Certain issues tend to stir up so much emotion that any related discourse can feel futile to the point of masochism. This fact is never more apparent than when listening to The Young Turk’s Cenk Uygur rant and rave about Islamophobia. I’m a fan of TYT, but Uygur has struggled to make sense on this issue for years now. Much like Bill Maher on the topic of vaccines, the TYT anchor is the absolute picture of confusion whenever the subject of Islam is raised.
Since the latter part of 2014, one of the main targets of Uygur’s misplaced rage has been Sam Harris. This finally came to a head when Uygur and Harris engaged in a 3 hour conversation designed to clear up various distortions and misrepresentations of the latter’s views. The conversation itself was compelling and well worth watching, but the fallout has been less than satisfying for anyone who values intellectual honesty. Based on the content of Uygur’s still-frequent tirades, one could be forgiven for thinking the conversation never actually took place. Nothing, it seems, has changed.
The TYT host was particularly fired up during the March 27 broadcast of TYT Live. While discussing whether anti-Muslim animus is the new McCarthyism, Uygur lambasted Harris and those who agree with him on the subject of Islam, dismissing them as faux-progressives in a confused rant that should be permanently featured on the “No true Scotsman” Wikipedia page. The irony here is that Uygur is much closer to the political center than liberals like Harris, Maher and many of their allies on this issue.
Not content with his usual gymnastics routine when covering stories related to Islam, Uygur chose instead to employ the “nuclear first strike” canard that is so often leveled at Harris. Past references to this easily debunked meme could be chalked up to ignorance, but he knows better at this point. Is it conscious misrepresentation or has Uygur forgotten that the relevant passage in Harris’ first book, The End of Faith, is filled with caveats? This fact was explained in painstaking detail during the pair’s conversation.
Towards the end of said conversation, Harris made a point that is often overlooked and is worth repeating.
Much of my discussions… have been an effort to get to ethical bedrock. I write and think as a philosopher. In the context of having a philosophical discussion about ethics and right and wrong, you can say many things that seem crazy outside of a philosophy seminar but in a philosophy seminar are totally legitimate. In a philosophy seminar you can say: ‘Why can’t we eat babies? What’s wrong with eating babies?’ That is a completely insane thing to say in the world. That is the kind of thing that, if quoted out of context, makes me look like an asshole. But the reality is if you’re trying to get to the ethical bedrock of good and evil, starting the conversation with, ‘Why can’t we eat babies? Give me an ethical argument as to why this is really, really wrong?’ is a totally legitimate thing to do…
Context really does matter. If an opinion is too nuanced to be squeezed into a two minute rant, that’s just too bad. We don’t get to falsely summarize someone’s views for the sake of convenience. Let’s illustrate this point with reference to part of Uygur’s diatribe in the first video:
According to Sam Harris’ book, hypothetically, what if we did a nuclear first strike on them? I mean, after all they are Muslim!
Now, let’s reword that quote and replace the nuclear first strike canard with something else Harris has said.
According to Sam Harris, hypothetically, why shouldn’t we be allowed to eat babies? I mean, after all they are babies!
Does it occur to anyone else that the inclusion of the relevant context might save Sam getting a visit from Child Protective Services? When a view is expressed within a hypothetical context, the details of said hypothetical tend to be important.
It’s unfortunate that Uygur is so unbearable on this issue. It has become difficult to rely on TYT as a news source, which is unfair to co-hosts like Ana Kasparian and Dave Rubin, both of whom are extremely likable. One wonders what goes through their minds when they notice the superpuffedness of Uygur’s chest as he prepares to launch into another of his tiresome, self-aggrandizing rants. He is the reason I cancelled my premium TYT membership months ago, and one look at the feedback on TYT’s YouTube videos tells me I’m probably not the only one.