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5 things Bill Maher Got Wrong In Latest Islam Rant

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5 things Bill Maher Got Wrong In Latest Islam Rant

Omar Baddar, Political Scientist, Human Rights Activist

As a liberal agnostic, I might better enjoy my time critiquing religion with fellow skeptics. But when skeptics single out a particular faith or group for unfair demonization, I do feel compelled to respond. It is, of course, old news that Bill Maher is one of the skeptics who, while feeling antipathy towards religion in general, holds exceptional hostility towards Islam. However, the segment on Islam (below) in last weekend’s episode of ‘Real Time’ went beyond typical antipathy and included 5 points that were simply dead wrong:

1. “Not a Few Bad Apples”

Bill Maher insists that extremism and intolerance are problems that afflict Muslims at large, and not just “a few bad apples.” Of course, if anyone compiled a list of violent acts by Muslim extremists, the list would undoubtedly be troublingly long. But the Muslim world is far too vast and diverse to collapse into Maher’s narrow perception of it. It is a world of 1.6 billion Muslims, so even thousands of extremists would be a fraction, and would in no way justify an indictment against Muslims in general. To think along analogous lines, there are more than 10,000 murders and 80,000 rapes every year in the U.S. The Ugandan fanatical Christian LRA group is responsible for the kidnapping of some 66,000 children (a lot more than Boko Haram). In the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live on stolen Palestinian land, and many carry out acts of vandalism and violenceagainst Palestinians. But just as none of these facts justify broad indictments of “The Americans,” “The Christians” or “The Jews” as being terrible people (that would be transparently bigoted), the same applies to Islam and Muslims. The acts of a relatively small group of extremists, even when they’re more frequent than we’d like them to be, should never taint entire societies.

2. Brandeis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Maher, Matt Welch, and Dinesh D’Souza were all troubled by the fact that Brandeis University rescinded its invitation and offer of an honorary degree to anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. D’Souza complained that surely even the controversial Michael Moore would’ve been allowed to speak, while Welch noted that Tony Kushner received the same award a few years back despite having allegedly made derogatory comments about Israel’s supporters. This may sound like a reasonable point, but only until you think about it for more than 2 seconds and realize that these are ridiculous comparisons. Michael Moore and Tony Kushner never suggested that, for example, Judaism should be crushed, or claimed that all devout Jews support murder (I wonder what Welch and D’Souza would think of honoring such people). By contrast, Hirsi Ali didn’t just take controversial political positions; she actually did hate-monger against an entire faith group. Shesaid that “we are at war with Islam,” that we have to “crush [it] in all forms,” and that “There is no moderate Islam.” She also insisted that 9/11 was “the core of Islam,” and even claimed that “Every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam” approved of the 9/11 attacks. Can anyone dispute that this foments hostility towards Muslims in general, and goes beyond merely holding a controversial opinion?

3. Female Genital mutilation (FGM)

In the course of explaining what’s supposedly wrong with Islam, Bill Maher noted that Ayaan Hirsi Ali “underwent genital mutilation, which almost all women do in [Somalia] and many other Muslim countries.” This seems to indicate that Maher is under the impression that FGM is a Muslim problem, which it absolutely is not. In the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries, the practice is virtually unheard of. If you look at the World Health Organization’s map of where FGM is prevalent, you’ll notice that all of the top countries (except Yemen) are in Africa, including Christian-majority countries. For example, Eritrea is a Christian-majority country, yet the FGM rate there is 89%. So if you insist on generalizing, you may be able to get away with saying FGM is an African problem, but it most certainly isn’t a “Muslim” one.

4. Where are the Buddhist suicide bombers?

While making the case for the uniqueness of the threat we face from Muslims, Dinesh D’Souza said, to audience laughter, “you don’t see a whole lot of Buddhist suicide bombers.” Perhaps D’Souza is not aware that, to quote Human Rights Watch, “Burmese Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim communities” killing dozens and destroying property last year. Or maybe he’s not familiar with the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the radical Buddhist monk (also known as “the Burmese Bin Laden“) who stirred the violence. But if it was “suicide bombings” specifically he was concerned with, it certainly is worth noting that it was the Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, not Muslim, who were the “innovators” of suicide bombings, and were responsible for hundreds of them over the past few decades. But if it’s the threat to Americans in particular, it is also worth noting that since 9/11, right-wing extremists claimed more lives than “jihadists” have in America.

5. Islamophobia

Bill Maher quoted Sam Harris mis-attributing to the late Christopher Hitchens the silly description of ‘Islamophobia’ as “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.” This turned out not to be a Hitchens quote, but a slogan created by a provocateur, and used by bigots to get cheap applause from idiots. You cannot be a sensible person and look at (a) the hike in anti-Muslim hate crimes after 9/11, (b) the hysteria that breaks out around the building of mosquesin America, and (c) the use of anti-Muslim rhetoric in political campaigns and conclude that Islamophobia is manufactured. Islamophobia is real; it is destructive, and it should be confronted by all people of conscience.

Why All of This Matters

Ultimately, this isn’t about scoring points against Maher or his panel; this is about making this world a better place. The Muslim world is incredibly diverse, and can by no means be reduced to a single cohesive unit. From Eastern Europe to the horn of Africa, and from Lebanon to Indonesia, we are talking about fundamentally different societies and cultures. Some of these societies are more socially progressive than others; but in all of these societies, there are Muslims who are fighting for women’s rights and against extremism and violence, and they deserve our support against their reactionary opponents. To lump them all together under an ugly stereotype that’s defined by the Muslim world’s worst elements only alienates our progressive allies in Muslim societies and makes their causes all the more difficult to advance.

Bill Maher attempted to cite an Egypt poll, saying it showed that 80-90% of people in the country approved of death as a punishment for leaving Islam. The actual number is 64%, which is still horrifyingly high, and I am alarmed by it. An Israeli or a Palestinian may also be alarmed by the poll that found the majority of Israelisfavor discrimination against their non-Jewish neighbors. But how we express these concerns also matters. If some random city in America had a high crime rate in the African American community, and one public official said “I’m concerned about this problem” and another public official said “the blacks are a problem,” which of these two would we all (probably including Bill Maher) condemn as a racist? When concern for certain problems within societies turns into hostility towards inexcusably large groups of people who have little in common beyond some random demographic factor (in this case, religion), then that is a paradigmatic example of bigotry. And this type of bigotry puts entire communities under attack from the outside, thus distracting from their fight to advance and tackle problems within. If Bill Maher wants to take his progressivism seriously, he should really let go of reckless rhetoric and join the real fight to advance progressive causes within and without Muslim societies.

Follow Omar Baddar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omarbaddar

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  • Wrong. They’re tinged in ethnicity and religion.

  • Nathan Davey

    The fact that you think the two are even remotely equivalent is quite a testament to how morally bankrupt you are.

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  • Yisroel

    It would be nice if you really agreed. Unfortunately that’s one of your tools apparently, just cut off.

    And again I’m sharing my thoughts and beliefs which don’t change because of your terribly idiotic responses of being a Hasbara troll.

  • Yisroel

    I’m suggesting that there’s a context here. And that is 2 things:
    1) Muslims hate the Jews in Israel. Read the history, read how they gloated before their wars that they would slaughter everybody, read how even Egypt and Jordan that signed peace treaties how they even today speak of Israeli Jews. Look how Fatah names streets, makes cartoons in their papers, and dance when Israeli civilians are killed. And the Hamas charter calls for the destruction and death of all Israeli Jews.
    2) The world has a history for centuries of anti semitism. They focus more on Israel when it fights a defensive war and does more than any army in history to protect civilians on both sides, and kills 1,000 civilians that were all Hamas’ fault, than on wars by countries that weren’t under rocket attack on 80% of their country and kill 1,000’s more.

    There’s much more. But these are the core points

  • Laila Muhammad

    he is pro israel which is his choice some americans were pro-apartheid south africa in the 70’s…..but being pro-israel doesnt mean you have to be anti-islam….lets remember the facts…claliph omar reopened jerusalem to jews after a 500 yr ban by the romans….in 1492 after threats by spain’s christian rulers that jews ‘convert leave or die’ moslem turkey sent ships to pick up the jews and bring them to moslem turkey….during wwll millions of jews were killed in christian europe while less than 1000 jews were killed in the nazi occupied mideast…all of which make geller’s ads that the quran calls on muslims to kill jews laughable….revisionist history whether coming from idiotic nazis who say no holocaust occurred or idiotuc zionists who say muslims never helped jews throughout history are both abhorent

  • Friend of Bosnia

    The above is an exact description of fascism.

  • Friend of Bosnia

    Well, they did try to fly some (small) airplanes into buildings, didn’t they? Besides that, aren’t kamikazes a Japanese invention? I’m not aware the Japanese had a Muslim majorioty or indeed a considerable proportion of Muslims at that time.
    And yes the LTTE are not Buddhists.

  • Simon93

    That quote on Islamophobia wasn’t from Hitchens. It was vodkaninja/Andrew Cummins. An anti-Muslim, pseudo-liberal bigot on twitter.

  • Heinz Catsup

    Don’t we all?

  • Heinz Catsup

    “If Bill Maher wants to take his progressivism seriously, he should
    really let go of reckless rhetoric and join the real fight to advance
    progressive causes within and without Muslim societies.”

    Sadly he won’t.

  • Mohamed Al Saadoon

    If we indict Muslims for the acts of terrorists and say “not a few bad apples” then how come the US military can use that excuse every time one if it’s soldiers goes on a rampage, kills some civilians, and gets a slap on a wrist?

  • Sagar K

    The LTTE are Hindus. And anyway, their actions are racial/ethnically charged, not religious in nature.

  • Seeker

    He’s an atheist. So basically not really a ‘faith group’. Which proves however that there is no boundary to nuttiness.

  • Elmorocojo

    I wait for the day when he isn’t relevant anymore.

  • Baktashi

    i think the key statement in this article was:

    “When concern for certain problems within societies turns into hostility
    towards inexcusably large groups of people who have little in common
    beyond some random demographic factor (in this case, religion), then
    that is a paradigmatic example of bigotry. And this type of bigotry puts
    entire communities under attack from the outside, thus distracting from
    their fight to advance and tackle problems within.”

    This expresses my view that there is a difference in recognizing issues in a society, and just blaming it on the ‘type of people’. Cauz when you say for example “there are women issues in Muslim countries because they are Muslim”…then the case is closed. there is no solution other than changing their faith or race.

  • mindy1

    Maher is no liberal, he’s just a jerk. All faith groups have their nutters.

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