The Best Of The Dish Today

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 7 2014 @ 9:00pm

Readers keep asking me:

I would love your perspective on the debate Bill Maher, Ben Affleck and Sam Harris attempted to have on Friday’s Real Time. I’m sure many other Dishheads would too. Can you please weigh in? It really is a fascinating topic that is drawing a lot of attention.

There’s been so much going on I let this one pass. But since you ask, I think it’s pretty indisputable that any religion that can manifest itself in the form of something like ISIS in any period in history is in a very bad way. I know they’re outliers – even with respect to al Qaeda. But, leaving these mass murderers and sadists to one side, any religion that still cannot allow its own texts to be subject to scholarly and historical inquiry, any religion that denies in so many parts of the world any true opportunities for women, and any religion whose followers believe apostasy should be punished with death is in a terrible, terrible way. There is so much more to Islam than this – but this tendency is so widespread, and its fundamentalism so hard to budge, and the destruction wrought by its violent extremists so appalling that I find Affleck’s and Aslan’s defenses to be missing the forest for the trees.

Yes, there are Jewish extremists on the West Bank, pursuing unforgivable religious war. There are murderous Buddhist extremists in Burma. There are violent Christian extremists in Nigeria, and in Russia. All religions have a propensity to banish doubt, to suppress humility and to victimize outsiders. But today, in too many parts of the world, no other religion comes close to the menace and violence of Islam.

Christianity has a bloody past and a deeply flawed present. Islam has a glorious past in many respects, and manifests itself in many countries today, including the US, humbly, peacefully, beautifully. But far too much of contemporary Islam – from Pakistan through Iran and Iraq to Saudi Arabia – is more than usually fucked up. Some Muslims are threatening non-believers with mass murder, subjecting free societies to shameless terrorism, engaging in foul anti-Semitism, and beheading the sinful in Saudi Arabia just as much as in the Islamic State. And if liberals – in the broadest sense – cannot stand up for freedom of speech and assembly and religion, and for toleration as a core value, then what are liberals for?

Does this make me a bigot? Of course it doesn’t. Criticizing a current manifestation of a religion is a duty – not a sin. And it’s not as if I have spared my own church from brutal criticism. And it’s not as if I do not respect – because I do – those countless Muslims and Muslim-Americans whose faith is real and deep and admirable. But it’s precisely because of those true representatives of the best of their faith that we should not hesitate to point out the evil and intolerance and violence of too many others. Some things really are right in front of our nose – and contemporary Islam’s all-too-frequent extremism and fanaticism is one of them.

As for Sam Harris, we are never fully in agreement, but on this issue – the unique threat that Jihadism represents in our world and the disgrace it represents for Islam as a whole – we are as one. I do not believe that all religion is poisonous delusion – au contraire – but I do believe that this particular religion at this particular moment in time is specifically dangerous and violent, and to argue that this has nothing to do with the religion that these fanatics profess is simply denial. We’ll also very shortly be starting our discussion of Sam’s new book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion. So we can perhaps address this in that bigger discussion. Stay tuned.

Today, I tried to think through what “containment” can mean in terms of confronting Jihadist terror (I think it counsels minimalism and a defensive posture, rather than our current military gestures in Iraq and Syria). I screwed up in a post comparing Obama’s and Reagan’s record in private sector job growth – although it remains indisputable that the Obama recovery would be far stronger if it had not been strangled by willful GOP austerity in the public sector. We noticed that chickens have grown in size over the last few decades almost as much as football players; and we pondered the meaning of a sudden explosion at an Iranian nuclear research facility.

The most popular posts of the day were those on Obama’s and Reagan’s economic records, followed by my reflection on the amazing progress of marriage equality this weekend – just today saw Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Alaska, and Montana joining the bandwagon!

The entries for today’s window contest were particularly impressive. But one reader is left pulling out her hair:

It finally happened to me today, as it has happened to so many others.  I looked at the View From Your Window pic on Saturday and said “It looks like Lake Chelan” – I grew up on the lake so I should know. Then I asked myself, “Yeah, but what are the odds?” and closed the window without sending in a guess.

I love you guys, but I kind of hate myself right now.

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See you in the morning.