propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people
for believing them.”
Who penned this ugly little medievalism? The
Taliban? Stalin? A National Socialist contemplating what to do with German
labor organizers? Perhaps a puritanical do-gooder off to purge satanic
elements hidden under the foliage's bright taches shrouding sleepy
seventeenth century Salem in a gorgeous autumnal firestorm? No, this
winsome sentiment was recently expressed by yet another of America's
just-add-water "public intellectuals," one Sam Harris, atheism's would-be
heresiarch in the politically incoherent age of War for Oil on Terror. In
his The End of Faith, a short work the careless might take for a
polemic against organized religion, Harris’s central theme is that "all
reasonable men and women have a common enemy . . . Our enemy is nothing
other than faith itself." 
Sadly, this enlightened secularist’s homily is not what makes Harris an
interesting read. Harris's attack on religious literalism is nothing but
familiar to anyone who's ever picked up Paine's The Age of Reason
(a work strangely absent in Harris's well-padded bibliography, and a
curious omission by a man who writes: "If there is a book [other than
The End of Faith] that takes a harder swing at religion, I'm unaware
of it.") No, what makes Harris interesting is what he makes of our
contemporary geopolitical climate. According to this broadminded man of
science: "We are at war with Islam,"  a war we cannot
lose, for, you see, "life under the Taliban is, to a first approximation,
what millions of Muslims around the world want to impose on us."
 According to Harris, this war on Islam should be
prosecuted remorselessly, consciously accepting civilian casualties and,
by extension, torture. 
It is a remarkable conceit to think one could invoke reason in the hopes
of convincing otherwise thoughtful people of the preposterous and it is
precisely such an impossible strain for the demented that Harris attempts
in a book shot through with poor argument and delusive thought
experiments, all couching the wretched logic of Bush's global anti-terror
militarism in terms slightly more palatable to non-believers who might
otherwise be repelled by what they understand to be the messianic
madcapery of the president's born again evangelicalism. 
I first stumbled on a snippet from Harris
here, and originally thought I might enjoy reading his "Letter
to a Christian Nation," advertised as "the courageous new book that arms
all rational Americans with powerful arguments against their opponents on
the Christian right" on a pricey page two of October's Harper's
Magazine (featuring "The Way out of Iraq" by McGovern and Polk). I had
never read or even heard of Mr. Harris. Unsurprisingly, I expected him to
be some sort of liberal atheist. Then I read The End of Faith,
Harris's previous book and the source of this review's introductory
quotation.  I borrowed the paperback from someone
amused by Harris's quips about "religious ideas that belong on the same
shelf with Batman." It all sounded so clever and titillating. However,
upon opening the book, my Spidey sense started tingling: Harvard's Alan
"The Ticking Time Bomb" Dershowitz,
accused plagiarist and apparent
libeler, praises the book as a "tour de force" on a page-one
I decided to read the book anyway.
And learned blurbs mean nothing. Not only is it not, in any way, a "tour
de force" as America's onetime distinguished torture advocate put it,
neither is it "badly needed," as The Independent is quoted on the
back cover. Interestingly, if one actually reads that particular review,
one learns The Independent's reviewer, Johann Hari, thought parts
of the book "quite crazed," specifically noting Harris's "bizarre
speculation about circumstances in which a nuclear first strike would be
acceptable against jihadists with a nuclear weapon." 
There are so many execrable claims in The End of Faith, refuting
them all demands the space of a long and considered essay, an exercise in
exorcising the shrill anti-Islamic paranoia that interlaces Harris's
purported project of sending organized religion itself to "the blue mists
of heaven" (Marx). I simply do not have that kind of time. It should
suffice to show the moral paucity of Harris's worldview with a few simple
In his third chapter to "intimate . . . some of the terrible consequences
that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of the Christian faith"
 Harris begins by asking his readers to imagine
themselves apprehended by the Inquisition:
Without warning you are seized and brought
before a judge.
This, absent the judge, is frightfully
similar to what has happened to several victims of the CIA
counter-terrorist policy of extraordinary rendition.
You are not told the names of your accusers.
Neither were the suspected members of Al
Qaeda rounded up by Afghan bounty hunters, turned over to American forces,
and shipped off to Guantánamo Bay.
But you have a choice, of sorts: you can
concede your guilt and name your accomplices.
This was exactly the kind of choice offered
Mr. Maher Arar, a victim of extraordinary rendition and recipient of the
2006 Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award. Why is this
ultimately a choice? Well, following Harris:
You may be imprisoned in total darkness for
months or years at a time, repeatedly beaten and starved, or stretched
upon the rack.
Interestingly enough, something similar --
minus the rack and the starvation -- happened to the innocent Mr. Arar:
The cell was about three feet wide, six feet
deep and about seven feet high. It was dark. There was no source of light
in it. It was filthy. There were only two thin covers on the floor. I was
naïve; I thought they would keep me in this place for one, two, maybe
three days to put pressure on me. But this same place, the same cell that
I later called the grave was my home 10 months and 10 days. The only light
that came into the cell was from the ceiling, from the opening in the
ceiling. There was a small spotlight and that's it. 
He was, however, "repeatedly beaten":
He hit me again. And that one missed and hit
my wrist. The pain from that hit lasted approximately six months. And then
he would ask me questions. And I would have to answer very quickly. And
then he would repeat the beating this time anywhere on my, on my body.
Sometimes he would take me to a room where I could, where I was alone, I
could hear other prisoners being tortured, severely tortured. I remember
that I used to hear their screams. I just couldn't believe it, that human
beings would do this to other human beings. And then they would take me
back to the interrogation room. Again another set of questions, and the
beating starts again and again. On the third day the beating was the
worst. They beat me a lot with the cable. And they wanted me to confess
that I have been to Afghanistan. This was a big surprise to me because
even the Americans who interviewed me, the FBI officials who interviewed
me, did not ask me that question. I ended up falsely confessing in order
to stop the torture. 
The only telling difference here is that Mr.
Arat was eventually freed, not burned at the stake. Now that's progress.
Naturally, Harris will tell us, things were rougher during The
You may be hoisted to the ceiling on a
strappado (with your arms tied behind your back and attached to a pulley,
and weights tied to your feet), dislocating your shoulders.
This also had its eerie echo in Afghanistan.
Both men had been chained to the ceiling,
one at the waist and one by the wrists, although their feet remained on
the ground. Both men had been captured by Afghan forces and turned over to
the American military for interrogation. 
Of course, these men were not actually
hoisted midair, merely beaten to death while dangling from a chain, beaten
so badly the medical examiner reported of one victim that 'even if he had
survived, both legs would have had to be amputated.'
I could go on like this; but the point has been made. Although
Inquisitional torture was probably more brutal than that practiced today,
both are justice as farce. Justice is something Harris should know
something about, as he, a graduate in philosophy from Stanford, for some
unknown reason, includes the complete works of Plato in his doubtful
bibliography (Plato appears nowhere in the index). He might have read:
You must consider not only what happens if a
particular hypothesis is true, but also what happens if it is not true.
Some propositions are so dangerous that it
may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.
Or maybe it's not ethical at all.
In my modest opinion Mr. Harris is another voice joining in an inane
chorus that preaches that we must all embrace barbarisms so as to save
civilization. It is my recommendation to him and all who think as does
that the greatest threat to western civilization and humanity as a whole
are not terrorists (or, as Mr. Harris would put it, Islam itself), but,
far more reasonably, it's global warming.
Theo Papathanasis is secretly
collaborating with the forces of Grand Archon Nabqilzar from the planet
Yxorlox to enslave Earth with an orbiting Black Hole Detonator before the
United States can mount a space-based defense. He can be reached at:
Other Articles by Theo
Fascism: Scare? Tactics?: A Comment on Mickey Z. and Antiwar Tactics
 Harris, Sam, The End of Faith (New York: Knopf, 2005), p. 131.
 ibid., p. 109.
 ibid., p. 203.
It should go without saying that the idea of an Islamists' victory over
American Forces stationed in the Mid East could result in the western
world's kowtowing to Wahhabism is about as realistic a proposition as
The Onion's faux historical headline about the American withdrawal
from Vietnam: North Vietnam Wins War! All Americans to Salute Our New Viet
On a serious note, Robert Fisk interestingly interpreted 'the [Taliban's]
new laws of Afghanistan – so anachronistic and brutal to us, and to
educated Afghans – were less an attempt at religious revival than a
continuation of life in the vast dirt camps in which so many millions of
Afghans had gathered on the borders of their country when the Soviets
invaded sixteen years before.' From The Great War for Civilisation
(London: Harper Perennial, 2005), p. 31.
 See Harris, 2005, p. 198 and p. 2003.
 For a recent political conspectus that probably shares some themes
contained in Letter to a Christian Nation (as well as more than a few of
those found in The End of Faith), see Garry Wills' comments about
faith-based war in 'A Country Ruled by Faith', The New York Review,
November 16, 2006.
 Harris, 2005, pp. 52-3.
 Hari, Johann, 'The sea of faith and violence', The Independent,
Feb 11, 2005.
 Harris, 2005, p. 106. Here too (and this has been pointed out about
another passage by Hari in his review) Harris seems to be under the
dubious impression that The Holocaust was a product of Christianity not of
National Socialism, and that Hitler was Catholic.
Unless noted, all the following quotes by Harris are from The End of
Faith, pp. 80-1.
 Arar, Maher, 'The Horrors of "Extraordinary Rendition"', Foreign
Policy in Focus, October 27, 2006.
 Jehl, Douglas, 'Army Details Scale of Abuse of Prisoners in an Afghan
Jail', The New York Times, March 12, 2005.
 Plato, Parm., 135e.