Over the years, Salon has proven itself an organ of the Regressive Left, vilifying atheists at every turn, constantly flaunting the canard of Islamophobia, and coddling religion. With the exception of Jeff Tayler’s “strident” antitheistic Sunday Secular Sermons (see his most recent piece on the soppy, faith-osculating David Brooks), it’s a pretty vile place for those who adhere to Enlightenment values.
A while back, after Sam Harris had been subjected to a number of misguided and hateful pieces in Salon—like this one—he decided to write the place off, refusing to be interviewed by the site and telling his publisher not to send them review copies of his books. I don’t blame him.
Recently, however, Sam suspended his boycott and sat down for an interview with Sean Illing, a Salon staff writer whom I’ve criticized in the past for bashing New Atheists (Illing is a nonbeliever), as well as for Illing’s osculation of religion and promulgation of the Little People’s Argument (“everyone but folks like me need religion”). Illing, by the way, appears to have been butthurt by my piece, and mentions it in his interview.
Sam gave several conditions for the interview, which you can see at the transcript (Sam kept his own record), but he couldn’t prevent Salon from editing it—which it did. It’s a good interview, and Sam is quite eloquent, giving a few choice words about regressive Leftists like Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald. He also makes a few remarks about the incompatibility of science and religion, as Illing, here and in the column I criticized previously, suggests that almost no religious people take the empirical claims of their faith as literal truths.
I recommend reading all of Sam’s piece as a good digestif after today’s food orgy. I’ll highlight just one Q&A bit before I mention the perfidy of Salon.
Below Sam discusses why religion must surely play a role in jihadism and the brutality of organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram, and I can’t see how he’s wrong here (my emphasis in Sam’s answer).
[Illing]: Let’s start with your views on Islam. You’ve acknowledged that Islamic extremism is a hydra-headed problem that can’t be reduced to single variable – certainly I agree with that. Given that the Islamic world has not always been what it is today, and has at times been more civilized than the Christian world, how much weight can we give to factors like history, geopolitics, foreign policy, or Western interventionism? And if these non-religious variables are significant, does it undermine the argument that Islam is a uniquelyproblematic religion?
[Harris]: The short answer is that I think the problems we are seeing throughout the Muslim world—jihadism, sectarian conflict, and all the attendant talk of Muslim “humiliation”—are almost entirely religious. And wherever rational grievances do exist, they are invariably viewed, and become magnified, through a religious lens. The truth is that a belief in specific religious doctrines is sufficient to produce all the violence, intolerance, and backwardness we see in the Muslim world.
The abysmal treatment of women, the hostility to free speech, the daily bloodletting between Sunni and Shia—these things have absolutely nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy or the founding of Israel. And, contrary to the assertions of many regressive Leftists and Islamist apologists, violent jihad is not a product of colonialism or the 20th century. The tactic of suicide bombing is relatively new, of course, as is the spread of jihadist ideology on social media, but if you had stood at the gates of Vienna in 1683, you could have not helped but notice the civilizational problem of jihad.
Yes, politics and ordinary grievances enter into many of these recent conflicts. It isn’t difficult to see why a person who has lost his or her family in an errant drone strike might hate America, and there is no question that a desire for revenge transcends religion or culture. But the truth is that a sincere belief in the metaphysics of martyrdom can turn an ordinary person into a dangerous religious maniac. And only Islam preaches this doctrine as one of its central tenets.
I have yet to hear the blame-the-West crowd explain why the items in bold, not to mention the killing of apostates, Yazidis, and gays, can be pinned on the West. Saudi Arabia’s brutality, which I mentioned in the last post, can’t really be pinned on colonialism, either, as the country is supposedly our ally. Seriously, can you make any coherent argument why the oppression of women endemic to most Muslim lands stems from colonialist missteps by the West?
Every country that criminalizes apostasy, some imposing the death penalty, is a majority-Muslim land. Is that a result of colonialism—or religion? And the death penalty for blasphemy—also given only in Muslim-majority nations (save Nigeria, which is largely Muslim)—how can that be blamed on anything but religion? After all, the very idea of blasphemy involves religion!
But I digress. One thing that stands out in Sam’s interview is the bit that wasn’t published by Salon. As you might expect, that was the one part that was critical of the website. Here’s Sam’s transcript of what Salon said when it published the piece:
When I checked the interview on Salon, I noticed that that disclaimer was gone, and in the interview’s preface, Illing now says this:
This was mostly an email correspondence, not a traditional interview, so remarks were edited throughout.
Sam verified that in the original version, the disclaimer was the first one shown above. It was changed by Illing, apparently in response to Sam’s own post.
Why did Salon change this disclaimer? Because the first bit on editing was simply a bald-faced lie: Salon did make substantive changes in the interview. And those changes were the ones eliminating the critique of Salon. Here’s the stuff Sam said that Salon chose not to print:
As long as we’re talking about the regressive Left, it would be remiss of me not to point out how culpable Salon is for giving it a voice. The problem is not limited to the political correctness and masochism I’ve been speaking about—it’s also the practice of outright deception to defame Islam’s critics. To give you one example, I once wrote an article about Islamist violence in which I spoke in glowing terms about Malala Yousafzai. I literally saidnothing but good things about her. I claimed that she is the best thing to come out of the Muslim world in a thousand years. I said she is extraordinarily brave and eloquent and doing what millions of Muslim men and women are too terrified to do, which is to stand up to forces of theocracy in her own society. I also said that though she hadn’t won the Nobel Prize that year, she absolutely deserved it—and deserved it far more than some of its recent recipients had. And in response to this encomium, Salon published a piece by the lunatic Murtaza Hussain entitled, “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” which subjected my views to the same defamatory and dishonest treatment that I’ve come to expect from him. And this sort of thing has been done to me a dozen times on your website. And yet Salon purports to be a forum for the civil discussion of important ideas.
Most readers simply don’t understand how this game is played. If they read an article which states that Sam Harris is a racist, genocidal, xenophobic, pro-torture goon who supported the Iraq war—all of which has been alleged about me in Salon—well, then, it’s assumed that some journalists who work for the website under proper editorial control have actually looked into the matter and feel that they are on firm enough ground to legally say such things. There’s a real confusion about what journalism has become, and I can assure you that very few people realize that much of what appears on your website is produced by malicious freaks who are just blogging in their underpants.
I’m not saying that everything that Salon publishes is on the same level, and I have nothing bad to say about what you’ve written, Sean. But there is an enormous difference between honest criticism and defamatory lies. If I say that Malala is a total hero who deserves a Nobel Prize, and Salon titles its article “Sam Harris Slurs Malala,” that’s tabloid-level dishonesty. It’s worse, in fact, because when one reads about what a nanny said about Brad and Angelina in a tabloid, one knows that such gossip stands a good chance of not being true. Salon purports to be representing consequential ideas fairly, and yet it does this sort of thing more often than any website I can think of. The latest piece on me was titled “Sam Harris’ dangerous new idiocy: Incoherent, Islamophobic and simply immoral.” I don’t think I’m being thin-skinned in detecting an uncharitable editorial position being taken there. Salon is telling the world that I’m a dangerous, immoral, Islamophobic idiot. And worse, the contents of these articles invariably misrepresent my actual views. This problem isn’t remedied by merely publishing this conversation.
I love the bit about “malicious freaks who are just blogging in their underpants.” Sam is clearly extremely angry at Salon, and it shows, but I can’t blame him given the site’s one-sided behavior, dressing up hatred as journalism.
And that behavior continues. The first disclaimer was simply a flat-out lie, with Salon leaving out the stuff that makes it look bad. That’s reprehensible journalism—if you call what Salon does “journalism”. If a website solicits an interview, they can’t simply expunge the criticism of their own behavior without looking duplicitous. Well, the first disclaimer has mysteriously vanished.
And even with the amended disclaimer, saying that Harris’s remarks were “edited throughout,” the piece remains mendacious, for “edited throughout” implies that Salon simply tweaked the piece because it was “email correspondence.” The new disclaimer is still a lie, for, as Sam told me, it wasn’t “edited throughout”: the only edit to the text was the section Salon omitted.
Since Illing apparently wrote the emended disclaimer himself, he’s responsible for this, not his editors, and it’s just more dishonest journalism. Salon can’t even conduct an interview without trying to cover its tuchus, and Illing is complicit in that. But. as a staff writer, he knows who butters his bread.