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Bill Maher Sounds Like Jerry Falwell

Bill Maher and George Bush: Closer in thought then we ever knew?

Bill Maher and George Bush: Closer in thought than we ever knew?

You might be reading the title, Bill Maher Sounds Like Jerry Falwell and thinking to yourself, “What?! Bill Maher hates religion, and if I recall he blasted Jerry Falwell at the time of his death for being an intolerant, huckster con-man.” It is true that Maher has made a lot of money out of mocking religion, all religion, he made a movie about it called Religulous. In fact, Maher is constantly seen with his anti-religion crew promoting atheism and agnosticism.

So how could he possibly sound like a Christian fundamentalist such as Jerry Falwell? An analysis of Maher’s work and comments about Islam reveal he has a special and unique bias against Islam that goes well beyond his condemnation or mocking of other religions, which is unfortunate because he has a lot of hilarious and witty things to say about various topics.

Maher’s bias leads to moments where he loses his rationality and rather than comment with his usual sardonic logic, he falls into emotion and repeats worn out stereotypes and caricatures of Islam and Muslims. If that weren’t egregious enough, he also makes statements that are flat out empirically false.

So how does an atheist who prizes rationality and empirical evidence fall so hard off of the beaten path? Some might say it’s the weed but let’s look at the evidence for a second.

The first piece that I want to draw to your attention is a five minute section of the New Rules portion of Bill Maher’s Real Time.

Maher is on the wrong foot from the very beginning. He starts his monologue by creating an exclusive frame that depicts Islam as the “other,” something that is “outside” and does not belong to the West. This might have something to do with Maher’s ignorance of history since Islam has been a part of the West for over a millennium now. There is no need for me to go into detail about the historical interplay and exchange of commerce, goods and ideas between the Muslim world and the West, nor of the presence of Muslim communities, but if the construct of the “West” is to mean anything it has to include Islam and Muslims.

Omar Baddar makes just such a point and a further rebuttal in his excellent article in the Huffington Post on Maher’s recent confusion,

The implied premise that Judaism and Christianity belong to a cohesive unit called “the West” which stands in distinction from another cohesive unit called “the Muslim world” is absurd. But even if one accepted this false dichotomy, why did Maher’s example of “the craziest religious wackos we have here in America” stick to nonviolent fanatics? Why not abortion clinic bombers?

And what about Jewish extremists in the Palestinian territories? I haven’t heard an argument for why their brutal attacks on western human rights activists accompanying children to school, routine vandalism, and other violent acts coupled with chants of “we killed Jesus we’ll kill you too” are any less wacko.

Structural constraints are another obvious factor to consider. You see, the Taliban can act like they do because they live in a lawless state, and extremist settlers can act like they do because of a culture of impunity provided by the structure of Israeli apartheid. So while Pat Robertson may seem harmless, by comparison, when he issues a death fatwa on Hugo Chavez, or when he blames a hurricane or an earthquake on gay sex or a pact with the devil or something, a useful question to contemplate is whether he and his followers would be as benign (if one could describe them as such) if they could get away with worse behavior. Thankfully, we live in a system that can enforce law and order; and our wackos have the alternative outlet of lobbying the government for wars against Iraq and Iran, and they send over 100,000 emails to the White House for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so direct violence from them is somewhat less likely.

I would just add one more comment to the prescient points raised by Baddar above. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did and do have an active religious component in them. How else can we characterize the war briefings read by Donald Rumsfeld that were always headlined with quotes from the Bible? The Daily Times reported at the time,

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was sold as a fight for freedom against the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

But for former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his elite Pentagon strategists, it was more like a religious crusade.

The daily briefings about the progress of the war that Mr Rumsfeld gave to President George W Bush were illustrated with victorious quotes from the Bible and gung-ho photographs of U.S. troops, it has emerged.

….

One of the top-secret ‘worldwide intelligence updates’, which were hand-delivered to Mr Bush by Mr Rumsfeld, includes an image of an F-18 Hornet fighter jet roaring off from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

On it were the words of Psalm 139-9-10: ‘If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast, O Lord.’

The cover of another featured pictures of U.S. soldiers at prayer with a quote from Isaiah: ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Here I am Lord, Send me.’

A photograph of Saddam Hussein included a quotation from the First Epistle of Peter: ‘It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.’

The religious theme for briefings prepared for the president and his war cabinet was the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a committed Christian and director for intelligence serving Mr Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In the days before the six-week invasion, Major General Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers for the briefings to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle.

But as the body count rose, he decided to introduce biblical quotes.

Mr Bush, a born-again Christian, believed the invasion was a ‘mission from God’.

Another of his briefings included the words ‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed’ alongside a photo of a U.S. marine with a machine gun.

And on an image of U.S. tanks rumbling through the Victory Arch monument in Baghdad was a quote from Isaiah: ‘Open the gates the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps the faith.’

A photograph of U.S. tanks in Iraq used a further passage from Isaiah: ‘Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung, their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels are like a whirlwind.’

biblical_quotes_defense

These are wars that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and were instigated and supported in large part by right-wing Christians and Zionists. It is also salient to mention the involvement of Erik Prince the leader and founder of Blackwater, a security service hired by the State Department and who many consider to be nothing more than a squad of mercenaries. Prince himself is a Christian supremacist and in an affidavit from a former employee is accused of viewing “‘himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,’ and that Prince’s companies ‘encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.'”

There are many more examples that we can give, the Lord’s Resistance ArmyChristian witch-hunts, American Evangelical collusion in the Uganda gay death bill and the war on Gaza in which Israeli soldiers were told by Rabbis in  pamphlets to be “cruel” and not to “spare” the Gazan population, even “innocent civilians.”

So the claim that Muslim “wackos” are somehow uniquely more dangerous or wacky than extremists in other faiths is not only false, it is disingenuous.

However, Maher’s bigoted rant didn’t stop there, it also included his preaching about how “our culture” is better than their “culture.” I thought Maher would have realized by now that NOT ALL MUSLIMS are alike. Not all Muslims speak Arabic, live in caves, beat their wives 24-7, etc.  It’s a point that As’ad Abu Khalil made painfully obvious to Maher and his guests ten years ago when Maher hosted Politically Incorrect (video at bottom). Did Maher just forget that convenient fact or is he just fulfilling the buffoonish American caricature he so often loves to lampoon?

Omar Baddar commented on Maher’s incoherence quite succinctly,

I described Maher’s tirade as incoherent because the “them” in Maher’s equation shifted from “the developing world” at one point, to people whose culture “makes death threats to cartoonists,” to “the Taliban,” and eventually to “Muslims” (not exactly interchangeable terms). None of these categories can be lumped into a “Muslim culture” because the Muslim world is simply too vast to collapse into a cultural category. From Eastern Europe to Africa, from Lebanon to Pakistan, and from Iran to Indonesia, we are talking about completely and fundamentally different cultures. In all five Arab/Muslim countries where I grew up (and went to school with girls in all of them), women are an integral part of public life, and many of them dress like Western women do. So I can assure Maher that many of these societies are not waiting for “the West” to lecture them on whether women can work.

The incoherent ramble got even more incoherent, after making a mealy mouthed and half-hearted disclaimer that “in speaking of Moslems we realize that the vast majority are law abiding, loving people who just want to be left alone to subjugate their women in peace” Maher went on to preach to Moslems saying,

“but I got to tell ya, civilized people don’t threaten each other…threatening, that’s some old school desert s***, and I am sorry, you can’t bring that to the big city. I am very glad that Obama is reaching out the Moslem world, and I know Moslems living in America and Europe want their way of life assimilated more, but the Western world has to make some things clear, somethings about our culture are non-negotiable and can’t change and one of them is Freedom of Speech, seperation of Church and State is another, women are allowed to work here and you can’t beat them, not negotiable, this is how we roll, and this is why our system is better, and if you don’t get that and you still want to kill someone over a stupid cartoon, please make it Garfield.”

The fact is Muslims didn’t react to the South Park cartoon. This was a controversy completely whipped up by the media that gave a group of four-nobody-morons far more attention than they deserved. If Bill Maher and his staff had done a little research, instead of focusing on Revolution Muslim, they would have asked the far more penetrating and relevant question of why so much attention was given to an unknown group that has zero credibility or support amongst American Muslims. Of course this would not fit into the preset narrative that the “Godzilla of crazy religions” (as Maher would put it) “must be offended and threatening.”

Bill Maher also should be put on notice, about how people who don’t believe in his “us vs. them” mentality roll. He should be put on notice about what democracy really is about. It isn’t about high voltage diatribes, and self-congratulatory head nodding, or putting down “the other”. There is also a duty to uphold justice and equality. Muslims don’t want to “assimilate more,” (last I checked that isn’t a condition for being Western) they are already here, they are integrated and they are contributing, and he should know the highest incidences of domestic violence occur here in America, where 2 to 4 million women are the victims of domestic violence every year and in which a quarter of the population will have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.

After this show Bill Maher was on Anderson Cooper 360, and in my opinion it was one of the worst interviews I have seen in a long time. It was so bad that I wished I was watching Bill O’ Reilly or Glenn Beck. On the show Bill Maher repeated many of things he said on Real Time, but one thing was exceptionally noteworthy:

“I haven’t read the Quran in its original, when you read the translation there are many, many, many passages that are not peaceful at all, that are about killing the infidel and so forth, there are many passages like that in the Bible too, not as many.”

Is he serious? The Quran itself is about the size of the Psalms, and only a few hundred of the 6,000 verses relate to fighting and all of them have a context and explanation. None of them command a Muslim to just “slay the infidel.” However, the Bible is filled with exhortations to violence, wiping out whole nations, slaying pagans, enemies and non-Jews who live in Israel. This is one of the reasons that the Israel-Palestine conflict is so intractable, the view by religious Jews that not one centimeter of historic Israel should be owned by a non-Jew.

I would challenge Bill Maher to find one verse in the Quran equal or even a quarter equal to this odious commandment in the Bible,

“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” Psalm: 137:9

He will be unable to as there are no verses that come close to advocating such horrendous behavior in the Quran. As far as his retort that Jews and Christians don’t follow such things, a simple search on the internet will disabuse him of that and reinforce the fact that there are people who take the Bible literally and are willing to exact Biblical commandments such as the one above (see Sabbath breakers getting stoned, and license to murder babies).

Part of me believes all of this is for attention.  It seems that Maher desperately wants a fatwa on his head.  He wants the status it would give him: the fame and the soaring ratings. He’ll have ensured himself a position next to Salman Rushdie as one of the victimized on the pantheon of atheist stardom. Maybe it will give him some meaning in an utterly purposeless life?

This whole episode reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a story in which the pigs lead the other animals in a coup overthrowing the human beings who rule the farm. Once the pigs come to power, they take on the same odious traits of the human beings that had led to the revolt in the first place. The pigs became intolerant, manipulative, chauvinistic, and shallow. Orwell meant it to be a story about the failures and potential flaws of communism but the analogy could be applied equally to many of the new atheists, of whom Bill Maher is one, who rant and rave about the intolerance, shallowness, and wide sweeping claims of the religious but like the pigs are taking on those very same traits.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Please check out this very instructional episode of Politically Incorrect a few months after 9/11. It is very interesting and highlights the psychology of Islamophobia that languishes deep even in self professed liberals. As’ad Abukhalil really lays it into them,

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

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  • http://tweeter beesnees

    It is amazing how many A MERRY CANS, fall all over themselves getting bent out of shape at a statement made about the state of A MERRY CAS addictions. Bill Maher’s opinion is like the thing we set on,everybodies got one, his, just happens to be over the top and take no prisonrs to the point at times. Bill Maher is a comic releif compared to the highly infectious news medias we Over Dose on a daily bases.

  • Thirdeye

    @Arsha:
    ” Lets not forget history has shown numerous examples of murderous athiests some of whom have been the most notorious mass murderers/dictators in history….Stalin, chairman Mao, Pol Pot are a few.”

    Yes they were murderous despots and they were atheists but they didn’t slaughter millions of people in the name of atheism. The only times they did persecute religious practice was to further the control of the state over the people by limiting the people’s worship of entities other than the state. Also, all dictators listed above based their stability of power on the fear and confusion of the people – my point is, those dictators were murderous because they were murderous, not because they were atheist, and being murderous, they would use any reason to instil fear including condemnation of religion.

    As for Bill Maher’s position on Islam, I always thought he disliked the tenets that limited libertarianism like he does with all religions, but just in a very uneducated way!

  • Thirdeye

    I’m actually a fan of Bill Maher; his shows and stand up are mostly insightful, dark and extremely humourous. But that is the only extent I am willing to ligitimise some of his claims, many of them poorly justified if at all.

    It seems its as easy to be considered a ‘political commentator’ on cable TV as it is to be considered a ‘journalist’ on Fox news (no offence, that’s not the point I’m trying to make).
    But as the author of this article touches on, Maher is in no place to claim authority on many of the topics he speaks about – religion, feminism, conservatism etc. Now, I’m not religious/spiritual AT ALL (neither am I atheist or agnostic; I’m an absurdist).I do not identify as a feminist and I am certainly not a conservative; not socially, politically nor economically (I wouldn’t categorise myself as a liberal either, I prefer to think for myself). And I’m not saying he doesn’t have a right to an opinion; he does if his opinion is based on facts not feelings

    I can happily accept arguments he makes or ideas put forth if it’s part of his routine as a comedian or as a host of a current affairs panel show (like Stewart or Colbert) for the sake of humour, or stimulating a debate/discussion. But when someone who has no academic or experiential claims on political science, ideological doctrines, philosophy or economics,and takes advantage of the mouth piece they’ve been given for one job (being a host/comedian)to pontificate personal ideals and vilify other ideals, not based on any reasoned logic but by beliefs fuelled by emotion, they just seem like another celebrity with a soap box. Yet HE claims religious people are intellectually handicapped because they don’t pursue their faith with reason; NEWSFLASH: Most people who base ‘opinions’ on emotion fall into that category too! The only people who will champion his ideas are people who have the same ideas in the first place (like me, difference is I at least try to be self reflective).

    I watched an episode of Politically Incorrect and the conversation was started by Maher who seemed miffed (aust. for pissed)that there were multiple films of late (then 2000)where the protagonist was not only a woman but an ass kicking woman to boot (he listed Tomb Raider as one of them). He then went on to ask “what’s up with that bullshit?” considering in reality, women expect men to protect them and he even said, “if there was a crazy person in the audience who all of a sudden went nuts, all the women here would expect their men to protect them!” His basic conclusion was that the image of the ‘empowered ass kicking female’ was so far from reality he could actually justify getting indignant about it.

    As said above, not feminist, my issue wasn’t his criticism of the female sex, it was the justification used to come to this judgement of the entire female gender and it had all the trademarks of any other ignorant, prejudiced bigot. YES, men are generally more physically capable than women, coupled with slightly more aggression than women have, its unsurprising that a lot of women (for better or worse) place the burden of protection on men. In saying that, it’s not like the idea of a woman being able to fight for herself is so imaginary its an insult to men.

    Like I said, I enjoy Bill Maher’s work, I agree with a lot of what he says and I even see the sex appeal BUT just because I agree with some things doesn’t mean he’s exempt from deserved judgement.
    I bet there are many trained policewomen, female agents of the FBI, NSA and CIA, female soldiers, boxers, bouncers etc. that would able to kick HIS ass and if any of the above women happened to be in the audience of Bill Maher’s show when the hypothetical maniac went psycho, THEY would take responsible for protecting Bill Maher, his guests and his audience. I’m sure what they don’t do is turn to the closest person with a cock and say “your in charge, sorry I have a vagina! Years of training in the academy and two tours in Iraq hasn’t prepared me half as well as your 20 years of a sedentary lifestyle of drinking beer, watching football and scratching you arse with your keys! Oh and let’s not forget the biological qualification of you having a penis”.

    My point is, I found the initial question and subsequent conversation about the ‘unreality of female ass kicking heroines’ to be underwhelming and futile and all it made me conclude was; “Is Bill Maher that insecure about your own masculinity that this is an actual cause for concern to you?”

  • Saad

    @Dn Reds

    You wrote:
    “But at the end of the day, no “Christian” in the developed world has ever killed anybody or threatened to kill anybody for making a cartoon, the muslim faith and developing world simply cannot say that.”
    I think you are mistaken. I hear South Park was to air an episode showing a gay Jesus but was threatened by Christian fundamentalists with death which is why they decided to stop the airing of the shown. If anything, all this shows me is that while people are regularly exposed to the wrongs of the Muslims, the same crime done by Christians is often overlooked or ignored.

    And yes Bill Maher is not only a Zionist, he is also islamophobic and intolerant. In the youtube video debate with Asad AbuKhalil, he takes the stance that the Muslims are the only ones that “fly planes into buildings”. WTF? Having a political science major, you should be able to see that is a highly unfair and biased statement to make.

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  • Dn Reds

    Bill Maher is hardly a “hater.” He disapproves of pretty much all religion but he has a special place in his heart for the one major monotheism that openly professes the acceptability of violent tactics. Yes he does support the existence of Israel, but he’s hardly a die hard Zionist, he critiques the actions taken by Israel on a case by case basis, as most intelligent people do. He will himself admit that many of his views have changed as the nature of the issues in question have changed over time, making the use of decade-old video clips from a show that went off the air before I was in high school(I’m currently a senior in college) is kinda sleazy.

    You seem to be asking the West to tolerate intolerance, that would be the only reason to use Bill Maher’s “Non Negotiable” New Rules segment. Us vs. them was a line the Muslim community drew in response to Western exploitation. Was that exploitation justified, certainly not. But we’re in the modern age now, and there are certain practices that the West will never respect you for. For example, we’ve had women as second class citizens in the past, and guess what, women didn’t like it, men got fed up with it, and we have a better way of doing things now. You’re not working with some sort of knowledge or understanding that we do not already possess, and if you believe you are, then you are proving Bill Maher’s point about the arrogance of religion. Don’t bother attacking me about any sort of misconceptions about the Arab World, the Muslim community, or the Middle East in general, I promise you I have taken extensive care to familiarize myself with the Middle East (as a Political Science major, I kind of had to). I know that the Burqa is not required in every Arab State, but enough of them do require it.

    And as for freedom of speech, we’ve never prevented you from showing or saying whatever you want, why must you make death threats to the makers of South Park. And for the record I’m not unfairly grouping you with the people who made those threats. You grouped yourself in with them when you decided to use a Clip of Bill Maher defending free speech against a self-proclaimed terrorist organization as evidence to equate Bill Maher with Jerry Falwell. Terrible things have been done on all sides in the name of religion and it is usually the west with their boot on the neck of some part of the Muslim world, we should be able to agree that the majority of the world’s people are good and that a few bad apples have been spoiling the bunch since the beginning of time. But at the end of the day, no “Christian” in the developed world has ever killed anybody or threatened to kill anybody for making a cartoon, the muslim faith and developing world simply cannot say that. The west considers freedom of speech more sacred than any religious image.

    You write about Bill Maher as if he’s speaking in a vaccum, where nothing else happens, you forget that context matters as much, if not more than anything else. What he was doing was defending the free speech of a couple of guys whose lives were threatened by a group of young men living in New York who made the conscious decision to use their own freedom of speech in order to impose themselves upon others, seemingly oblivious to the irony. I’m not saying Bill Maher is perfect, but by saying that he is intolerant and Islamaphobic, you are in essence taking up the cause of the people who, in this instance, committed an act of oppression. I actually know of one Muslim immigrant in particular, an engineer from Turkey who came over about ten years ago, he’s one of the nicest guys I know, but he has told me outright, that if he ever runs into Salmon Rushdie, he will kill him on the spot, no questions asked. Again, he’s one of the nicest guys I know, but what the Hell is that about? That’s one of those Western values that I feel like we don’t share: I don’t feel like anyone should ever have to die for writing a book… EVER. It’s fine, you don’t need to become part of the world community, we can agree to disagree, but if the Islamic world does not learn to lighten up and loosen up it will not be Islamophobia that keeps the Middle East from integrating into the rest of the world. Because I’m actually proud to say that Freedom of speech is not going to leave anytime soon.

  • Les

    Just read some of his other pieces. He’s a very good writer. Adding his blog to my Google Reader. Thanks Jabbawock!

  • Les

    Very good link Jabbawock.

  • Jabbawock

    Excellent post…I also urge readers to check out this piece, featured on the blog Wide Asleep in America:

    http://www.wideasleepinamerica.com/2010/05/ridiculest-bill-mahers-cultural.html

  • FXG

    @Ustadh and jihadbob. I was simply criticizing Bill Maher when he uses the us versus them attitude. I was criticizing how Bill Maher was showing his arrogance about western civilization when a thing as simple as pants were borrowed from a “primitive culture(Muslims)”. He seemed to praise the judeo-christian culture in that show in order to gain support. He conveniently forgets that Christianity and Judaism came from the middle east not the west.
    As a person from India I could claim how my civilization is 10,000 years old and thus we are superior than you. There is no need for these superiority complex especially when the west is pretty much built upon ‘other people’ slavery, colonialism, imperialism etc which are all documented in history.

  • Cappadonna

    Bill Maher is a typical faux intellectual know-it-all religion basher. He thinks he knows more than he really does. Like Bill O’Reilly, he thinks talking over his guests who disagree with him. His comments about religion in general and Islam in particular shows just how ignorant he is about history — despite being a Cornell History major.

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  • Ustadh

    FXG,

    Take it easy. No reason to go off on the West. The West is okay, some people are just going through an identity crises.

  • JIhadBob

    ***FXG Says:
    May 13th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Western civilization my a$$. Europeans learned to wear pants from Muslim emperors in India. The British liked it and then took it to Europe where they wore skirts before.***

    Imagine if the word European was changed to African, Muslim or some other group of non-white, non-Christian people.

    I think some author from this site with too much time on his hands would probably devote a five page essay ranting and raving on the inherent racism of most Westerners.

    Oh, you denigrated Europeans and Western civilization. That’s ok then.

  • FXG

    Western civilization my a$$. Europeans learned to wear pants from Muslim emperors in India. The British liked it and then took it to Europe where they wore skirts before.

  • KnowingTheTruth

    Well Bill Maher is a hardcore Zionist. He is indeed no different then the Neo-Con Right Wingers that he mocks. Not surprised here.

  • Les

    @Danios

    You have to check out some other As’ad interviews.

    Debates:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd0_GHEoqnQ (As’ad destroying someone from the Israeli consulate over the Gaza “war”)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ntr3Q3S3dmA (As’ad debating the pretentious Irshad Manji)

    Interviews:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTuBuNAqrps (lots of good points made)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEEW9XJyZ3I (talk on Israeli apartheid)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaLvBoT5uqg (talk at Harvard on Obama’s ME policies)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIRp4qKp138 (airline security)

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