'New Atheist' Spokesperson Sam Harris Featured in Explicitly Anti-Muslim Hate Video
From far-right presidential candidates to overt hate groups, the spike in anti-Muslim incitement — and real violence — during the 2016 election cycle has generated widespread concern.
Though they are at least as strident in their denunciations of Islam as any Republican candidate, public figures associated with the “New Atheist” movement still receive some level of acceptance within liberal circles. The virulently Islamophobic comedian Bill Maher, who engages in regular sessions of trashing Muslims with fellow New Atheist Richard Dawkins, has managed to find defenders at progressive publications like Salon.com.
A convergence of New Atheists and right-wing militarists seems inevitable. Many adherents of both political currents share an agenda focused around antagonizing Muslims, supporting Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel and full throated backing for U.S. military campaigns in the Middle East.
While many New Atheists remain relucatant to openly ally with forces associated with the Republican Party's evangelical base, a right-wing organization with ties to GOP mega-donors is adapting the anti-Muslim concepts of New Atheist spokespeople into its own propaganda.
A new viral video produced by the Clarion Project, a far-right organization labeled an "anti-Muslim group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is inspired by one of the New Atheist movement’s most well-known figures, author and neuroscientist Sam Harris.
Entitled “By The Numbers — The Untold Story of Muslim Opinions & Demographics,” the Clarion video has garnered over 2.7 million views and is based on Harris’ dubious taxonomy of Muslims, in which he makes the case that the mainstream of the Islamic faith is directly tied to extremism.
The video relies heavily on footage from Harris’ appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time in October 2014, in which he laid out his so-called “spheres of radicalization.”
“Just imagine some concentric circles here,” says Harris, as depicted in the Clarion video. “At the center you have jihadists. These are people who wake up in the morning wanting to kill apostates, wanting to die trying,” he says. “Outside of them we have Islamists. These are people who are just as convinced of martyrdom and paradise and wanting to foist their religion on the rest of humanity. But they want to work within the system.”
Then he describes the outer circle: “They hold views about human rights and about women’s, homosexuals that are deeply troubling.”
These statements by Harris form the basis of the video’s numerous insinuations, including that a significant portion of people fleeing war and seeking refuge in the West are "Islamic State" operatives and that civil rights groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations have links to terrorist organizations.
The Clarion Project is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate organizations, as an “anti-Muslim group based in Washington, D.C. Clarion, formerly the Clarion Fund distributes a number of films promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.”
Among the group's board members is Frank Gaffney, described in the Hill as an “anti-Muslim conspiracist.” According to journalists Terri Johnson and Richard Cohen, “One of his regular conspiracy theories is that American Muslims are using a tactic he calls ‘stealth jihad’ to infiltrate the U.S. government, and he’s said everyone from Hillary Clinton to Grover Norquist is secretly supporting this agenda.”
Clarion attracted widespread criticism in 2006 when it released the anti-Islam movie "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West." In 2011, the group released the film “Iranium,” an agitprop piece emphasizing the need for a US military strike on Iran. Revelations in 2011 that the New York Police Department used Clarion’s anti-Muslim movie "The Third Jihad" for training generated outrage among civil liberties groups and Muslim civil rights activists.
Harris, for his part, has marketed himself as an intellectual and rationalist, a Ph.D. and author of five New York Times bestsellers who deals in sober, scientific and carefully considered analysis. He is the co-founder of Project Reason, described as “a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.”
But in an interview with Salon published in 2014, scholar Reza Aslan argued that Harris merely gives “intellectual heft” to crudely reasoned attacks on Islam as a whole.
According to writer Luke Savage, the New Atheist movement heralded by Harris and others “owes its popular and commercial success almost entirely to the ‘war on terror’ and its utility as an intellectual instrument of imperialist geopolitics.” This trend stands in stark contrast to other Atheist traditions, including those that reject war and empire in the name of humanism.
Harris’ arguments singling out Islam have serious political implications. “It is time we admitted that we are not at war with 'terrorism.' We are at war with Islam,” Harris wrote in a 2004 article defending his support for the invasion of Iraq.
In a 2011 article entitled “In Defense of Torture,” Harris wrote, “if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war.”
And in a 2012 article entitled “In Defense of Profiling,” Harris argued, “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”
Harris did not respond to a request for comment, submitted through his website on Friday, on his inclusion in the Clarion video.