At a dinner following a 2010 Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on the topic “Islam is a Religion of Peace,” neuroscientist and prominent atheist Sam Harris, who had attended the debate, accused debater Maajid Nawaz, who had argued in favor of the motion, of having spoken in bad faith. “The problem is that Islam isn’t a religion of peace, and the so-called ‘extremists’ are seeking to implement what is arguably the most honest reading of the faith’s actual doctrine,” Harris said to Nawaz, as 75 guests looked on.
Nawaz, a former Islamist, author of Radical, and the chairman of Quilliam, a globally active think tank focusing on religious freedom, extremism, and citizenship, both bristled at the implication that he’d been less than honest and worried that a debate with Harris then and there was unlikely to be productive. That night, their dispute remained unresolved.
From this inauspicious start, though, eventually emerged a thoughtful and generous exchange of ideas, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue. An extended conversation between Harris and Nawaz, the book engages some of the thorniest questions surrounding Islam’s place in the world, including the nature of Islamism and of jihad, the causes of and possible solutions to radicalization, the relationship between scripture and practice, and the role of history in shaping today’s political landscape.
In responding to one another’s ideas with respect and curiosity, Harris and Nawaz model the kinds of exchange that might be possible around even the most polarizing issues. This week they demonstrated the value of such conversations in a John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum discussion at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. Footage of that discussion, which was moderated by Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, is below.
Read more from Harris and Nawaz at The Daily Beast.