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We must distinguish critiquing an ideology from being "racist," and hateful towards a religion. And most importantly, we shouldn't silence a conversation "that never gets started."
So, proudly, claims the official website of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. If you were to ask imprisoned liberal Saudi writer Raif Badawi, you may hear otherwise. Or not. He may not be able to tell you what he really thinks.
Since his highly controversial exchange with Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristof on October 3rd, Bill Maher has insisted that he's simply stating the unpleasant facts about the Muslim world. But there are two particularly noxious myths that need to be debunked.
Maher is right that we should stand up for liberal principles everywhere, but it does no justice to our principles if our arguments are stacked on a foundation of stereotypes.
The day liberals confuse real talk and passionate debate with bigotry is the day Bill O'Reilly and Fox news shape the narrative of our nation.
If the answer to this question is "no," a case can still be made that the cable news network is on track to rival Fox News in promoting the worst Islamophobic stereotypes. The latest controversy involving an interview with Reza Aslan raises serious concerns about CNN's willingness to tap into and reinforce widespread prejudices against Islam in order to generate ratings.
Ben is talking about Muslims who aspire to the same things that all people of genuine good will aspire to, aspirations widely shared by most Americans. Hard work. Raising a family. Giving to charity. Practicing our faith. And the opportunity to do so free of judgment -- certainly free of fear or violence.
As the fight against ISIS/ISIL continues, and so do our campaigns to fight terrorism around the world, we are bound to be reminded that we are not in a war against Islam. But why is it that when I turn on the news, listen to people discuss Islam or look at images of Muslims in popular culture, it damn sure feels like we are.
It feels good for many people to look at Islam without looking at the bigger picture of geopolitics and foreign policy, but doing so allows us to repeat the same mistakes, while focusing intently on only part of the problem.
What Bill Maher, Sam Harris and many others like them fail to realize is that religion as it is practiced is a product of a wide array of factors, the official texts being only one of them. People of any faith are more shaped by the norms of their cultural context, interpreting their religious texts to comport with those norms rather than the other way around.
While Maher's points were vastly generalized and his analysis incomplete, there was still some validity to them. In modern America, we are so wed to the ideas of fairness and sensitivity that we can sometimes become blind to the obvious.
There are indeed a myriad of unique problems within the Muslim world, which is in a deep crisis. Yet, there are also countless Muslim leaders, intellectuals, clerics, philanthropists, and others, facing these problems, and trying to stand-up to illiberal phenomena in their communities and societies.
For all of the great work Bill Maher does by adding an unapologetically liberal voice to sensitive topics, his recent heated debate with actor Ben Affleck and author Sam Harris has put Bill at odds with many liberals. The biggest problem with Bill's stance is that he seems content to shout into the wind.
I detest religious extremism, but what I detest equally is funding this plague and pretending the billions in weapons we give to Islamic fundamentalists isn't the primary reason that ISIS and other terrorist groups exist.
On October 3rd, Ben Affleck finally said what a lot of us have been hoping someone would say loud and angry enough to make Maher listen.