break the laws of God.” He further adds that the persecution perpetuated by the Church “resulted [in] the murder of 40,000 to 50,000 witches in a 300-year span.”
In highlighting his own fundamentalist worship of science and secularism, Harris asserts that “all reasonable men and women have a common enemy—faith.” To back it up, Harris suggests that even if the standard of living or education of Muslims would improve, they would still pose danger to the West, for they murder, he argues, on account of myths. Harris opines that Muslims kill because of the promise of paradise, and so for an Islamist, “everything in their worldview is transfigured by the light of paradise.”
Harris rejects the position that Islamic fundamentalism is a result of the failure of political institutions in the Arab world. He pins all the blame on the Muslim faith. He asserts that it is religious moderation and tolerance for Muslim culture that have fueled the most recent conflicts and spate of violence in the world. Harris says that “religious moderation represents the failure to criticize the unreasonable and dangerous certainty of others,” specifically on what he says the Koran teaches about the use of violence against non-Muslims.
But Harris is wrong. Harris simply represents the prejudice against Muslims. His position is unfair to our Muslim brothers who work hard every single day and who are committed in creating a peaceful and just society. The problem with Harris is that his ethics amounts to nothing but moral absolutism. For him, the happy man is nothing but someone born out of the Enlightenment.
Harris rejects all forms of moral relativism on the basis of religious tolerance. He thinks that “to say that we can never agree on any question of ethics is like saying we can never agree on any question of physics.” For Harris, questions about culture or what we consider respect for diversity is nothing but “an intellectual holding pattern.” What this also means is that for people to be able to talk to each other, they must possess the same belief—the absolute faith in the physicochemical world of science.
When some sectors in society blame Islam for the Paris terror attack, they are in the wrong war. Terrorism is nothing but violence. And terrorism is a despicable act inflicted on our basic freedoms, obviously meant to subjugate human beings into a crippling submission by transforming the order of things into mindless chaos. The war on terror should not be a war against Islam. It is humanity’s war against evil.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. He is the author of the book, “Ethics and Human Dignity.”
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