Noam Chomsky versus Sam Harris: Rationale versus hate

Published: May 14, 2015

Sam Harris is butting heads again - this time with Noam Chomsky.

Sam Harris is butting heads again – this time with Noam Chomsky. He recently blogged an email exchange he had with the great man himself; an exchange which, as with most things with Harris, quickly degenerated into crassness.

That this torture-advocating anti-theist would, of his own accord, publicise such classless piffle over the web, expecting quite possibly a tsunami of approval from his fans, betrays a curious audacity one may only encounter in a special breed of omniscience-claiming cult-runners. Of course Harris can be absolved of such an indictment – no cult-runner is he. But he may well be drifting perilously close to the shores of something resembling a cult operation.

Let me explain. Anyone familiar with Harris’s writings will know he advocates the profiling of Muslims or people who look like Muslims – you know, those bizarre folks with two eyes, two ears, a nose, among other ‘Muslim’ markers – at airports. And that’s just one of Harris’s more charitable, less lethal, proposals.  Stoic and measured as always, Harris in his chilling matter-of-factness has proposed ideas more lurid; for instance, a pre-emptive first strike on people who hold dangerous beliefs.

Being quite the charmer, Harris’s charm is exceeded only by his predictability. Take any matter involving Muslims and you can rest assured Harris won’t disappoint – if you’re a card-carrying Islamophobe, that is. Some of Harris’s commentary on Islam and Muslim societies could effectively serve as a sacred text of its own kind for hate groups across the world. His fans would, of course, take issue with such characterisation. They will immediately evoke the tried-old refrain that Islam is not a person; it doesn’t have rights and is open to criticism.

This, by the way, would be a perfectly legitimate point if that were really the case. Unfortunately, Harris doesn’t just stop at criticising Islam, he goes further. Take the case of the ground zero mosque which he opposed vehemently. This will be seen as a victory by the jihadists, he insisted. Never mind the said mosque is a multi-faith community centre; a decent initiative to bring people – yes, people, not jihadis – together in peaceful solidarity. But where Imam Abdul Rauf, head of the mosque initiative, saw warm handshakes and friendly embraces, cynical and clinical Harris saw jihadi high-fives. Or just take the Israel-Palestine conflict. Surprising no one, Harris came out strongly in support for Israel in the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian confrontation (2014) where Israel maintained its impressive 30:1 kill ratio.

And this is why Harris’s half-decent attempt at a dialogue with Chomsky was such a thorough buzz-kill. Instead of stepping up his game, Harris persisted with the same non-contributing reductionist arguments and absurd hypotheticals that, granted, reverberate with orgasm-inducing force within his chosen echo chambers, have little to no relevance beyond.

No wonder Chomsky called it a ‘non-interaction’.

But for the sake of argument, let’s just briefly examine Harris’s position. Intention more than the death toll matters to Harris. So even if the al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan was hit with cruise missiles under Clinton’s orders, causing drug shortages in the country that killed tens of thousands of civilians, per Harris’s calculus Clinton can be exempted because the poor guy suspected the factory to be an al Qaeda operation. Contrast this to Bin Laden’s diabolical actions designed to inflict maximal death toll, and you have a clear winner in absolute sadism and depravity.

Chomsky, of course, effortlessly exposed the weaknesses in Harris’s puerile premise:

1. To evoke intentions when dealing with mass murderers is moot because mass murderers like Hitler, Pol Pot and the likes often think they are justified in their actions. Besides, to determine intentions in complex matters is in itself a near impossible task, and

2. The kind of ‘collateral killings’ America is infamous for “are arguably more immoral than purposeful killing, which at least recognises the human status of the victims, not just killing ants while walking down the street, who cares?” in Chomsky’s own words.

Chomsky also raised another interesting question regarding the al Shifa episode, that if Clinton mistook it for an al Qaeda operation, then why did he order the missile strikes immediately after the US embassy bombings in Sudan? This along with other examples of Clinton’s war crimes that Chomsky mentions in the exchange, raises serious doubts over Clinton’s apparently ‘good intentions’, accessible somehow telepathically to Harris alone. Mild and measured, Harris quickly changed the topic.

And this is what’s so dark about the new anti-theists. Under the patina of ‘measured rationalism’, they happily skip over vast tracts of nuance, to do exactly what they accuse their opponents of – clumsy reductionism. Yes, this is what has elevated hate-merchants like Ayaan HirsiRobert SpencerPamela Geller and just legions of folks crowding the Islamophobia band wagon to positions of prominence. This elite brigade of ‘West-is-superior’ chanting blowhards will practically go to insane lengths to peddle a narrative the perpetuation of which is most profitable in the eerie Huntington reality of today’s clash of civilisation – Islam versus West – world.

However, let it be clear: to recognise that there are profiteers in the Islamophobia industry is not to deny that Islamic reform is very much a necessity. The punishment for apostasy and blasphemy in many Muslim countries is death. One need not be a libertarian to recognise what is wrong with this. Such edicts – drawn from centuries old Islamic jurisprudence – are dangerously incompatible with modernity and point to the desperate need for more contemporary jurisprudence. Times have changed. Few centuries ago, people claiming witchcraft and sorcery were dispatched to the gallows. Now they’re promptly committed to lunatic asylums.

Reform in Muslim societies will need to emerge from within and cannot be forced from without. The good news is there are people actively involved in this project. The bad news is that hate sells. Nuance doesn’t. And this would surely make Mr Harris happy.

Taha Najeeb Khan

Taha Najeeb Khan

The writer is a New York based Pakistani who has everything perfectly figured out. He generously freelances his omniscient wisdom to spread the light.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • sundas

    Beautiful ending…this is ironic that the biggest threat to Atheism is New-Atheism…which has,decisively, reduced construction of Atheist-morality-code to destruction of theistic moralities.such a shame!Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    My request to erudite “Seculars” of Pakistan is that kindly plz write such incisive piece exposing Hinduphobia & Christianophobia for your own Hindus & Christians also.Recommend

  • Sarah

    So true. Things have become so polarized. And I fear this will only get worse, but good to see that there are people with a balanced perspective like Mr Khan here. Very nice piece.Recommend

  • Ali

    Excellent piece…the haters always take the day! Recommend

  • Critical

    I’m an atheist and I dont always agree with Sam Harris or Dawkins views as you cannot club a religion or community as a monolith…

    “Reform in Muslim societies will need to emerge from within and cannot be
    forced from without. The good news is there are people actively
    involved in this project.”

    However,I’ve doubts in the above statement by yours…Because from what I’ve seen….Muslims were more tolerant and secular 2 decades ago…Nowadays,there are becoming more and more radical,more Wahabised and more easily resort to violence…

    “Moderate” muslims never condemn the extremist but when non muslims try to do,they form as a human shield shouting Islamophobia,stereotyping,Racism etc…rather than introspecting themselves..

    Honestly the world is getting tired of muslims who ,attack on one hand and cry victim on the other hand….Unless muslims try to change themselves,others will be forced to change Muslims and this wont go down too wellRecommend

  • ali butt

    What a sophisticated defense of Islamism, and cover of Jihadism, by this author. Bravo.

    Killing people at seminars and free speech events, and at the same time claiming persecution by painting Muslims as a race. Recommend

  • ali butt

    Muslims: People of faith who just want to live their lives.
    Islamists: Muslims who impose an interpretation of Islam on other Muslims, using legal and social means.
    Jihadists: Islamists who employ violence to achieve their goal of “conquering the world”.

    Islam is a faith. Islamism is an ideology.

    Anyone who thinks of himself as a “reformist” Muslim should call out Islamists, and isolate them from the rest of ordinary Muslims.

    Islam will be reformed the day when:

    – People achieve the liberty to leave Islam (without being killed or ostracized).
    – People achieve the liberty to criticize Islam (without being killed or ostracized).Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    When “theistic morality” tells Sam Harris he deserves to be tortured in hell for all eternity just for being an atheist, you may expect some pushback from him.

    Let me be clear; I have very little tolerance for many of the things Sam Harris says. But after centuries of burning ‘heretics’ at the stake for questioning the theistic dominion, it is much too early and far too ignorant for theists to start playing the victim card with the budding of a new movement bent on “destruction of theistic moralities”.

    One mustn’t lose sight of power dynamics between theists and atheists; about who has privilege and who doesn’t.

    (To stress again, this is not a defense of Sam’s anti-Muslim bigotry. This is a response to the historically-blind outrage over the neo-atheists’ bold anti-theism)Recommend

  • Meshuga

    So, what did we learn from this rant disguised as a blog? Islamophobia is baseless, meanspirited and irrational (or is it irrationale?) and its practitioners, Sam Harris and the usual culprits are bad, very bad people, And those in the opposite camp, like Noam Chomsky (known for being a world famous MIT linguist and a dissenter of American foreign policy), are rational (or is it rationale?), “great” men. And yes, the author is in love with his rhetorical flourishes. Did he convince anyone with his cherry-picked, pre-chewed arguments? Not me.Recommend

  • anon0912

    I don’t know much about Sam but I will say this that if you claim to be rational and have thousands of people listening to you,then you have a duty to present an unbiased opinion and certainly not advocate hate for a specific group of people.But the real problem isn’t what these people say but unfortunately in the people who take their word as the truth and don’t think for themselves.It baffles me that we are just little specks of dust within one galaxy moving through space on a rock and we have the audacity to claim that we know the origins of the universe,religious and atheist alike and kill each other in our delusions of grandeur.The trouble lies not in the color of our skin or a system we call religion but in the pettiness of our feeble little minds.No matter how civilized and open minded we claim to be,us humans are just animals who resort to their true selfish nature time and time again fueled by our own personal gain with no real sense of purpose except to create chaos and havoc on each other and on this planet until one or the other gives.Recommend

  • Immo Ali

    I have read him and Dawkin’s and found them religion-phobic rather than specifically islamophobic. They have criticized Christianity more than anything. Yet you are trying to conjoin that same old ridiculous theory of Islam vs west. There is no “vs” as you are not even capable of that, and to be clear modern man has killed God a century ago. Muslims and other religions need to revisit their approach towards rationality. You cannot create a better future when most of the people you meet, think how the world is going to end and what should be his role to reincarnate his religion and score a paradise…Recommend

  • Sarah

    Excellent article and a very strong ending. Loved it! Would love to read more from you on various subjects!Recommend

  • Jefferson_Lebowski

    Atheism is rising….very quickly….all over the world. So called “New Atheism” is neither new nor is it in danger of self implosion as the author seems to be hoping for. As far as Sam implying that Muslims should be profiled…..that is One Mans opinion and does not diminish the case against religious servitude.Recommend

  • Immo Ali

    so why wasn’t my comment added?Recommend

  • Taha Najeeb Khan

    Faraz Talat,

    “When theistic morality tells Sam Harris he deserves to be
    tortured in hell for all eternity just for being an atheist, you may expect
    some pushback from him” – If that were the only source of Sam’s
    pushback, It would be a legitimate one. But Sam, like other profiteers of the
    Islamophobia industry, peddles nonsense disguised as “rationalism” somewhat
    prolifically. This notion that the Cheneys and Rumsfelds sitting in Pentagon
    have the purest intentions at heart, they just mistakenly drop nuclear bombs,
    orchestrate CIA coups in foreign states, drone-kill people who may “look” like
    militants, etc. is either embarrassingly foolish or just plain disingenuous.
    And given Sam’s quite obviously biased position on several issues involving
    Muslims, I trust in his case it has to be the latter.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I’m fairly certain the author is neither killing people at free speech events, nor is he endorsing it.

    Islamism and anti-Muslim bigotry are both very real problems.Recommend

  • Nazia

    I don’t think Sam Harris is arguing that mass murders are justified by US. He is only asking for a differentiation between killing a child by pointing a gun at him and accidentally killing a child because the bomb that was thrown on enemy soldier also killed the child. So he is not saying that death of child was justified in the second case, he is only saying that it must be differentiated from the death of child in the first case. Intention does matter. Causing death by shooting someone directly and causing death by overrunning a pedestrian when you could not control your car are not equivalent. They are both sorrowful and unjustified but not the same. You are stretching this argument to give the impression as if Harris supports US in mass murder of people. Recommend

  • Sharjil

    This is an excellent write-up! Really enjoyed it. The author is right, too much mistrust and hate in the air. This is only radicalizing people even more. What is needed is more balanced commentary, which is lacking in the atheist camp. Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    I have watched many videos of Sam and found him very honest and convincing. I think author should give few examples where he is wrong.Recommend

  • peabody3000

    yeah rationale is a noun, used correctly in the title. look it up if you need toRecommend

  • peabody3000

    as an ardent atheist, i hope christianity, islam, and all other belief systems wither away in good time, at a pace not to be too disruptive to all the many flavors of true believers who have come to rely on the psychological crutches these folkloric dogmas provide.. but profiling anyone due merely to appearances is a terrible policy to practice, period. i am surrounded every day all day by religious people, in my family, friends, business, love life, etc etc.. i can only hope for their own sake they can let go of their false truths cooked up by generations of superstitions-turned-canonRecommend

  • siesmann

    Not really.The perspective of Mr. Khan is as unbalanced as could be.In fact he doesn’t seem to have read the whole exchange in an objective manner.Harris has,in fact,took USA to severe task for many of the policies.And his tone was much deferential towards Mr. Chomsky,who appears from the start to be very irritable and accusatory.There is certainly difference between intentions.TTP and ISIS kill intentionally and deliberately,and feel more righteous about it,without a hint of regret.Whereas drones(which are much maligned than TTP/ISIS in Muslim world)at least try to minimize collateral damage.(just an example of role of intentions in moral decisions).Recommend

  • dangerFML

    Is it irrational though? The new Caliphate is being created (ISIS/ISIL) these people believe all non believers should be killed, enslaved, or forced to pay a tax to the Caliphate. Although most Muslims do not actively participate in such things the fact that millions are condoning it or participating is scary. I am too lazy to look up the article but I recall reading that something like 15% to 40% of the Muslim world (depending on the Country) stated that 9/11 was a good thing. It isn’t a majority but when you are dealing with 1.5 billion muslims even 1% is a scary number.Recommend

  • Arif Baksh.

    Simple. Sam is a White Shiv Sena or Bajrang Dali or a male Sadhvi Prachi.
    Or a BJP wala. Only difference is skin color.Recommend

  • Adam Conn

    I actually agree with both Dr. Chomsky and Dr. Harris. I agree with what Dr. Chomsky says, in this case about the al Shifa bombing, and how we have to “focus on our own crimes and stop committing them”. But I also agree with Dr. Harris when he says, “Islamic reform is very much a necessity. The punishment for apostasy and blasphemy in many Muslim countries is death….Few centuries ago, people claiming witchcraft and sorcery were dispatched to the gallows. Now they’re promptly admitted to lunatic asylums”, or wait, was that the author Khan? Does that make you an Islamophobe? I guess nuance does sell.Recommend

  • JusticeLeague

    It’s funny how minority’s opinion/action has no bearing on the entire atheist group, but minority’s opinion/action applies to the entire Muslim community. Double standards never fail to disappoint, especially under the umbrella of ‘rationality’. Loved the email exchange that showed how a true scholar responds to a charlatan. #RespectChomskyRecommend

  • JusticeLeague

    Of course not. It’s hard to disabuse irrational notions like yours. Maybe read about intellectual humility in ‘Utopia and Violence’ by Karl Popper? Have a good day :)Recommend

  • Kites

    ‘Modern man has killed God a century ago’. Well, i guess to need to revisit your approach towards rationality. Good luck!Recommend

  • Flowerpower
  • Person

    This two faced approach is pathetic. First you say ‘you cannot club a religion or community as a monolith’. Then you do do the same yourself ‘world is getting tired of muslims who ,attack on one hand and cry victim on the other hand….Unless muslims try to change themselves,others will be forced to change Muslims and this wont go down too well.’ Practice what you preach.Recommend

  • Alex

    The author seems to be poisoning the well. I think where Chomsky and Harris differ is a matter of scope of consideration. Chomsky is more focused on “Beliefs and actions of Americans because I am American”, whereas Harris is more focused on “belief and actions of humans”. They are both right when they view things from these different stand points. Harris is not a seller of hate as you might be portraying.Recommend

  • greenrevo

    It’s more funny when one man’s opinion leads the other to kill him in the name of entire community.Recommend

  • Sundas Rashid

    Let’s not jumble up the facts. it’s not theistic morality that tells Sam Harris to burn in hell forever but the decoders of that morality-code do….and at the same time it’s not atheistic morality that encourages to profile Muslims or Christians and make generalizations on the grounds of appearances but these new-atheists do.The policy of combating with religious ignorance with far greater atheistic ignorance won’t help at all.

    By “destruction of theistic moralities” i don’t mean there is an armed response towards theist communities but i referred to the increasing insistence and popularity of the idea among atheist sections in recent years.

    Since i very much endorse atheist ideas, i am concerned what’s changes are coming around it….and what it has to present that can replace religious extremism…if it’s going to operate on the very principles that institutes of religion are condemned for , i am afraid it has anything to offer at all.Recommend

  • Usman

    Harris approached this discussion with the intention of finding a common basis for discussion and debate, not with the intention of judging who is true scholar and who is charlatan. But perhaps you guys think that intention is not important :). Also Harris never claimed that all Muslim have exactly the same beliefs. He usually would give the statistical break down based on surveys conducted by third parties.Recommend

  • Roger

    I don’t think Chomsky is of the opinion that Harris is right. I give more weight to Chomsky’s opinion than the rest of human raceRecommend

  • MrChris

    I’m usually a fan of what Harris says, but there’s no doubting that he got slaughtered here.Recommend

  • carmi2

    The bigotry is no small wonder. I wonder how many atheists or even believers in a non-personal god are going about blowing people up for their cause?Recommend

  • Where Is Ur God Now ?

    Sam harris’s opinions do not lead to killings like that of religious people.Recommend

  • Where Is Ur God Now ?

    not really. he wasn’t *debating*. he was merely *trying* to have a conversation and Noam seemed extremely rude and arrogant from the gitgo. he was being mean.Recommend

  • Sheeraz

    Giving weights to opinions is your choice. I don’t think one individual can be smarter than whole of humanity. Chomsky is a great intellectual without any doubt, but most of peope in Muslim world adore him for his criticism of America because he focusses on American politics. I am sure if Chomsky was a Muslim and saw what Muslims were doing and started a criticism on Islam, no one in Mulsim world will even listen to him.Recommend

  • Sanity

    Harris is a critic of relgion, Chomsky is a critic on foriegn policy of USA. Majority of Pakistanis is biased in favour of religon and against US foriegn policy, so it is quite expected that Pakistanis would decalre Chomsky a rational person(which he is) and Harris a hate monger(which he is not).Recommend

  • Tajammal

    We are quite unfortunate that a fruitful exchange between Chomsky and
    Harris could not occur. We could have learnt a lot from a discussion
    between the two. Probably its email that messes things up. Unfortunately
    Harris irritated Chomsky by his wierd invitation email. Chomsky never
    commented on Harris work and started a prolonged discussion of Harris
    misinterpretation of one paragraph of his book. Perhaps it would have
    been generous of Chomsky to forgive Harris and agree for a discussion
    and give Harris a chance to clear his position on secularism etc. oh
    well, moral of story is — Don’t use email. It will mess up everything.

    to that unforntuate occurance, it even more unfortunate that poeple
    like the author of this article have used this oppertunity to bash
    Harris without understanding his position.Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    Read the email exchange and Sam harris’s approach to Chomsky’s moralistic dilemma, especially in the context of Al-Shifa’s bombing. Chomsky’s rebuttal is based on sound logic which Sam fails to address. I am sure Chomsky’s arguments would carry more weight in your eyes and would pass through your prejudices because he’s not a Muslim. Educate yourselfRecommend

  • Flowerpower

    Absolutely. Like when Bush bombed Iraq without any evidence of weapons of mass destruction or Clinton’s Al-Shifa Bombing or Obama’s drone strikes.Recommend

  • Love

    You make sense bro, but won’t we be screwed if there’s an afterlife? That’s why I am not an ardent anything. Peace bro.Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    Chomsky appears to be irritable and accusatory? Sam Harris started out by attacking Chomsky on his moralistic framework about Al-Shifa bombing. Chomsky offers a rebuttal which Sam Harris failed to comprehend entirely. He never addressed the rebuttal. Learn to read before commenting in a pompous manner. I never knew that you have powers to see people’s intentions. I am sure Clinton felt immense regret after Al-Shifa bombing, like Bush felt remorse after bombing Iraq and Obama feels after ‘collateral damage’ due to drone strikes. Chomsky asks the fundamental question: “Shouldn’t there be parity between value of the lives of innocent Muslim civilians, like innocent non-Muslim civilians?”Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    Three prominent ones in recent history: Clinton’s Al-Shifa bombing, Bush’s Iraq bombing and Obama drone strikes. Does this suffice?Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    And Chomsky’s does? If you consider Clinton, Bush and Obama as religious, then I am fine with your statement. These presidents of USA take pride in Al-Shifa bombings, Iraq bombings and drone strikes. All of these strikes took numerous innocent civilian loves. The entire nation supported these strikes. So, according to Sam’s arguments they are to blame too. Here is where Sam’s prejudices against Muslims impedes his rational approach and this is what Chomsky aims at. Objective reading of the email exchange makes one respect Chomsky for being an honest intellectual.Recommend

  • Riaz Ahmad

    What is the point of misrepresenting Harris views on “intention”. He certainly did not argue that US foreign policy is, for a fact, based on good intentions. He only wanted to seek out Chomsky views on intention and how important Chomsky would consider it. Please stop misleading people that by asking such question Harris wanted to show his support for Chenny or Clonton or anyone else. He was arguing as a scholar to seek clarity. He was not judging rights or wrongs of US foreign policy. He knows that when it comes to questions of forign policy, Chomsky is much better informed. Recommend

  • Meshuga

    Whatever. To each his own. :-)Recommend

  • Meshuga

    It has become tiresome to speak of the “drone war” without proper context. All the attacks against Western and non-Western targets, including those before and since 9/11, was a declaration of war by jihadists given safe haven and even support/training by sovereign countries. The expensive ground wars did not go very well. Drones are a targeted and less expensive way to fight wars. But it is still war as long as those enemy warriors exist and given safe havens and support. (Imagine the collateral damage of a real ground war.)Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    As I implied, I have very little tolerance for Sam’s bigotry, and all that you state is correct.

    But let’s be clear: it’s not his ‘anti-theism’ that I’m upset about. I don’t like the idea of subjecting neo-atheists to a higher standard of political correctness, as the theists eagerly await an excuse – any excuse – to attack and discredit the anti-theistic movement.

    If Sam Harris supports Israel, or is bigoted against the Muslims, it’s tempting to generalize that as a new-atheist position. But let’s not.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Eternal punishment for the godless is an extremely common Abrahamic belief. Please don’t tell atheists they’re imagining this. They know what most Muslim and Christian children are taught concerning an atheist’s fate, and that seems rather divisive.

    …which is a minor part of a colossal case an anti-theist atheist can construct, to justify his belief that organized religion hampers social harmony and scientific progress.

    I won’t get into a theological debate here. I’m simply trying to make the point that the issue here is Sam Harris’s bigotry, not his anti-theism.Recommend

  • Shahab

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. The writing is really good. The author has raised some good points, although I think he is too soft on Mr Chomsky who is also an ideologue of sorts.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    Dear Faraz,
    If you’re going to make a claim, at least be honest about it.

    Can Atheists Go To Heaven In Islam?

    In short, the answer is yes. Atheists can go to heaven, according to Islam. Sam Harris will need some other cause to justify his bigotry.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    You’re upvoting your own comment, Sam Harris fan. Kind of pathetic.

    Drones do not say who they are killing. 99% of all drone kills remain unknown or unverified. We are left to assume that everyone killed was ‘a bad guy’.

    In reality, America has targeted Ayman Zawahiri for over ten years now, Zawahiri is still alive. 76 children and 29 adults, according to reports, are not.

    Independent organization like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism tells a very different story. CIA drone strike in Pakistan have killed 423-962 civilians and 172-207 children. Furthermore they have injured 1,144-1,722 people.

    In 2015, CIA managed to killed Giovanni Lo Porto and Dr. Warren Weinstein. Without verification, these people would have been labelled terrorists.Recommend

  • stupocalypse

    They are just doing it for money, their country or a misplaced sense of duty.Recommend

  • papayapulp

    The counter-arguments against intentionalism are both flawed.

    1.) equivocates believing oneself to have good intentions with actually having good intentions. I mean, come on. You can do better than that.

    2.) blithely ignores that the US in its warfare tries very hard to minimize third-party casualties. You may accuse the US of waging unjust wars (I certainly do), but I don’t think they’re blasé about civilian deaths.

    Oh, and actually, people who claim to be witches or sorcerers nowadays are free to do as they please as long as they don’t harm anybody – at least in the much-maligned West. Ever heard of the Wiccan religion? Heck, Aleister Crowley was free to roam the streets of London a century ago.Recommend

  • siesmann

    You assume that there are people killed with drones that are innocents.But one is 100% sure those killed by your heroes TTP/ISIS are all innocents killed deliberately ,purposefully and knowingly..You don’t need reports to confirm that.And you had better your Government take care of these Jihadists from all over the world infringimg on your sovereignty ,so that they don’t attack another country from your land,otherwise you can’t complain.Recommend

  • siesmann

    and that is the truth,that many of the Islamists will never accept.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Ask the same of people(muslims and non-muslims) killed by your heroes Al-Qaida/ttp/ISIS.Mr. Harris did not deny that people were killed by bombing Al-Shifa(off course only Muslims matter for you,denying that a large percentage of other faiths might also have been killed),he is talking of intention as the difference.For you people Jihad and making all the world Muslim might be intention,not for the rest of the world.If Muslims have no value for others’ lives and faiths,they can’t complain if other people think the same.Recommend

  • Usman

    I have read the exchange sir!. Sam was not presenting his position on Al-shifa. He was only trying to understand Chomsky’s position. So there was nothing to rebutt there in the first place. I have no problem with Chomsky’s arguments, which are sound and religion has nothing to do with soundness of arguments (at least for me). So please don’t pass judgments on my prejudices and education.Recommend

  • Usman

    The reason Harris started with reference to Chomsky’s views on comparing 9/11 to Al-shifa was that he wanted to seek clarity on whether Chomsky thought that both incidents were produced by equally bad people. Harris had written that Chomsky had not considered intention on which the two incidents resulted from. Chomsky was not happy that Harris had accused him of ignoring mportant factors and gave his reasons for not considering intentions when comparing the two. There was no *rebuttal* because it was not a debate. It was just a conversation. Harris did say that when he said that Chomsky had not considered the role of intention in comparing the two incidents, he did not literally meant it. Chomsky might have considered it in his private room but did not publish it. And the reasons given in the email by Chomsky for not considering intention when comparing bin Laden to Clinton were not satisfactory for Harris. So it ended. It was perhaps too daring for Harris to accuse Chomsky of ignoring important aspects in his book, but what other way could have been there?Recommend

  • Alex

    Well Chomsky never addressed work of Harris so we can’t know what he thinks about it. I don’t know whether he has read it. As I pointed out they stand on different mountains. Chomsky is seeing ” Terrorists are bad but I won’t look into that, because I am American and I need to look at how bad we are”. Harris is seeing “Terrorists are really bad. I don’t fully understand how bad Americans are but they are not as bad as terrorists”. So this difference in perspective then filters into whole discussion and the discussion gets derailed.Recommend

  • Uzair

    There is no Hinduphobia in Pakistan. Muslims treat hindus and other non-muslim based on facts. you cannot change facts.Recommend

  • Person

    Huh? I was responding to Critical. Take your rant elsewhereRecommend

  • Roger

    Wow. Respect Chomsky for what he is, rather than making what-if scenarios bro. That one individual doesn’t only go against America, but the popular opinions in media for objectivity. It’s not about smartness, it’s about integrity. That makes him an honest intellectual (which is a much better compliment than admiring his intelligence)Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    I know it wasn’t a debate, but it reflected a marked difference between a true scholar and a person with shallow learning. You yourself quoted what Harris said ‘Harris did say that when he said that Chomsky had not considered the role of intention in comparing the two incidents, he did not literally mean it.’ That is where the difference arises. Did Harris say what he actually meant or what was the underlying meaning? No, because when Chomsky replied to his accusations, he changed his position. You’d see that this is what put off Chomsky. How can one have a meaningful discussion/argument when one party keeps changing their position? Good day sir :)Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    You got to be kidding me. I wasn’t passing judgments on anything. I was trying to provide some context. Before this exchange, Sam accused Chomsky’s moralistic framework on his analysis of 9/11 and Al-Shifa bombing (by Clinton). He argued (I am paraphrasing) that there should be parity between innocent lives lost of muslims and non-muslims. Sam attacked this position by bringing forth his ‘intentionality theory’. Later, Sam changed his position on this and this is what put off Chomsky. How can one expect a meaningful discussion if the other party keeps changing their premise? That was the point of contention for Chomsky who reiterated his moralistic framework for Sam’s understanding, but never got a decent response.

    Apologies if I offended you in any way. Good day :)Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    If you read closely (this article and the exchange), you will find that Chomsky aims to unravel the reality of western hypocrisy (of which Harris is a proponent). Harris’s prejudiced approach against Muslims makes him heedless of western hypocrisies. Chomsky has highlighted this aptly in his moralistic approach that compares 9/11 and Al-Shifa bombing. His fundamental question (paraphrased): ‘Shouldn’t the life of an innocent Muslim be equal to that of an innocent non-Muslim?’ That is where Chomsky puts Harris to his place. Reform yourself before going on to reform the world, based on your prejudice.Recommend

  • Unseen

    Sure. First he accused Chomsky’s approach to 9/11 and Al-Shifa bombing without any substantial arguments. Then he changed his position on that, when Chomsky responded. I am sure Harris was ‘merely trying’ to have a conversation. I wish I was Harris, so I could see what his real ‘intentions’ were :)Recommend

  • Joyous

    Right. So by that logic, Iraq should bomb US because it bombed Iraq without any evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The perpetrators are in US so that warrants drone strikes by Iraq on US. No?Recommend

  • Abscence

    Absolutely bro. These jihadists also bombed them Japanese, Vietnamese, Iraqis, etc. Killed so many civilians during the process. Oh wait, that was the State of US! #ChomskyforPresidentRecommend

  • Sundas Rashid

    “Please don’t tell atheists they’re imagining this.” None of my words implies that existence of extremely condemnable, utterly inhumane and completely irrational attitude towards atheists among theists is a whole imaginative thing. So, there is no reason for you to try to twist which has not been said or done even. In fact your comment only confirms my stance that religious institutes has been playing a key role to breed this hate and aggression against atheists for centuries in society.

    “Sam Harris’s bigotry, not his anti-theism”…I 100% agree with you. but you are again mistaken about what I said. My original comment has clearly referred to the augmented hate-against-religion emotion (justified or unjustified) among contemporary atheist philosophers in general. It was not particularly a response to the dialogue between Harris and Chomsky.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Well Iraq sure can try.It tried its power on Kuwait ,and was decimated.Recommend

  • Khaqan

    Chomsky knows more about foreign policy, US wars and its interventionist policies than Sam can in several life times. Sam was utterly schooled by Chomsky. Sam pathetically tried to steer the discussion over and over again to somehow implicate Muslims as he does everywhere. Chomsky knew better and showed him the door. I hope it humbled Sam, although with his ego, I really doubt it.Recommend

  • Rana Eddy

    Oh , yes …Similarly there is no Islamophobia anywhere , neither in the West nor in China nor in India . Muslims are only treated everywhere based upon facts.Recommend

  • Sheeraz

    Well for whatever reason you want to give his opinion more weight then opinion of whole humanity, I won’t agree. He has integrity but he is not the only person in human race to have integrity. He has quality X but he is not the only person to have quality X. I surely respect Chomsky for what he is. My comment was aimed at his work but at double standards in Muslim community. A lot of Muslims adore Chomsky because he bashes US policies. If majority of Muslims admires integrity, will they admire the same level of integrity in a critic of their religion? Probably not. Will they even analyse the actions of various Muslim groups at the same depth that Chomsky would go to when analysing actions of US government? Probably not. Recommend

  • Professor

    I don’t think Sam will be humbled by this. However, it’s amazing how Chomsky dismantled his arguments over an email exchange. Kudos to ChomskyRecommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    Innocent until PROVEN guilty. Ever heard of that?

    Welcome to the civilized world, Sam Harris fan.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    Chomsky has written books on his views. Why can’t Harris read his books? Is he uneducated? blind? or simply lazy?

    As for intentions?

    Nation states don’t have intentions, they have interests. Individuals have intentions. In case of Iraq intentions of all actor were clear:

    • George W. Bush: He was told by gold to invade Iraq
    • Dick Cheney: He wanted kickbacks from reconstruction of Iraq and oil contracts
    • Neocons: They are motivated by geopolitical control of Middle East

    So whose intentions are you going to count for Harris’s apologist philosophy of U.S. foreign policy?Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    Harris tried and failed miserably.

    In other word, Harris got ‘F’ from Professor Chomsky.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ


    Chomsky hold U.S. responsible for its actions and the consequences of disastrous U.S. foreign policy. U.S. created the so-called ‘terrorist’ that its purports to fight now to defeat USSR. In case of Iraq, ‘Sons of Iraq’ were paid-off by U.S. to not attack the American soldiers. Once the payments stopped and U.S. pulled out, disaster struck. A million people have died in Iraq so far. All the while supporting groups with euphemistic labels like ‘Free Syrian Army’. Surely they won’t turn terrorist tomorrow. They will all go back to knitting and farming.

    Harris’s arguments are based on apologist narratives, i.e., we invaded Iraq but we are the good guys with good intentions!. Hitler thought he was a good guy too. He had great intentions for his own people. He proclaimed Gott mit uns (God with us). Merely having good intentions isn’t a pass for responsibility or an excuse to avoid accountability which is what Harris’s arguments try to do.

    Question: If North Korea launches a nuke with ‘good intentions’ on U.S., does that absolve them of culpability?Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    1. If you knowingly throw the bomb, i.e. drone strikes, accepting the death of civilians as ‘collateral damage’. You are culpable, intentions be damned.

    2. Even if you unknowingly throw the bomb, it still doesn’t absolve you of the crime that occurred due to your actions. Take responsibility. Be accountable.

    3. Sam Harris wants to avoid responsibility and accountability on the excuse of ‘intentions’. The British invaded the world with good intentions for their own people. Doesn’t meant they had good intentions for others.

    4. States don’t have intentions. Only individuals do.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    Sure they do.

    Atheist Craig Stephen Hicks executed 3 innocent Muslims based on his irrational anti-theist views.Recommend

  • Hamurabi

    The writer has highlighted divergent views of two great thinkers.Its unfortunate to label it as a rant.Recommend

  • Fins

    Amazing. I have been recently reading Sam Harris and he has some very good ideas and I like his efforts to build a foundation for discussing morals and ethics of war etc. Unfortunately he was too hasty and messed up with a tiger when he should have been playing with some cat. This exchange clearly shows that you should never mess with a professor of linguistics :). Sam should learn from it. Chomsky gave him a lesson of a lifetime. Though I am very concerned that this exchange can discredit good work of Harris and hamper his efforts to address ethics of war and terrorism in a systemetic way.Recommend

  • ɱαѵ∈ʀϊ¢ƙ

    The author did no such thing. You are simply experiencing cognitive dissonance.Recommend

  • Usman

    I don’t think it was Sam changing positions that put off Chomsky. Sam himself said that he would like to change positions if he gets convinced. What put off Chomsky is that that Sam had accused him without first studying his work in depth. Then Sam initiated the exchange and instead of thanking Chomsky for engaging with him in this disucssion, he took Chomsky too lightly. Sam was not even taking Chomsky’s words seriously enough and evading extremly important questions . In Chomsky’s own words:

    “you[Sam] issue lectures condemning others [Chomsky] for ignoring ‘basic questions’ that
    they have discussed for years, in my case decades, whereas you have
    refused to address them and apparently do not even allow yourself to
    understand them. That’s impressive.”

    I do agree with Chomsky [To the extent of this exchange], however, I feel that Sam was not expecting to be grilled like he had written a PhD thesis and he had to defend it in front of Chomsky. Sam was trying to understand Chomsky’s position and he did tell Chomsky that his first book had many failings. But I guess that’s not enough to satisfy a professor. Sam should have been more elaborate and careful in what he was trying to achieve. If he had apologised, perhaps Chomsky would have forgiven him. Oh well! bad luck Sam.Recommend

  • Usman

    One would hope that we as Pakistanis would ask the kind of questions that you have pointed. Unfortunately, we used this oppertunity to bash Harris. Pakistani muslims will not learn much from this I suppose except that Harris is a hater. They will not replicate the spirit of Chomsky where he points out that as a US tax payer he needs to reflect more on his own crimes. We as Pakistani do the exact opposite. We always manage to focus on crimes of others while completely ignoring our own.Recommend

  • Meshuga

    But is it the same heaven? :-)Recommend

  • Meshuga

    If you want to go all the way back in human history (before Japan, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.), then very few groups are blameless and without blood on their hands. There was one 7th century group, I remember reading about in these pages, who fought jihadi-inspired “defensive wars” all over and all the way to India even (if memory serves). But that’s all quibbling. :-) But we are talking about the current period. Maybe jihadis are a Western conspiracy and an illusion where you live.Recommend

  • Jagmohan Trivedi

    @ The article is good in the sense,it focused on a burning question before humanity,
    both directly been hurt and those rationally been from distance.Duty cast on hurtees
    to come out bravely in majority and dismantle the [email protected] has given
    some views,to ponder,act and reform for some peace full resolution to spend the
    life,a gift from god or nature whomsoever one believes in.Nothing is more than
    peace in this world for humans,who took millions of years to reach this day.Recommend

  • Joyous

    Goes on to show how all countries are equal, but some countries (US, UK, France, etc.) are more equal than others (developing world).Recommend

  • Flowerpower

    Wow. One can tell you are Mr. Harris’s true follower when you say ‘your heroes Al-Qaida/ttp/ISIS’.This ‘us against them’ mentality is what Chomsky is trying to address and disentangle through comparative analysis of 9/11 and Al-Shifa bombing. Does he say that 9/11 was justified? No. He argues for parity between lost lives of innocent lives of muslim and non-muslim lives. Implications would entail equal condemnation for both. That is what makes Chomsky an honest intellectual and a true scholarRecommend

  • Roger

    Too many ifs and buts there bro :). But I get what you mean. Thank you for the responseRecommend

  • Hammurabi

    The author did not claim Harris was irrational.No one should be profiled across the board.Al-Shifa bombing seems to have taken place without any confirmation of facts.Harris is right in his ideas but he needs to be discreet in his analysis.Recommend

  • hammurabi

    Rightly said….Recommend

  • Sundas Rashid

    “States don’t have intentions. Only individuals do.” a million-dollar correction.Recommend

  • Where Is Ur God Now ?

    ya and it had nothing to do with parking.Recommend