In Defence of The Rubin Report: Long Live the Circle Jerk!

The Rubin Report’s first episode on Larry Kings Ora TV network, featured author and controversial public figure: Sam Harris. The shows namesake Dave Rubin, sat down with Harris for over an hour to hash out his views, and talk about the unfair attacks on him by what is now referred to as the Regressive Left. Rubin had previously worked on The Young Turks network, which was co-founded by Cenk Uygur. Uygur also hosts the show: The Young Turks, a show which has provided a platform for Harris’ attackers and is now actively involved in the campaign against him. Rubin admits that the unfair treatment of Harris by Uygur and other Regressives, played a role in his decision to leave, which led him to embark on his mission of opening up discussions around difficult issues. The Rubin Show has certainly delivered. Harris’ fans – like myself – were extremely pleased with Rubin’s approach to the interview and the topics being discussed, and there was a real sense of change coming, a momentum we all wanted to keep going through retweets, blogs posts; any support that would help spread word of this brilliant new show that was doing what it preaches, namely combating Regressives, promoting free speech and actually listening to the views of others.

Indeed, Rubin reported that the response to Harris’ interview was largely positive. However, the Regressives wasted little time dismissing the interview and the show. The Rubin Report went on in subsequent episodes to feature other atheists and advocates such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Gad Saad, Douglas Murray, Sarah Haider and Ali A. Rizvi. It was thusly labelled a new atheist circle jerk, where neo-con atheists got together to bash Muslims. Fine. This was expected. But less expected was the change in tone of the shows supporters, after a number of guests featured on the show, did not align with their views. Never mind how soft Rubin was on Harris – someone we agree with – but did you see how he let Larry Elder and Tommy Robinson rattle off their bigoted views unchallenged? What is this a right-wing circle jerk? Sounds to me like an orgy of epic proportions if nothing else. I understand the criticism to a certain extent. I’ve previously argued that it’s possible that Rubin hesitates to push back, because in many cases it’s the first time he’s really hearing the other side’s arguments, and he’s unsure of his own views. If this is the case it is also a good thing, because he will learn to sharpen his ideas on the whetstone of the opposition, and it also means he’s open to changing his mind, a rare quality in this world of identity politics. However, I think more likely; Rubin is bringing us a show like we’ve never seen before. We’re used to shows like Real Time, The Young Turks, Bill O’Reilly etc. The hosts and the panel challenge each other, sometimes belligerently, and poke fun at one another, which is all well and good. Their followers cheer their hero’s and boo the opposition from the side-lines, and the net result is, no one has really heard anyone. To me this is not what The Rubin Report is about.

The Rubin Report isn’t about scoring points for the left, or the democrats, or for atheists, or any other group. It’s about fleshing out people’s views – especially unpopular and marginalized views – on important topics. Rubin does a brilliant job at this and as far as I’m concerned he should expose himself and his audience to as many different views as possible. He should ask probing questions to flesh out the ideas of those people, so they can be assessed fairly and on their own merits. Its then up to us, as the audience, to grapple with those views. We can agree, be neutral, or disagree, in whole or in part, or we can challenge those views in whatever forum we wish, as I have done with my blog piece on Rubin’s exchange with conservative Larry Elder. But the whimpering disappointment being voiced from some viewers suggests to me that they were never serious about the premise in the first place. It sounds like they’re scared for others to hear controversial views they don’t like. “Tommy Robinson is an actual bigot, and Rubin just let him espouse his bigotry unchallenged”. Well I hate to break it to my fellow viewers, but Regressives draw little distinction between the views of Harris and Robinson, and they bemoaned the fact that “Rubin gave the bigot Sam Harris a free ride on his new show”. That’s something you should keep in mind.

And for all the objections that The Rubin Report is providing a platform to these right-wing crazies – Harris or Robinson depending on your perspective – he also provides a platform for liberals, intellectuals, scientists, dissenters, and most recently an Iraqi female atheist named Lubna whose identity has to be hidden for her safety and for the safety of her family. Lubna is not a celebrity or public figure, she is being given a platform purely so people can be aware of the plight of secular people’s in the Middle East, a worthy cause I’m sure you’d agree. I had the pleasure of speaking with Lubna briefly on twitter a few weeks ago. A truly courageous person, facing some impossible decisions going forward. I assume not many will be whining about the fact that Rubin let her speak with impunity about her situation or her views. Of course, some Islamists would do this and much more, because her views are deeply offensive to them. And with that I hope you take my point.

In Defence of The Rubin Report: Long Live the Circle Jerk!

Life as a Sam Boy: From Inside the Creepiest Cult of our Time

I would’ve never described myself as a believer per se. Perhaps better put, a non-active believer. I was given religious instruction at primary school (elementary) – which is infuriating. My parents had me don a pretty white dress for my Christening, not because we were religious, but because it was what people did. And although I never attended Church nor had I read the bible, I accepted the truth of God, Jesus’ existence and the afterlife, uncritically. I was never told any different, and from primary school onward, I never really thought about God or religion, all I knew was, I got chocolate and received gifts on Jesus’ birthday and resurrection. What kid would question that! When my uncle died – he had no legs due to the type II diabetes that killed him – I placed a letter in his coffin, confident in the belief he would read it in heaven.  In the letter I wrote, “Don’t be sad uncle, now you’re in heaven, God will give you back your legs”. So in retrospect I guess I was quite the little believer. I’m not too hard on myself for this, evolution makes credulous creatures, and I trusted in the consensus of others. Overcoming credulity and shedding bad ideas is one of most liberating endeavors a person can undertake. It began for me at 20 years old, after a break-up. I read the bible, trying to find some meaning in life. I was an atheist by the time I finished Leviticus. I then read Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, was then introduced to the work of Christopher Hitchens – one month after he died – and of course, through them I came across my dear leader Sam Harris.

According to some I’ve just described how I was brainwashed and became a member of the “creepiest cult of our time”, led by the messianic Sam Harris. Our cult has been wittily dubbed The Sam Boys – a play on the term fan boys – but I assure you, that’s the extent of their wit. And what about the females that defend Sam against blatant obscurantism? Well, they’re the most brainwashed! The cult keeps them around to guard against charges of sexism, but they’re confined to the basement – brainwashing chamber – with the House Arabs, who are used to cloak our white supremacist agenda, don’t worry we pay our native informants a wage. Sound bat shit? Read through the twitter feeds and articles of regressive leftists and their supporters. This is the picture they want to paint. Not quite Picasso, more Pollack flinging his own feces. The scary part is, they’re quite good at this technique. When I read the regressive view of Sam’s thought experiment on nuclear war, I had to double-take. Did he say that? What an asshole! Their distortionism led me, someone who knows Sam’s views, to believe – albeit briefly – their version. I then picked up my copy of The End of Faith and saw the claim for the excrement it was. See here and here to see for yourself if you can’t stand to read the book. Also, if you want a laugh see what someone sent me, when I asked him what criteria people have to meet to be considered a member of this “cult”. Notice the tactics described actually apply more to the regressive left than “Sam Boys”. I begged him to write an essay on how Sam meets the criteria for cult leader because it would be hilarious. He said he might just do that, I sincerely hope so!

“Of course, Sam Boy owns The End of Faith and refers back to it like the bible!” Well I’ll admit, and I hope I’m not shunned by my fellow cult members here, that I don’t own the entire canon. I own The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, Free Will and Islam and the Future of Tolerance. I have read The Moral Landscape and Lying – something Cenk Uygur should read, and if he has already, maybe he should re-read it – but I’m not particularly interested in Waking Up – blasphemy! Although I did watch the lecture. In all honesty, until recently I stopped paying attention to Sam because I felt I knew his views so well, and paying too much attention to him, meant I’d miss out on following other worthwhile thinkers like Ali A. Rizvi, Faisal Saeed al-Mutar, Douglas Murray, Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani and so on. I don’t think my dear leader would begrudge me that? Alas, here I am, a full-fledged Sam Boy and avid defender. Because there’s one thing I can’t stand, intellectual dishonesty. So if it makes me a Sam Boy to stand up for intellectual honesty and integrity so be it, but don’t try to deny my agency like you do others. According to regressives, ex-Muslims and reformers are brainwashed House Muslims/Arabs and/or native informants, Islamists don’t act, they REACT to the Wests behavior, and therefore aren’t really responsible, and now they would have people believe, that agreeing with or defending Sam Harris, means you must be brainwashed and a member of his tribalistic creepy cult. Well, get Donald Ducked!

Regressive’s purposefully distort to get people to believe outlandish claims about Sam and the issue of Islamism, but given the accessibility of information which enables investigation into their claims, failing to see their tactics for what they are, doesn’t mean you’ve been brainwashed, it just means you’re being dishonest. I said at the start, overcoming bad ideas is one of the most liberating endeavors a person can undertake. The regressive left is, to quote my dear leader “the mother lode of bad ideas”, or rather “A mother lode of bad ideas”. It is no surprise they have aligned themselves with purveyors of Islamism. They have set the war of ideas back decades and must be challenged, ridiculed, and defeated. No, they’re not brainwashed. Unlike them, I’ll leave their dignity intact – even though they seem determined to tear it asunder – because that’s not an escape route I am willing to leave open to them. Because when the world looks back to see when and how we got it so wrong. They should be held fully responsible for their blunders.

Life as a Sam Boy: From Inside the Creepiest Cult of our Time

A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

Caveat: I know Maajid is not an apostate! I say it tongue and cheek.

Islam and the Future of Tolerance gives readers something which feels almost alien – a cordial, open, honest conversation about the challenges of reforming Islam. As I turned each page I found myself anticipating (perhaps wanting?) to see a cataclysmic locking of horns (Infidel vs. Apostate). This epic cage match never eventuated. In fact the only part in the book remotely resembling an impasse, pertained to the reading of Islamic history in the sections ‘Nature of Islam’ and ‘Finding the Way Forward’. The disagreement was of little consequence to the overall discussion. What was particularly gratifying was seeing Sam’s eagerness to learn from Maajid, demonstrating again – unlike some of his opponents – just how open he is to new ideas. Initially Sam took the backseat in the conversation, and adopted more of an interviewers’ style, seeking clarification around the concepts and definitions on offer. When one reads the book you come to understand Sam’s admission that he was the one most changed by their conversation, which makes the suggestion that Maajid is Sam’s lapdog, simply absurd.

The conversation becomes more even-handed as you read on. Still – although I didn’t do a word count – it seemed Maajid got the bigger slice of the dialogue. I was quite happy about that, I read Sam all the time, and I know his views fairly well. Maajid has one other book – Radical, a memoir which I highly recommend – and his public appearances and articles, provide a pretty clear picture of his own views. However, the depth and nuances of those views really come to the fore in this book and it was all the more gripping for that reason. There is a feeling throughout that Sam is being cautious, as if he’s half expecting a backlash of the sort he has become accustomed. He rather amusingly even “bends over backwards” to articulate a position held by his detractors to gauge Maajid’s reaction (surely, Maajid must, at the least, agree with his opponents here, this conversation is going too well, with a little too much agreement!). If that is indeed what Sam was doing, I certainly can’t fault him for it. Too often people appear liberal and interested in honest discussion and turn out to be just another religious apologist. I too found myself reading Maajid, waiting for something to object to on those grounds. Thankfully that moment never came to pass.

Maajid does a great job demonstrating the nuances in scriptural interpretation and how literalism doesn’t necessarily equate to bad (a view Sam understands as his Jainism example shows). As an example he used the stance of the Hanafi School – which were closest to the time of prophet – regarding the prohibition of khamr (alcohol). In essence the word khamr relates to alcohol derived from grapes, so the prohibition therefore, only relates to wine. Maajid points out this is a literalist argument, making the blanket ban on alcohol an interpretation that was successful in supplanting the traditional view. In regards to the murder of infidels he asks, does “smite their necks” translate to “smite their necks today?” Good point, however, I would ask, if God thought it permissible during the war against infidels of the period – and clearly many Muslims feel history is repeating itself – what are the chances an omniscient deity would have a different view in 2015? Do we really need another prophet to tell us whether that edict is applicable today? It’s when you start tying scripture to actual concepts of God – what He is and what powers He possesses – that you run into problems. A better way to allow reform to grow, would be to divorce the two, which sadly can’t be done.

The alcohol example actually indicates both a solution and a problem. The solution being there is wiggle room here. The problem being that it hinges on arguing for interpretations which, whether scripturally viable or not, have to, at least, be better argued than current interpretations enabling the problems we see, and will need to be argued for as long as Islam permeates the religious landscape. Whatever one takes away from the alcohol example, one point has to be that the interpretation which bans all alcohol won over many Muslim communities. Also, Sam rightly points out that some interpretations are more plausible than others, and even if reform was achieved; if someone or some group in the future reads the texts uncritically, and is anchored to the concept of God and the belief that the Quran is the inerrant, eternal word of God – in line with the Asha’ira school – then religious barbarism can be renewed again and again. So whilst I agree it’s certainly unrealistic to apostatize 1.6 billion Muslims; can even Maajid deny that it would be a hell of a lot easier? Again it comes back to what people believe is at stake. The interpretations that get you a more liberal Islam are not just difficult because the cases are not well argued, or there isn’t scriptural justifications for them. It also has something to do with the consequences of getting it wrong. If you believe in God and read the Quran and Hadith, it is understandable why you may conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t dovetail with modern society. Whereas if you misinterpret Shakespeare – unless you’re an academic and have written a patently ridiculous interpretation of Shakespeare’s works, that draws ridicule from your peers – then there is not much at stake.

With all that said this book was a thrilling read and – if you will allow me this cliché – a breath of fresh air. They cover a lot of ground from the role of foreign policy to the Regressive left and the differences between Islamism, Jihadism, and conservatism among the world’s Muslims. They touch on belief as drivers of behavior, the challenges of having this conversation in other contexts and locations, what it means for women to have this conversation and so on. You won’t read this book and come away with all the answers to your questions or a blueprint of how to reform Islam. Rather you will go away with a better understanding of the issues, a renewed hope in civil discourse, and the knowledge that you were a small part of what will be seen as the kick starter, for the reform of Islam. Not to take anything away from the many men and women – in some cases children – (Muslim and non-Muslim), who have been working on this front, but I would not be too begrudging if these two gentlemen were most remembered as the founding fathers of this effort.

Two asides:

  • Maajid says in the book that doctrines are the construct of human beings which is true. However, one of those human beings is thought to be a prophet. This legitimizes his interpretation of the word of God more than any ensuing theologian. And if God came down tomorrow and said “hey, ISIS has the right of it, stop bastardizing my words with your liberal interpretation”. What then? This may seem like an insincere question but I assure you I am wholly sincere. After all people readily buy into the idea that God has come down from the heavens on different occasions to deliver his word to the people, utilizing prophets like Moses and Mohammed. If it were to happen again, and that was his message, would we or would Maajid as a Muslim, tell him to go fuck himself. Or would, or rather should we be joining ISIS to defeat the infidels and re-establish the caliphate?
  • Maajid highlights what I consider to be a loophole that gets Muslims out of some the more undesirable edicts in Islam. He mentioned that in one tradition, the prophet Mohammed channeled the word of God and addressed believers stating “Oh, my people if you don’t sin and repent, I will bring a people more blessed than you who will sin and who do repent, because I want your repentance”. This he says led some schools within Islam to advocate for their right to sin. Well one could simply appease Him here. Sure I will drink and attend a strip club in the infidel’s homeland and for this I will repent. Then tomorrow, I and eighteen of my brothers will wage Jihad against the infidel, and if my interpretation of scripture is wrong in this regard, well then I may simply repent for that too. Of course, if God did indeed say that, well what is he playing at? This is another reason why I can’t bring myself to believe in Him. He seems such a contradictory, inconsistent, emotional, reactionary character!
A Review of Islam and the Future of Tolerance

The Inevitable and Spectacular Explosion of Sam Harris

It’s finally happened! I woke up this morning (NZ time) and saw Sam Harris’ tweet linking to his conversation with Kyle Kulinski. Attached was a remark from Sam, “was I too angry here…you be the judge”. I actually responded before I listened to the exchange. I was comfortable doing so, because I felt I could re-create the exchange verbatim before I even clicked the link. The reason being, I have become accustomed to Sam spending an inordinate amount of time clarifying his views – that needn’t have been clarified – and defending his character against unscrupulous Regessive’s and their lackeys. In fact, the effort to combat these unethical, morally deranged – and sadly, widely read – assholes (hey if Sam can say it I can say it) now takes up the majority of his time and attention. Sam has endured this circus with a Zen like patience. But, alas, like the supermarket checkout boy that politely suffers repeated insult at the hands of people queuing at his register, Sam has finally snapped and gone ape shit.

I like to imagine Sam sitting in a quiet room practicing his mindfulness. In the next room his wife Annaka Harris sits listening to Kyle Kulinski’s interview with Glen Greenwald, to see what the Regressive’s were accusing her husband of this week. As the noise of that conversation wafts into Sam’s consciousness, an eyebrow begins to twitch and a lip begins to quiver. Then “tens of millions” echoes in Sam’s mind. His eyes open wide, bloodshot, bulging and swollen, at which point he hulks the fuck out, storming into the next room with pistol in hand, shooting the shit out of the monitor.

Of course, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that. But because Sam is usually so measured, to hear him curse so frequently with sharpness in his tone, coupled with the personal attacks. Well it was quite a shock. He referred to Greenwald et al. as “total assholes” and “cyber bullies”. He even claimed Greenwald “doesn’t have a journalistic bone in his body”, and compared him to serial plagiarist CJ Werleman, adding, the only difference between the two, was that Greenwald “won the lottery” after Edward Snowden chose him to expose his mass surveillance scandal. Once I got over being gobsmacked, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride, this has been a long time coming. And if you think Sam unfairly labelled Greenwald et al. – well tough shit – none of it comes close to the attacks aimed at him in recent years. Sam, like Greenwald is of Jewish descent, but wasn’t raised within Judaism. However he must feel as if he’s been repeatedly banging his head against a wailing wall of moral morons for the past few years and coming away with nothing but a splitting headache.

Comrades on Twitter and Facebook have alluded to the fact that Hitch would have reacted similarly. Except, Hitch wouldn’t have let things get this far. Hitch never suffered a fool, even for a second, especially in his presence. He would rebuke the person with a stinging wit that made even his critics burst into laughter. But that’s Hitch, there was no one like him, and never will be again. Sam’s strategy has been to discuss the issues openly and honestly hoping these people will see reason, or at the least play fair. Unfortunately, this strategy has failed him, because the Regressive Left isn’t interested in reason or fairness. It’s time to push back hard, and now is not a time to lose heart. The most concerning thing for me were the following comments “I’m at the end of my patience with this stuff”, and “someone like me will get out of the game because it’s too much of a fucking hassle”. Sam cannot give up this fight. If you take a look around, its easy to see the Regressive’s are winning, and have been for sometime. They’ve set back the war of ideas decades. Before we can even begin to challenge Islamism, we have to dehypnotise much of the world on this issue, and in all honesty I don’t know what’s harder to combat, Islamists or Regressive Leftists.

Now Kyle Kulinski wasn’t too bad. But here are some issues I had with the conversation bullet pointed below:

  • Greenwald’s harsh interpretation of Sam’s work?

That’s not what Greenwald et al. are doing. They’re purposefully and gleefully distorting his views in an attempt to assassinate his character, thereby delegitimizing his voice, and the voices of the people he is attempting to champion. They’ve been doing this to Sam for a long time, and it is no mistake that they’re now doing this to Maajid Nawaz.

  • Retweets don’t equal endorsements?

Retweets alone may not, but 140 characters are available to demonstrate your intention. As an atheist and critic of Islam, if I retweet an article from an atheist promoting the massacre of Muslim’s in his native country in order to purge the land of Islamic terrorists, am I endorsing that article? Of course not. But I would say “this article is disgusting & an example of real anti-Muslim bigotry that should be opposed”. What did Greenwald do, did he retweet the article with no qualifiers? No. What was his qualifier? “Read @MazMHussain on the bigotry of “New Atheists”, with a very revealing quote by Sam Harris”.

  • [Sam Harris] No one clicks through to read the original source.

Actually Sam it’s worse than that. Click bait headlines are often the only thing people read. Plenty of people don’t read the article at all, let alone clicking on a link therein that contains your actual argument.

  • Do you really think Greenwald is setting these tricks up beforehand?

That much is obvious and he’s not the only one who does it. Dean Obeidallah randomly threw the profiling distortion at Sam, and insinuated he was a racist likening him to Paula Deen, on live Television. Dean later tweeted “it was so much fun watching Sam get mad -Reza told me it would be and he was right!” Yes these people know exactly what they’re doing.

  • People believe your original articles are suggestive of bigotry. Your follow ups are much clearer.

As Sam already pointed out, how many follow ups do they require before they retract or even apologise for labelling him a moral monster. In reality they haven’t done this, and no matter how many follow ups Sam writes, they never will.

  • Your writings on torture don’t come across as thought-experiments.

This one is particularly annoying. In the end of faith, the 2005 article, and Sam’s many follow ups he invariably uses words like IMAGINE. In other words, here’s the topic, now let’s imagine X Y Z. SIMPLE.

  • We should devote equal time and criticism to all religions.

Ok, can we get a division of labour on this? Forget security theatre that’s intellectual theatre. People seem to forget the issue of Islamism has real people behind it. People that are suffering. Yes Christianity is bullshit, and harmful things come from it. Should I really waste my time continuously pointing that out whilst people are dying under the yoke of Islamism on a much larger scale, just to appear fair. Give me a break! Also I suspect Greenwald doesn’t want us to critique ALL religions, just those he associates with the Imperialist West i.e. Christianity and Judaism (because he is obsessed with Imperialism). Is he really losing sleep over Sam not critiquing paganism, or the Sikhs?

  • We should critique our government [United States] because we’re more responsible for our own government.

Ah you do! And they do, all the time, ALL THE TIME. So do most liberals. And frankly (as an outsider) that’s all the world does also. I can put on Facebook the inhumanity of Saudi Arabias regime, and Id barely get a like from Facebook friends. One post on a drone strike against a terrorist target going awry and Facebook lights up with like after like, comment after comment bashing the United States. I don’t know if American’s know this, but in the rest of the “West”, the United States is one of, if not the, most reviled nations on earth.

  • Greenwald said context matters.

Yeah except in the case of Sam’s views. Got it.

  • There is anti-Muslim bigotry in America, exhibit A B and C.

Granted, but why are we laying this at Sam’s or any atheists feet? As much as Sam would appreciate the cash, he’s not so widely read as to influence every bad actor against Muslims or that all those that read his material buy into his arguments. Its often the case they oppose his arguments. He has 333k followers on Twitter, even if you grant a million more from Facebook and another few million that aren’t on social media, this is a drop in the ocean. And I’m yet to see an argument laid out by him that has been streamlined by any administration.

I could go one, but I don’t have the – albeit waning – patience of Sam Harris

The Inevitable and Spectacular Explosion of Sam Harris