Glen Greenwald and Reza Aslan seem obsessed with smearing Sam Harris. Most of us have seen Reza Aslan in action before, insisting that FGM is not an Islamic practice (technically correct but practically wrong) and claiming that Indonesian women live in a free and open society. Many have refuted his claims (see here and here for example) and since he plays fast and loose with facts, it is easy to dismiss him.
Glenn Greenwald, on the other hand, is a famous journalist who helped bring Edward Snowden’s story of NSA over-reach to the public. People listen when Glenn Greenwald speaks because he usually says credible things, and that makes his sustained attack on Sam Harris not only disappointing but also dangerous. People simply believe Glenn Greenwald when he twists Sam Harris’s words which means he denies us the opportunity to engage in honest dialogue – something that is absolutely crucial in a society that thrives on the free exchange of ideas.
The latest volley from Sam Harris’s defamers comes in the form of a meme that proclaims Sam Harris a “genocidal fascist maniac” (see below) and although this quote did not originate with Glenn Greenwald, both he and Reza Aslan retweeted it to their multitude of followers. They both should know better and Greenwald especially, as a journalist, should be ashamed.
Sam Harris responds to this libel on his site where he puts the quote into context. A journalist like Glenn Greenwald would normally have checked his facts before broadcasting such a falsehood, but it appears that he is so intent on showing Sam to be the evil bigot he most certainly is not, that all journalistic ethics take a back seat to his defamatory ambitions. Here is the vital missing context of the quote from The End of Faith (pp 52-53):
The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments. Consider the following proposition:
Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.
What is it that stands between you and the absolute panic that such a proposition would loose in the mind and body of a person who believed it? Perhaps you do not have a daughter, or you know her to be safely at home, or you believe that English jailors are renowned for their congeniality. Whatever the reason, the door to belief has not yet swung upon its hinges.
The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas
Not exactly advocating genocide. Further, it becomes abundantly clear that Sam Harris advocates exactly the opposite of genocide if you read the accompanying end note to these paragraphs:
We do not have to bring the membership of Al Qaeda “to justice” merely because of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. The thousands of men, women, and children who disappeared in the rubble of the World Trade Center are beyond our help—and successful acts of retribution, however satisfying they may be to some people, will not change this fact. Our subsequent actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere are justified because of what will happen to more innocent people if members of Al Qaeda are allowed to go on living by the light of their peculiar beliefs. The horror of Sept. 11 should motivate us, not because it provides us with a grievance that we now must avenge, but because it proves beyond any possibility of doubt that certain twenty-first-century Muslims actually believe the most dangerous and implausible tenets of their faith.
As I said before – Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan should be ashamed of themselves, Glenn Greenwald doubly so as a seasoned journalist. Take the time to read Sam Harris’s reply, On the Mechanics of Defamation, on his site and take a look at the article on The Friendly Atheist for another take on this incident.