Sam Harris on the war, jihadism, and morality

November 14, 2023 • 9:30 am

I’m on my way back to Chicago, and I strongly recommend that if you have an hour to spare, you can’t do better than spend it listening to Sam Harris’s excellent podcast on the war. In an earlier post I linked to the written transcript, but the audio version is below. I have to admit that this is one podcast I listened to as well as read for two reasons: Sam’s measured eloquence and especially the thoughtfulness and rationality of his message.

Sam discusses the war at length, but his real concern is the philosophy of jihad as embodied in Islamism and how it plays out in violent conflict. His thesis, which isn’t new but which he expounds at length, is that the members of Hamas really believe in the Islamic doctrine of this life being of little consequence compared to the life to come.  And if you die doing jihad (construed as a “holy war”, not as a simple striving to better oneself), you are rewarded with Paradise (replete with either raisins or virgins).

Sam says you can’t understand the concepts of suicide bombing, martyrdom, or the brutality of the October 7 butchery (complete with gleeful cries of “Allahu akbar” by the butchers) without realizing that they’re motivated by taking religious doctrine literally. This leads to his conclusion that religion in general is harmful, but that Islam is, at present, the most dangerous of faiths.  In fact, he sees it as posing an existential thread not just to Israel, but to the whole world.


Below is the audio from the phone call same Sam quotes in his piece. It’s from an elated Hamas terrorist who’s just killed ten Jews, who brags about it to his family while talking on the cellphone of one of the Jews he killed. This is the elation of jihadism achieving its aims, and although I’ve listened to it many times, the horror it inspires grows each time. Can this be a human being? Even the Nazis didn’t get such joy from their mass murders of Jews.

I’ll give a few quotes from Sam’s podcast, though I think I’ve posted others before.

Now, there are many things to be said in criticism of Israel, in particular its expansion of settlements on contested land. But Israel’s behavior is not what explains the suicidal and genocidal inclinations of a group like Hamas. The Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad do.

These are religious beliefs, sincerely held. They are beliefs about the moral structure of the universe. And they explain how normal people—even good ones—can commit horrific acts of violence against innocent civilians—on purpose, not as collateral damage—and still consider themselves good. When you believe that life in this world has no value, apart from deciding who goes to hell and who goes to Paradise, it becomes possible to feel perfectly at ease killing noncombatants, or even using your own women and children as human shields, because you know that any Muslims who get killed will go to Paradise for eternity.

If you don’t understand that jihadists sincerely believe these things, you don’t understand the problem Israel faces. The problem isn’t merely Palestinian nationalism, or resource competition, or any other normal terrestrial grievance. In fact, the problem isn’t even hatred, though there is enough of that to go around. The problem is religious certainty.

. . .Look at these protests we’re seeing all over the world, which began before Israel had dropped a single bomb. Now that there have been several thousand Palestinian casualties, cities across the globe are seething with rage. But Assad has killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Muslims in Syria. The Saudis have killed well over a [sic] one hundred thousand Muslims in Yemen. Where are the protests? No one cares, least of all Muslims. They only care when non-Muslims produce these casualties—and they especially care when Jews do it. Israel is routinely condemned by the United Nations, and the U.N. could not pass a condemnation of Hamas for the atrocities it committed on October 7th.

As I said, I don’t know whether a ground invasion is the right approach. But there is no question that Israel had to act; they have to destroy Hamas; and, whatever they do, noncombatants will get killed in the process. Again, this is Hamas’ fault.

He enumerates several instances of jihadist killing that don’t involve Israeli “colonization,” including the horrors of 9/11. The events of October 7 lie among thousands of others that can’t be pinned on Israel, or even on Jews, but on a religious fanaticism devoted to worldwide domination.

There may be two sides to the past, but there really aren’t two sides to the present. There are two sides to the story of how the Palestinians and Jews came to fight over land in the Middle East. Understanding all of that is important—and I think it is important to understand the cynical game that the Arab world has played with the plight of the Palestinians for the last 50 years. If there is a stable political settlement to ever be reached between Israel and the Palestinians, it will entail a full untangling of the facts from all the propaganda that obscures them, while keeping the problem of jihadism in view. It will also entail that the religious lunatics on the Jewish side get sidelined. As I said, the building of settlements has been a continuous provocation. But even on the point of religious fanaticism, there really aren’t two sides worth talking about now. Whatever terrible things Israeli settlers occasionally do—and these are crimes for which they should be prosecuted—generally speaking, the world does not have a problem with Jewish religious fanatics targeting Muslims in their mosques and schools. You literally can’t open a Jewish school in Paris because no one will insure it. Yes, there are lunatics on both sides, but the consequences of their lunacy are not equivalent—not even remotely equivalent. We haven’t spent the last 20 years taking our shoes off at the airport because there are so many fanatical Jews eager to blow themselves up on airplanes.

That last sentence is typical of Sam’s eloquence, and of course it’s true. Who are the haters? Who are those eager to kill civilians?

He highly recommends watching the movie below, about an incident of Islamist terrorism in India, and of course I will:

Again, watch “Hotel Mumbai” or read a book about the Islamic State so that you can see jihadism in another context—where literally not one of the variables that people imagine to be important here [in the current conflict] is present. There are no settlers, or blockades, or daily humiliations at check points, or differing interpretations of history—and yet we have same grotesque distortion of the spiritual impulse, the same otherworldliness framed by murder, the same absolute evil that doesn’t require the presence of evil people, just confused ones—just true believers.

. . . and, as usual, he helps us calibrate our moral compasses, which, for many —especially entitled college students—seem to be drawn to the wrong magnet. The bit below may be the most trenchant part of the podcast:

Of course, the boundary between Anti-Semitism and generic moral stupidity is a little hard to discern—and I’m not sure that it is always important to find it. I’m not sure it matters why a person can’t distinguish between collateral damage in a necessary war and conscious acts of genocidal sadism that are celebrated as a religious sacrament by a death cult. Our streets have been filled with people, literally tripping over themselves in their eagerness to demonstrate that they cannot distinguish between those who intentionally kill babies, and those who inadvertently kill them, having taken great pains to avoid killing them, while defending themselves against the very people who have just intentionally tortured and killed innocent men, women, and yes… babies. And who are committed to doing this again at any opportunity, and who are using their own innocent noncombatants as human shields. If you’re both sides-ing this situation—or worse, if you are supporting the wrong side: if you are waving the flag of people who murder noncombatants intentionally, killing parents in front of their children and children in front of their parents, burning people alive at a music festival devoted to “peace”, and decapitating others, and dragging their dismembered bodies through the streets, all to shouts of “God is Great.” If you are recognizing the humanity of actual barbarians, while demonizing the people who actually worry about war crimes and who drop leaflets and call cell phones for days, in an effort to get noncombatants to leave specific buildings before they are bombed, because those buildings sit on top of tunnels filled with genocidal lunatics—who again, have just sedulously tortured and murdered families as though it were a religious sacrament, because for them it is a religious sacrament. If you have landed, proudly and sanctimoniously, on the wrong side of this asymmetry—this vast gulf between savagery and civilization—while marching through the quad of an Ivy League institution wearing yoga pants, I’m not sure it matters that your moral confusion is due to the fact that you just happen to hate Jews. Whether you’re an anti-Semite or just an apologist for atrocity is probably immaterial. The crucial point is that you are dangerously confused about the moral norms and political sympathies that make life in this world worth living.

Just a couple more; there are many nuggets of wisdom in the podcast, which is one of Sam’s best, and you shouldn’t even be reading these extracts if you can listen to the whole podcast. I found—and perhaps this is just me—that I can’t get much out of Sam’s words unless I devote my whole attention to the audio.

About that phone call above, Sam discusses the taboo that many are thinking about but nobody will utter: How many Palestinians support what Hamas did, even if they didn’t kill Jews with their own hands? Surely there are many, and that means that Israel (and by proxy, we) are at war not just with Hamas, but with Palestine. Sam:

Of course, we can do our best to turn the temperature down now. And we can trust that the news cycle will get captured by another story. We can direct our attention again to Russia, or China, or climate change, or AI alignment, and I will do that on this podcast, but the problem of jihadism and the much wider problem of sympathy for it isn’t going away. And civilized people—non-Muslim and Muslim alike—have to deal with it. As I said in a previous podcast on this topic: We all live in Israel now. It’s just that most of us haven’t realized it yet. at war not just with Hamas, but with a lot of “ordinary Gazans” who don’t belong to terrorist organizations but approve of their aims.

If you listen to the discourse about the war, you might think that there are two distinct classes of Gazans: the terrorists who kill and the rest—peaceful people who don’t wish for the extermination of Israel and will support a two-state solution that leaves Israel as a state. Yes, there are peaceful ones, but neither Sam nor I think this dichotomy is accurate:

As I told Graeme [Wood], this is not the type of call that would have been placed from Vietnam, by an American who just participated in the My Lai Massacre. Nor is it the parental reaction one would expect from an American family, had their beloved son just called them from a killing field. I mean, as terrible as Vietnam was, can you imagine a call back to Nebraska, “Mom, I killed ten with my own hands! I killed a woman and her husband, and I’m calling from the dead woman’s phone. Mom, your son is a hero!” Do you see what a total aberration that would have been, even in extremis?

This call wasn’t a total aberration. This wasn’t Ted Bundy calling his mom. This was an ordinary member of Hamas, a group that might still win an election today, especially in the West Bank, calling an ordinary Palestinian family, and the mere existence of that call, to say nothing of its contents, reveals something about the wider culture among the Palestinians.

It’s important to point out that not only members of Hamas, but ordinary Gazans appear to have taken part in the torture and murder of innocent Israelis and the taking of hostages. How many did this? And how many ordinary Gazan’s [sic] were dancing in the streets and spitting on the captured women and girls who were paraded before them after having been raped and tortured? What percentage of Palestinians in Gaza, or the West Bank, many of whom are said to hate Hamas for their corruption and incompetence and brutality, nevertheless support what they did on October 7th with a clear conscience, based on what they believe about Jews and the ethics of jihad? I don’t know, but I’m sure that the answers to these questions would be quite alarming. We’re talking about a culture that teaches Jew hatred and the love of martyrdom in its elementary schools, many of which are funded by the UN.

This leads Jews like me, who are purely secular, feeling a bit nervous: a feeling I’ve never had for more than an hour in my whole life (that was when I got beat up by a pack of Jew-hating students in junior high). The anger you see in the eyes and hear in the words of college pro-Palestinian protestors must reflect in part an antisemitism that was underground but is now surfacing. Its ubiquity is scary.

Surely some of the students who chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” know what it really means, and it’s not, as Rashida Tlaib claims (knowing she’s lying) an “aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence”:

In truth it’s a call for the extermination of Israel, and for many by violent means. It is a call for the end of the only democracy in the Middle East, simply because it’s largely Jewish. The students who chant this, even at my school, make me nervous, but they don’t make me frightened. Some are filled with hate, others ignorant, but all need their moral compasses recalibrated. That, it seems to me, is nearly impossible.

h/t: David, Rosemary

70 thoughts on “Sam Harris on the war, jihadism, and morality

  1. It’s not impossible to rethink and understand the crap you used to believe. I finally made a breakthrough last year. I am 73 years old.

    1. I just made mine on October 7. I’m 60. I was stll wavering, but today’s post really got my moral compass straight.

  2. Sub




    From The River To The Sea, Palestine Will Be Free

    … aspiration is right … as in, the drawing in of something into the lungs, as in:

    What Are They Smoking?

    1. It’s the current identity politics I think.

      I had a minor disagreement in the comments of another site with a guy who claimed, and I paraphrase, “no sane person would respect anything that Sam Harris says”. This was in relation to that clip in which he said he could understand why the left-leaning media outlets would conspire to hide the Hunter Biden laptop story.

      I simply said it was ludicrous to bin everything one person says because you disagree with them on one point, but he was not for changing his mind.

      It’s very black and white for some people.

  3. Rashida Tlaib’s comments about the “From the River to the Sea…” slogan mark her out as either:

    – Completely ignorant of the actual meaning of the phrase
    – Incredibly mendacious

    I’m going with choice #2, as #1 is very unlikely.

    She represents a class of politicians and intellectuals who favor a one state solution. They know exactly what will happen in such a scenario. The “Republic of Palestine” or whatever it would be called, would become majority Arab, majority Muslim. And like every other Arab nation in the region, it would purge the Jewish population from its lands, and you wouldn’t hear a pip of concern about this from these people.

    This is what they want…no Israel and more importantly no Jews in the region. I hate to say this about a “woman of color”…but Rashida is no better than a Nazi.

    1. She knows exactly what the phrase means—to eliminate the State of Israel and the 6.8 million Jews who live there. Of course she knows. If you want to take the temperature of anti-Zionist and antisemitic fervor, she is where you insert the thermometer.

  4. I know that Palestinian support for what Hamas is trying to do is far higher than I would like to admit, but I am hoping that some remember that they (the unknown but large %) of Palestinians who support Hamas) have been steeped in Jew-hating propaganda during their entire education, and so its little wonder that they come down on that side. They had no choice in their indoctrination.
    I blame Hamas. For everything.

    1. What about the members of Hamas, who joined because of the indoctrination? Do they get a pass, too? What happens, when all of Hamas is run by indoctrinated members? Who blame?

        1. Nonsense. Then how would you know who is dangerous enough to be eliminated?

          Iran is to blame because they fund the madrassas that indoctrinate innocent children to become martyrs and their paramilitary training camps and their weaponry. They are the ones who sanction the murder of innocents and their horrific mistreatment. Hamas is responsible too. Or are you claiming no one is responsible in an infinite regress of blamelessness and exculpation?

          Sure, no one chooses to be born into Gaza or who their parents are or the theology they’re propagandized from birth to despise Jews which we all might be susceptible to if raised under similar conditions. But at some point, we become adults and must accept responsibility for what we do. At some point, there are no excuses and the person who would murder babies and dismember bodies out of hate are such barbarians that they deserve the worst misery of anyone or death because their nihilism is itself incompatible with non-Muslim civilization.

          1. I think we are more or less saying the same thing. Under determinism, punishment is not supposed to be retributive but protective. We don’t need to affix blame, only responsibility. Once we do that, those who are responsible but can’t be reformed have to be denied the ability and capacity to cause harm, even if they haven’t murdered any babies…..yet. It doesn’t matter if unreachable people in Iran “made” them want to do it. The ones in Gaza are the ones responsible and accessible to the calibrated violence of the IDF, so they get smitten.

            You see, as Sam Harris says, jihadis don’t do what they do out of hate. They do it out of religious conviction that death is good for everyone. The Jews, apostates, and infidels will be sent to Hell to suffer for all eternity that much sooner and they, themselves, will get to their eternal reward if they die in the process. It’s an error-proof process that produces only good. You can’t live next to such people.

  5. — This leads Jews like me, who are purely secular, feeling a bit nervous —

    Word! A bit understated. It’s depressing as all-get-out. A good post, if an uncomfortable read.

  6. Bari Weiss posted Sam’s podcast episode last week. I listened over the weekend. I had taken a two-year break from Sam. This episode brought me back.

  7. I suspect that amongst liberals we’re looking at an emerging form of antisemitism which doesn’t draw its hatred from the old religious or nationalistic conspiracy mindsets, but from the popularity of Black Lives Matter and the Oppressor/Oppressed dichotomy found in Critical Social Justice theories. Those pro-Palestinian marching college students didn’t start university with a family history of hating the Jews. They learned they’re the bad guys because it was so easy to tick the Bad Guy boxes in a simplistic narrative of right and wrong.

    As the BLM movement began to grow, we were frustrated when people said “ALL lives matter” because of course all lives matter, but we’re trying to address a specific problem of police brutality against the black community. Perfectly reasonable. But a chant repeated over and over may have taken on a more primal form and lost the nuance and context to the young people chanting it. Not all lives matter.

    I usually don’t listen to podcasts, but I’ll make an exception here.

  8. Apologies for this insane question, I’ll try to use non-personal terminology, but :

    Imagine another universe where Judaism did not exist (bear with me), but everything else did exist.

    Would Islam finally find happiness?

    I could ask a different way but it comes across way different.

    1. I play similar games. Like: Imagine a parallel universe exactly like this one, in every detail, only nobody is trans gendered. Would some people still try to throw confusion on the issue about there being two sexes?
      Anyway, in your universe there might not be an Islam without Judaism.

      1. Indeed – the Quran frequently references the Talmud and refers to Jews and Christians as “people of the book”, fairly approvingly IIRC.

    2. As is stated below (JezGrove), the Qur’an calls Christians and Jews “people of the book”. Islam is not “unhappy” about Judaism. Islam shares all the prophets of the old and new testament and then adds Muhammad. Muslims did not hate jews until Britain gave Jews a homeland where others were already living. I am not an apoogist for Hamas so please don’t go there with me. But lets get our definitions straight.

    3. No because Islam is ultimately a religion of conquest. Jews are enemy #1 but if Judaism didn’t exist, Christianity would be next because it’s in the way of world domination by their faith. Like ISIS or the Ottoman Empire they won’t stop until they’ve swept humanity. Shia vs Sunni would presumably still be an issue though and there will always be psychopaths that split the reigning power into factions.

    4. Do you mean to suppose if Judaism suddenly disappeared today or if it had never existed? Because in the latter case, Christianity would not have existed either and possibly Islam as well, as Mohammed seems to have pattered his beliefs on Jewish monotheism. In the former case, the answer is “no”, as Islam cannot be happy until it has conquered the whole world.

  9. Of course, 9/11 was directed against “colonizers,” just not against Mideast colonizers. For those who think of the world in this way, it doesn’t matter if a colonizer is your colonizer or someone else’s. Since they are all representatives of late-stage Capitalism, they are all fair game. Not everyone protesting for Hamas around the world is a Palestinian or Muslim.

    1. Exactly

      Communism doesn’t care what it uses to advance its Utopia – it will consume everything it can.

      And by “what” I mean, of course, the way communism regards people.

      Because we know what communist leaders think of people that are not The People.

  10. I strongly second Jerry’s suggestion that you listen to Sam’s podcast rather than read it. It is eloquent, oratorial, heartbreaking, powerful, moving. I have listened 1.5 times and will listen again.

  11. Sam Harris is absolutely correct, and states the issue eloquently. However, he passed over a major source of the confusion displayed by Hamas’ fans on campus. They have all been TOLD in college that Hamas (and everything it does) is part of the Progressive “global Left”, as Professor Judith Butler put it. As such, kidnapping hostages presumably comes under the heading of “Inclusion”. It is unclear whether massacre of Israeli civilians represents either “Diversity” or “Equity”, but our postmodernist scholars helpfully explain that it belongs in the “Decolonialization” column. [Given Professor Butler’s affinity for Hamas, maybe it is better understood as an advanced level of Critical Gender Theory.] Whole branches of academia have fostered the mindset of these atrocity apologists “marching through the quad of an Ivy League institution wearing yoga pants”.

  12. The issue of what “non-Hamas” Gazans make of Hamas’s actions comes up here and it raises a question that I don’t think I’ve seen answered anywhere, although that could just be me being insufficiently attentive.
    However – Hamas has held some 240 Israeli hostages since Oct. 7. Unless Hamas is capable of absolutely superhuman levels of subterfuge, someone outside their immediate organization must have noticed these people, even if they’re broken up into small groups and dispersed around the territory. It must also be clear to the average Gazan that returning the hostages alive to Israel would go a long way towards reducing the fury of the IDF’s attacks (although the IDF’s goal of eliminating Hamas would remain).
    However, I haven’t heard of one Gazan approaching the Israelis and offering the IDF information on where hostages are located.
    Can’t say that I care for either of the two most obvious implications of this question.

    1. This doesn’t really have any implications for the point you are making, but it is a near certainty that Israeli intelligence, and probably several other Western intelligence agencies, have some local Palestinian informants / assets in Gaza. Seems that no matter how drastically divided the sides of a conflict are there will be at least a few willing to be agents for the other side.

      It’s certainly possible that Palestinian assets have provided useful information to Israeli intelligence since Oct. 7th. It’s also likely that there has been at least some small number of ordinary Palestinians that have provided Israel with useful information. In either case it is unlikely that Israel would say so, and it would be pretty uncharitable of them if they did.

      1. You’re quite correct – I didn’t really frame that scenario very realistically. Of course Israeli intelligence would not wish to compromise their sources.
        However, if they’re getting any information on the location of hostages, they seem to be remarkably slow to act upon it.
        Puzzling. But as I said, perhaps I haven’t been following event with sufficient attention.

        1. If I recall correctly, it was an ex-Hamas person who revealed to the Israelis that there is a large Hamas command centre under the al-Shifa hospital. Of course, the IDF is going to go slowly in this particular case in trying to get into that complex – and look at the crap being thrown at them over what they are doing there. Getting into the tunnel complex is going to be extremely difficult and very dangerous – especially for any hostages held there. Read up on the US Tunnel Rats clearing Viet Cong strongpoints in Vietnam to get a grasp of why the IDF is taking its time.

  13. My wife and I listened to the Sam Harris podcast a couple days ago, and last night we watched “Hotel Mumbai” because of Sam’s recommendation. It’s a harrowing movie to watch. I had to take a shower afterward.

    Although the movie is based on a particular event, it really is a generic statement about jihadism, and how Islamic religious indoctrination of a certain kind can make the act of slaughtering innocent people seem unquestionably right, even casual.

    I could find the movie only on YouTube. ($4 for a high-definition viewing.)

        1. Laura, I looked for it on Kanopy and did not find it. Maybe I somehow missed it. I’ll look again. Did you find it on Kanopy recently or some time in the past?

          1. I just looked again, Laura, and I did find it on Kanopy. I remember now that I skipped over it because the Kanopy description erroneously refers to the movie as a 2016 release (it is a 2018 release), so I thought it was a different movie or documentary. But it’s good to know that it’s available there.

      1. I’d be interested to know where it’s available for $0, Barb Knox, as your comment *could* be interpreted as just being anti-YouTube, or even suggesting illegal forms of download. Just saying.

        1. Kanopy has informed me that the release date listed on its platform for the movie “Hotel Mumbai” has been corrected. (The correct date is 2018.)

  14. I would be interested to know from Tlaib if the treatment of women in Iran and Afghanistan is a reflection of her idea of “freedom and human rights”.


      1. I often wonder why journalists don’t regularly ask a lot of questions.

        Their profession has largely failed us by normalizing extremism in favor of “balance”.


        1. Even people I thought were better at holding leaders accountable (esp. conservatives) than MSM journalists seem to drop the ball. Case in point: Bill Maher. Last week, he had Ted Cruz on, and it was such a softball interview, I was extremely disappointed and downright disgusted. No questions about his espousing the Big Lie, or his involvement in trying to overturn the government. They found common ground on anti-woke issues, hurray! I’m guessing Cruz wouldn’t have come on if Maher asked him the serious questions he should have. So along with the problem of “balance” we also have the problem of “access.”

          1. I saw some of that. Maher isn’t really a journalist but a commentator/entertainer, and to be sure he looked disgusted with some of Cruz’s nonstop politicizing. In fact, I’ve never see Maher look so insouciant at any guest’s words. True, he didn’t ask the hard questions, but remember that this isn’t “Meet the Press.” If guests on the other said of the aisle to Maher knew they were going to get clobbered, they wouldn’t come on his show.

  15. Just as I would ask any Christian, however liberal they profess to be, if they believe that a virgin gave birth to Jesus and that he was resurrected from the dead, so would I ask any Muslim, however liberal they profess to be, if they believe that this world is divided into the dar al-Islam, the realm of submission to Allah, and the dar al-harb, the realm of uninterrupted war that can end only when the whole world accepts Islam.

  16. “What percentage of Palestinians in Gaza, or the West Bank, many of whom are said to hate Hamas for their corruption and incompetence and brutality, nevertheless support what they did on October 7th with a clear conscience, based on what they believe about Jews and the ethics of jihad?”

    This is an important question for Israel, but I suspect that many educated people in the West are now privately asking themselves similar questions: What percentage of recent Muslim immigrants . . .

  17. From wiki:

    Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” is a phrase reportedly spoken by the commander of the Albigensian Crusade, prior to the massacre at Béziers on 22 July 1209. A direct translation of the Medieval Latin phrase is “Kill them. The Lord knows those that are his own”.

    Fortunately, Christianity, which was more irenic than Islam and not corrupted by power in its early years when the New Testament was created, was tamed by the Reformation, the stalemated Thirty Years War/Peace of Westphalia, and the Enlightenment. Islam, unfortunately, is still in its 14th century, but with access to 20th century technology.

  18. I just listened to Harris’s podcast. It is a rare statement of clarity about the religious motivations of the jihadists and on how clueless the liberal west is about them. Just as the jihadists cannot see beyond their sick world view of killing infidels and going to paradise, western liberals cannot see beyond theirs—one that cannot even imagine that jihadists could possibly mean what they say they mean. News alert: The jihadists mean what they say!

    I want everyone to hear this podcast, and surely a large handful of intellectuals listen, but how do we shake the masses by their shirts and get them to listen, too? It seems like an impossible task to fix the moral miasma that has infected the west.

    1. It is Not just jihadists, all of Islam means what is said. The same message comes from the mosques of London or Toronto or Gaza. The poison is international. Ignore it at our peril.
      Islam relies on it.
      I have seen it up front and personal from the time as a young RAF airman in 1967 in Aden ( now Yemen) to the present day, fortunately now not so personal but becoming more by each year and I remain yours sincerely Islamophobic.

      1. A phobia is an irrational fear. There is nothing irrational about being afraid of Islam. The whole accusation of “Islamophobia” is meant to shut down any criticism whatsoever.

        The perfect gambit, and a lot of people fall for it.


          1. How about “Islamopathy”? According to my copy of Stedman’s, the suffix indicates “suffering from” – that would apply to anyone having to deal with the consequences of Islamists, at least, in the modern world.
            It has the advantage of not implying any emotional state.

        1. L.
          Some dictionaries define “Islamophobia “ as an “aversion” I am definitely averse regarding Islam and also I fear its intentions and direct effects.
          I have criticized Islam for many many years, along with other religions and I do not care who knows it. I think it, Islam is the worlds worse religion and presents an existential risk to all democratic countries.
          I am just not convinced that many recognise this for the danger that it is.
          Sooner rather than later we need to be less accommodating to Islam and its adherents . We are as Sam Harris says
          “All Israel now”

          1. I’ve suggested Islamoloathia here in the past. For its emphasis on killing anyone else, it’s a loathesome religion.

    2. “The jihadists mean what they say!”


      The counterintuitive behavior is reading of Marxist literature or listen to Marxists speak and take it as meaning what they write or say. (I did this fof a long time before I actually studied Marxist lit, so I’m not accusing here).

      The words are always loaded terms, or alternative meanings, or mind-numbing doctrinal subversion – such that we assume the nice, good kind of interpretation – e.g. “Liberation”, “Revolution”, or “transformation”.

      No such subterfuge with Islamists.

      I’m restraining myself on this post, but this was hard to pass up.

  19. “…life in this world has no value, apart from deciding who goes to hell and who goes to Paradise…”

    This carries little weight outside the illusion of free will. It doesn’t mean much if one is not proving oneself by freely choosing to carry out god’s will. I believe that the illusion of free will is the ground out of which this type of thinking springs.

    Religion, hate, bigotry, toxic egotism, and more all have deep roots in the illusion of free will. I also believe the illusion short circuits critical thinking – there is no such thing as critical thinking outside a context of determinism. With free will one gets to just “know things” without having to think very hard. Between religion and the illusion of free will, I believe the illusion of free will to be the more fundamental problem.

    As long as the mass of humanity is operating within the illusion of free will we are playing a game of wack-a-mole. Israel is wacking a mole right now. That mole needs to be wacked. But it’s going to pop up again and again and again…for as long as we continue to operate under the illusion of free will.

    I don’t think that seeing through the illusion is going to be a panacea but it seems to me that the belief in free will has humanity chasing its own tail.

  20. The Russian intelligentsia of the mid-19th century through the Stalinist era gave us a glimpse of a world that despised religion and did not believe in free will. That is not to deny the violence that can arise from the clash of religion with opposing worldviews. It is simply to suggest that terror, fanaticism, butchery, and the desire to rule over one’s fellow human beings might have sources other than religion and a belief in free will.

  21. I saw Hitch once in person while he was alive and I’ll never forget one of his scathing hitchslaps:
    “Martyrs when they reach paradise get 72 virgins but do you know what the women get? They get their husbands back…nothing manmade about that!”

  22. The Nazis tried to keep their crimes secret. Hamas boasts about them. Big difference. Years ago (2018), I saw “Hotel Mumbai”. As a consequence, recent atrocities don’t surprise me. When you think these people have hit bottom… They keep digging.

  23. Over the last month whenever I have come across a person positing moral equivalence or a ‘one side’s as bad as the other’ excuse for their disinterest, I have asked two questions stolen from Sam’s last podcast:
    1. Can you imagine Israel using Israeli women and children as human shields?
    2. If they did, would that deter Hamas or simply encourage them to attack?

    Funny how they always go quiet and refuse to answer. They know the difference. And that is what makes them wicked: they know the evil inherent in Hamas, and choose to not care about it.

  24. Greetings Jerry Coyne,
    The quote and the podcast by Sam Harris is correct. Hamas is partially “motivated by taking religious doctrine literally.” Sam was right in saying that Jews and Christians understand this because of what Sam referred to as religious certainty. I am a Christian. I am working on a PhD in Biblical Studies. I’m an Elder in a small church in Maryland. Yet, you and Sam are right. Here is the issue I have with certain types of religious certainty: if Christianity is true (which I believe it is) there is still no way that 21st century Christians fully understand with certainty all the details of the faith. However, the major points are clear with regard to the faith – God created the world, Jesus rose from the dead, miracles have actually occurred. As Sam articulated, the Islamic faith has a set of major points, too. Now, Sam’s ask us to imagine the New Testament promoting child rape but then making that type of comparison to the major points in Islam. The teachings of the New Testament in appropriate context does not require radical changes or twist to the major points of Christianity.
    I agree – I assume with you – and with Sam, that the Koran/Quran does teach things that are affirmed and promoted that are evil and wrong. But what defines evil and wrong? You know the arguments as well as I do. A philosophical argument to find absolute good and evil will never be found. An antecedent to a standard that defines absolute certainty for good and evil does not exist for atheist.

    Sam referenced the late Christopher Hitches – a funny man who poked fun at my faith overtly and often! But Jerry, you (or Sam) or any purely secular person can declare that Islam is evil, and Christianity is simply misguided. However, politicians can’t say that because they have to be religiously neutral because the current interpretation of the establishment cause implies such. However, Hitchens and Harris and you and I can overtly say that Islam, if followed accurately by an honest sincere faith filled Muslem is false and evil. The difference is that I have a theistic, but I am convinced reasonable basis for my assessment, where you and Sam have to call these people “genocidal lunatics and followers of a death-cult” based on philosophical uncertainties. Sam says that protest that support Islam and Hamas is “landing on the wrong side of this asymmetry; this vast gulf between savagery and civilization.” I assume you agree as I do. Yet, you and Sam have no absolute foundation for your assessment. If Evolution is true (and thus Atheism is also true) then I would fully agree with the worldview and philosophical and even evolutionary foundation of Sams assessment.

    But if Evolution is not true and Christianity is true, … then while I’m glad Sam gets it – that Islam is doing what is true to Islam – I also know that the truth of my faith is a better foundation to cure all of this mess. Unfortunately, another major point of Christianity is that humanity will continue to hurt and crush each other until the end. It’s not that our faith-based efforts to help people and love others is futile or a waste of time; No, it’s just a fact that aligns with reality. Just check the last 4000 or 5000 years of human history and you know that this assessment is accurate.
    Thanks for your blog – and have a safe trip to Europe and back!

    1. I agree – I assume with you – and with Sam, that the Koran/Quran does teach things that are affirmed and promoted that are evil and wrong.

      One holy book down, one to go. Good start.

    1. Umm. . . . an apology. The article argues that Hamas and other jihadist groups are motivated as much by political grievances rather than religion, but they’re not attacking Egypt or other Arab countries that have refused them entry; they are are attacking Jews, and that’s what’s in their charter. This whole article could have been distilled in a paragraph but is intended to smear Harris, as you are. The salient question is why political grievances are settled by Hamas with violence against Jewish civilians rather than the way political grievances were settled by, say, the ANC or the “Quit India” movement.

      I doubt that an apology will be forthcoming.

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