“I’m done with Bill Maher,” or why just being liberal is not enough

bill maher

That’s it, it’s over. Bill Maher, we’re through.

If you’ve ever left a relationship because your partner’s bad traits start making it impossible to appreciate their good qualities, you know what I’m talking about. I don’t care if he’s funny, and spot on when it comes to things like pot and the militarization of police. He’s downright ignorant and bigoted when it comes to anything related to Islam.

I first saw signs of trouble in his film Religulous, when he poked fun at the Christian Right, criticized Muslims in a much harsher way. He pretty much gave Judaism a pass, except for some Orthodox Jews, and was critical of the State of Israel. I chalked it up to his fervent atheism, remembered that he really did a great job with the Christians and forgot about his unfortunate bias for a few years.

Fast forward to a few months ago. While Israel was indiscriminately bombing Gaza, Maher tweeted this:

As if glibly justifying a willful humanitarian catastrophe wasn’t enough bile for 140 characters, he managed to throw in a bit of misogyny too. I decided to watch his next HBO show Real Time, a show which, to be honest, I generally like.

This time, though, I was watching to see if he would apologize or defend the tweet. He didn’t even address it, but he had George Takei as a guest, and I adore George Takei.

I don’t ignore him enough to forget why I was watching, so I decided to be wary of Maher, applaud him when he deserves it, but be ready to call him out when he crosses the line again. I was giving him a third and final chance and he blew it.

Two weeks ago, he closed off his show, as he always does, with New Rules, a comedy bit that is usually quite insightful and funny. This time, though, it was neither.

He started off by making a point that it is easier to poke fun at Christianity than Islam in a Western context. Fine, it is. But Christianity is the dominant religion in the West, and the same point was much funnier when South Park made it.

If he had left it at that, then fine, boring but fine. But instead, he proceeded to make an argument that you can’t call yourself liberal if you don’t speak out against Islam. Here it is, if you want to watch for yourself:

Forget for a moment that no one made this guy the arbiter of what is liberal or progressive, just what does he mean by speaking out against Islam? If he’s referring to objecting to extremism, then fine, religious extremism is a bad thing regardless of the religion, but that’s not what he means.

The following week, the topic came up in the panel section of his show. It had to. The comments had caused such a stink that even Reza Aslan, noted religious scholar, progressive and practicing Muslim appeared on CNN and deflated the argument.

In the discussion on HBO, Maher made it clear that he was, in fact, talking about condemning the religion as a whole. Another panelist, Sam Harris, clarified even more by trying to argue that Islamic extremism wasn’t the exception but rather the rule.

I would have called bullshit and bigotry, but fortunately Ben Affleck did it for me. That’s right, an uber-mainstream, Hollywood A-lister who was on the show primarily to plug a movie called the host a racist. Give it a watch:

To paraphrase Michael Moore, one of Maher’s celebrity leftist friends: “When progressive scholars and Batman are against you, Mr. Maher, you just might be a bigot.” Moreover, you’re probably not a liberal at all.

What’s so liberal about telling people what they can and can’t believe? As an agnostic who also thinks, I find Maher’s comments offensive, and worse, ignorant.

When supposed progressive allies start sounding like the radical right they claim to despise, it’s time to move on.

No, I don’t want people to boycott HBO; I need my John Oliver and Game of Thrones as much as you. I also don’t think guests should refuse to appear on Real Time, as long as they make sure to call Maher out when needed, just like Affleck did.

I do think it’s time the progressive left realizes that a bigot is a bigot. Maher and his ilk aren’t allies, despite making good points from time to time.

Bill Maher, we’re done!

One comment

  • I imagine Maher will not be sorry to see you go. You sidestepped the factual observations of Maher’s commentary, which form the basis for his conclusions about Islam being a morally repugnant cult, one deserving of censure from the liberal West. I’m not surprised you and most every person critical of Maher in this particulular brouhaha are quite careful to bemoan and protest Maher’s points while you ignore the substance. Because, man, the substance of his argument really stings. Massive majorities in some of the biggest Islamic countries oppose Jews and the very existence of of Israel. And similar majorities in many of these same nations hold what people in the west would consider bigoted and antedeluvian views on the rights of women and gays. While liberals hold wingnuts and tea baggers in our own country in contempt ( and rightly so), they are hypocritically muted when it comes to illuminating, discussing and condemning behavior and bigoted beliefs that are even more virulent among hundreds of millions of Muslims. That’s Maher’s line of reasoning, one that is consistently overlooked, fumbled and intentionally twisted by his detractors, and one that neither they or you address directly and on its factual merits.

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