Cenk V. Harris

Below is my analysis of the debate between Cenk Uygur and Sam Harris in the first hour.

1:00 – 6:00: Right off the bat, Harris laments how Cenk gave Aslan and Werleman a platform to slander him (note: Werleman being outed as a plagiarist happened *after* he was on TYT, as Cenk notes later on). Harris explains how he regrets the “context” of these former interviews by Cenk and that he now has to thus rid himself of “the slime” produced by Aslan/Werleman (instead of talking about his latest book).


Notice that Harris has just simply disregarded the actual content of the critiques produced by Aslan on TYT and elsewhere – which were not ad hominem in the slightest but actually rational and factual – by launching an immediate ad hominem attack himself. Also, notice how Harris is simply lumping Aslan in with Werleman’s plagiarism, or at least something akin to it, without warranting the claim. He then goes on to switch gears into a non-sequitur about Salon, thus not warranting the claim that his person was attacked irrationally by the slime of Aslan/Werleman (which, by definition, is ironically an ad hominem itself).

Mr. Harris speculates how Salon has slandered his person through various articles (he does not cite actual content nor an actual title/author), one of which called him an outright “douchebag.” Harris claims “much of what you read on Salon is just maniacs in the bedroom typing” — Cenk then counters with an excellent point, stating how Harris essentially just generalized about Salon with a broad brush stroke based on these (alleged) several articles that slander his person. Harris quickly and tritely rejects the analogy as not being valid, but, yet again, does not explain how so.  Are we to simply just take his word for it?

Are you noticing a pattern here?

Notice the trend in just the first five minutes of the interview – Harris has made several claims already without backing it up with any actual sound evidence:

1. He claims Aslan/Werleman slandered him and now he must rid himself of “the slime” – but does not warrant this claim at all (implying or equating Werleman’s plagiarism in with Aslan’s alleged slime)
2. He claims Salon has slandered him with several articles and warrants this by offhandedly mentioning one of them (he doesn’t cite which) called him a “douchebag”
3. He rejects Cenk’s excellent analogy re: Harris’ hasty generalization of Salon overall, yet doesn’t say on which grounds, and quickly transitions back into his non-sequitur about Salon, not addressing the details of his original claim that Aslan/Werleman slandered him

6:00 – 7:00: Harris likens the treatment by Salon of Harris to that of Cenk and the TYT but then bizarrely says “but hey man, I trust that we are going to have a good conversation.” Harris just got done likening Salon to a place which promotes lazy maniac writers typing away ad hominem pieces in their bedrooms to that of TYT in one fell swoop and then -on a dime- he does a one-eighty and tries to be congenial and reasonable with Cenk…….

7:00 – 9:00: Harris then casually wades back into his previous critique of Werleman, but notice the mode in which he does so – he projects an attitude that everyone knows Werleman is a “well established fraud and liar” and a “plagiarist.” Cenk of course interjects that he had Werleman on before this came out — yet the damage is done. Harris, in disregarding the chronology, totally just painted a picture as such: “Cenk had invited on a guest that was a well-established fraud and plagiarist and gave him a platform to criticize me.” Unless Harris assumes Cenk ought to have the computational power of Google, this statement is disingenuous on Harris’ part.  But even though Harris just made an inaccurate statement that was corrected by Cenk, he does not retract it — instead in response he has the audacity to imply that it was obvious that this guy Werleman was a fake, thus implicating TYT for not having a similar penchant for clairvoyance.

Also, again, plagiarist or not, Wereleman’s actual argument – the content of it – has yet to be addressed, even though Harris made the claim that he was slandered. Nor is Aslan addressed.  Chalk this up to a red herring.

10:00-12:00: Harris revisits his broad brush denunciation of Salon by stating that it is the place “where journalism goes to die.”  Wow. That may or may not be the definition of “slime” on the part of Harris.  Cenk then interjects and reiterates his previous analogy but this time with gusto and he really does a good job of driving the point home, stating that Harris is doing the exact same thing that he claims Salon is doing by slandering all of Salon. Harris rejects this analogy by offhandedly saying under his breath “this is going nowhere.” Again, Harris seems to think he can just say things without supporting his critiques, and when somebody like Cenk calls him out for it he assumes this heir of utter disbelief. That sounds like a fundamentalist, in a way. I am not saying Harris is a fundamentalist, only that that characteristic is notably a hallmark one of fundamentalism.

12:00 – 20:00: Cenk poses the first question – what, if any, distinction do you, Sam Harris, make between Islam and Muslims? Cenk has several quotes on hand which would suggest that Harris is lumping in Islam as a belief system and actual Muslims living out their own interpretation of that belief as it mingles with cultural traditions. Notice, Cenk has actual facts to back up his assertion, something which Sam Harris has yet to demonstrate, now almost fifteen minutes into the debate (as shown above). Sam Harris actually goes on to make a very nuanced response, upon first blush – in short, he is interested in the range of beliefs people have in response to their belief system of Islam.  From 12:30 – 15:15 I pretty much agree with everything Harris is saying — to be honest, he sounds a lot like Cenk here. However this is *not* what Harris has said in his own literature, which is decidedly more glossed, as Cenk will note.

21:30 – After a tangent about the validity of religions in comparison, Cenk then again pursues his critique about Harris’ claims in detail, which were glossed by Harris in his initial response.

According to Harris’ own words in writing: ‘“Muslim extremism’ is not extreme among Muslims” and that the jihadist is the “best example of Islam in practice.”

Now, compare that statement to the previous thing Harris just said at the 12 minute mark. They are completely different takes which are dualistic and contradictory.  Harris at first says that he is interested in teasing out the range of interpretations in Islam – yet, as Cenk shows, his literature says the complete opposite, that “the militant and violent fringe is itself the core.” The cognitive dissonance is apparent.

25:00 – notice the straw man argument applied to Cenk by Harris. Harris is attempting to argue that Cenk believes that “there is a difference between what people say they believe and their actions.” The example he gives is that while a Muslim might tell a pollster he thinks an apostate should be killed, that doesn’t mean he will do so. But that is not Cenk’s argument, nor is it Aslan’s (given earlier TYT segments).

The poll regarding whether or not Muslims believe in Sharia Law, or the literal truth of Islam, ranks high among Muslims in certain countries, sure, but that is quite different from polling a specific question like “whether or not an apostate should be killed.” In essence, you are asking a believer whether or not they believe in Koranic law – if you polled Christians whether or not they believed in the literal truth of the Bible, it would score high. Actually, a Pew Poll found that 37% believe in the literal truth, as Cenk will later cite.

Now, does that mean 37% believe that homosexuals should be stoned to death or that you can’t mix yer fabrics? No, of course not. Likewise, just because a large percentage of Muslims in Indonesia believe the Koran is the law doesn’t mean they also believe in the killing of an apostate. Things are lost in translation. As Cenk has argued in previous segments, “Sharia law” does not mean you agree with everything, not in practice. It can mean many things: the literal truth of every word; the overall spirit or tenor of the book; or, quite literally, “legislation.” The latter term is actually quite interesting on first blush, as it would suggest wiggle room. Legislation is, by definition, a law as lived by people rather than a law which exists in a vacuum, or a universal and unbending law, for example. Unlike the unilateral and unmitigated truth of the Pope, Muslims are not beholden to one single entity; if one Imam declares a fatwa (legal opinion), then only its local adherents must abide by it; which is to say, if the Muslim that attends a different mosque with a different Imam down the street doesn’t agree with the former Imam’s fatwa, then he doesn’t have to abide by it. That qualitatively seems like a practice of Islam which is way more democratic than the papacy. But of course Sam doesn’t deal with that part of Islam.

32:30 – Harris makes a quite convenient comparison between Jihadists doing horrible things in the ME and Jews in Brooklyn. That is apples and orangutans. How about this comparison: ISIS and the IDF and its latest war of aggression into Gaza which was marked by an illegal collective punishment of all Gazans?

Or how about ISIS and the founding of Israel, where according to Henry Siegman re: noted Jewish historian Benny Morris, during the War of Independence, Israel itself engaged in terrorism.  In order to get Palestinians to flee their homes quicker leader David Ben-Guirion was ordering his major general to line up captured Palestinians against the wall and shoot them. This was actually a common terrorist tactic which predated the War of Independence by fringe Jewish terrorists.

Lastly, according to the FBI’s own stats, since the eighties, regarding the overall pie of terrorist attacks broken down in groups, there is a 6% chance it will be at the hands of a Muslim compared to a 7% chance it will be a Jew.  Would Harris have us profile those in yamakas as well as Bollywood Villains?

Harris is ultimately using selective logic here rather than being consistent across the board.

46:00 – Harris attempts to differentiate Jesus from Muhammad, seeing the latter as a warlord and the former as a guy who willingly and passively went to the cross. Yet Harris should refer to what Harris said a couple minutes earlier, where he admits (offhandedly) that with Christianity you have Christ returning in the end of times and engaging in holy war re: Revelation. Harris wants to conveniently partition off this bit of Christian dogma and see Christ only in terms of the good parts rather than the overall religious belief system, from beginning to end, ending with the rapture and holy war.

Given this logic, if Muhammad was a warlord, as Harris terms it, it was only in a local sense and he still had to deal with finite reality, whereas according to the tenets of Christianity Christ is a death-defying superman zombie cosmic warlord that is going to engulf a third of the earth in flames.

Gee I wonder why Bush and Hitler both waged crusades in such an irrational and genocidal nature, as Cenk is trying to get across? And that is another point: Cenk has given *actual* examples of Christian zealousness: the Crusades; Inquisition; World Wars; Iraq (I would also add Blackwater as well, being the largest contractor in the Iraq war whose CEO, Erik Prince, has publicly stated how he sees himself as doing the Lord’s work in his crusade). Let’s stack up those millions of kills next to Islamic states.  Iran and Saudi Arabia are supposedly the most egregious examples of Sharia. While both regimes have displayed atrocious human rights policies, how many times have they invaded other countries? How many kills? The kill count isn’t even fucking close. Iran hasn’t engaged in a war of aggression since 1826 during the 4th Russo-Persian War. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

Cenk makes an excellent point at the 58:00 minute mark.  He notes the presence of Islamic states and the problem of church and state as one, yet Cenk cites the Ottoman Empire and how even with a religious state it still didn’t en masse massacre those who didn’t believe in Islam.  Instead, it was an empire which allowed for religious autonomy as long as taxes were paid.  The original rise of the Muslim empire, Cenk notes, while brutal in its own ways as it was an empire, was actually more advanced scientifically and politically, during the dawn of the Dark Ages for European Christianity, comparatively speaking (they built libraries, allowed for free religious expression, took in tens and thousands of Jews from the Inquisition).  Harris bounces back with this as being a romanticization of history, and that the Ottomans/Abbasid were not providing a religious utopia — but that is a strawman, as Cenk is not arguing it to be the case.  Rather Cenk is making a comparative analysis between the two religions of Christianity and Islam.

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