An atheist critique of Sam Harris

A former Muslim, Theodore Sayeed, writes a long article criticizing Sam Harris and his godless militarism on Mondoweiss:

For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their “reflexive solidarity” with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work. The End of Faith opens with the melodramatic scene of a young man of undetermined nationality boarding a bus with a suicide vest. The bus detonates, innocents die and Harris, with the relish of a schoolmarm passing on the facts of life to her brood, chalks in the question: “Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy-you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it-easy to guess the young man’s religion?”

To which historians will answer: Because it is not….

It occurs to me that as much of a renegade as I am from Islam, I’m not alone in my betrayal. Sam Harris too is an apostate from the intellectual atheist tradition of Russell and Mencken that was built on the twin pillars of anti-mysticism and anti-militarism.

I found it interesting that Sayeed begins with precisely the same quote from The End of Faith that I did, and notes precisely the same blunder which many atheists unsuccessfully attempted to defend back in 2008. One thing Sayeed caught that I did not is Harris’s tribal identification with Israel and his continued attempts to defend Israeli militarism despite his repeated condemnations of tribalism. Readers may recall that in my own email exchange with Harris, he admitted that he was actually attacking tribalism rather than religious faith; the primary danger of religious faith was that it had the potential to create and exacerbate tribalism.

But, as Sayeed demonstrates, despite his atheism, Harris himself appears to be subject to a tribalism that is older than either Christianity or Islam, the two religions he primarily criticizes. And it is potentially significant to note how little he criticizes either Judaism or Israel, despite the fact that there is considerable criticism of the latter from secular Europeans who share his atheism.

Now, I don’t dislike Sam. Unlike Dawkins and Myers, I don’t think he’s an intrinsically dreadful individual. But his primary problem, aside from his apparent tribalism, is that he is simply not sufficiently detail-oriented or logical enough to be capable of successfully addressing the intellectual challenges he sets himself.