My View on ‘Throw Open the Gates’ and the Collision of Ideas

Sam Harris and Maryam Namazie’s recent discussion, titled ‘Throw Open the Gates’, on The Waking Up Podcast is best characterised by Sam himself as having been ‘unnecessarily difficult’. As an impartial listener, familiar and enthralled by both of the interlocutors work in tackling islamist extremism, I took to writing a brief outlining of where I thought the impasse of dialogue advanced and how best it could’ve been forced to retreat.

As someone who has read Sam’s books, his blogs and listened to his podcasts, I feel familiarised with his viewpoints enough to be able to recognise ideas that he might agree with. So with somewhat of an understanding of the nuances of his opinions, it was clear to me that Sam’s interjections perfectly matched those moments when Maryam was explaining, rather eloquently, the problems surrounding islamism that Sam would wholeheartedly concur with.

It appeared that the main impediment to conversation was the shifting focus of Maryam’s address. Maryam would begin at a point of contention and initially characterise Sam’s views, perfectly accurately, before expounding on her disagreement. This was a fascinating collision of ideas and a necessary one to have. The problems arose when the focus of the issue would inconspicuously shift from Sam’s views to the wider reaching problems of the far right’s genuine bigotry, racism, othering and homogenisation of muslim people. Whilst it was clear on the sourer points that Maryam did not think Sam contributed to the extremes of this bigotry, it was difficult to tell as the complexities creeped in and the charges were more ambiguous whether or not Maryam believed Sam to be culpable. There appeared to be points where Sam felt he was being addressed when it was clear to me that Maryam was exploring the wider issues. At these moments, Sam might’ve felt misrepresented at times when Maryam wasn’t trying to represent anyone in particular.

Evidently, a certain amount of confusion is to be expected; Sam could not reasonably expect Maryam to know the totality of his views and so allowed expansion on points he knew he agreed with whilst being mindful that the discussion might best serve the audience where true points of  disagreement are navigated. Indeed, the moments where Sam feared his interruptions were being viewed as hostile might’ve been avoided had the direction of the dialogue been outlined more robustly from the start. Maryam may have been able to participate better in Sam’s pursuit of reconciliation had it been clearer that Sam did not want to explore the full extent of their accord. This is understandable seeing as Sam is, as he pointed out in the prologue, quite use to enjoying the harmony and the virtues of mutually affirmative discussion. Additionally, having recently done four hours on a scrapped podcast to no avail, with no convergence of ideas and with no palpable reconciliation in sight, perhaps Sam wanted to ensure his energy went into constructive contention on this occasion.  The attempt to this effect was briefly outlined at the beginning and was later restated as Sam pointed out that the discussion on profiling and immigration was being had against a background of mutual agreement and as allies on the broader problems with islamic extremism.

The clear frustration from Maryam’s perspective was that Sam appeared to denounce all points of confusion as Maryam misunderstanding his view. Whilst misunderstandings did happen, a clear exception – where Maryam was entirely right to characterise the confusion as just a difference of opinion – was on how Sam’s views contribute to, normalise and fuel anti-muslim bigotry without being bigoted in of themselves. It is fair to say that in 140 character world we inhabit, Sam’s views on profiling are easily manipulated into anti-muslim soundbites. Whilst a part of this is due to the complexity of his view when submitted to the average thinker, it is most likely down to the constraints of language and semantics; the distinction between muslims and islamists, as well as the enduring racial connotations of the former are integral in this area.

I felt Maryam made an enlightening comparison by outlining how most islamist-normalising regressives have no compulsion to be jihadists, just as not all those who contribute to the fear mongering on the right are racist jingoists. The point I wish has been elaborated on was Sam’s refutation of this idea; he pointed out that he regularly criticises the genuine damages caused by the far-right bigots, the implied corollary is that even mild-regressives are rarely critical of true islamist supporters. It seems to me that Sam’s more controversial views fuel the far right rhetoric comparably as much as the defence of ‘multiculturalism’ and denouncing the ‘clash of civilisations’ might fuel the regressive-left: whilst each viewpoint can be substantiated, it appears easy for the respective opposition to refute, however meretriciously.

The ‘muslims are not a race’ argument was pulled into the reality of the political sphere and was not so much weakened as criticised for it’s niavety. Maryam pointed out that it is easy for nationalist groups to see muslims as a race and so Sam should be more sensitive to the connotations of his call to profile muslims in spite of his view that the word muslim should – true to the reality of the 6,000 european, sometimes white converts – be free from racial underpinnings. It doesn’t makes Sam’s opinion less valid when it comes to the finer points of profiling, but it does perhaps make it a touch cumbersome and insensitive to the reality of the far-right anti-muslim mindset. Maryam, being more engaged at the grass-roots level with the regressive noises made by both political extremes, see’s these distinctions as a part of the concern.  Sam, being invested in the full ratiocination of his views as fortified by appropriate language, is less interested in the dangers of indiscriminate political rhetoric.

It is this fundamental difference in perspective and approach that sometimes gave way to tension and frustration – often making the stalemate seem inscrutable – but which also made for a thoroughly engaging collision of ideas that dearly needs to be had more often on ever wider-reaching platforms.







26 thoughts on “My View on ‘Throw Open the Gates’ and the Collision of Ideas

  1. John

    I think this is generally a true set of observations about the conversation but isn’t anywhere near exhaustive with respect to the difficulties that arose.

    On profiling, for example, there was common ground that profiling is acceptable. Maryam’s view was that this must be done in a way that avoids “collective punishment”. Further, in her view, this can be accomplished by targeting behaviour. Her example of this was to target Islamists, rather than Muslims. The corollary was targeting, for example, KKK members, rather than all Christians.

    Sam’s point was that this is a distinction without a difference: if you are targeting Islamists, you are also engaging in “collective punishment”; it’s just collective punishment of people who subscribe to the world view of Islamists. And if you want to find the Islamists, you look for them among the Muslims. This, it seems to me, stems from a view expressed by Maryam around the 1:04 mark where she made it clear that she sees a distinction between religious ideology (e.g. being a Muslim) and political ideology (e.g. being an Islamist, or a Nazi).

    This could have been elucidated, but Maryam preferred to not answer specific questions or deal in any nuanced way with the issues. For example, when Sam asked, “what do you mean by behavioural profiling” at approximately the 59:45 mark, she absolutely failed to answer the question and went on to talking, again, in generalities. She simply returned to the talking point of explaining how there are vast numbers of Muslims who don’t fall into certain categories, which was a non-controversial point that wasn’t in dispute. It was like Sam was trying to have a conversation with someone running for office.

    That’s what made this frustrating. There were a number of crux points that could have been discussed. For example, Maryam is against “collective punishment”, and although she wasn’t consistent with this for the above reasons, there’s an interesting discussion about whether and to what extent that interest should give way to concerns about public safety. Second, there’s the question about whether, as Maryam suggested, being a Muslim is the same sort of characteristic as being German or Japanese, as opposed to being the same sort of characteristic as being an Islamist or holding an ideological view. Tied into that is why she thinks it’s okay to profile people on their membership in certain political movements, but not on their membership in a particular religion. Why’s that line there?

    All of those could have been explored, but not given the tone that Maryam brought to the discussion, which was instantly defensive, insisted on long, uninterrupted diatribes that provided no benefit to the listener, and deliberately sought disagreement rather than common understanding. She didn’t even attempt a conversation. And it’s highly discouraging; for everyone who engages like Maajid Nawaz, there seem to be dozens of people who engage in precisely this mode. It’s unproductive, and hard to listen to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the comment, very incisive and I mostly agree. I wish I could’ve been more exhaustive but this was written under threat of sleep and I wanted to keep it much less arduous a read than listening to the podcast. There were definite contradictions in Maryam’s views, her distaste for setting the bar so low with right-wing but non-violent bigots but her willingness to set the bar quite low for islamists being the one Sam really caught her out on. Regarding the tone, you have to be aware that Maryam had really only read Sam’s views on profiling, bad preparation on both sides might’ve stifled conversation. She answered true to her views as prompted. Difficulty in turn-taking and avoiding wasting time on agreeing might’ve been avoided if the conversation was better directed. Maryam may have still wished to explain herself on areas that Sam agreed with but if that was out in the open Sam would not have been so unclear as to when Maryam was addressing him. I hope people read your comment as a more thorough discussion of specific points.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Edward

      John, I think you should have written the analysis. You are absolutely correct that Maryam was evasive and confused in both her discussions of profiling and open borders. I think the commenters that said she won the profiling argument need to listen again. But just to give perspective on the kind of person Maryam is…on her twitter feed after the podcast, she denied that she supported profiling in any manner which is in direct contradiction to her agreement with Sam (and his FBI scenario) that Salafi muslims could be profiled. I don’t respect people that lie like that.

      She is no Maajid Nawaz, that is for sure.


      1. Bufff, algo he leído sobre esto, pero la verdad es que yo también paso mucho de echarme champú de caballo. ;DY además, no creo que nos haga falta, que tenemos unas melenas bien hermosas.


  2. Gary Wilson

    This growing meme of a given person’s “controversial views fuel far right bigotry” needs to go away. It’s a claim that I believe is thrown out without actually pondering its meaning. I say that because it’s a rather silly idea when you actually bother to play it out.

    These kind of claims are pointless. You challenge an idea or a view on the basis of its merit. If a “controversial idea” is a bad one, then offer the reasons why it’s a bad one. But simply throwing out a pointless statement like “your views fuel bigotry” doesn’t actually say anything. It’s a waffle statement, unwilling to commit to calling the holder of the views a bigot and unwilling to engage the views themselves as right or wrong.

    If the “controversial views” are true, then who cares what they may or may not be perceived to fuel. They are true! That’s all that matters. Whoever ends up using, high jacking or perverting those views are the ones responsible for doing so. The holder of the correct views has no obligation beyond continuing to voice honestly their valid and correct view.

    But if the “controversial view” is false, then challenge it directly. The idea itself. Not what you want to believe it might fuel.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Michelle

      I so agree, along with many other logical fallacies that Maryam displayed during the podcast, the slippery slope idea seemed to come through loud and clear.


  3. Leedar/agbfreak

    Namazie’s views are pretty simple to explain even if she failed to do so directly, and appeared to contradict herself in the process of not trying to sound extreme. Her worldview is essentially ‘if you aren’t a known criminal, you have a universal right to travel wherever you want and not to be subjected to scrutiny at any point besides confirming that you aren’t a criminal at the border’. Of course, this is in practice a very extreme position, so she has to couch it in condemnations of Islamists, etc., and complaints about restricting immigration as being equivalent to supporting the far right.

    If Namazie stated her views up front, the conversation would have quickly ended in Harris dismissing her position as suicidal and masochistic, much as he views Gandhian pacifism.


    1. When my family traveled for the first time to the USA from my native Colombia, my father told us not to be surprised if we got extra scrutiny at USA customs in search of drugs. It did not happened but if it had happened, should we had pulled out a Namazie? and complained abot how we were being “otherized” or “collectivelly punished”? Nonsense, it was just an understandable byproduct of some of our compatriotes illicit activities.


  4. Sam R

    I actually think she made a good point on the profiling argument, but shouldn’t have said she rules out profiling altogether. If Sam’s defense of it was to use security resources as efficiently as possible, her position was to even further narrow the haystack that he’s looking through, by taking a subset of “Muslims” which is Islamists as the ones to profile to root out Jihadis. She was right that she fully understood Sam’s view and disagreed and laid out why, and it should have been moved on from much quicker if not for Sam’s insistence on litigating his position. She kinda won that one despite being a little rude/dismissive while discussing it.

    However when it came to the open border argument Sam absolutely won that one. It was apparent she partook in the naïve “sunshine and rainbows” belief that refused and dismissed any valid negative concerns about a flood of migrants crossing from Islamic cultures into the Western cultures. And sadly she views Murray and Robinson’s valid concerns of this as problematic. He had her talking in circles at one point where she herself brought up how Islamicization of the countries of the Middle East is what caused them to become the hellscapes they are today, but refused to accept Murray and TR’s valid concerns that a potentially (unknowable) large number of Islamists being introduced into Western societies can have the same effect in Europe. It was a total logical disconnect on her part. Sam caught her in the paradox in which she insisted everyone should be treated as individuals but could not fathom how any of the migrants could be anything but the poor oppressed people attempting to escape the Islamic world. It never seemed to occur to her, or maybe she’s willingly ignorant of the possibility that Islamists may be exporting the Islamist ideolies as a Trojan horse mixed in with these migrants, in an effort to have the same type of effect on Europe as has been had in the Middle East.


    1. Sam R

      Just wanted to add that while I agree and disagree on both of these people on various topics, and even if they somehow don’t ever see eye-to-eye in the future, I think the atheist community should support them both for they are both brave, courageous, and important voices in their own ways. The work both of them do is extremely important to what most of us stand for. The whole point of all this is we won’t agree on every topic, and I’m saddened to see that a lot of Sam’s fans have reflexively lashed out at her for having disagreements with him, and also by her for engaging with these people in a very rude manner.. and in general for being a bit too loose with words like bigot and racist in her description of other people she disagrees with, even when they don’t show any outward signs of bigotry. I think Sam himself has behaved the best in the aftermath of this convo and implored people to be respectful and civil when engaging with her, even if that fell on deaf ears.


      1. ABSOLUTELY. Infuriating that Sam’s supporters, unlike sam, are unwilling to engage on any level of nuance, facile charges of condescension and question dodging completely bulldoze over the reality of the conversation’s pitfalls.


      2. Alex

        I will certainly never support her maniacal positions on immigration. They are extremely ignorant and would lead to a collapse of The West within a few years if implemented. Supporting someone who espouse these kinds of suicidal, radical ideas is to be considered completely disconnected from reality in my book.

        She was calling for a complete acceptance of unlimited mass-migration from the poor world into The West. I cannot comprehend how anyone would think this is a good idea. It’s the worst possible idea ever.


    2. I agree. She was more successful on profiling issue. With immigration the glaring contradictions creeped in as you outlined. I think with profiling it was a good example of how to pretty much agree whilst believing you’re at ends. In her fear of engaging in ‘collective blame’ she is tentative to agree with Sam’s view because it could be misconstrued as collective blame, when in reality it’s just her view taken to its logical conclusion. On immigration she didn’t seem so cogent as you demonstrate. I tried to stay overarching in this piece, getting tied up in specifics can be a boring read.


  5. Björn

    Should we realy be so fast to accept the “collective blame” argument? To go to an extreme, aren’t we collectively blaming travelers when scanning them at airports? I have no trouble accepting that I’m more thoroughly checked when traveling from certain countries. I’m not carying a bomb, but I recognice the rationale behind the search and it has nothing to do with me. Surely muslims can understand why they are beeing screened. Most people accept some personal discomfort for the common good.
    I fear this is another example of the fear to offend or the urge to be seen as a victim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Was just thinking about this very idea, you comment is uncanny! Maryam is very supportive of treating Muslims as individuals who are intelligent, brave, not conservative or extremist, closeted secularists, athiests etc……But she is also extremely fearful of collective blame. Are muslims travelling through airports, on an individual level, really so incensed about the prospect of being profiled, really so quick to see it as ‘collective blame’….are a lot of them not switched on enough to know the reasoning? I think the racism charge gets really mixed up in this. We need to start phrasing it as an anti-profiling position. It’s not that ‘you’re arab so we must profile you because you’re probably a muslim and all jihadists are muslims’ its more a case of you’re not a 90 year old swedish grandma or a korean teenager, so you don’t qualify as someone we’d be absolutely wasting our time on.


  6. Basically she is saying, “My right as an innocent person to not be inconvenienced any more than anyone else trumps all considerations including my safety and that of everyone around me.” I find it to be a shockingly regressive point of view for a person like her to take.


    1. No, what she is saying is that my individual and constitutional rights are not flexible. You can probably increase safety by putting monitoring devices on all blacks because of the high black crime rate, or even just banning men from flying.

      But you cannot do that, because we have RIGHTS.

      I am a citizen who has never committed a crime. I do not submit to the government treating ME differently from the other innocent citizen behind me.

      Sam Harris continues to dodge the issue of principles when discussing profiling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nothing gives you the right to always be treated exactly the same as every other person. That’s an unrealistic expectation. Insurance companies base rates on profiling driver groups based on accident statistics. Police use profiling to apprehend criminals, not always fairly, but it is an essential part of solving crime.. Someone else put it nicely. What is being suggested can be seen as reverse profiling, that is eliminating the wasted time spent on obvious non-threats, leaving more time to pay attention those of us who fit into the broad category of plausible suspects. And, what I said is literally true.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Are you stupid?

        The constitution gives you that right. We’re not talking about discriminating based on FICO scores and the type of car you are driving.

        Equality before the law entitles everyone to the exact same legal processes. The government and instruments of the government cannot discriminate against you on the basis of religion, gender, or race. They can’t. These protections apply even in the private sector in many instances. You realize that GEICO cannot use race as a credit factor in assessing your insurance rate right?

        If you have a problem with that, start a campaign to add another amendment.

        if you don’t want 89 year old grandma’s being singled out for further inspection at the airport, that’s fine. But 89 year old Muslim grandma’s better be part of that group too.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Raj

    Here is crux of “Us Vs Them” argument or the “Clash of Civilization” concept that she doesn’t believe in.

    She has fled Iran to THE WEST to avoid persecution because she couldn’t find any Muslim country, not ONE, that she could safely take refuge. She is happy to open up the borders , import hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants into the West from countries that she couldn’t dare to settle and hope that in a couple of decades the problem would go away.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really feel that this conversation could have been improved.

    Sam speaks about practicalities of the current reality, whereas Maryam speaks about fundamentally changing the system. Sam needed to tease out the practicalities of Maryam’s position more, but they seemed to get bogged down by an ideological disconnect.

    I find this happens often when people who are emotionally invested or personally connected to an ideological position are challenged by a reasoned debate about practicalities. They cannot seem to move past the basic premise of their ideology and I sometimes get the idea that they feel to do so would undermine their argument by challenging the very bedrock on which it lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A word of warning. Do not – DO NOT – visit political blogs for news on this event. It took all of 45 seconds for the spin to begin.The left is already blaming the victims. The right is already claiming the left is supporting the terrorists.I told myself I gave up political blogging a long time ago, but when big events happen I find myself sucked back in to the major blogs and it just makes me sadder and angrier. It’s like a sickness.Let us just read Yahoo, be sad for the victims and pray.


  9. I have had comment moderation on for quite awhile and I turned on the word verification also but friends could not comment so I went back to rejecting those comments. The come on old posts and usually say nothing about the most. Anonymous is usually the sender. I tried putting the oriental language into Babelfish to see if I could translate it but no way so I just reject them all. Gives me a feeling of power. BTW I love your blog.


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