Eliana Benador: Bill Maher on Islam, saying it as it is
Is he an Islamophobe? No. He’s Bill Maher. A leftist speaking his mind and saying the truth as it is.
A man used to say his leftist opinions no matter what, now cornered into another truth that he cannot deny and is saying it with no qualms already for some months.
Leftists and Islamists are having now hard times accepting this new Maher reality. And, he’s not making it easy for them, either, to forget it.
When someone like Bill refers to America as “a very shallow country, and so when an A-list movie star gets involved in the debate, everyone cares…” then you know how deep that country is in trouble.
Vanity Fair explains: “After Maher’s incendiary comments aired, a student group at the University of California Berkeley that had selected the comedian to give the school’s winter commencement speech moved to disinvite him. The students’ petition accused Maher of hate speech, but the university, which is celebrating the anniversary of Free Speech Movement protests on campus 50 years ago, stood by the invite. On December 20, Maher plans to speak at the commencement.”
And so it will be… Good luck Mr. Maher. Good for you.
Petition All You Want, Bill Maher Will Speak at Berkeley
On the October 3 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the HBO program’s eponymous host and atheist scholar Sam Harris argued fiercely about the nature of Islam with actor Ben Affleck. Harris called the faith “the mother lode of bad ideas.” Maher said Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f*cking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book.” Maher went further, saying it is a mistake to think that just “a few bad apples” in the religion share these extremist ideas. Affleck, for his part, accused Maher and Harris of painting Islam with a “broad brush” and called their comments “gross” and “racist.”
After Maher’s incendiary comments aired, a student group at the University of California Berkeley that had selected the comedian to give the school’s winter commencement speech moved to disinvite him. The students’ petition accused Maher of hate speech, but the university, which is celebrating the anniversary of Free Speech Movement protests on campus 50 years ago, stood by the invite. On December 20, Maher plans to speak at the commencement.
In advance of his speech, Maher spoke exclusively to VF.com about the mounting reactions to his comments on Islam, and how, despite criticisms that he has misrepresented the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, it’s Bill Maher who feels like he’s the one being misrepresented.
VF Daily: To some people this wasn’t big news—you’ve said some of these things before. But it wasn’t maybe in such strong or stark terms. Did something change or something spark this for you that made you speak out more strongly?
Bill Maher: No. I’ve been saying the same thing for years and years and years. What changed was Ben Affleck. What changed is a very shallow country, and so when an A-list movie star gets involved in the debate, everyone cares. If it had been Kim Kardashian it would have been even bigger.
But, you know, what changed for me—I think in a good way—is that since more people actually paid attention to the debate, way more people came over to my side. I have a very politically correct audience—the studio audience that comes to my show—very often too politically correct for my taste. I notice now they are pretty much on my side on this issue because they understand that I’m the liberal in this debate.
If you said everything you said but said it as, “I’m critiquing radical Islam,” I don’t think it would’ve have sparked so much controversy. It seemed to be the implication that you’re applying your critique to the entire religion. In your mind is there moderate Islam?
Well, it depends on what you define as moderate. [Pauses] They would say there is moderate Islam and I’m sure there are moderates in Islam. But again, if you speak out against the oppression, there is every chance that the people who are not so moderate will take it out on you. . . . The irony of the Berkeley situation is I thought campuses were places where free speech was championed. And one of my problems with Islam is that they are not that big on free speech—which so offended the Muslims at Berkeley, they wanted to ban my speech.
But as far as your basic question, this is something that is perhaps not controversial if you delve into the statistics—and there are statistics. There’s lots of polling and there’s lots of research on this subject that connects, lets call them the rank-and-file, with the extremely illiberal ideas of Islam. Like, if you leave the religion, it is the appropriate response to have death visited upon you. That’s not an outlier in the religion. A Pew poll of Egypt done a few years ago said, I think, 90 percent of Egyptians felt that if you leave the religion, that’s the appropriate response. Now, I asked this question before . . . if 90 percent of Catholics in Brazil felt the appropriate response to leaving Catholicism was death, wouldn’t that be a slightly bigger story?
But would it be a statement about Catholicism? Or would it be a statement about Catholics in Brazil?
It would be a statement about both. To me it would be a statement about a religion that still inspires its people towards fundamentalism. You know, one of the arguments I hear a lot from people on the other side of this debate is: “Bill, don’t you know that Islam was more tolerant in the 9th century or the 14th century?” We’re living in the 21st century and I am the first one to admit that, yes, Christianity was the bad religion in the 14th century. That’s when the inquisition was going on. And in the 16th century, that’s when the, the Protestants and the Catholics were slaughtering each other all over Europe. Just the way the Shiites and the Sunnis are now.
But as many people have said before, Islam is the religion now that needs a reformation and that needs an enlightenment. I don’t know if you saw the open letter to Ben Affleck that that Pakistani woman wrote?
Yes I did. What were you gonna say about it?
O.K., well, what . . . once again, I’m the liberal, I’m on her side. . . . What she said to him—and she’s very polite—she said, “Thanks for, you know, for standing up for my peeps. But all you did, was close off a conversation that we need to have.”
That’s one reason I’m glad this happened. We need to have this conversation. And she said, “I want to join the 21st century, too. Why can’t you be on my side in my quest to do that?” And she ended the letter by saying, ‘You know, I’d love to have a drink with you sometime to discuss this, but (a) I’m not allowed to drink and (b) I’m not allowed to leave the house unless I’m accompanied by a male guardian.’”
So here’s where I’m confused though. You say Islam is the religion now that needs a reformation and an enlightenment. They need help in that struggle, not blanket condemnations of Islam. Do you think you’re helping that reformation?
Yes, like the woman said, what we need to do is not close off the conversation. I’m just shining a light on the reality of the situation. I don’t even understand why this is so controversial. [Laughs] I see these ads on TV for example, on the football games against violence against women. Have you seen those? A bunch of celebrities go: “No more!” And that’s great. Because we need that in America. But what [would] the reaction be if you had an ad like that on in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or lots of Muslim countries?
Again, these are not things that I pulled out of my ass. These are facts. The World Economic Forum did a study of 134 countries around the world, on the subject [of the] treatment of women, 17 of the bottom 20 were Muslim countries. In 10 Muslim countries, you get the death penalty for just being gay.
Presumably you’ve made a lot of Muslim enemies, but who are your Muslim friends? In general, who’s informing your views on Islam?
[Pauses] Well, you wouldn’t know them. [Laughs] They are friends of mine who are not famous. But I have two pretty good Muslim friends. And Reza Aslan says he’s my friend.
It’s sometimes hard to know if you watch you, you watch other political comics—where’s the line between making an incendiary joke versus actually trying to make a political point? Are you trying to achieve something here? Do you want to move an agenda forward?
No, I never have any agenda on my show. My job on Friday night is to catch them up on what the important stories were and to entertain. I mean we are on an entertainment network. And then—equally important—to never pull a punch.
The religious scholar Karen Armstrong did an interview with Salon and talked about what you and Sam Harris said. And she said that your comments fill her with despair because this is “the sort of talk that led to the concentrations camps in Europe. The sorts of things that people were saying about Jews in the 30s and 40s.” That’s gotta sting, especially coming from her.
It doesn’t sting because it’s beyond stupid. Jews weren’t oppressing anybody. There weren’t 5,000 militant Jewish groups. They didn’t do a study of treatment of women around the world and find that the Jews were at the bottom of it. There weren’t 10 Jewish countries in the world that were putting gay people to death just for being gay. It’s idiotic.
What do you want to say to those kids protesting you at Berkeley?
You know, I’m a liberal. My message is: be a liberal. Find out what liberalism means and join up. Liberalism certainly should not mean squelching free speech. And by the way, that petition, it was online, so anybody could sign it. You didn’t have to go to Berkeley to sign it, you could sign it more than one time. . . . So it was kind of a bullshit thing to begin with. Uh, so I don’t think there were that many people against it. Even people who don’t agree with everything I say about Islam certainly were on the side of letting me speak. The comments I read were just almost embarrassed for the kids.
And I would just say to all liberals: we should own the First Amendment the way the right-wingers own the Second.
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