A reader writes:
"I respect Sam Harris, but he is dangerously off base here on Islam. No basis for a pluralistic wordview? Come on. He needs to visit Turkey. He will find at least 50 million people who must have done "some seriously acrobatic theology to get an Islam that is compatible with 21st century civil society." Or go to Indonesia, there's another 100 million there. Or how about Southern India, where Islam and Hinduism peacefully coexist with Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism and Zoroasterism? How's that for plurality? In Hyderabad, I saw many Muslim women in their black chadras casually gossipping and laughing with their Sari-clad Hindu friends. I saw this scene far too many times to believe that Muslims are incapable of religious pluralism. And how does Mr. Harris account for the fact the Mogul emperors ruled India for about 400 years without imposing their Islam on the majority Hindu poplulace? I would say the Moguls were the world's greatest example of a religiously pluralistic government, not a product of an inherently intolerant religion.
Of course, the Wahabis are dangerous fanatics, and they are widely prevelant in Afghanistan. But we would make a grave miscalculation if we assumed that all Muslims share the intolerance of the Wahhabbi. Sam's attitude that we must change Islam is wrong. Most Muslims are perfectly harmless and even enjoyable company. We really need to defeat the Wahhabi strain of Islam, which is something most Muslims would be happy to see."
I haven't read Harris' book, but I hope to after I've finished my own (nearly there). My own view is more in line with the reader's. What Harris doesn't grasp sufficiently, perhaps, is the variation within all religion. There is an absolutist, fundamentalist, authoritarian tendency in all monotheisms. Right now, that tendency is ascendant in all the major faiths - but it has become particularly dangerous in Islam. The problem is not religion as such, or faith as such. The problem is fundamentalism, and its certitude. There is another kind of religious faith - more rooted in doubt, more subject to humility in front of the ineffability of an ultimately unknowable God, less abstract, more sacramental. That kind of religion, which sees the different faith of others as an invitation rather than a threat, is compatible with liberal democracy. And it's that faith we have to recover and reinvigorate if we are to combat the excesses of both Islamic and Christian fundamentalists, and their political ambitions.
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