In 2019, I read 39 books. There is something symmetrical about that number, but that’s probably just me, eyes-strained, in an excitable state after writing and rewriting my first book this year. When engrossed in a project for this long, the mind naturally becomes hyper-receptive to the surrounding environs, intellectual and physical. It was a year of unraveling and growth — and a decade where one era ended and another began.

Let me just be up-front about the list thing. I stopped really making reading lists, stopped even counting. There is something too rigid and school-like about pursuing even the…


Morgan Library. New York, NY

One December, in the twilight years of adolescence, I was to encounter a strange man who in the breath of a single sentence would change the course of my life. To this day, I do not know his name, where he was from, or what his relation was to our family. I was eighteen at the time, and only beginning my intellectual odyssey, with improbable dreams of going to university and becoming fluent in ideas. I had only recently started reading for the first time in my life, and was now possessed. …


Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio De Janeiro

Last year, I recounted why reading was important to me. At its core, reading was a method of illumination, a process of enlightening the darker corners of one’s mind and perhaps one’s heart as well. Books connected human beings across time and space through the crystallized wisdom of the printed word. Unlike in 2016, I did not set a goal of reading 52 books this year but rather a more modest 40. I was in my last semester of law school and then working full-time, so I thought I would set a lower bar, surpass it, and declare victory.

In…


Amid darkness, we must create light. Amid chaos, we must create peace.

Leza One

Today, on the 20th day of January, 2017, at the noon hour, as stipulated by the Constitution, Donald John Trump was sworn-in as the forty-fifth president of the United States. Everyone knew this day was coming. Though the emotional impact was blunted by the dim awareness of the darkly festive day, the blow was sharpened by the hard reality we now face. …


Library Hall, Prague

Last December, I set myself the goal of reading 52 books in 2016. It was a tough challenge to meet — roughly one book per week, and on top of the law school work I already had. But thanks to weekly trains I took from New Haven to Manhattan, and an unhealthy number of hours I spent in the air (Israel, UAE, Turkey, China, Singapore, and Japan were the countries I visited this year), I managed to cross the finish line. Slogging through 52 books of varying lengths was mentally and intellectually taxing, but I’m a believer in Franz Kafka’s…


Shot by Omer Aziz. Umm al-Fahm, Israel.

In the final part of our debate, we discuss Christianity and Noam Chomsky among other issues. For me, this is the most revealing part of our discussion because it confirms just how much of an ideologue Harris is. In arguing, as he does below, that “It is hard to justify holy war with recourse to the New Testament,” he is making my point for me, namely, that texts are not the end of the story. They are a small part of it. The New Testament is relatively peaceful, as Harris notes, and yet Christians built massive authoritarian empires, launched the…


Shot by Omer Aziz, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi.

In Part VII of our debate, we continue talking about free speech and “supposedly thin-skinned Muslims.” How do most religious people deal with inconvenient verses? They a) ignore them; b) interpret them liberally; c) contextualize them; and d) neutralize them. Because religious texts are by definition contradictory and schizophrenic — the number of contradictions in the Bible and the Qur’an are astounding — they require picking-and-choosing, focusing on certain parts, de-emphasizing other parts, and interpreting verses that offer meaning. It is impossible to “follow the book” literally, with regard to every verse, because you’d be pulled in multiple directions. …


Shot by Omer Aziz in the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

In Part VI of our debate, we get into the meat of foreign policy issues that help explain the rise of Islamism and terrorism.

SH: Well, we’re near the two-hour mark, so let’s just try to cover a little more of your text.

OA: I want to cover the issues of radicalization and political Islam.

SH: Ok, it’s going to be come up. Even just this next piece. So the paragraph is, “What is right in the book.”

OA: [Begins reading from text] What is right in the book can be attributed solely to Maajid Nawaz. In fact, one can…


Shot by Omer Aziz in Jerusalem, March 2016.

In Part V, we go over a breadth of topics ranging from Islamic history to the question of being quoted out of context. One of the first points I raised was that there would be no Talmudic parsing of individual sentences or words. I’m not on the witness stand and this format is creepy enough. But that is exactly what happens with the word “nonsensical.” …


Shot by Omer Aziz.

In Part IV, we continue the substantive portion of our discussion by looking at varying interpretations and polls. Over-focusing on polls is another way to miss the nuances, and in a way, the truth. Despite their contradictory and flawed nature, Harris loves the polls and because he has read them, he thinks he is an expert on the Muslim world. Think of how risible the analogous situation would be vis-a-vis America. If someone had never stepped foot in the United States and knew only a few Americans, but had read the Constitution and read polling results of Americans’ attitudes, they’d…

Omer Aziz

Writer, Human.

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