The most controversial thing I said was: “We have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas.” This statement has been met with countless charges of “bigotry” and “racism” online and in the media. But imagine that the year is 1970, and I said: “Communism is the Mother lode of bad ideas.” How reasonable would it be to attack me as a “racist” or as someone who harbors an irrational hatred of Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, etc. This is precisely the situation I am in. My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences—but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people.
And the tension on the panel only grew. At one point Affleck sought to cut me off by saying, “Okay, let him [Kristof] talk for a second.” As I finished my sentence, he made a gesture of impatience with his hand, suggesting that I had been droning on for ages. Watching this exchange on television (his body language and tone are less clear online), I find Affleck’s contempt for me fairly amazing.
I want to make one thing clear, however. I did not take Affleck’s hostility personally. This is the kind of thing I now regularly encounter from people who believe the lies about my work that have been sedulously manufactured by Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, and many others. If I were seated across the table from someone I “knew” to be a racist and a warmonger, how would I behave? I don’t honestly know.