• The Curious Case of Cenk Uygur

    Certain issues tend to stir up so much emotion that any related discourse can feel futile to the point of masochism. This fact is never more apparent than when listening to The Young Turk’s Cenk Uygur rant and rave about Islamophobia. I’m a fan of TYT, but Uygur has struggled to make sense on this issue for years now. Much like Bill Maher on the topic of vaccines, the TYT anchor is the absolute picture of confusion whenever the subject of Islam is raised.

    Since the latter part of 2014, one of the main targets of Uygur’s misplaced rage has been Sam Harris. This finally came to a head when Uygur and Harris engaged in a 3 hour conversation designed to clear up various distortions and misrepresentations of the latter’s views. The conversation itself was compelling and well worth watching, but the fallout has been less than satisfying for anyone who values intellectual honesty. Based on the content of Uygur’s still-frequent tirades, one could be forgiven for thinking the conversation never actually took place. Nothing, it seems, has changed.

    The TYT host was particularly fired up during the March 27 broadcast of TYT Live. While discussing whether anti-Muslim animus is the new McCarthyism, Uygur lambasted Harris and those who agree with him on the subject of Islam, dismissing them as faux-progressives in a confused rant that should be permanently featured on the “No true Scotsman” Wikipedia page. The irony here is that Uygur is much closer to the political center than liberals like Harris, Maher and many of their allies on this issue.

    Not content with his usual gymnastics routine when covering stories related to Islam, Uygur chose instead to employ the “nuclear first strike” canard that is so often leveled at Harris. Past references to this easily debunked meme could be chalked up to ignorance, but he knows better at this point. Is it conscious misrepresentation or has Uygur forgotten that the relevant passage in Harris’ first book, The End of Faith, is filled with caveats? This fact was explained in painstaking detail during the pair’s conversation.

    Towards the end of said conversation, Harris made a point that is often overlooked and is worth repeating.

    Much of my discussions… have been an effort to get to ethical bedrock. I write and think as a philosopher. In the context of having a philosophical discussion about ethics and right and wrong, you can say many things that seem crazy outside of a philosophy seminar but in a philosophy seminar are totally legitimate. In a philosophy seminar you can say: ‘Why can’t we eat babies? What’s wrong with eating babies?’ That is a completely insane thing to say in the world. That is the kind of thing that, if quoted out of context, makes me look like an asshole. But the reality is if you’re trying to get to the ethical bedrock of good and evil, starting the conversation with, ‘Why can’t we eat babies? Give me an ethical argument as to why this is really, really wrong?’ is a totally legitimate thing to do…

    Context really does matter. If an opinion is too nuanced to be squeezed into a two minute rant, that’s just too bad. We don’t get to falsely summarize someone’s views for the sake of convenience. Let’s illustrate this point with reference to part of Uygur’s diatribe in the first video:

    According to Sam Harris’ book, hypothetically, what if we did a nuclear first strike on them? I mean, after all they are Muslim!

    Now, let’s reword that quote and replace the nuclear first strike canard with something else Harris has said.

    According to Sam Harris, hypothetically, why shouldn’t we be allowed to eat babies? I mean, after all they are babies!

    Does it occur to anyone else that the inclusion of the relevant context might save Sam getting a visit from Child Protective Services? When a view is expressed within a hypothetical context, the details of said hypothetical tend to be important.

    It’s unfortunate that Uygur is so unbearable on this issue. It has become difficult to rely on TYT as a news source, which is unfair to co-hosts like Ana Kasparian and Dave Rubin, both of whom are extremely likable. One wonders what goes through their minds when they notice the superpuffedness of Uygur’s chest as he prepares to launch into another of his tiresome, self-aggrandizing rants. He is the reason I cancelled my premium TYT membership months ago, and one look at the feedback on TYT’s YouTube videos tells me I’m probably not the only one.

    Category: FeaturedNewsSecularism

    Article by: James MacDonald

    James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to sports writing, James holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Social Sciences and covers subjects including sex, gender, secularism, media, and gaming, among others.

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    • I felt the same way watching that interview. Uygur seems to have a bias in the matter, being a “former Muslim” himself. He misses the point that Harris does not even come close to suggesting “all Muslims” when he points to the problems that arise due to the religion, yet is still seen as an “Islamophobic” – a word that is thrown about willy-nilly whenever someone criticizes the religion.

      • I’m not sure what his motives are, but like you said, it probably has something to do with his background. It’s so unfortunate because TYT is generally a solid news source, but I’m struggling to get past his defensive attitude on this issue.

    • I unsubscribed from TYT’s YouTube account about a year ago. Cenk is all over the place. For all his centrist ideologies, he gives the impression of being a wild-eyed political outlier.

      I can’t help but feel his ambition and eagerness clouds his ability to think clearly, and this manifests itself in rambling implorations that bear little contextual relevance.

      • I was subscribed to the website for about 6 months and regularly watched the live broadcast. He is unbearable at this point, though. I can deal with his ego, but not in combination with his stance on Islam.

    • David Maloney

      I’m not sure what you are confused about in Cenk’s views. He asking for innocent Muslims to not be made to feel responsible for the actions of the radical few. Seems pretty clear to me. His “bias” is that maybe he knows a few more Muslims than you. Like his family. To him I believe this is about real people and not an esoteric philosophical exercise.

      If you are holding your newborn baby and someone walks up to you and asks you “Why don’t we eat your baby?”, you don’t get in a philosophical discussion with them. You walk away as fast as you can.

      Maher and Harris have large pulpits with may followers so their views need to challenged if their basic premise is flawed. Gotta side with Cenk on this one.

    • That’s a straw man, though. Most of the people his rants are directed at aren’t blaming innocent Muslims. Sam Harris certainly isn’t. They had a long conversation about precisely that point.

      That wasn’t the point I was making regarding philosophical discussions, either. If Harris was walking up to people and asking if he could eat their babies, I could see your point. But that isn’t what he is doing. He is making complex arguments in his books or on his blog. When he’s discussing a hypothetical situation, it is obscenely unethical for someone like Cenk to quote him without supplying details of said hypothetical.

      It seems like people are being penalized for having nuanced views, as everyone wants to quote the conclusion in the body of a tweet and leave out the relevant context.

      • David Maloney

        I suggest you closely rewatch the discussion with Cenk and Sam. That is exactly the point Cenk is trying to make. These are real people and need someone to stick up for them while they are demonized by the likes of Maher and Harris. After watching Cenk for years I would really assume this has nothing to do with whether they are Muslim but the fact that they are an underrepresented people who need a voice. Cenk would like to do that and he does it well.

        My “strawman” is just the use of hyperbole to make a point using Sam’s own example in his thought process. “Let’s imagine if…” Those “imaginings” have real world consequences and are not just thought experiments. Sam is too well known and followed at this point to qualify them as just as seminar musings.

        Please list the people that Cenk is “ranting” about on his show _on this issue_ that are not blaming innocent Muslims. This would be news to me.

        Thank you for providing a place to retort your post. Please consider my nuanced views in the spirit they are written.

        • Sam Harris, for one. Provide one example where he blames innocent Muslims.

          I have watched the interview several times. All 3 hours. Did you miss the part where Sam talks to Cenk about statistics? If he is referring to 20% of people in a poll, his point applies to that 20%.

          That is why he refers to statistics. If he is talking about 20% of a population on a given poll question, you cannot say he is generalizing about Muslims. He is talking specifically about that 20%. How can you be more precise in this context?

    • I think I am taking them as they were written. I’m not angry or offended that you disagree with me. I’m sorry if my replies have come off that way, but I just view this as spirited debate.

    • Interesting stuff, James.

    • Zachary Shrestha

      Totally agree with you on this. Cenk is a unbearably bias when it comes to Islam. He’s not even worthy to sit accross Sam Harris, let alone have a conversation with him.

      • It’s definitely hindered my enjoyment of TYT, even when they aren’t commenting on Islam.

    • Pingback: Cenk Uygur Is Losing His Grip On Reality? | Ramblings()

    • John Grove

      Seriously, I can’t stand Cenk, his smugness, his arrogance. And when you actually listen to what he has to say, it has nothing to do with rationality or reason. The indoctrination of his childhood with respect to Islam is still firmly implanted. Why Sam Harris gave audience to this jaybird is beyond me.

      • Hugh Everett

        It’s personal for Cenk. He grew up a Muslim and he remains loyal to his family, who no doubt continue to influence his position. There’s no way for him to be objective on this issue, because he views himself as a leader among immigrants from the Middle East.

        If the American body politic embraces a more negative consensus on the extremism of Islam and the many problems associated with Muslim immigration, it will unfavorably impact Muslim-Americans.

    • Wee Jobby

      An accurate article on Cenk’s fairly new position of Muslim apologetics. It;s hard to believe this is the same guy I once looked up to. I also cancelled my subscription of TYT. Cenk has become a biased hack.

    • Update: Rubin is no longer affiliated with TYT. He has always been the liberal on the topic of Islam, which is probably why he left or got kicked out.

    • Han Solo

      Cenk has tried so hard to discredit Sam Harris and in the process he is discrediting himself. I used to be a TYT fan but I can’t watch it anymore. Cenk is so full of shit when it comes to Islam.

    • Mischa Pierce

      And Bill Maher and Sam Harris are just as confused on Islam as you claim Uygur is. I know New Atheists like to think of themselves as scholars and experts on Islam (despite most knowing nothing more about it than seeing terrorist attacks on TV and reading scare passages from the Koran from JihadWatch) but Harris recently got schooled on this subject by Noam Chomsky. Harris fanboys desperately tried to defend Harris, claiming he was “misunderstood” (Harris’s weasel way of never having to admit he’s wrong, he says that everytimevhes shown to be wrong), no one else was buying it. Harris and Maher are both Zionists who admittedly like and support Netanyahu, believe in profiling anyone who “looks Muslim” (meaning racially profile brown people, Sikhs, Hindus, etc.), and Harris defends torture. Just like the late Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. New Atheists are nothing more than Neoconservative Zionist reactionaries who fancy themselves “liberal” when it’s an issue where progressivism helps middle-class, college-educated white males. When it comes to Muslims, women and minorities……not so progressive. On Islam, Neo-Atheists find themselves agreeing with the Tea Party, Pam Gellar and Ben Carson and getting support from Breitbart and Dick Cheney. If Cenk rankled Neo-Atheists he’s probably doing something right. Too bad he can’t take them to task as good as Noam Chomsky did. He’s not a good enough debater.

      • Matthew Bloomfield

        Noam Chomsky actually just refused to engage in conversation. He made no attempt to prove Harris’ views wrong about anything. The only thing Noam did is argue (very opaquely) that Harris had misrepresented him! It might be true—Maybe Sam *did* misrepresent Noam’s views.. But when Sam asked [repeatedly] for clarification, Noam chose dismissiveness rather than clarity. I doubt Noam, himself, would take issue with my characterization of their “conversation.”

        Regarding profiling, Sam has never said (to my knowledge), that we should profile people who “look muslim.” What he *has* said, is that we should stop profiling people who are “little old ladies” or “Celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld.” He was very clear on the matter, in fact. There’s no good reason for your confusion, I’m sorry to say. He even stated several times, “*I* fit the profile. They should be spending more time on me, and less time on old ladies. When we spend time/money screening little old ladies, in the name of ‘fairness,’ that’s an expensive and dangerous approach to safety.”

        These quotes are approximate, but I challenge you to demonstrate that they mischaracterize his position.

        • Alan David

          Typical Sam Harris fan boy. Sam harries has been destroyed so often it’s laughable that there are still supporters for him. He’s a trash conservative parading as a neo-liberal.

          • Russell Dummerth

            Interesting that you didn’t address the challenge at all, choosing instead to insult both Harris and the poster. Comparing Harris to a “trash conservative” suggests that you think in a total binary way on all issues. Liberals are right. Conservatives are wrong. The criticism he receives from so many seems to be based only on the fact that conservatives share his position on this particular topic. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe some issues are so clear that both sides could take the same position? Republicans are against murder. Are you? Republicans are anti-rape. Are you? Republicans believe in the freedom of speech. Do you? Islamism should be one of these issues. Islamism is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. Countless more are injured. Woman, gays, and secularists are oppressed nearly everywhere Islam has power. And now this medieval, bigoted, and dangerous ideology is slowly moving into the Western world. Unless you are ok with these facts, this should be a concern to anyone that values liberty and secularism, whether a Democrat or a Republican. But you are the type that would rather say, “But not all…” and bury your head in the sand. For you, its’s better to pretend a problem doesn’t against then to agree with a Republican. Not a very good argument.

          • Tom Forrest

            It’s always great when people misrepresent people on a blog discussing the dangers of…misrepresenting people.

    • Bobby Tomorrow

      I used to really enjoy TYT and Cenk in particular but its REALLY went downhill over the past few years especially Cenk, he has lost all sense of humility and reason. I’ve unsubbed from TYT a few months ago after being a loyal viewer since their inception on Youtube several years ago.

    • Henry Simon

      Rubin went into some pretty interesting detail on his issues with Cenk on his Joe Rogan Podcast appearance. I think it’s cathartic for anyone who watched Cenk and Sam’s TYT interview especially.

    • Wilto Molema

      I have to agree, I don’t enjoy tyt as much as I used to.
      I unsubbed because in a way, I can’t stand the person who I used to look up to.
      The Sam Harris interview, I didn’t understand, I thought, whats wrong with what he’s saying?
      Cenk continued to misrepresent his views and I watched the video again and again.
      Thinking there might be things I didn’t understand or heard.
      But nope.. cenk seemed to debate straw harris, because he refused to listen.
      It’s too bad tho, I used to be a tyt fan.. But nowadays I find it hard to take them seriously.
      I guess they lost a longtime subscriber in me.

    • Al Brady

      I like Cenk, but completely agree with this article.
      To be honest, I like Dave, Sam changed my life and Cenk is often funny and informative, i feel the compliment eachother… except not literally, sadly!
      Maybe in a few years with some water under the bridge Cenk can fill his blindspot on this a little.

    • Al Brady

      I think the larger meta-issue for me is maybe just a part of growing up; im 33 so should know better right now but feel ive only been awake for a few years so bear with me! its that I naively thought smart people would naturally just look at the evidence and agree on the same view. Its the same mistake climate scientists always make. When in fact no one agrees because our views are so subjective and our interests so vested! i cant help but feel Cenk has a subconscious reaction to criticism of islam as potentially endangering the lives of his muslim family and so goes ballistic at anyone he thinks is influencing liberals to dislike muslims.
      I saw an example on a TYT video the other day about a joke on MSNBC about some white republican’s adopted black grandchild which liberals had suggested was racist. Cenk actually pointed out it wasnt really and that one of the hosts behaved with real grace both in the original recording and in the apology she put out, to wit; “I am sorry. Without reservation or qualification. I apologize to the Romney family…I work by guiding principle that those who offend do not have the right to tell those they hurt that they r wrong for hurting…Therefore, while I meant no offense, I want to immediately apologize to the Romney family for hurting them.’ It went on. Cenk pointed out that although it was unnecessary to apologise for a harmless joke, it was a very good and heartfelt apology.
      And yet, underneath the video tonnes of commenters said ‘ah look, even when the conservatives arent being offensive, Cenk paints them in a bad light.’
      That objectively did not happen, but they saw it anyway.
      Makes you think.

    • RobertP

      About the only thing laudable about Uygur is that he stood up to MSNBC when they wanted him to toe the line to please Washington. But ultimately so what? Virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is rabid liberal bullshit.

    • Christopher Cross