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Sam Harris: jihadists are worse than Nazis

Harris, an atheist, is a longtime critic of Islam. Credit: YouTube

April 11, 2024 - 8:00pm

Jihadists are worse than the Nazis were, neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has claimed.

Citing jihadists’ religious fervour and the popularity of Islamic fundamentalism among ordinary citizens of Muslim-majority countries, Harris warned that they posed a greater threat to humanity than the Nazis did.

“It’s Nazism plus religious fanaticism,” he said on a Wednesday episode of his podcast, Making Sense with Sam Harris. “Nazism plus an eagerness to be martyred, and to see their children martyred.” He continued: “There are many differences between Nazism and jihadism, but they only make Nazism look comparatively benign.”

The issue came up in the context of Israel’s killing of aid workers in drone strikes last week, which Harris believes was an accident.

“The Nazis didn’t use their own women and children as human shields. That would have been worse. How could you have made Auschwitz worse? You could have given the guards a belief system that made them feel actual religious ecstasy as they herded innocent people into gas chambers. That would have been worse,” he said.

“And it would have been worse had these beliefs been central to the worldview of a majority of ordinary Germans, and therefore difficult to separate from their other religious beliefs that gave their lives meaning,” Harris said.

The 57-year-old discussed his support for Israel in the Gaza war, explaining that his views are unrelated to his Jewish heritage. He argued that the conflict is a fight between “civilisation and its enemies”, warning that jihadism was more difficult to erase from a population even after being defeated militarily because of its earnest adoption by wide sections of the civilian population.

Harris, an atheist, is a longtime critic of Islam. He has drawn attention to instances of censorship and illiberalism from the leaders of Islamic nations to make the case that these attitudes aren’t limited to extremists. More recently, he wrote that the term “Islamophobia” is used to shut down legitimate debate about Islam by labelling people as bigots.

The Gaza war has highlighted a tension within Harris’s worldview: religious freedom and tolerance in the West allow intolerant, illiberal ideas to flourish, including what Harris refers to as jihadism. To combat these intolerant ideologies, in Harris’s opinion, a certain degree of intolerance is required. In late October, Harris said that kicking students out of Stanford University for supporting Hamas was justified, and that “a certain form of cancel culture […] would make some sense to me at this moment.”


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

Yep

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 month ago

Well said, Sam Harris

Penny Rose
Penny Rose
1 month ago

Dear old Sam. He just (despite being burnt) hasn’t realised that you can’t say what you really think. Or he doesn’t care.
Anyway Sam, even if I don’t always agree with you, really well said.

Peter D
Peter D
1 month ago
Reply to  Penny Rose

The more everyone says what they think, the better things will get. We will build resilience to hearing things we do not like. We will also soon realise that just because someone says something, that it will happen.

Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips
1 month ago

That’s about the size of it..

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Yep. He’s not wrong.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago

Sam Harris: ‘jihadists are worse than Nazis

A point with which I would absolutely concur – were it not for the fact that Sam Harris almost certainly believes that Donald Trump is worse than Nazis, Jihadists and the Mongol horde all rolled into one.

William Brand
William Brand
1 month ago

The Muslims have been at war with the west for 1300 years. Woke types have decided that the west is evil and forget that they are among the groups that Muslims want to kill.

Victor James
Victor James
1 month ago
Reply to  William Brand

“Woke types have decided that the west is evil and forget that they are among the groups that Muslims want to kill.”
The woke ( fascist left) hate the West because of their anti-European race hate. They have not forgotten. Their commitment to open borders and Islamification is consistent with this.
Example, if Neo-Nazis gained power In Israel, would they open the border to Islam or close it?

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago
Reply to  Victor James

That isn’t an example. But it is ridiculous.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago

Harris is a ring piece. Even if he were right in his assertions (which would need rather more evidence than he provides) he might want to point a few fingers at those who have fought so hard and long to promote these Jihadis across the globe.

From Operations Cyclone to Timber Sycamore they’ve been nurtured by the CIA. In Kosovo and the Middle East they’ve been groomed and karted around by the UK (see Mark Curtis’s ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’) and of course there’s the cosy little relationship between Netanyahu and Hamas to scupper the Two State Solution for their own, twisted ends. There hasn’t been a relatively secular Middle Eastern state that our governments haven’t wanted to destroy if it showed even the vaguest hint of independent policies.

Without all these legs-up and nations destroyed, there’s no reason to assume they would be anything like the threat he claims them to be.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

You are hinting at very recent conspiracies involving Islam. The good thing about Islam is that it’s modus operandi is very much out in the open, no secrets, no conspiracies, with an open Holy Book, open tenets and a consistent 1400 year history: like Sam Harris, judge for yourself.

Ian_S
Ian_S
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Here’s your narrative, summarized: “Jihadis are really harmless people actually. They’ve just been taught evil ways by bad white people.”

This is a standard woke narrative about all “oppressed people”: they were sinless saints living harmoniously with Nature, but once they fell under bad white people coz colonialism, they learned the bad white people’s evil ways because they couldn’t help it.

It’s such an excruciatingly racist, patronizing, eurocentric and flat-out factually incorrect narrative, it’s just mind boggling how prevalent it is among the “educated”.

A D Kent
A D Kent
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Nice straw man you’ve constructed there. I said nothing about sinless saints. There has always been an extreme element in Islam and that it’s rise and spread owed hugely to the sword (it is, after all, a religion and that’s generally how they work). That’s why the last decades of encouragement and fermentation by the West and their ME proxies has been so reckless, so disastrous. You can’t funnel tens of billions of dollars into fermenting conflict through extremist proxies and decapitating states and then reasonably blame it all on the words of their book or their prophet.

Ian_S
Ian_S
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Ok, yes I see your point, at least as far as the CIA thinking it was a good idea to use jihadis as psycho killers in various wars — which just turbocharged them.

james goater
james goater
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

A close study of the Koran, or at least its English equivalent, would tell you all you need to know. It’s propagation requires no encouragement from Western proxies.

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Oh, so it’s the West and ITS proxies have made the ME so ‘disastrous.” Not Iran and its 3H proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis. Got it. Proving yet again how pathetic and ignorant lefties are.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian_S

Yes, the ultimate luxury belief system and class marker for the elite

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

A new aphorism for the new millennium:
The enemy of my enemy is also my enemy.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Does that mean that Islamic terrorists have no responsibility towards their own people when they encourage them to be martyred? Also, why are Islamic terrorists targeting India even after India gave Muslims two Islamic countries post-independence? Why are radical muslims hell bent on Islamising India?

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

Look up, for just one instance, the deeds of Timur the Great, ‘The Sword of Islam’. In establishing his Islamic empire he laid waste to vast areas of the Indian subcontinent, killing an estimated 17 million people in the process. I doubt that the CIA, Israel, or even Margaret Thatcher had much to do with his campaign. Islam, on the other hand…

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago
Reply to  A D Kent

the moral equivalence you’ve displayed here is sickening and stupid.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
1 month ago

Sam Harris: ‘jihadists are worse than N@zis‘

A point I’d entirely agree with – tempered only by the knowledge that Sam Harris would almost certainly think that Donald Trump was worse than the N@zis, Jihadists, the Mongol horde and a zombie apocalypse, all rolled into one.

(The mod bot keeps disappearing this comment. So apologies if it appears in duplicate later)

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
1 month ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Indeed-I used to listen to him until he contracted Trump Derangement Syndrome on Steroids-completely & utterly batshit crazy.His stance on Jihadists/Islam is,however,spot on,

Arthur King
Arthur King
1 month ago

The West must expell those who support Jihadism.

Pequay
Pequay
1 month ago
Reply to  Arthur King

I agree, but one issue is that the radicalisation is being fermented by those who are now citizens, or even born there. The seeds were planted decades ago, sprouted without being noticed, and are now bearing fruit.

Arthur King
Arthur King
1 month ago
Reply to  Pequay

Revoke their citizenship and expell them. Yes I am aware of international law. I reject these laws. Nations need not accept the slow cultural genocide offered by these Islamist colonizers.

Pequay
Pequay
1 month ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Couldn’t agree more, but my point was really that as they are now citizens of the countries they despise, to where shall they be deported? At any rate, there appears to be no shortage of activist lawyers helping block any moves to do so.

Peter D
Peter D
1 month ago
Reply to  Pequay

That’s easy. Send them back to where their parents or grandparents came from. If there are two different ones, then that of their paternal line!
As for the activist lawyers, they can go with them as gift. The sad fact is that the longer this goes on for, the more likely it will be that it gets violent. Me personally, I would prefer the non violent approach. The truth is that none of us will get a choice if this drags on for much longer.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter D

It isn’t actually easy. Pakistan, say, could as easily send them back. And, since the Islamists would have been born in the UK, they would have every right to do so.

Another approach would be to be tough at home. If they are UK citizens, then punish with twenty year sentences any approval of jihadism, for example.

In either case of course the whole “human rights” legal infrastructure which protects these extremists would need to be dismantled.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Before taking any other measures though, the first step is to close the borders to more immigration from Muslim countries right now. And no more family reunifications that brings in entire tribes. Let the Human Rights banshees scream all they want. A tolerant society that allows intolerance to take hold under the false assumption that they are equal values when they are exact opposites is committing suicide. It’s way past time to take drastic measures, but for that to happen the voters must stop putting lefties in power. Vote conservative, and don’t let the label “right-wing” deter you. It was invented by the left precisely for that purpose. Don’t fall for it.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
1 month ago
Reply to  Pequay

You are right. As long as Islam stayed a small minority in Western Countries, I always thought the West can cope with their Islamic population. But recent events in Europe and the US makes me very much doubt my assumption, and I’ll become increasingly worried, if this small minority becomes bigger and more radicalised. I never thought that one day US citizens will shout: “Death to America” in Dearborn, Michigan, and German and Australian (Islamic) citizens scream: “Death to Israel” and “Gas the Jews” .

Pequay
Pequay
1 month ago

And until and unless the politicians are honest about the threat posed, the problem will get worse. It seems though they are cowed, understandably- the Islamist terror tactics work.

N Forster
N Forster
1 month ago

Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
1 month ago

What difference would it make to people being herded to the gas chamber if the monsters herding them there were steel-eyed rationalists or ecstatic jihadists? They are dead either way, and there are no comparatives or superlatives to be weighed about that fact.
Harris would kick students out of Stanford for supporting Hamas. Yet he claims to support free speech. Recall, by way of contrast, that a team of lawyers led by David Goldberger(!), and the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately, supported on free speech grounds the right of Nazi supporters to march in Skokie in 1977. ( But, of course, I forgot: Hamas is worse than the Nazis. )
Harris defended the censorship of disclosures about the miscreant Hunter Biden if it would have kept Trump from the presidency. The prospect of the corpses of children in Biden’s basement would be preferable to a Trump presidency, Harris said, in his calm, rational, understated way.
Sam Harris is a philosophical opportunist and a rhetorical bagman. A sophist, in other words, and proof that a lot of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
1 month ago

So what does Harris have to say about his boy Biden sucking up to the Islamists of Dearborn, Michigan?

leonard o'reilly
leonard o'reilly
1 month ago
Reply to  Studio Largo

I have no idea what you are referring to or why you are referring to it.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
1 month ago

Look it up and you’ll know.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago

Well he is definitely right that ““Islamophobia” is used to shut down legitimate debate about Islam by labelling people as bigots.”

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
1 month ago

I believe that our concern with Nazism as the epitome of evil is that unlike Jihadism, Nazism is rooted in Western rational, enlightenment culture – our culture. The deep fear that Nazism evokes in the West – and in Germany in particular – is that as it happened once, it could perhaps happen to us again. Jihadism does not instill this kind of fear with us. Perhaps this is why, until your survival is directly threatened by it – like in Israel -, you will be more concerned with the possibility of a Western, liberal society committing genocide – even if remote or even imaginary – than by actual genocide committed by Jihadists.

Nell L
Nell L
1 month ago
Reply to  Danny Kaye

Great analysis. It nails the weird “benefit of the doubt” that Western liberals who pride themselves on their toleration of “the other” have given to non-Western ideologies that we don’t want to believe could really be as evil as “our” Nazism.

Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
1 month ago

I believe that our concern with Nazism as the epitome of evil is that unlike Jihadism, Nazism is rooted in Western rational, enlightenment culture – our culture. The deep fear of Nazism in the West – and in Germany in particular – is that as it has happened once, it could perhaps happen to us again. Jihadism does not instill this kind of fear with us. This is why until your survival is directly threatened by it – as it is in Israel – you are more concerned with the possibility of a Western, liberal society committing genocide – even if remote or even imaginary – than by actual genocide committed by Jihadists.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago

This, the same Harris who tripled down on all the Covid nonsense: masks, lockdowns and vaxx mandates. His mind is sadly mush.
The reason Western society fails to convince the world of its values is not because of an inherent weakness in those values, but rather because the West has consistently failed to live up to them.
You don’t get to blow the cr4p out of Iraq, Syria, Libya, to test atomic weapons on the Bikini Islands, to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki to oblivion, to firebomb Dresden, to massacre unarmed civilians in Amritsar and Sudan… and then claim the moral high ground.
We need to start from scratch, with a liberal order run by people who actually believe in the stuff they are selling. Then, and only then, we might get some buyers.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

”His mind is sadly mush”
You are clearly very good at perceiving this weakness in others.

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Thomas

excellent.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

If that is the case, why aren’t Japanese, Vietnamese, Germans, and the residents of all former European colonies carrying out terrorist activities in the West? Why is it that only Muslims feel offended by the West?

carl taylor
carl taylor
1 month ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Muslims and their deluded middle-class allies on the far left.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Germans and Japanese were themselves colonizers. As for Vietnamese, go there and ask anyone what they think about ‘the American war’. You might learn something.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 month ago

Gosh, at last someone gets it.

Walter Schwager
Walter Schwager
1 month ago

The author conveniently ignores the two largest Muslim populations, Indonesia and India. Where is the prevalent jihadism there? Turkey? Pick and choose is not a winning journalistic strategy.

michael harris
michael harris
1 month ago

I think that Pakistan has a larger Muslim population than India. As for India itself the Muslim population would be much more militant were it not for stern Hindu oppression.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
1 month ago
Reply to  michael harris

And Turkey has become considerably more authoritarian under Erdogan’s rule. The extremists can always count on their cowardly enablers.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 month ago

As long as radical mullahs are allowed to preach in mosques under the cover of freedom of speech, Islamists will continue to Islamise the West. It is time to abandon political correctness for the sake of future generations.

james goater
james goater
1 month ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Correct in every way. The problem is that Islam is “radical” by definition, requiring all adherents to submit to the strictures contained in its holiest book. The concept of Jihad is embodied within that book — a book which is central to the faith.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
1 month ago

Maybe someday “Jihadists” will be the preferred descriptor for extremist actors…. goodness knows the N-term has been thoroughly exhausted of its meaning.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 month ago

Not all Germans in the 1930’s and early 40’s read Mein Kampf, or idolised Hitler. ALL Muslims sign up to the Quran, and all idolise its ‘prophet’. Those few sects who formally disavow the religion’s strictures to use violence are classed as ‘non-Muslims’ by the rest, and routinely persecuted. Khomeini sentenced 5000 of these ‘wrong sorts of Muslims’, among many other atrocities, to ‘slow hanging’; it took many of them a week to die.

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 month ago

This is the first really intelligent thing I’ve heard from Sam Harris. Bravo!
It’s a true absurdity of modern times that the atheist progressives carry water for a religious movement that would exterminate them all, if given half a chance.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Hats off to Sam

Grahame Wells
Grahame Wells
1 month ago

A dead Hamas fighter was recently found with a copy of Mein Kampf (‘struggle’ similar to ‘jihad’) on him (source reliable?). Whether true or not it has been pointed out that Hamas’ charter, partic the unsanitised 1988 version, has some close similarities to Mein Kampf in its ideas and language – racially (religiously) elitist, anti-democratic, expansionist (seeks world dominion however achieved) and murderously anti-semitic. We forget history and the onslaught (from its very inception) of Islam v Europe for a 1000+ yrs at our peril. It isn’t tolerant or peaceful. The tolerant Cordoban ‘golden age’ was v short-lived and affected the Emir’s court only. But we hear it wheeled out constantly as the ‘true Islam’. A recent reliable poll suggests integration has failed as the younger and better educated are more radical than their parents – prob through soshal meedya. This is threatening as ‘more education’ and lauding of Islam seem not to be working. The earlier, more tolerant, sayings of Muhammad are superseded by his later intolerant ones, the Islamic principle of ‘abrogation’. Britain, we have a problem…

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
1 month ago

It’s a stupid thing to say, they aren’t really comparable. There isn’t a worse or better. Both are just bad, and with both we could find various true explanations for why people have been attracted to that kind of thinking.
But Sam Harris has not shown himself to have great judgement. He’s always been inclined to see things from a distorted perspective, and covid seems to have broken his brain entirely. Hearing him declare that whatever he’s obsessed abut is worse than Nazis isn’t that surprising.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
1 month ago

I happen to align with Harris (at least, more than others) on Israel/Gaza.
But he is very, very off the rails. Cancel culture is fine, as long as it is for reasons he supports. Otherwise it’s bad.
https://pairodocs.substack.com/p/the-unravelling-of-sam-harris

Ben H
Ben H
1 month ago

Sam Harris is quite articulate when he doesn’t let his TDS take over him.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
1 month ago

I don’t trust an atheist.

Edwin Cottey
Edwin Cottey
1 month ago

Very true. The jihadists have a religion behind them which justifies their barbarous actions. The jihadis commit atrocities in the name of their prophet. When Hitler committed suicide he did not believe he was going to paradise, unlike the suicide bombers. They believe that their actions will be rewarded in a later life which gives them an added incentive.

james goater
james goater
1 month ago
Reply to  Edwin Cottey

Exactly! Therein lies the danger. The committed Jihadi can commit mass murder and believe that not only has he done his religious duty but that he is going to everlasting paradise for his actions!

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
1 month ago

Essentially this man’s argument uses the moral scripture of the Second World War to frame an understanding of a non-European religion.
Would Islam have been of use to the German National Socialists? Being based on Arabic culture it would not have been acceptable to them. The National Socialists’ so-called philosopher Rosenberg described their intention to replace the creeds of the Christian churches with their own. The origins of Christianity were just not German enough.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

In fact Amin Haj Husseini the grand mufti of Jerusalem was a particular favourite of the Fuhrer.Often consulted about the fate of the jews,i.e not to be in Palestine.At his behest Himmler set up the muslim Hochhar SS regiment but in practice were considered worthless.After the war Husseini was wanted by the British(he had a British passport)for making broadcasts from Berlin.He escaped to the sheltering arms of the French and died in his bed around 1970.In the middle east Iraq and Syria sided with the Germans.The Luftwaffe operated out of Iraqi airfields alongside the Vichy French.So Hitler approved of Islam.

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
1 month ago

Harris, my sort of dude.

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago

i agree with Harris. But what i want to know is, does he think they’re worse than Trump, given his previous statements. That bit of hyperbolic nonsense will come back to haunt him every time he makes a statement about jihadis, nazis or other wicked group.

Sarah Mason
Sarah Mason
1 month ago

un