Sam Harris is a Facile Moron

There are many reasons why I feel the need to distance myself from the “new atheist movement”, and Sam Harris has recently made me want to keep well away from it for good. His latest post: In Defense of Profiling does, well, just that. He argues that we should profile Muslims in our fight against terrorism, stopping people who ‘look like Muslims’ at airports in the interests of national security.


The first and most obvious problem with this notion is this; how the hell do you determine someone’s religion just from looking at them? Any educated person (apart from Mr. Harris apparently) can tell you that Islam is not a race, it’s a religion. He appears to be advocating for the profiling of bearded men in robes with turbans on alongside women dressed in hijabs, as though all Muslims conform to this caricature. It doesn’t appear to cross Sam’s mind that as soon as they started to profile for people who look Muslim (whatever the hell that means) those who want to sneak through this system incognito need only make a minimal effort not to look like a caricature of a Muslim (a quick shave and a trip to the local clothes shop and you’re done). I would hope Harris is not advocating the racist view that all Arab-looking individuals should be profiled, but I don’t see that there is any other logical conclusion to be drawn from his nonsensical position.


In his addendum responding to the rightful criticism he received he states that: “I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice). To say that ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, dress, travelling companions, behaviour in the terminal, and other outward appearances offer no indication of a person’s beliefs or terrorist potential is either quite crazy or totally dishonest.” He doesn’t appear to grasp that behaviour, clothing, and other outward appearances can easily be changed. Any intelligent terrorist in Harris’ profiling scenario would simply make themselves appear as distant from the kind of thing they are looking for as possible. It won’t work. The only conceivable scenario in which we might catch an Islamic threat (with the insight not to make it obvious in their outward behaviour and appearance) via profiling is if we stopped any Arab-looking person and that is fucking racist. 


I do not wish to downplay the threat of radical Islam, I merely wish to point out that Harris’ proposed means of countering it are unutterably stupid. For someone who is qualified in neuroscience you would have thought Sam Harris would have two brain cells to rub together…



Filed under Religion

11 responses to “Sam Harris is a Facile Moron

  1. Pingback: In Defense of Profiling : Sam Harris « SINMANTYX

  2. I was annoyed at his article as well. However, I don’t think distancing our collective selves from “new atheism” (however that might be defined) is a good solution to a few popular authors acting as the face of it. I vote for new faces – air time and blog hits for others – not just the current somewhat homogenius rockstars of atheism.

  3. Your criticism is raw and rough, but I fundamentally agree. I have a recent post regarding my personal experience, as a dark-skinned Muslim, with racial profiling and its utility. I invite your thoughts.

    • Zachary Mullin

      I consider myself a new-atheist(consider religion to cause needless division) and I like some of what Sam Harris says, but he is out of line at this one point. The only difference between Islam and Christianity is the clerical power of Christianity is smashed. Too many Muslims listen to the clerics and do not make up their own minds on points, the challenge is with the “infallibility” of the clerics, not those who believe that God loves them and will punish evil people and reward honesty and sincerity. “Religion is the heart of a heartless world, and expression of, and rebellion against, real suffering” I know many good decent muslims, and christians, and jews, and while I believe they are deluding themselves on the point of their faith, in every other respect they make loving mothers, caring husbands, and decent upstanding citizens.

  4. chasingimagination

    I think the New Atheist movement should have a clear direction. Although the debates make good entertainment, i feel that the focus should be shifted from ridicule towards more positive causes. The movement have made some good strides in promoting education and science as well as fighting discrimination against atheists (considering it started within the first decade of the 21st century).

    I want to see more inroads in rationalism and secular humanism which i think will be more appropriate for our modern society.

    • Doctor Bad Sign

      I decline to be considered part of any organised movement personally. This whole new atheism thing kicked off because several people decided to independently publish books containing their thoughts on religion – there was no organization behind it. It doesn’t need to be organized into a movement, let freethinkers speak out of their own accord. If you’re going to start a movement that whines publicly about the shape of war memorials or advocates for profiling of Muslims then you can most certainly count me out, I won’t stand for that kind of pettiness (in the case of the former) and bigotry (in the case of the latter).

      • chasingimagination

        In no way do i support Sam Harris on profiling Muslims. And I don’t know about the War memorials debate well enough to comment.

        Yes, you are right. The new atheist is just a term given by the media to identify a particular group of people that have become very vocal. All I’m saying is, if there’s something positive that has grown out of the ‘movement’, then lets focus it, rather than growing the ridicule and bigotry.

  5. I agree with you on this one, friend. I mean, North Korea has nuclear weapons, so we should stop all Koreans at the airports too on this logic, don’t you think? And since most Americans can’t tell a Korean man from a Chinese man from a Japanese man, let’s just stop all Asian-looking people at the airport. You’re spot on in that profiling won’t really stop terrorism, it will just springboard racism. Good post.

    • Doctor Bad Sign

      Yes although I don’t think you’d catch many North Koreans leaving their country so freely and easily!

  6. Well on target Doctor. Brilliantly contended. Thank you for a powerful article.

  7. Mike

    Quite frankly. The whole thing baffled me. Sam Harris missed a pretty obvious observation too: none of the 9-11 hijackers “dressed” or “acted” Muslim. As I recall they wore typical American clothes and didn’t have long beards, or tons of Muslim garments.

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