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Islam: it's time for straight talk

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Both men acknowledge the reality of extremism and much of their dialogue centres on this. Harris believes that the Qur'an's message sanctions violence in its name. He shoots straight. He identifies it as a threat to secularism and calls it out. Nawaz on the other hand is what the Left calls "more sophisticated", that is more shall we say, "" and less "". "Yes" he acknowledges the extremism within Islam, but "no", the West doesn't need to adopt a sledgehammer approach to Islam, instead a "nuanced" approach should be employed. Islam needs to be better interpreted from both within and without the religion. And moderates need to be supported.

Unfortunately for those of us standing with the victims of terror, "moderate" is a term of marginal utility, and "moderate violence" is relative. Man Haron Monis was "moderate" compared to his co-religionists at the Bacalan. And they were "moderate" compared to the 9/11 terrorists who flew airliners into the World Trade Centre.

The book discusses how Islam eschews modern values and - because doing so would be too hard in the context of the dialogue - shies away from laying out the whole truth which is, quite simply, that the religion is incompatible with the freedoms we enjoy and we understand. It is incompatible with free elections, a free press, women's rights, gay rights and a legal system based on a jury.


While the interlocutors agree that jihadis engage in unspeakable acts like homicide bombings and beheadings, they offer no realistic suggestions for resolving a crucial dilemma facing the West: how can a people who are unafraid of death, who in fact embrace death, be vanquished?

This is best seen on p86 where Harris narrates an online conversation between Ali A. Rizvi, a Pakistani TV producer and a supporter of the Taliban, in the aftermath of a massacre in Peshawar. What is clear is that it's incredibly hard to address the motivation of Islamic terrorists. As the Taliban supporter put it: "human life only has value amongst you worldly materialist thinkers. For us [Muslims] this human life is only a tiny, meaningless fragment of our existence. Our real destination is the Hereafter…Death is not the end of life. It is the beginning of existence in a world much more beautiful than this. You will never understand this".

The Taliban supporter is spot on. Indeed we don't understand such a mindset and regrettably the writers do not dwell on what his insights mean for Christianity as a long-term proposition in the West. The reader needs to fill in some blanks.

Some blanks include the dawning of a realisation that until we infidels accept the Qur'an to some degree motivates Da'esh, the Taliban and Hizballah (amongst others) and until we understand the enormous effort required to defeat such a committed foe; we will never, ever be able to defeat them.

Not this week, not next month and not in 1,000 years.

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Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

By Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, 144pp, Harvard University Press, 10/2015 US $10.99 (Nook Book); US $11.38 HB or A$35.99

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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