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 discussion, which can be seen here, covers how censorious liberals should be of the Muslim faith.
As a vocal critic of religion, it comes as no surprise that Bill finds fault with Islam. Yet to many, Bill's vociferous support of Sam Harris statement that "Islam is the mother lode of all bad ideas" is deeply troubling.
Few would argue that the number of people committing acts of violence in the name of Islam is comparable with that of extremists in other religions, but the insistence that the faith -- not the people -- are to blame for this is where the divide really begins.
Bill for example has stated on multiple occasions that Muslims believe anyone who leaves the religion should be killed; however, that view is only really prevalent in a small number of countries. This perspective is almost non-existent in countries like Kazakhstan, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey and Bosnia. They also only represent a minor fraction of the views of Muslims in countries like Indonesia, Lebanon and Tunisia. Ironically, some countries like Pakistan can actually trace their severe religious laws back to British Christianity while six U.S. states still have blasphemy laws on the books.
Of course, it should be noted that even if a large portion of the believers of Islam support death for those who denounce their religion that doesn't prove that Islam as a religion is the mother lode of bad ideas. It simply means that a certain group of followers takes the Quran far too literally.
This was also the case for Christianity at one point in time. Deuteronomy 13:6-9 states " "If your brother, your mother's son, or your son or daughter, or the wife [a]you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods'... you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
To some extent, the U.S. still operate under this Christian doctrine. We pretend any acceptance of Islam will result in Sharia law taking over the country and attempt to limit the rights and reach of Muslims in America to stop this "threat". We are also still waging what amount to holy wars under the guise of spreading democracy, defending freedom, or fighting terrorism.
We use all of these politically acceptable terms to illegally fly drones over sovereign airspace. These drones indiscriminately murder Muslims who may or may not be enemy combatants. And we do this all while claiming to be a Christian nation. Maybe we don't call it a religious war but we are no doubt creating an air of terror almost exclusively in Muslim countries. Is killing in the name of democracy somehow more acceptable than killing in the name of Allah?
But the biggest problem with Bill's stance is that he seems content to shout into the wind. On issues like gun rights, climate change, and marriage equality Bill advocates for change and represents a position that can achieve this goal. His opposition to Islam has no direction. He just wants it known that of all the religions he feels Islam is the worst, even though few are arguing against that belief.
The reality is that if the U.S. focused all of the money and energy we currently direct at fighting and controlling Muslims and used it to promote education and a more inclusive view of women, extremist Muslim interpretations of their holy book would soon be replaced with a far less strident reading -- similar to the transformation Christianity has experienced over the years.
In his Real Time broadcast on February 8 of 2013, Bill made a small step in this direction by recognizing the work of Muslim teenager Malala Yousafzai who has championed education for girls because she recognized that knowledge is power and the power created from an educated female Muslim population can be harnessed to ostracize the fundamentalist fringe into irrelevance. By continuing to put Islam on trial, Bill is missing out on the opportunity to help Islam in the Middle East evolve like it has in many countries across the world.
In the end, as long as we continue to use bombs in place of humanitarian efforts, we will continue to create an environment where radical Islam is a logical response to unfounded aggression from "Christian nations".