Last month, Cenk Uygur trashed Sam Harris after the two had a lively but amicable three hour conversation in October. Now, Harris has responded by saying Uygur “systematically acts in bad faith.”
After his infamous kerfuffle over Islam with Ben Affleck on Real Time With Bill Maher in October, Harris was attacked by defenders of the Muslim faith with even more fervor and slander than he had been previously. One of those critics was a now discredited plagiarist hack who appeared on The Young Turks, and host Uygur joined in misrepresenting Harris’ views on the subject. Ultimately, Harris sat down with Uygur for an illuminating three hour interview in which Harris carefully and calmly explained his take on Islam. By the end of the interview, Uygur appeared to have a less hostile (which is to say, better) understanding of Harris’ position.
However, last month on The Young Turks, Uygur launched into a more-liberal-than-thou diatribe in which he railed against “the whole Sam Harris, Bill Maher wing” of atheism. He called Harris “a foaming-at-the-mouth neoconservative,” and implied that any person who holds Harris’ views on Islam is “a racist and a bigot.”
During an ask-me-anything episode of his Waking Up podcast on Saturday, Harris fielded a question about Uygur’s comments. Harris’ response (which starts at 22:33 and ends at 25:15):
Well, I guess I’ve ceased to think about it. I pushed back against it briefly, saying on Twitter, obviously my three hours with Cenk had been a waste of time. It appears to have been a waste of time, at least for him. I think many people got some benefit from listening to us go round and round, and get wrapped around the same axle for three hours.
Actually, it wasn’t a waste of time for him because I heard from a former employee there that that was literally the most profitable interview they’ve ever put on their show. I don’t know what he made of off that interview, but I don’t begrudge him making money off his show obviously. But I feel that Cenk now systematically acts in bad faith on this topic. He has made no effort to accurately represent my views.
You know, again, it’s child’s play to pick a single sentence from something that I’ve said or written and to hue to a misinterpretation of that sentence and attack me. And I think that the thing I’ve finally realized here — and this is not just a problem with Cenk, it’s with all the usual suspects and all of their followers on Twitter — I’ve just reluctantly begun to accept the fact that when someone hates you, they take so much pleasure from hating you that it’s impossible to correct a misunderstanding. That would force your opponent to relinquish some of the pleasure he’s taking in hating you.
This is an attitude I think we’re all familiar with to some degree. Once you’re convinced somebody is a total asshole, where you’ve lost any sense that you should give them the benefit of the doubt, and then you see one more transgression from them — another thing that confirms whatever attitude in them you hate, whether they’re homophobic or they’re racist or they don’t believe in climate change, whatever it is, and once that has calcified, that view of that person has calcified in you, and you see yet one further iteration of this thing, well then you’re not inclined to second guess it. You’re not inclined to try to read between the lines, and in fact if someone shows you transgression isn’t what it seemed, well then, you can be slow to admit that.
This is not totally foreign to me. I notice this in myself. This is something that I do my best to shed. I think it’s an extremely unflattering quality of mind. This is not where I want to be caught standing. But my opponents seem to be always standing here, and that makes conversation impossible.
There’s not much to add here, other than to say that Harris gave the kind of rational and measured response that is typical of him, even in the face of clownishly virulent defamation we’ve come to expect from Uygur when he defends Islam. Like many liberals, Uygur has a paralyzing blind spot on this topic, and he regularly conflates criticism of doctrine with attacks on Muslims as a whole. The failure — and outright unwillingness — to distinguish between these two has rendered many on the Left incapable of talking sensibly about the problem of Islamism and Islamic terrorism, which going forward may very well present the gravest threat to the world, and that includes — and perhaps especially — Muslims.