Let me begin by stating that I am a longtime fan of Bill Maher's show, but hey, wrong is wrong.
Like many of you, I watched this:
That lively discussion took place on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, and it is all about Islam -- specifically, the question of to what extent violent extremists represent all Muslims. Mr. Maher and author Sam Harris sat in opposition to actor and new Batman Ben Affleck asserting, that Jihadists are very much the result of Islamic doctrine.
Liberals, Maher and Harris said, contradict their own values because they refuse to acknowledge that islam is an inherently violent religion, believing such a position to be racist and bigoted. These liberals have a double standard when it comes to criticizing religious intolerance, and are therefore a "disappointment." As Harris said, "They'll criticize white theocracy, they'll criticize Christians... but when you want to talk about the treatment of women, homosexuals and free thinkers and public intellectuals in the Muslim world, I would argue that liberals have failed us... We have been sold this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people." He then went on to call Islam the "mother of bad ideas."
Mr. Affleck on the other hand, repudiated their remarks, calling them hateful, and countering with the fact that Islam is the world's second largest religion. Mr. Maher and Mr. Harris, he argued were painting with a very broad brush indeed. Batman was right, and here's why.
Let's "unpack" Maher's and Harris's statements:
1. Harris: 20 percent of Muslims hold very conservative, extreme views.
Sorry, but "numerous polls we can talk about later" a reliable source, does not make. Harris arrived at this 20 percent number by adding up radical Jihadists who would act on their views, with Islamists who would "work within the system" and "use democracy against itself" to impose their religion on others.
But this is no different from stating that Christian terrorists like Shelly Shannon, who in 1993 shot abortion doctor, George Tiller five times in an unsuccessful attempt on his life, and Scott Roeder who actually killed him in 2009, are representative of all Christianity.
We can arrive at this conclusion in the same way Maher and Harris reach conclusions about Islam. First, we add up people like Shannon and Roeder. Next, we combine that number with the many people who felt Tiller was a "baby killer," as FOX News' Bill O'Reilly put it, who needed to be stopped, but wouldn't themselves have carried out the attack. Having established a definite demographic, we state, as a matter of fact, that these are a significant number of Christians. We can even start combining extremist Christians in Africa for added flavor (of course, I'll get to them later.)
2. Harris: Polls of British Muslims show that 78 percent supported prosecution of the Danish cartoonist who insulted Islam.
I've scoured the Internet looking for these polls to no avail. But, for argument's sake, let's say that number is true. Prosecution is not murder. Prosecution is civilized. It isn't as though Christians haven't wanted to prosecute people they feel have insulted their faith. Here are two examples:
a) In Egypt, Publisher Ahmed Abdallah Abo-Islam, was brought up on charges of contempt of the Christian religion; accusing Christians of fabricating the Bible and threatening social stability and security.
b) In Brazil, the Catholic Church threatened to sue over a commercial which featured the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue wearing an Italian soccer jersey.
3. Maher: "It is the only religion... that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture, or write the wrong book."
Mr. Maher has, in the past, said that he carries a handgun for protection. I can only assume that this is because he receives death threats for his remarks from right wingers, Christians, Muslims, etc. What I'm getting at is this: extremists from all religions are violent.
For example, in America, radical Christian terrorists kill gay people for having the wrong "lifestyle." 2011 saw the highest number of anti-gay murders in U.S. history. It is even worse in Africa where Christian missionaries have spread the message of intolerance. Uganda is one such country. It recently passed a law criminalizing homosexuality, which has led to rampant anti-gay violence.
Bill Maher and Sam Harris are just wrong.
Maher and Harris fail to see the violence of the Muslim world in context. For decades, the United States encouraged radical Islam as a way to combat the Soviet Union. One could make the argument that it would not have spread organically. Our whole involvement in the Middle East and North Africa has been, shall we say, insidious. I will not go into the whole list of mistakes we made, save to say, we armed the most radical extremists, gave them training, and essentially handed the region over to them, all the while exploiting it ourselves.
As the star of Gigli said, Islam is the second largest religion on the planet, and as with all religions, the views and opinions of its subscribers are many and varied. All religious texts contain violent passages as well as peaceful ones. How said texts are interpreted depends greatly on many things. Religious zealotry is often driven by socioeconomic factors, such as a lack of infrastructure and availability of quality education. Poverty and desperation tend to breed cultures of intolerance and ignorance. So yes, in poorer, less educated, less developed countries, you see more religiosity and violence: whether it be anti-gay violence in Uganda, or anti-Christian violence in Egypt.
I'm still a fan of Bill Maher. Most times, he's spot on. But, and this to Mr. Maher and Mr. Harris directly: please walk back your statements. I'm not denying that the Muslim world is filled with hate, anti-intellectualism, homophobia, intolerance, ignorance and more violence than the western world. I just don't want everyone thinking all atheists are like you guys.