Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s ‘Islam and the future of Tolerance: A Dialogue’ is an informative and hopeful dialogue on a number of pressing issues of today, ranging from islamism to Islamic reform. With wit, intelligence and scrutiny all rolled into a short and succinct book, Sam and Maajid effectively take head on these issues and come up with effective strategies to answer them. Easily read in an afternoon, this book is meant to be read in conjunction to the growing political, philosophical and cultural issues occurring in the world today—such as the culture war over Islam, the conflicts against ISIS in the Middle East, the growing rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the intellectual debates centred around reform in Islam. In addition to this, the book provides a list of helpful sources easily verifiable, as well as provides a further reading information list for all those interested in the topics discussed. (It may not be very helpful to me, since I have read most of the books listed, but I am sure it will be helpful for new individuals entering the discussion.) There is very few things to criticise, as the book is very well written and its contents are discussed in a manner that provides little room for arguing.
It is a dialogue that needed to happen, as both individuals have been engaged in trying to provide discourse on Islam. However, both have been labelled as ‘bigots’, ‘Islamophobes’ and ‘Racists’ by those of the left (regressive leftists) for criticising Islam. Sam Harris himself has been for the last year and a half trying to combat these baseless accusations; hence is why I am glad that he addressed them in this book, as well as pushed past them in informing individuals about what really needs to be discussed. Maajid Nawaz was brilliant in this book, as his writing was more on point and his counter-points to Sam did provide room for further discussion and thought. In addition to this, Maajid has improved on his writing, as his last book ‘Radical’ was rather a disappointment in terms of writing.
As for the ideas being discussed, Islamism and regressivism are by far the most pressing concerns of today. Islamism is the political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by groups such as the Islamic State. Maajid’s informative identifying of sub-branches within Islamism, such as jihadism and political islamism, was by far the most informative aspect of his part of the dialogue on this topic. Sam Harris’ critiques of Islamism, and by highlighting the fact that beliefs do matter, were also enlightening but I do feel that both could have done a more in-depth explanation of Islamism than they ended up doing. (Maajid’s distinction between traditional and conservative Muslims does appear to be misleading, but I trust that he is onto something when he distinguishes between them.)
Regressivism (Coined by Maajid Nawaz) is the political philosophy that has emerged from progressive politics and post-modern ‘Identity politics’, as of late. It is identified by individuals defying classical liberal principles, such as free-speech, freethought and individual autonomy and responsibility, all in the ideal of equality. This has resulted in ‘regressives’ (to use a term from Sam Harris) protecting Islam from criticism and has also resulted in the silencing of critics by regressives. This is truly evident in the west, because regressivism—especially in reference to Islam—is a by-product of Islamist apologetics and Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maajid Nawaz and many others have been victims of this regressivism. This is further expressed in the book.
Maajid Nawaz makes reference to Dr. Hasan, who is a Islamic scholar and Quilliam, throughout the book. However, I do think that he needs to not fall prey to the false belief in trusting an authority figure too much, because even they can be wrong. This leads into another thought as well, and this is in regards to Maajid’s ‘relativist’ interpretation of the Quran and hadiths. If there is no ultimate interpretation of a text, then there is no right or wrong interpretation of a text. This is problematic for obvious reasons, as it creates stagnation and creates misinformation where there need not be any.
The above-mentioned paragraphs are just some of my thoughts on the ideas discussed in the book, as there are plenty more ideas that were discussed in the book, but I will allow individuals to explore those ideas for themselves.
Read from: October 19th-November 7th, 2015
Rating: 5/5 stars—This is definitely my book of the year so far.
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
Link to Goodreads Review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1387295946?book_show_action=false