87: French Islamophobia, Hitchens Criticism, Ghost Hunting

By on February 9, 2013

Colin, Robin, Tom, and Chris discuss French Islamophobia, criticism of the late Christopher Hitchens’ debating style, and yes, ghost-hunting.


Travis L.

Cast more pods guys! and lady!

I really enjoy the no nonsense style and each of your individual perspectives and specialties. Keep it up.

So some time ago a few criticisms of Sam Harris appeared on your podcast. Okay, I have issues with a few of his ideas as well.

Next came occasional bombs dropped on Harris as a foolish moron. Interesting considering, having read his work on the material in question, you did not represent his stance accurately. Whether by misunderstanding or malice this says nothing good.

Now it is open season of, the one year dead, Christopher Hitchens. You know, the man who did so much to bring atheism into the public consciousness especially in America? If at least the methodology had some merit I would not have to facepalm.

What the hell is going on over there? Do you have nothing to discuss? Desperate for some attention?



I’ve stated on this podcast and many others that I am a huge fan of Hitch. I own his books, I watch all his debates, generally I love him. I even recommend him to my non-atheist friends, classmates and professors. I especially love “Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?” the intelligence square debate, and God is Not Great. I also recommend things like The Portable Atheist to some people or any of his other works if they are relevant to a discussion. I even write posts inspired entirely by works of his like Hell’s Angel/The Missionary Position.

I’ve stated on other podcasts also that he is my favorite of the horsemen. That being said, every fan of his knows his surprising positions on other issues. Does that mean I still don’t love him? No. Indeed, in this podcast I defended him. Did I defend him as aggressively as I could have? No. I thought I would let the forum be a little more open since I am so openly a fan of him and my opinions wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprising. I conceded the points of his other positions and maintain my love for him.

I am sorry if you do not feel I properly defended him but I hope you understand my attitude toward the discussion. There are a few other contributors who feel like I do. There are also those, like Robin, who I believe think his “bad” outweighs his “good.” I think that is a very popular position outside the atheist community so I was glad she voiced it.

Robin Marie

Hi Corey — I think the reasons for my criticism of Hitchens and Harris are pretty clear; I would look at both my post “Sam Harris is wrong” and listen again to the quotes of Hitchens that I read on this podcast.

Now, you don’t have to feel the same way as I do about those issues — but my feelings on the matter are that the rhetoric both of these men have used, particularly in regarded to the Muslim world, is otherizing language which contributes to Islamaphobia, or Muslimphobia, more accurately. Be careful to note that this is not to say that in their conscious minds, they thought or think “I hate Muslims. These people are all barbarians” — but, I think something ugly like that, going on a deeper psychological level than overt claims, contributed/contributes to the tone and tenor of their work. In Hitchens case, especially, his atheism was inextricably tied up with his politics, especially his support for our foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, I do not think you can honestly separate out the two issues; they are linked. And so to me, Hitchens’ atheism, in particular, is tainted, and I do not wish to associate with that man or his motives.

You have all the right in the world to think this is nonsense, and I know a lot of people do. But it certainly is a legitimate debate, and if you felt the way I did, you would come to the same conclusion: the ugly part of Hitchens was too much of who he was, at least in the last decade or so of his life, and so, I can no longer say I am a fan.

Mitchell Makwich

I know I’m late to the party but I wanted to say that I really appreciated the arguments put forth here. I should say though that considering them only solidified my support for Hitchens in ways I wish I could give a proper explanation for. That might be hard because I’m not reading him currently and the underlying impressions that I had are much harder to enunciate than the simple fact that I found his material agreeable. I suppose the value I place on good intentions play a large part in my appreciation for Hitchens.
I’ll start by saying that I believe in absolutes but that I also believe in shades of grey. Our different viewpoints provide us with varying avenues and interpretations for determining truths and this makes motivations and intentions hard to gauge. That being said, Hitchens’ methods and perspective were always impressive to me. You could tell that his heart was in the right place when you read him. He threw so much of himself into current events and was remarkably well-read. I believe this gave him a great sense of the major pitfalls people tend to encounter in critical thinking as he routinely explained them in his writing while also displaying his proficience in avoiding them. For example, many would imply that his response to 9/11 was reactionary or that after the events his politics seemed to do a complete 180. I find that to be one of many colossal misunderstandings of his process and opinions in general. His reasons for supporting the wars were incredibly complex and derived from experience gained from a distinguished career in political reporting and a lifetime of just general deep thinking. Deep thought and critical analysis is exactly what’s lacking in the majority of the varied criticisms leveled at him, especially in his final decade.
If you’ve read Ayaan Hirsi Ali then I’m sure you wouldn’t disagree with her opinions on Islam, or if you do then I’m sure you can at least appreciate her motivations. If you’d read Hitchens then you’d know that when it came to Islam his motivations were closely aligned with Hirsi Ali’s. They were known to be friends and supporters of each other’s work, with Hitchens providing the forward to her excellent autobiography called Infidel. Being someone who feels that I understood the man I would say that criticism of his rhetoric carry little weight with me because I can see through any accusations of xenophobia or racism. That just wasn’t what was going on.
People are easily and routinely taken out of context, and to blame one man takes weight off the shoulders of the culture of xenophobia we face in the West. I believe the extremely common views represented by that culture are the conductor for Islamophobia and the reason it is so widespread. I struggle with xenophobia a lot in my city and even with certain members of my family, none of whom seem to read non-fiction. So I feel like I can tell where it stems from from and it’s not from or likely being encouraged by reading Hitchens or anything other than maybe a conservative column in a newspaper. Xenophobia is a disease that is simply in the social fabric of the West. It seems to be passed down from the misguided ideas of older generations. I don’t believe people are receptive to ideology driven by it unless they already have xenophobic tendencies anyway.
In closing I would say that Hitchens’ outspoken nature unfortunately seems to be a detriment to him with the younger adults of today, whom I believe can be a bit touchy and even sometimes shallow. I’m afraid he is in danger of being completely discarded by most of us. And that, to me, is a shame. I will remember him for his wit, his fighting spirit, and his good nature.

Mitchell Makwich

PS: Sorry about the grammar mistakes. Never was my strong suit. Should’ve wrote in WordPad or something with autocorrect.

Mitchell Makwich

I should add that I didn’t ever get the feeling that he took issue with Muslims that weren’t radical and oppressive. He was on their side in the Bosnia/Serbia conflict and he had a great admiration for the Kurds. He knew his enemy and his enemy were the opposers of freedom and rationality. If you’re not enraged by the suppression of women’s rights, or female genital mutilation, or the anarchy of public amputations and executions without trial, or the institutionalized trade and rape of young boys and sometimes girls (sex with women is interpreted as more sinful in extremist Islamic sects) then by all means, be horrified by a few somewhat vulgar remarks against these people. That’s obviously your right. Just don’t misunderstand the context.


Of course you’re allowed to criticize whoever you want to, but this podcast came across as “I don’t agree with X, so X is evil and wrong, and I’m a much better person than X!”, which quite frankly is childish. If you can’t handle disagreements, you’re probably going to have a rough life ahead of you. lol You can’t just refuse to associate with everyone you don’t agree 100% with on EVERYTHING, or you’ll be a very lonely person.
I also love how you manage to make it sound like the people you disagree with just don’t have a lot of knowledge about a topic, while you obviously do, because.. Uhh.. Because you say so.
Islam is not much an issue in the USA, but I’m fairly certain it will be as Christianity “dies”. I think that’s the main difference when it comes to Islam. The crazy Christian fundies are keeping Islam at bay so to speak. Not in any sort of planned or active way, but there’s no doubt who “runs” the US. It’s not the Muslims and they know that, which probably cause most of them to keep quiet about Halal meat in schools and other idiotic things like that. They’re not retards, so they know they won’t win that argument in the US.

When people like Harris (who I’m not personally a massive fan of.) talk about Islam being a whole other level of scary, I agree 100%. Maybe not in the US, but in Europe Islam is a much bigger danger, while Christianity just isn’t a danger at all. Not because Christianity is less crazy, but it’s just such a non-issue over here. They get laughed at, if they start talking about morals from the bible or whatever. On the other hand Muslims get a free pass to be crazy a lot of time, because no one wants to be called a racist, which is the generic attempt at a defense for a lot of Muslims, since there’s obviously no fact-based way of defending their religions, so unlike Christianity, Islam actually gets stuff changed.. For the worse.
Our country hasn’t had issues with Christian “gangs” since the dark ages. The same cannot be said for Muslim gangs. Christians don’t go around beating up homosexuals in parks because it’s against the will of God. The same cannot be said for Muslims. Christians here also don’t do honor killings, don’t throw acid at girls, don’t attack Jews etc.
While the crazy-level of their holy books may be the same, the mentality of their followers is not. You never have to fear a group of Christians over here. Ever.

I completely agree that stereotyping in airport security etc. is a bad thing, but I also get the point of doing it anyway. While we wouldn’t need to stereotype in a perfect world, we unfortunately don’t live in one.
We can pretend like we don’t stereotype and pull over random old white couples in the airport simply to make things appear random and balanced, but we all know it’s bullshit. If all terrorist attacks in an area have been done by people of a certain skin color, of course the police are going to be focusing a bit on people who look like that.
We stereotype all over the world all the time, but it’s apparently only bad if it’s against someone of color or of a minority religion.

I’m white and not the smallest guy around, and since I’m somewhat lazy, I often shave my head to avoid having to spend time on my hair. I get stereotyped all the time. People think I’m up to no good, that I may be a skinhead etc. In reality I’ve been working with kids and troubled teens for years and my political views make Obama look deeply republican. Being stereotyped is not fun, but it makes sense. If the police generally have more problems with people who look like me, I can’t blame them for keeping an eye on me instead of the tiny metrosexual guy with the tight, pink t-shirt. I know that I’m not a criminal, but they don’t. How would they?

Airport security (etc.) is there to make things safer. Not to pretend like we live in a perfect world where stereotypes don’t exist. It sucks, but it’s the world we live in.
It would be a colossal waste of time and money to pull just as many old people over, if it’s usually young people who cause problems. Age discrimination is stereotyping as well. Why aren’t you complaining about that? Why is skin color, religion or nationality worse than all other kinds of stereotyping? It’s not. Age discrimination just isn’t part of the PC-gone-crazy mentality in the western world these days.

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