Review: Islam and the Future of Tolerance
I just finished reading the dialogue book by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, Islam and the Future of Tolerance and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's rare that reading a book brings the same interest that watching a debate will, but when the participants are both well-read, respectful of their partner in conversation, and willing to concede points made, it makes for a (not-surprising in this case) great page-turning.
Harris brings up one of the points he made previously in The End of Faith where he criticized moderate believers by stating, "One of the problems with religion is that it creates in-group loyalty and out-group hostility, even when members of one's own group are behaving like psychopaths." This is a point well-worth listening to and one that Nawaz also recognizes. Only a few pages later, Nawaz goes through his "circles of Muslim believers" that Harris tried in vain to explain to Ben Affleck on Bill Maher's show. The explanation is great and very helpful in showing the layers of ideology and what those involved actually want to achieve.
Another interesting tidbit that harkened back to Nawaz's previous book, Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism, was his explanation of the four elements of recruitment to an ideological extreme. Reading a former star recruiter tell the details of how he worked with these elements was intriguing.
Harris brings up the on-going problem of so-called "liberals" being sensitive to the point of extreme dishonesty and goes right to the brink of actually naming the people he refers to as, "the usual suspects". If you've listened Kyle Kulinski's interview of Harris (well worth the 2 hour time investment) you'll know exactly who he is talking about and why he is so (justifiably) testy. Harris also brings up a major issue with respect to internal reform within Islam, pointing out that moderation or interpretation of religious texts involves outside authority i.e. a source that originates from outside the "infallible" doctrines of the faith, which obviously would be a large problem for many devout Muslims (or any devout believer of any faith).
Nawaz makes a great point regarding the reasons for having the conversation at all, pointing out that for a person to blow themselves up as well as anyone - man, woman, child - in the surrounding area and believe that this is a good thing with a positive outcome for all killed, you would need to have 100% commitment and belief in your doctrine. If a conversation, "can seed even 1 percent doubt, we may stop that suicide bomber." To change Islam, however, he admits that, "(A) complete overhaul of cultural identity patterns and a reformed scriptural approach is required." That is asking a lot of the world's Muslim population, but it is doable.
Maajid Nawaz has, in my opinion, the line of the book where he states what should be the motto of all who attempt to have this sort of discussion in their own lives - privately or in public. "No idea is above scrutiny and no people are beneath dignity." Oftentimes, when a scientist is being interviewed, one of the last questions will be something along the lines of, "If you could correct one major misunderstanding about your profession or specialization, what would it be?" Well, with respect to atheists, we need a t-shirt slogan that shows we're not all (or even mostly) the snotty and condescending image so often portrayed in media; this one quotation, if things were right in the world, would be that t-shirt. Hell, I'll buy one right now.
This short, interesting book is well worth the read and if you haven't picked it up yet, you should.