Sam Harris continues his bad run of cringe-inducing conversations with people he sort of, kind of, agrees with, as he and Omer Aziz go head-to-head over Sam’s seemingly infamous views about Islamic reform.
Podcasts are an incredible medium that allows us as listeners to access conversations between other like-minded people. Some of these conversations are informative, some are enthralling and others are just plain silly, but every so often, they simply don’t work.
Sam Harris is an interesting guy with an important voice. Intelligent, articulate and more often than not, he’s very calm and measured with his communication style. But lately, he seems way too hung up on (almost obsessed with) correcting every misrepresentation that is made of his positions and motives, and his recent podcasts have suffered because of it. It seems to have intensified since his well publicised run-in with “Yeah yeah, but… you’re racist” Ben Affleck on the Bill Maher Show, which would make sense, because that interaction put him on the radar of every opinionated ‘leftie’ with a social media account.
Following on from a very tense and awkward conversation with Maryam Namazie which dropped last week, Sam released another conversation he really didn’t want to with writer and law student Omer Aziz. Firstly though, some back story.
Omer wrote a rather scathing review for Salon of Sam’s latest book Islam and the future of Tolerance, co-authored by Maajid Nawaz. (You can read that review here). Instead of just letting it go, or addressing the situation in private, Sam invited Omer to discuss this review on Sam’s Waking Up Podcast. When I say discuss the review, I don’t mean that he had a few points to address. Sam’s invitation was to discuss each line of the review, sentence by excruciating sentence. Granted, he explained that it was an experimental format and one that may not work – which it didn’t – and at the end of the conversation Sam stated that if he deemed the podcast unworthy, he wouldn’t release it. Up until very recently, that ended up being the decision he made. Seemingly unhappy with this, Omer took to Twitter to vent his frustration at Sam’s actions, and the ensuing twitter-war forced Sam’s hand just enough to finally release the podcast, under the title The Greatest Podcast Ever.
This rather adversarial back drop was a bizarre way to be introduced to this podcast, and my hopes weren’t high after Sam’s intro segment. What followed, was a difficult three hours of chest-beating and dick-swinging from two people who annoyingly could have had a rather engaging discourse. Omer surprised me a lot, and at times he seemed to surprise Sam with his ability to articulate his criticisms. He was no push over, nor was he irrational or parochial. He seemed genuinely grateful to be able to have the conversation that he did, and he was brave in the way he stood by his own words. The first half hour or so (potentially longer than that) was taken up with Sam labouring on the very first sentence of Omer’s article. “There are few get-rich-quick schemes left in modern publishing, but one that persists could be called Project Islamic Reformation.” Sam was rightly annoyed by this, as being seen as the poster boy for Islamophobia has not been a great career move for him. But no matter how many times Omer tried to move the conversation on, Sam kept bringing it back to this point. He wanted Omer to concede that he was wrong, and he refused to move on until he did.
This format became tiresome rather quickly, and it was only when it was discarded a few times that the conversation actually got somewhere. These two clearly agreed on several points, and probably would on many more, so it’s disappointing that Sam didn’t totally abandon his failed ‘review the reviewer’ experiment as soon as it was obvious it wasn’t working.
There was some thought-provoking interactions to be found in here, but overall it was a frustrating listen and considering the calibre of Podcasts – and work in general – that Sam is capable of producing, this wasn’t in any way a great one.