Irshad Manji in The New York Times:
Civilization has a civility problem. This I learned long before Donald Trump. In 2005, the prominent “new atheist” Richard Dawkins shouted his disapproval at me — from the audience — during my TED talk at Oxford University. More recently, the novelist Salman Rushdie chastised me on Twitter for suggesting that even atheists worship something. Many of Rushdie’s followers, worshiping their own wisdom, responded to my tweet with vitriol. Defending the value of doubt through crude certitude is a sign of our times. How refreshing, then, to read an honest yet affectionate exchange between the Islamist-turned-liberal-Muslim Maajid Nawaz and the neuroscientist who advocates mindful atheism, Sam Harris. “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” begins on an impolitic note. Harris tells Nawaz that to reform Islamic practices one must “pretend” that “jihad is just an inner spiritual struggle, whereas it’s primarily a doctrine of holy war.” Nawaz counters: “Religion doesn’t inherently speak for itself” because “no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice.” Human interpretation is everything. Their back-and-forth clarifies multiple confusions that plague the public conversation about Islam. We learn the difference between Islam and Islamism, as well as the fascinating distinctions among political Islamists, revolutionary Islamists and militant Islamists. Crucially, we discover how Nawaz himself fell in with an Islamist organization. He speaks of his “identity crisis,” brought on by British racism and pounced on by charismatic recruiters trolling for vulnerable youth. Grievance born of secular sins — discrimination by the liberal democratic state — preceded his Islamist ideology, not the other way around.
While appreciating Nawaz’s individual experience, Harris pushes his friend to come clean and admit that religious conviction is the starting point for many Islamists. Without denying this, Nawaz proceeds to school Harris in more nuance. Frankly, though, Harris seems distracted by another agenda. He is listening to reply rather than to understand — and he replies by letting loose about liberals, who “totally discount the role that religious beliefs play in inspiring a group like the Islamic State.”