shortdangerousbooks.com Think Free or Die.
These are excerpts from “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”, a conversation between atheist Sam Harris, author of “End of Faith” and former radical Islamist Maajid Nawaz, author of “Radical”.
I offer this condensed version to encourage everyone to read this book, particularly those who consider themselves liberal, supporters of free speech and human rights. In the words of authors Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz:
Harris The public conversation about the connection between Islamic ideology and Muslim intolerance has been stifled by political correctness. [Many] white, liberal non-Muslims equate any criticism of Islamic doctrines with bigotry, “Islamophobia” or even “racism”. Their influence is as intellectually embarrassing as it is morally problematic.
Nawaz A great liberal betrayal is afoot. Many “fellow travelers” of Islamism are on the liberal side. I call them “regressive leftists”; they are in fact reverse racists. While they rightly question their “own” Western culture, they censure liberal Muslims who attempt to do so within Islam, and [instead] side with every regressive reactionary in the name of “cultural authenticity” and anticolonialism. Identity politics and the pseudo-liberal search for cultural authenticity result in nothing but competing medieval religious or cultural assertions, fights over who are the “real” Muslims, ever increasing misogyny, homophobia, sectarianism, and extremism. This is a remnant of the socialist approach that prioritizes group identity over individual autonomy. The people I really worry about are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims – all the vulnerable and bullied individuals who in many cases [are] violently assaulted or killed merely for being against the norm.
Harris These “fellow travelers” have made it nearly impossible for well-intentioned, pluralistic, liberal people to speak honestly on this topic – leaving only fascists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing lunatics to do the job. Millions of Muslim freethinkers are hiding out of necessity. That’s why I find the liberal backlash against critics of Islam and the pernicious meme “Islamophobia” so insufferable.
Islam and the Future of Tolerance
Harris I’m not sure how much we agree about Islam or about the prospects for reforming the faith [but] my primary goal is to support you.
Nawaz I appreciate that. [We] are walking a tightrope. A lot of people do not want us to move forward. The first time we met was a rather inauspicious meeting.
Harris In Oct 2010, I attended the Intelligence Squared debate in which you were pitted against my friends Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Douglas Murray. Ayaan said “I’d like to know whether Sam Harris has anything to say.” I said this:
“Majiid, I have a question for you. It seems to me you have a nearly impossible task … to convince the world – especially the Muslim world – that Islam is a religion of peace. But the problem is Islam isn’t a religion of peace, and the so-called extremists are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine. You must pretend that jihad is just an inner spiritual struggle, whereas it’s primarily a doctrine of holy war. Is [it] a matter of pretending certain things are true long enough and hard enough so as to make them true?”
Nawaz What can unite us is a set of religion-neutral human, democratic and secular (in the British and American sense) values. [The alternative is] polarization between those who [both] insist that Islam is a religion of war, and then proceed to engage in war for or against it. That would be an intractable situation.
Nawaz My honest view is that Islam is not a religion of war or of peace. It’s a religion. Its sacred scripture, like those of other religions, contains passages many people would consider extremely problematic. Religion does not inherently speak for itself; no scripture, no piece of writing has its own voice. I said Islam is a religion of peace simply because the vast majority of Muslims today do not subscribe to its being a religion of war.
Harris Let’s proceed in a spirit of greater optimism than may seem warranted by our first meeting.
The Roots of Extremism
Nawaz [Whether] we in the West failed to intervene in the Bosnian genocide [or] did intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq [or] failed to intervene in Syria, Muslims became radicalized.
Harris Two things made the West’s intervention in Bosnia uniquely inoffensive from a Muslim point of view. We didn’t have to invade a Muslim country to do it, and the operation entailed bombing non-Muslims. Saddam Hussein was a universally hated secular tyrant. But the moment a coalition of non-Muslim states attacked him, much of the Muslim world was outraged that “Muslim lands” were being invaded by infidels.
Harris One of the problems with religion is that it creates a in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one’s own group are behaving like psychopaths. When we did eventually intervene in Bosnia, for purely humanitarian reasons, we didn’t get much credit for it.
Nawaz Absolutely. Grievances are relevant in priming young, vulnerable individuals to receive ideological dogma through charismatic recruiters [which] frames one’s worldview; it becomes the language we speak. Grievances will exist until the end of time. People often blame poverty or a lack of education for radicalization, but a disproportionate number of terrorists come from highly educated backgrounds.
Nawaz I bear my fair share of responsibility for promoting the notion of a theocratic caliphate. In 1999 I went to Pakistan to help cofound the Pakistani branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Pakistan had just tested its atomic bomb and our group aspired to a nuclear caliphate. Since then Pakistan has witnessed aborted coup plots by my former organization.
Nawaz In 2002 I was sentenced to five years as a political prisoner in Egypt, with the entire spectrum of Islamists. A combination of lengthy revisionist conversations with other prisoners and Amnesty International’s outreach started me on the long journey toward a liberal, human rights-based secular perspective. In 2006, I was released from prison and returned to London, where I cofounded Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism organization.
The Scope of the Problem
Harris We should define and distinguish between your terms “revolutionary Islamists” and “jihadists”. I picture several concentric circles: At the center are groups like the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, al-Shebab, Boko Haram etc whose members apparently wake each morning yearning to kill infidels and apostates; most refer to them as “jihadists”. Then there is a larger circle of Islamists who are more politically motivated and less eager to kill or be killed. Beyond that is a wider circle who support jihad and Islamism – financially, morally or philosophically – but who are not inclined to get their hands dirty. Finally, one hopes, there is a much larger circle of moderate Muslims.
Nawaz As you have rightly said, in the center are the jihadists. Beyond them is a larger group of Islamists. When I say “Islamism” I mean the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam on society. When I say “jihadism”, I mean the use of force to spread Islamism, commonly expressed as the desire to enforce a version of shari’ah as law. Militant Islamists are jihadists.
Harris What percentage of Muslims worldwide are Islamists, in your estimation?
Nawaz My gut feel is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had about 25 percent support, less in other Muslim-majority societies.
Harris One study found that on average, Islamist parties have carried 15 percent of the vote in Muslim-majority countries. However, polls generally show much levels of support for the implementation of shari’ah – killing adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves, and so forth.
Nawaz Any society in which 15 to 20 percent of the people vote for Islamists is facing a severe identity crisis, and still struggling to come to terms with globalization.
Nawaz The next circle is by far the largest: religiously conservative Muslims. The majority of Muslims are currently conservative – some would call them fundamentalists. Let’s call them conservatives, because they don’t wholeheartedly subscribe to contemporary liberal human rights.
Harris What keeps conservatives from wanting to impose Islam on the rest of society?
Nawaz Many things. Although conservative Egyptians didn’t choose liberal secular democracy, they did resoundingly reject the Muslim Brotherhood. In Tunisia the 2014 election voted in a secular party, rather than party with Islamist roots. Most traditional Muslims consider Islamism an errant politicization of their religion, and don’t want the state to impose their religion.
Harris So when we talk about honor killing, we’re not just worried about Islamists; we’re worried about how the average conservative Muslim man will treat his wife or daughter.
Nawaz Yes. Conservative Muslims can be useful allies against Islamism and jihadism, but may oppose you on gender rights and equality. We’re currently faced with two entirely different challenges – facing down Islamism and jihadism, and advancing human rights and democratic culture.
Harris A willingness to build a wall of separation of between church and state is what defines secularism.
Nawaz I hope that people will also arrive at democratic and human rights values, but secularism is the prerequisite. The term “moderate” is so relative – juxtaposed against increasingly worse atrocities – that it has become meaningless. I prefer terms that denote values, like “Islamist”, “liberal” or “conservative” Muslim.
Nawaz By comparison with America, Britain has a disproportionately large problem with Muslim extremism, as does Europe. A poll indicates 27 percent of Britain’s Muslims had some sympathy for the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Eleven percent felt sympathy for people who wish to fight against “Western interests”. Up to 1,000 British Muslims may have gone to fight for the Islamic State. One in every seven young Britons has “warm feelings” towards the Islamic State. Britain has become a net exporter of Islamism and jihadism.
The Power of Belief
Nawaz Four elements exist in all forms of ideological recruitment: a grievance narrative; an identity crisis; a charismatic recruiter; and ideological dogma.
Nawaz The rise of Islamic State does somewhat vindicate Osama bin Laden’s belief that making the West intervention-weary though war would lead to a power vacuum in the Middle East, which would lead to the crumbling of despotic regimes. From the ashes of that would rise an Islamic State.
Harris Aren’t there Islamists who don’t believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom?
Nawaz We would simply call them insincere. All sincere Islamists believe they are engaged in a cosmic struggle for good against evil. They also believe in the “evils” of Western imperialism.
Harris So you wouldn’t distinguish between jihadists and other Islamists as to degree of religious convictions? The difference is purely a matter of methodology?
Nawaz Yes. Piety or the lack of it fluctuates between and within groups.
Harris Some people appear to be almost entirely motivated by their religious beliefs [without which] their behavior would make absolutely no sense; with them it becomes perfectly understandable, even rational.
Harris The public conversation about the connection between Islamic ideology and Muslim intolerance has been stifled by political correctness. There is now a large industry of apology and obfuscation designed to protect Muslims from having to grapple with these kind of facts. When one asks what the motivation of Islamists and jihadists actually are, one encounters a tsunami of liberal delusion, [such as] “the West is to blame for all the mayhem we see in Muslim societies.” Liberals imagine that jihadists and Islamists are acting as anyone else would given a similar history of unhappy encounters with the West. They totally discount the role that religious beliefs play in inspiring the Islamic State. [Many] white, liberal non-Muslims equate any criticism of Islamic doctrines with bigotry, “Islamophobia” or even “racism”. Their influence is as intellectually embarrassing as it is morally problematic.
The Betrayal of Liberalism
Nawaz Everything I say from here on I say as a liberal [and] a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in London. A great liberal betrayal is afoot. Many “fellow travelers” of Islamism are on the liberal side. I call them “regressive leftists”; they are in fact reverse racists. While they rightly question their “own” Western culture, they censure liberal Muslims who attempt to do so within Islam, and [instead] side with every regressive reactionary in the name of “cultural authenticity” and anticolonialism. They leap whenever any liberal democratic government commits a policy error, while generally ignoring every fascist, theocratic, or Muslim-led dictatorial regime and group. Since when has such isolationism been a trait of liberal internationalists? It’s a right-wing trait.
Nawaz They hold what they think of as “native” communities – and I used that word deliberately – to lesser standards than “their” [mainly white] people, and that’s why I call it reverse racism. They stifle their ambitions, cut them out of the system, there’s no aspiration left. They end up in segregated “Muslim areas”. Identity politics and the pseudo-liberal search for cultural authenticity result in nothing but competing medieval religious or cultural assertions, fights over who are the “real” Muslims, ever increasing misogyny, homophobia, sectarianism, and extremism. This is a remnant of the socialist approach that prioritizes group identity over individual autonomy. Communal rights have been prioritized over individual autonomy within minority groups. The people I really worry about are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims – all the vulnerable and bullied individuals who in many cases [are] violently assaulted or killed merely for being against the norm.
Harris These “fellow travelers” have made it nearly impossible for well-intentioned, pluralistic, liberal people to speak honestly on this topic – leaving only fascists, neo-Nazis and other right-wing lunatics to do the job.
Nawaz What worse form of bigotry could you possibly adopt than the idea that all 1.6 billion [Muslims] in the world must think and behave in the same way? Asserting that liberalism isn’t authentic to Muslims is reverse bigotry. The regressive left [must] understand that the first stage in empowerment in any minority community is the liberation of reformist voices [to] overcome the first hurdle to genuine empowerment: the victimhood mentality.
Harris Rather than support the rights of women and girls to not live as slaves, Western liberals support the right of theocrats to treat their wives and daughters however they want – and to be spared offensive cartoons.
Nawaz As to the view that this is how anyone who had suffered imperialism or colonialism would behave: no, it’s not. Entire countries such as India were colonized. What does killing Yazidis have to do with US foreign policy?
Harris If a pastor in Florida burns a copy of the Qur’an – or merely threatens to do so – it reliably produces more outrage in dozens of Muslim societies than the atrocities committed daily by Sunnis against Shia ever will.
Nawaz Yes, holding certain symbols sacred and tied to one’s identity, they often become more important than human life. No grievance, real or perceived, is ever seen except through the lens of dogma.
Nawaz It is easy for Muslims to become tribal in their interpretation of grievances. Tribal identity leads many Muslims to speak out only in defense of “our” people. The grievances themselves will always be there. What we can change is the ideological lens, or the tribal nature of one’s identity, or the identity-politics games we tend to play. Indulging identity politics usually leads to division. It doesn’t lead to communities standing together.
Harris Such tribalism is one of the consequences of religion. There are other sources of tribalism – nationalism and racism, for instance – but a shared religious identity has global reach.
The Nature of Islam
Harris My understanding is that basically all “moderate” Muslims are fundamentalists by the Christian standard, because they believe the Qur’an to be the literal and inerrant word of God.
Nawaz We need to avoid two mistakes here: assuming that Islam and Muslims today are how things always were and will be, and focusing on what we think the text says rather than the method through which the text is approached. Even what you would call literalism and what I call “vacuous literalism” is a method. By “vacuous” I mean ignoring apparent contradictions.
Nawaz In Muslim history there have been people who didn’t insist the Qur’an was the eternal word of God. They became quite prominent until power determined which doctrine won. Usually this happens for political reasons, like the Council of Nicaea, when the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire led to its spread across much of Europe. So it was with Islam. Because there is no clergy in Islam, these matters are constantly evolving.
Harris [Being a moderate] requires some degree of intellectual dishonesty, because moderates can’t acknowledge that their moderation comes from outside the faith. So when moderates claim to find their modern, ethical commitments within scripture, it looks like an exercise in self-deception. Most of our modern values are antithetical to the specific teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All scriptures contain an extraordinary amount of stupidity and barbarism that can always be rediscovered and made holy anew by fundamentalists. If God wanted these books to be understood in the spirit of rationality, he could have left out all those bits about stoning people to death for adultery or witchcraft. It really isn’t hard to write a book that prohibits sexual slavery, yet God couldn’t seem to manage it. The Islamic State holds a certain intellectual appeal because scripture suggests that Allah advises jihadists to take sex slaves, decapitate their enemies, and so forth.
Harris These texts aren’t all that elastic, they aren’t susceptible to just any interpretation. You can’t say that Islam recommends eating bacon and drinking alcohol. Nor can one say that the central message of Islam is pacifism. (However, one can say that about Jainism. All religions are not the same.) To the contrary, one can say that under Islam, the central message is that women are second-class citizens and the property of men. The alternative to this moderate’s dilemma would be to radically edit these books, which won’t happen. We can’t say, “Listen, you barbarians: These holy books of yours are filled with murderous nonsense … We’re going to redact them and make them read like Kahlil Gabran. Don’t you feel better now that you no longer hate homosexuals?”
Nawaz A particular strand of the Muslim faith is causing a disproportionate share of the problems in the world. You are speaking from an intellectual perspective; put yourself into the mind of the average Pakistani. I know many Pakistani atheists for whom open discussions can result in death.
Harris I hear from many of these people. Millions of Muslim freethinkers are hiding out of necessity. That’s why I find the liberal backlash against critics of Islam and the pernicious meme “Islamophobia” so insufferable. The Islamic State has been burning prisoners alive in cages and decapitating people, and gleefully posting videos. From from being a My Lai massacre, these crimes against innocents are what they unabashedly stand for. These people say things like “If a liberal intellectual like you can’t speak … without being defamed as a bigot, what hope is there for someone like me, who has to worry about being killed by her own family or village for merely expressing doubts about God?”
Nawaz Similar to the printing press’s influence on the Reformation, increased Internet access has facilitated a more patchwork, democratized, populist approach to interpreting Islamic texts. [We need] to establish this idea that there is no correct reading of scripture. This is especially easy for Sunnis because they have no clergy. All variant readings would become a matter of differing human perspectives. What is said in Islamic terminology is: This is nothing but your ijtihad, your interpretation of the texts as a whole. And in the absence of a right answer, pluralism is the only option. Pluralism will lead to secularism, democracy and human rights. We must focus on those values without worrying whether atheism is the most intellectually pure approach. Currently, that focus is an impossible task in most Muslim-majority contexts.
Harris What can you say to a person who thinks, “Okay, Maajid, you may be smarter than I am, but it says here that I should hate and fear infidels and take none as friends. So I’m just going to go with that and not split hairs.” It seems to me that the Qur’an contains two central messages. The first is the demonization of infidels. The other is the promise of paradise, which explicitly devalues life in this world. The belief in martyrdom, and in jihad as a way to achieve it, is primarily a Muslim phenomenon. Some chant “We love death more than infidels love life.” You and I both know these people aren’t bluffing. I’ve long been worried that a belief in paradise can lead ordinary people to perpetrate atrocities.
Nawaz We Muslims must get used to the fact that people will criticize our religion, some people will choose to leave the faith. Critiquing Islam, critiquing any idea, is not bigotry. “Islamophobia” is a troubled and inherently unhelpful idea.
Nawaz The Islamist belief in “ruling by Islam” is partly a modern by-product of the advent of the European nation state, but Islamists do refer to certain plausible scriptural justifications, such as “the rule (hukm) is for none but God.” The dispute is whether hukm means “to rule” or “to judge”. To judge is a more passive requirement to arbitrate using God’s commands between those who voluntarily come to you seeking such arbitration. The vast majority of shari’ah guidance carry with them no worldly criminal sanction for their violation.
Nawaz The sacred and the secular can be delineated, and Islamists critiqued, without the need to exit Islamic tradition. [That] undermines the Islamists insistence that only they speak in God’s name. Jihadist movements weren’t really popular before the nineteenth-century Islamist movements [because] Muslims were relatively progressive, by comparison with other societies at that time. [The debates] relating to cohabiting with “infidels” within their societies had already been held. Modern-day Islamists have resurrected some of them.
Nawaz What matters are the values one holds, not the scripture one claims to derive them from. You suggested that if such universal values exist outside scripture – it’s not necessarily scripture that gives rise to these values, so what’s the point of it? Recognize the human tendency toward reverence and the role spirituality may play, as well as the evolutionary role played by religion. I prefer to focus on people’s values, not the [claimed] religious heritage.
Harris Most of human history is a bloodbath, so Islam is not so unique in this [but] it is misleading to suggest that the problems of Muslim triumphalism and intolerance are modern ones. When Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, the world had witnessed a thousand years of jihad, from Portugal to the Caucuses to India to sub-Saharan Africa. Islam was spread primarily by conquest, not conversation. Infidels were forced to convert or die. “People of the book” – Jews and Christians – were given the option of paying a protection tax (jizya) and living in an apartheid state (as dhimmi). Muslim historians recorded in assiduous detail the number of infidels they slaughtered or enslaved or deported. The Crusades were primarily a response to 300 years of jihad. They were a reaction to Muslim incursions in Europe, the persecution of Eastern Christians, and the desecration of Christian holy sites. The idea of holy war has almost no connection to the life and teachings of Jesus, [not true of] jihad under Islam.
Harris If life was ever good for Jews living under Muslim rule, it was only good by comparison with the most murderous periods of medieval Christendom. Muslims, too, practiced slavery in Africa, regularly enslaved white Christian Europeans. It is believed that more than a million Europeans were enslaved and forced to work in North Africa by Muslims between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
Harris I reject the idea that jihad and hatred of infidels are modern phenomena. Many want to hold the West responsible for all the violence we see in the Muslim world, even the conflict between Sunni and Shia. Martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus under Christianity.
Finding the Way Forward
Nawaz Your words about history are not incorrect. Throughout history most empires used a form of religion to conquer and plunder. Islam evolved in part as an imperialist cause. The dream of a universal caliphate is a version of late Roman fantasies of a universal Christian empire. [But] Islamist and jihadist refusal to cohabit with non-Muslims is relatively worse today than in the past.
Nawaz Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah took the idea of paradise and hell and thought: one belief we have is the concept of an infinitely merciful God, and another is the possibility of infinite punishment in hell. But how can God be both infinitely merciful and infinitely vengeful? That doesn’t make sense [so] he took the view that hell is not really eternal. Any given subject has multiple interpretations, which demonstrates that there’s no correct one. A respect for difference leads to tolerance and pluralism, which in turn leads to democracy, secularism and human rights.
Harris I’m encouraged by that, although I’m often discouraged when I actually look at the details. The doctrine of taqqiya [says] Muslims are encouraged to lie to infidels whenever it serves their purpose. I worry that if we had a Muslim-majority government, all pretense of tolerance would disappear and we’d be on a swift ride back to the seventh century.
Nawaz Yes, that is a valid fear. We [Quilliam] take the unequivocal view that no place on earth should seek to impose any given interpretation of religion over the rest of society. The taqqiya you referred to is a Shia concept, doesn’t apply to 80% of Muslims who are Sunni. A concept the Shia developed because they were being persecuted by Sunnis.
Nawaz We’ve become happy to hear a Muslim condemning the Islamic State, yet even al-Qaeda condemns them, it should not be the definition of a “moderate”. Muslims are now duty bound to challenge this whole idea of imposing Islam on others.
Nawaz To believe that you are going to blow up everyone around you and go straight to paradise requires 100 percent accuracy. If we can seed even 1 percent doubt, we may stop that suicide bomber.
Harris We should discuss the tension between confronting the problems of Islam and feeding the narrative that “the West is at war with Islam.” I admit that I have often contributed to that narrative myself, [though] I’m careful to say we are not war with all or even most Muslims. A problem of Muslim perception arises on the basis of identity, a reflexive (and religiously mandated) solidarity with other Muslims, and ideology: scripture read in anything but the most acrobatic, reformist way, seems to be on the side of the barbarians. [So] we find that any action we take against jihadists seems to increase recruitment for extremist organizations. Some number of Muslims will conclude that they must now defend their faith against infidel aggressors. There is also the vexing problem of collateral damage, which inevitably produces enemies.
Nawaz I appreciate your recognition that your wording has often contributed to this “clash of civilizations” narrative. Many people tend to hear only what they already expect to hear from any given speaker.
Nawaz You are correct that Muslim tribalism and vacuous literalism combined lend themselves to a generally hostile approach to “the other”. [This] was built upon decades of leftist hostility toward America under Arab socialist (Ba’thist) regimes that politically identified with the Soviet Union.
Nawaz Identity must start with humanity and human rights as a basis. “My people” are human beings, then those that share my multiple cultural references and human rights values, [and finally] those who simply share the land that I call my home, my neighbors. Moving on to the Islamic State, this scourge must be militarily and culturally defeated. Nothing but total defeat will suffice for a group that is so certain that it speaks for God. The cultural defeat is the hard part, for the Islamic State has not emerged from a vacuum. [It] has been festering in the grass roots of Muslim political activism. Islamism must be defeated.
Nawaz If the first few years of the Bush administration could be caricatured as an attempt at imposing values at the barrel of a gun, then President Obama’s administration ditched the values and kept the gun. [They] took the view that al-Qaeda was like an organized crime gang, not a concrete realization of an ideological phenomenon with grassroots sympathy. The problem was “al-Qaeda inspired extremism” and not the extremism that had inspired al-Qaeda. The US government’s failure to recognize the jihadist insurgency led to jihadist groups metastasizing as the ideology continued to grow. Yet in an almost comic twist that I call the Voldemort effect, President Obama still cannot bring himself to name this ideology [which] made it easier for Muslimphobes to assume Obama refers to all Muslims.
Nawaz Islam is just a religion. Islamism is the ideology that seeks to impose any version of Islam over society [and] is therefore theocratic extremism. Jihad is the use of force to spread Islamism. Jihadist terrorism is the use of force that targets civilians to spread Islamism.
Nawaz The Islamic State is merely one jihadist terrorist group. The problem was never “al-Qaeda inspired” extremism, because extremism itself inspired al-Qaeda, and then inspired the Islamic State. It is this extremism that must be named – as Islamism – and opposed. Either we reclaim our religion and its narrative or allow thugs and demagogues to speak in its name and impose it on others.
Harris How do you get 1.6 billion Muslims to distinguish the promise of secularism from the tyrannies of Gaddafi, the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Musharraf, and the rest?
Nawaz How do we de-stigmatize secularism when it has been so abused by Arab Ba’thist dictators? The stigma is so bad that there is not even an accurate word for secularism in Urdu. We could point to Tunisia, [where] an Islamist-inspired government voluntarily ceded power, because when forming their government they dropped the clause stipulating that shari’ah form the basis for law. Ruling Arab secular strongmen must bear a great deal of the burden.
Nawaz The liberal and “moderate” Muslim concern to “support” Muslims against extremism, by pandering and equivocating, is only harming Muslims and aiding extremists, as proponents on the far right are the only ones consistently seen to be challenging anything.
Harris That last point has been one of my greatest concerns for over a decade. Reforming Islam cannot even begin if [it] is thought to be a choice between wishful thinking and bigotry.
Harris It’s a conversation that I’ve very much enjoyed having with you, Maajid, and I hope it’s only the first of many. I wish you best of luck with all your endeavors.
Nawaz Thank you, Sam. It isn’t easy for anyone to reach across divides – real or imagined – and to try and hold a sensible dialogue amid so much background noise and confusion. I hope many others take up such a task. This is an alternative to all the violence we see around us, and ultimately can be the only way forward. May you go in peace.