Nicholas Kristof was sitting next to Ben Affleck in October of 2014 as the actor famously sparred with Bill Maher over the principles of radical Islam. When Affleck accused Maher of being "racist" and "gross" for claiming radical Islam is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will f--king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book," Kristof announced that he agreed with the "Batman" actor, corroborating the sentiment in his New York Times column shortly thereafter.
This debate took place before the Muslim-led attacks on Charlie Hebdo in early January. But in a conversation with HuffPost Live on Monday, Kristof explained why, in the wake of increased religious violence from extremists, he's still averse to making generalizations.
"It's hard to push back after something like the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but I've traveled these areas, and I know that kind of violence isn't representative of 1.6 billion Muslim adherents," he told host Alyona Minkovski. "Humans are complex. They're varied. There's an entire range of people. There are good Americans and bad Americans, and that we kind of understand, and the same is true of the Muslim community or any other faith community."
Maher had additional harsh words for the Islamic faith after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, declaring that "when there are that many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard." Knowing the visibility that Maher's words hold, Kristof worries that sentiment will exacerbate the pre-existing prejudice towards Muslims.
"People have the right to that opinion," he said, "Whether it were a comedian or a politician or a journalist, we have to be wary of broad-brushed critiques in ways that can cause great damage to people. There's a real risk that we 'other-ize' people."
"There's no doubt that there's a real problem with extremism within Islam," he continued. "That is a real threat -- and the Islamic community has to fight it, we could do a better job from the outside with fighting it, but that doesn't mean we should be tarring all 1.6 billion Muslims with that kind of extremism."
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