Lee Kuan Yew vs Sam Harris

The Old Man Lee says it boldly in the first sentence of his article in Forbes: “Islam has not been a problem“.
Sam Harris, on the other hand, says it boldly in the title of his article in the LA Times: “Religion Isn’t the Solution — It’s the Problem“.
Both are excellent reads and absolutely recommended as a primer to the dichotomy of perspectives that exist on the issue of religiously motivated terrorism.
I picked up Sam Harris’ book, “The End of Faith”, at MPH over the weekend and it asked some very direct questions.
It opens with a real-life scenario: a well-educated Muslim boy from a well-to-do middle class family, boards a bus. Sits next to a family of three, a little girl right next to him. He closes his eyes, whispers a silent prayer, and blows himself up, killing everyone on the bus and dozens more in the street. Why did he do it?
The thesis of his work is that religion is the cause of violence; everytime a Muslim commits some form of mass atrocity, someone will come on the tv and say that “Islam is a religion of peace”, the actions of Muslims who commit violence in the name of Islam do so unsanctioned by the majority of Muslims. While the act of violence itself is unsanctioned by Muslims, it does not deny the possibility (i use the word “possibility”, Harris uses the word “fact”) that the Holy Quran allows, and even encourages violent action against non-Muslims.

“So let us now make sense of the impossible by acknowledging the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals. While liberals are leery of religious fundamentalism in general, they consistently imagine that all religions at their core teach the same thing and teach it equally well. This is one of the many delusions borne of political correctness. Rather than continue to squander precious time, energy, and good will by denying the role that Islam now plays in perpetuating Muslim violence, we should urge Muslim communities in the West to reform the ideology of their religion. This will not be easy, as the Koran and hadith offer precious little basis for a Muslim Enlightenment, but it is necessary.”

via Sam Harris, Bombing Our Illusions.
Let’s accept for a moment his thesis that religion validates violence, by quoting the Quran, people like Osama bin Laden are doing things “by the book”, Harris has an interesting follow-up argument: moderate Muslims while not the locus of violence, assist in its perpetuation.

“Religious moderates may ignore or overlook the more barbaric passages in their religious books, but by venerating the books in general, they leave us powerless to really oppose the belief systems of fundamentalists. And because moderates tend to ignore the most lunatic parts of scripture, they lose touch with how dangerous these books are when taken literally. In fact, they have trouble believing that anyone does still take these books literally, and so they tend not to recognize the role that faith plays in inspiring human violence. Religious moderates are blinded by their own moderation.”

via Sam Harris Q&A.
His writing and perspectives are incredibly inflammatory — its interesting that the Malaysian Government take so much offence to a bunch of cartoons printed in the NST, but have absolutely no problems allowing a book like “The End of Faith” sit in the Bestsellers/Featured section of the local bookstore. That’s consistency for you.
But his ideas and arguments are not empty vessels. His book is full of direct quotations from the Quran, citing verses that allow and encourage violence against non-Muslims. I’ve looked up those verses myself, and taken within a particular interpretation, its possible to argue these verses advocate violence:

009.123
YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.
PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).
SHAKIR: O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).

via USC-MSA Holy Quran Online.
The Holy Quran can be interpreted many ways — some people who read the above will argue it validates violence against oppressive non-Muslims i.e. Israeli Jews. Others will read it and argue that the word “fight” does not necessarily refer to physical violence; jihad can take on many forms, many of them non-violent. The problem is the reader, not the Book.

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