In language eerily reminiscent of the rhetoric of the fascist far right, "New Atheist" pundit Sam Harris has called for reducing the number of Muslims in society, warning on the January episode of his popular podcast, “You can’t have too many Muslims in your culture if you want it to remain enlightened.”
On his program Waking Up, Harris echoed anti-refugee talking points and proposed figuring “out some way to keep the number of Muslims down in any society, whether we’re honest about this or whether we do this covertly. Clearly it’s rational to want to do this.”
“I think many people will feel, what is the f**king point of having more Muslims in your society?” he added. “It seems perfectly rational to say, we don’t want any more.”
Harris made these remarks in an interview with the British pundit and self-styled “counter-extremism campaigner” Maajid Nawaz. As AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal and Nafeez Ahmed have documented, Nawaz concocted significant portions of his memoir and falsely branded members of his own family as Islamic extremists.
Nawaz issued his approval, declaring that Harris’ proposal to limit the Muslim population in the West is “not irrational; it’s not even inhuman.”
Harris and Nawaz also bashed the left and called for more Western military intervention in the Middle East, despite it being the primary force driving Salafi-jihadist violence and the refugee crisis.
Well-established history of bigotry
Sam Harris, who identifies as a liberal centrist, has previously said that the “people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists." He has a long history of anti-Muslim extremism, going so far as to claim “we are at war with Islam.”
The popular leader of the so-called New Atheists — a right-wing, pro-war segment of the larger secular movement — has also openly stated, “We should profile Muslims or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”
The January episode of Harris’ podcast is not the first time he has flirted with racist talking points. It was soon followed by another episode in April, in which Harris advanced rhetoric that resembles the pseudoscientific “race realism” of white supremacists. Harris insisted that “average IQ differs across races and ethnic groups,” implying that people of African descent have lower IQs, while people of European descent are smarter.
Harris, who has also harshly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement as “irrational,” staunchly maintains he is not racist, and has gone out of his way to condemn white supremacists. His IQ comments, however, were applauded by white nationalists and the rebranded fascist movement that calls itself the alt-right.
The April episode featured an extended interview with Charles Murray, a notorious right-wing academic who did secret counterinsurgency work with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. Murray also helped to create the racist system of mass incarceration, and he successfully campaigned to dismantle welfare programs.
In the January episode, both Harris and Nawaz praised another Murray: the neoconservative British writer Douglas Murray, who wrote a book titled The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, which laments that Europe is becoming less white and Christian and calls for far-right anti-immigration policies as an antidote. Harris cited Douglas Murray multiple times, and referred to him as a “mutual friend” with Nawaz.
'What is the f**king point of having more Muslims in your society?'
Sam Harris has a longtime habit of running away from his own words, accusing critics of taking his extreme statements out of context. This latest episode is no exception. Thus, the timestamps for comments quoted in this article show that they were quoted accurately and in context.
In a segment that begins at 1:11:00 in the January podcast episode, Harris made a lengthy argument for restricting Muslim migration into Western societies, using right-wing talking points drawn from those used to justify racial quotas in immigration centuries ago. Harris said his anti-immigrant bigotry was simply the “gut reaction that I know millions upon millions of people are having,” in response to attacks by Salafi-jihadist militants.
“If you take a community of Muslims from Syria or Iraq or any other country on Earth and place them in the heart of Europe, you are importing, by definition, some percentage, however small, of radicalized people, or people who will be prone to radicalism at some future date where they just decide to start watching too many Anwar al-Awlaki videos,” Harris said at 1:11:50. “And again, this only happens to Muslims or people who are likely to become Muslim.”
Harris went on, at 1:12:26: “I think many people will feel, what is the f**king point of having more Muslims in your society? It seems perfectly rational to say, we don’t want any more. We have enough. And certainly increasing the percentage is not a help to anyone who loves freedom of speech and anything else, any of the other liberal values.”
“It’s not worth the trouble,” Harris continued. “And if we can figure out some way to keep the number of Muslims down in any society, whether we’re honest about this or whether we do this covertly. Clearly it’s rational to want to do this.”
“This is where someone like Robert Spencer would say amen, I would presume,” he added, referring positively to a far-right anti-Muslim extremist who was banned from traveling to the U.K. due to comments the British government said incite violence.
“This is not an expression of xenophobia,” Harris insisted. “This is an expression of the implication of statistics and the fact that it’s only rational not to want to live in a world that looks more and more like Jerusalem at the height of the Intifada.”
Nawaz agreed. “Yes,” he said at 1:13:33. “It’s not irrational; it’s not even inhuman, for people to react that way.” He then proceeded to attack “the political left.”
Nawaz added that this xenophobia is “natural”: “It’s a very human response. People like familiarity. People like a sense of predictability around their environment and the culture that they expect others to adhere to.” He claimed “ideologues on the left” are “in denial” about this natural bigotry.
Anti-Muslim double standard
Harris openly acknowledged in the podcast that he maintains a double standard against Muslims. In an attempt to shield himself from accusations of racism, Harris noted at 1:15:04 that if an Indian family moved next door, he would have no problem; he would in fact welcome them.
But if these new neighbors were Muslim, Harris said he would be concerned: “What I worry about is bad beliefs.”
Harris made it clear that his animus against Muslims is exceptional. He went out of his way to claim that there is an “Islamic exceptionalism” — that Islam has uniquely bad “special challenges” other religions do not have. Nawaz said “yeah” in agreement.
Harris then, at 1:22:55, suggested that Germany could accept migrants from Spain and Portugal to be used as labor, but not from Muslim-majority countries.
The “fundamental concern” is that “once you get a sufficient percentage of Muslims in any society,” Harris explained at 1:23:09, “the character of that community begins to change.”
“It’s just a formula for religious oppression, getting enough Muslims in your society, however they got there originally,” Harris continued. “You can’t have too many Muslims in your culture if you want it to remain enlightened.”
Attacking antiracists and shieldings extremists
For holding extreme views like those he expressed on Harris' podcast, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leading monitor of hate groups in the U.S., has designated Maajid Nawaz an “anti-Muslim extremist.”
The so-called alt-right — a rebranding of white supremacy and neo-fascism— has viciously attacked the SPLC for documenting its racist machinations. Harris and Nawaz opened the January episode vociferously condemning the SPLC, branding the group as fascist for creating a list of right-wing extremists. Nawaz suggested he would pursue legal action against the group over its criticism of his public statements, and accused the SPLC of defamation.
In the episode, Harris refused to criticize Robert Spencer (not to be confused with white nationalist Richard Spencer), the Islamophobia industry godfather who also appeared on the SPLC’s anti-Muslim extremist list. Harris noted that Spencer is "unjustly stigmatized," and said he does not want to speak ill of him.
Robert Spencer is a far-right fanatic who has advanced a number of outlandish conspiracies, including the myth that former president Barack Obama is secretly Muslim. As the SPLC highlighted in its listing, Spencer has condemned multiculturalism as “heresy” that will result in “denigrating and ultimately destroying the Judeo-Christian West.”
Spencer has glowingly endorsed numerous neo-fascist politicians, including the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. He has also recommended the genocidal fantasy novel Camp of the Saints, also a favorite of Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Amid his calls for fewer Muslims in the West, Sam Harris went out of his way to emphasize to listeners of his podcast that he opposes the term “Islamophobia,” insisting its very existence is mythical. But as usual, his own words contradict him.
This is Part I of a three-part series on Sam Harris and his allies. Stay tuned for more this week.