Ayan Hirsi Ali in The NY Times: Lee Harris’s ‘The Suicide Of Reason’

Ayan Hirsi Ali reviews The Suicide of Reason in the New York Times. Here is the link.

He [Harris} views Islamic imperialism as a single-minded expansion of the religion itself; the empire that it envisions is governed by Allah. In this sense, the idea of jihad is less about the inner struggle for peace and justice and more about a grand mission of conversion.”

I have found that many devout Muslims, as part of their faith, regard the world as a potential religious conquest.  But is Islam truly unique in this desire?

“…the concept of separating the sacred from the profane has never been acceptable in Islam the way it has been in Christianity.”


Harris goes on to argue that the Muslim world, since it is governed by the law of the jungle, makes group survival paramount. This explains in part the willingness of Muslims to become martyrs for the larger community, the umma — uniting peoples separated by geographical boundaries, with different cultures, heritages and languages.”

The argument seems to be that Islam places high value in group survival because they are more primitive and tribal.  As for us, we have an emphasis on individualism and personal freedom from which which Islam could benefit, but we also have the intellectual, religious, cultural, and political traditions that create and foster individualism and personal freedom.  

Noam Chomsky and Paul Wolfowitz agreed, Harris writes, “that you couldn’t really blame the terrorists, since they were merely the victims of an evil system — for Chomsky, American imperialism, for Wolfowitz, the corrupt and despotic regimes of the Middle East.”

Intersting point.  Harris focuses back on a dialogue which includes Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington about Islam and our relationship to it.  These thinkers obviously have limits to their ideas (especially those about Islam), and some advocated action in the Iraq war.   But have their ideas been sufficiently understood and addressed?

Ali questions Harris’s idea of reason on which he bases much of his book:

“The Enlightenment cannot be fully appreciated without a strong awareness of just how frail human reason is. That is why concepts like doubt and reflection are central to any form of decision-making based on reason.”

She seems to think Harris sets up “reason” as a basis for many of his ideas, makes some good points, but may not have the depth to address the issue as well as he could.  

Addition: Fouad Ajami has a piece on Huntington in the NY Times.

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