Sam Harris suffers from a strange mentality: he won’t listen to me, I am sure, perhaps he will listen to Fareed Zakaria.
I have paid my dues to the facts of critics of Islam with a ‘see you and raise you’ by citing the controversial book Jihad by Paul Fregosi. I would welcome a correct critique of this book, but the point is clear that the ‘revolution of Islam’ was quite tumultuous and violent. I am mindful of the judgment of the sufi Idries Shah of a generation ago, betraying a surprising detachment toward ‘Islamic enthusiasm’ by pointing to the way Islam was a creation of its time. He was right. The religion of Christianity had already stalled and become fixture of the rapidly collapsing Roman Occident, the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. And that fall was traumatic and calamitous: a world more than a millennium old, classic in its collation of Axial Age religion and civilization had simply slipped into oblivion. It was in that context that Islam emerged, as a crisis vehicle to rescue something from disaster. It attempted to break the deadlock of stalled Christianity to complete the creation of a world religion, and to correct some of the liabilities of the Christian experiment. Take an example, the onset of antisemitism locked in a religious experiment. The hidden creators must have been aghast over centuries and wishing for a second chance. We can see the attempt to create a superset that could mediate the cultures of Judaism and Christianity. If the success was mixed, yet genuine for many centuries, we have to wonder how the degree to which the question of Israel gave birth to a new virulence of antisemititism.
The collapse of ancient civilization was the moment, the world needed a rescue vehicle and it had to act fast, source from a fringe area like Arabia, and match the violence of the Romans to create a substitute for the Romans. Given this axiom the hope of giving the result a religious superset would have seemed the logical complement to the final coming of ‘holy war’, born in the Old Testament. There we see the geopolitical logic and the contradiction in the explosion of Islam attempting to move rapidly to create a new civilization at the dawn of the nadir point era of the Dark Ages before the onset of a new false stability of the Middle Ages. In this context the overall achievement of Islam has to be seen as a spectacular success that suffered its own decline. Zakaria cites a book by Karabell, Peace be upon you: here we see the fuller picture and parital answer to people like Fregosi. Before we dismiss Islam we should consider how little we understand it: Islam has an embedded subreligion of sufism, still as mysterious to the West as it was at the time of the Middle Ages and the troubadours, Islamic progeny in a list of many. The world of sufism is still a complete blank, yet ranks as one of the most mysterious experiments in the history of religion.
A critic like Sam Harris calls Islam the motherlode of bad ideas, how idiotic: Harris’ own commentary on religion has to be the world’s most concise motherlode of bad ideas on the subject of religion, topped off by his attempt to pillage of buddhism for the cripples of scientism. Few have produced anything matching this motherlode of stupidity.
In any case, the future of Islam will be to encounter modernity for a last and first time: but it won’t come from the peddlers of bad scientism, or the degenerates of democratic modernism now peddling imperialism with ‘made up’ wars fueled by the military industrial complex. I can’t think of anything worse than the worst of jihad until I must reckon with the militarism of the American Industrial machine that has to send covert agents into a stabilizing Islam to repromote jihad so that the profits of warmongering can be refreshed with renewed conflict. The sheer ugliness of this new model of war crimes joins the other legacies of antiquity here near the top of the list. So to the sanctimonious thugs like Harris, who also preaches the virtues of Israeli depradations of Palestine, we should wonder at the Pentagonic jihad in bed with the Captains of American industry, the final depravity of jihad.
Harris should read Zachary Karabell’s book “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Conflict and Cooperation.” What he would discover is that there have been wars but also many centuries of peace. Islam has at times been at the cutting edge of modernity, but like today, it has also been the great laggard. As Karabell explained to me, “If you exclude the last 70 years or so, in general the Islamic world was more tolerant of minorities than the Christian world. That’s why there were more than a million Jews living in the Arab world until the early 1950s — nearly 200,000 in Iraq alone.”