A few days ago, I published an open letter to Sam Harris in The Huffington Post in response to his recent blog post in support of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim.” Just two hours after it was posted, he replied (in his first and so far only direct response to a piece on this issue):


I am very gratefuly that he took the time to read the post, respond, and share a link to it — I’m astonished, really — but I’m still hoping he’ll take me up on my offer. If you use Twitter, please feel free to tweet at him @SamHarrisOrg (and include me @ChrisDStedman) and let him know that my offer still stands. (We have options — in the days following the publication of this letter, many Muslims have reached out to me and offered to host us for a visit.)

Read on for the letter and, if you want to, please share it with others:

Sam Harris–I know you’re a busy man, but I’d like to ask you out. Will you go to mosque with me?

I’m not trying to convert you to Islam. Like you, I’m not a Muslim. Like you, I don’t believe in any gods. I’m happily, openly atheist. A queer atheist, even. Like you, I have many significant concerns about Islamic beliefs and practices. But still, I want to visit a mosque with you.

We don’t have to go alone–we could go with Mustafa Abdullah, a young community organizer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who is currently campaigning against the state’s proposed anti-gay Amendment One. We could attend with Najeeba Syeed-Miller, a teacher and activist who has dedicated her life to peacebuilding initiatives. Or we could go with Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, who is committed to promoting pluralism and opposing bigotry, and who regularly speaks up for atheists as a religious minority in the United States.

Why am I inviting you to visit a mosque with me and my friends? Since I’m asking you publicly (I couldn’t find your phone number anywhere and I’m pretty sure this MySpace page isn’t really you), I should probably give some context.

A few weeks ago I saw you speak at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia. Before I go on, I need to confess: your remarks blew me away. In a weekend full of incredible intellects, your frank, contemplative, eloquent speech on death, grief, and mindfulness was easily my favorite. So I was not prepared for the crushing disappointment I felt when, just a few weeks later, you published a piece called “In Defense of Profiling” in which you unequivocally stated: “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

Never mind that your argument doesn’t hold water–to quote my friend Hind Makki: “What does a Muslim look like? The 9/11 hijackers didn’t have beards and ‘dressed Western.’ The shoe bomber wasn’t Arab or South Asian. Sikhs wear turbans. The majority of American Muslim women don’t wear hijab. The majority of Arab Americans are Christian–though they often share the same names as their Muslim counterparts. Perhaps Harris would support an initiative that required all Muslims to sew a crescent and star onto our clothes. It would make his airport security time a more pleasant experience. (Though, I suppose, it wouldn’t have stopped McVeigh or Breivik.)” Though as a frequent traveler I share your frustrations with the TSA, profiling doesn’t make sense as a solution to its problems.

Instead, while we’re en route to mosque, I’d like to talk to you about something else. As I read your piece, which (along with the clarifying addendum you tacked on a few days later) failed to explain how you would determine who “looks… Muslim,” I thought back to another moment at the Global Atheist Convention a few weeks ago. As you were speaking, rumors began to fly that a group of extremist Muslims would be protesting the convention. Sure enough, a group of less than a dozen appeared just a short while later, holding signs that said “Atheists go to hell” and shouting horrible things. But to my dismay, their hate was mirrored by hundreds of conference attendees, some of whom shouted things like “go back to the middle east, you pedophiles,” tweeting “maybe the Muslim protesters [are] gay so [they] don’t have wives? … A lot are/were camel shaggers,” and wearing shirts that said “Too stupid for science? Try religion.” Watching the scene unfold, I was reminded of how much work there is to be done in combating prejudice between the religious and the nonreligious.

Continue reading at The Huffington Post

8 Responses to “Sam Harris, Will You Visit A Mosque With Me?”

  1. timberwraith Says:

    Thanks for another really great article, Chris. Thanks too for providing a voice of civility and thoughtfulness in an ongoing discourse that so often filled with rancor and ill will.

  2. Karina Says:

    I absolutly concur in in timberwraith’s opinion.
    I don’t think that you trivialize the problem of Islam, but that Sam Harris trivializes the problems of oversimplification, generalization and the historical proven danger of distinct enemy stereotypes – what makes it certainly easier to spread his message. It seems that it is beyond the means to create a sophisticated discourse that fulfills the diversity of humanity instead of cutting it down to a few catchwords well-covered by the media.

    To identify a group by their most extreme peculiarity means to put that stamp on every member – and make a bogeyman out of them, too. That is fine if you don’t belong to that group, it makes profiling much more easier (but only if Sam Harris with his 75 rounds of 9mm ammunition has nothing but peace in mind… and if terrorists are so kind to run things by the rule book).

    The problem of airport security is not only to a “jihadian profile”. Sadly, but true many organisations have used and “use” children, old people, buggies, diapers, orthopaedic and rehabilitation devices, and sandals, and soooo much more to smuggle. Sadly, but true terrorists and criminals can change their behavior, their appearance, their methods. That’s probably the reason for wide controls (and imagine the fear of the staff to fail or to overlook something) even if this seems to be “tyranny of fairness”.
    So -consistently- Sam Harris could approve the modus operandi at the airport that pesters innocent people just the same as he approves that innocent people are lumped together in some indifferent, inadequate profiles, categories, groups – “tyranny of fairness” that does not end at the door of the airport.

    I always thought that secularism and humanism means that you don’t think only in old religious stereotypes but differing, but well, you live and you learn.
    I was pretty shocked about the lack of reaction, e.g. on twitter, and I sighed with relief by reading your article. Thank you so much!

  3. echo monk Says:

    hey chris,

    i appreciate your desire to not marginalize the peaceful folks who are trying to reform a violent, primitive religion (and i’m not just talking about Islam…) but what do you think that having Sam visit a Mosque will accomplish? sure, you’ll go and meet nice peaceful people, but it’s not like Sam doesn’t recognize that all of these religions are made up of mostly nice and peaceful people, right? he’d be among the first to say that, methinks. let’s put it this way, when i was studying music in college, my instructor once told me something that affected me from that moment onward ” we all tend to think of ourselves as we are in our best moments, at our highest proficiency, but that’s not where progress comes from. it’s often more helpful to judge yourself by your lower, weaker points, in order to make progress. consider yourself to be as good as you are on your worst day, not your best.” of course the metaphor is imperfect, but why do we need to soft sell that fact that most of the big religions (the big three) have murder rape, slavery etc endorsed explicitly in their books?

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  5. Jason Tippitt Says:

    Good work, Chris. As I stated in the piece you reposted here a while back, the sort of hateful rhetoric coming from atheists you describe here has left me with a very bad taste in my mouth about “movement” atheism in general … and Sam Harris’ remarks on Islam and pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons strike me as perhaps the nadir of this school of thought.

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