This report says:

In 2004 Sam Harris published his bestselling book “The End of Faith”. In the aftermath of 9/11, the declaration of the War on Terror and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Harris’ book hit the mark with middle class liberals.

It argued that Muslims are driven to violent actions by their violent religion. Even moderate Muslims harbour dangerous and savage thoughts that make them an enemy within. He makes a few passing philosophical remarks that dazzle lay readers into buying Harris’ personal moral code – we should be willing to fight these irrational, dangerous people in order to protect Western liberal values: secularism, reason, progress.

Is the above accusation that Sam Harris "argued that Muslims are driven to violent actions by their violent religion" true?

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    This could be answered by reading the book. Feel free to do so and tell us the answer. Oct 22, 2016 at 16:02
  • You would probably have to read to book to fully understand their argument, but Wikipedia has a section on this controversy on their page for this book.
    – Batman
    Oct 22, 2016 at 17:41
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    @DJClayworth If I had access to this book, I wouldn't have asked this question. Oct 22, 2016 at 19:36
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    Does "Is it true" mean "Is it true that Muslims are driven to violence....." or does "Is it true" mean "Did Sam Harris say this thing?" Oct 26, 2016 at 20:13
  • @AndrewMattson The latter. Oct 26, 2016 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


Of the two boldface sentences in the OP, the first represents the book rather accurately, while the second does not.

With regard to the sentence "It argued that Muslims are driven to violent actions by their violent religion".

The book says

The speciousness of this claim [Islam is no more amenable to violence than any other religion] is best glimpsed by the bright light of bomb blasts

In his own press release for the book, on his own website, Harris has written:

we consistently excuse religion as the basis for violence, preferring to maintain, against all contrary evidence, that only economic and political motives fuel extreme violence.

With regard to the second boldface sentence "Even moderate Muslims harbour dangerous and savage thoughts that make them an enemy within":

According to the New York Times review of the book:

Harris reserves particular ire for religious moderates, those who "have taken the apparent high road of pluralism, asserting the equal validity of all faiths" and who "imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others." Religious moderates, he argues, are the ones who thwart all efforts to criticize religious literalism. By preaching tolerance, they become intolerant of any rational discussion of religion and "betray faith and reason equally."

However, Harris has also written a separate article Who Are the Moderate Muslims?. There he praises Abdel Rahman al-Rashed as a moderate Muslim.

In fact, the book actually says:

This transformation, to be palatable to Muslims, must appear to come from Muslims themselves. It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say that the fate of civilization lies largely in the hands of "moderate” Muslims.

So he is casting moderate Muslims in almost a heroic role, certainly not the enemy within.

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    I don't feel like you really addressed the part of the quote that says: "Even moderate Muslims harbour dangerous and savage thoughts that make them an enemy within". That Harris might have said such a thing is really a much more serious accusation than saying he singles out Islam in his criticism.
    – Jack M
    Oct 25, 2016 at 18:24
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    @JackM Harris doesn't say that moderate Muslims have savage thoughts, but he says "There is a pervasive piece of wishful thinking circulating among religious moderates, and it could get a lot of us killed." samharris.org/press/Q&A-with-Sam-Harris.pdf It's more that Harris is against universalists that think all religious beliefs are ok. He's not against moderate Muslims (at least by his definition of "moderate Muslim"), but he thinks there are few moderate Muslims.
    – DavePhD
    Oct 25, 2016 at 19:08
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    @Jack M: Why is it a "serious accusation" rather than an accurate or inaccurate description of Islam? If Harris (or anyone else) has formed the conclusion that Islam is in fact a dangerous and savage religion, why would pointing this out (with, of course, evidence to support the conclusion) be a problem?
    – jamesqf
    Oct 27, 2016 at 17:37
  • @jamesqf Er... did you read the quote? It specifically says "even moderate muslims".
    – Jack M
    Oct 27, 2016 at 21:03
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    @Jack M: Rather off the topic, but I have always wondered how people can describe themselves as followers of "Religion X" without apparently believing in or following the doctrines of that religion. So (assuming Harris' claim is true) one would have to ask whether there actually can be such a thing as a moderate follower of an immoderate religion, and whether those claiming to be moderates are not just lying - either to us, or to themselves.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 28, 2016 at 17:38

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