5 Things Bill Maher Got Wrong In Latest Islam Rant

As a liberal agnostic, I might better enjoy my time critiquing religion with fellow skeptics. But when skeptics single out a particular faith or group for unfair demonization, I do feel compelled to respond. It is, of course, old news that Bill Maher is one of the skeptics who, while feeling antipathy towards religion in general, holds exceptional hostility towards Islam. However, the segment on Islam (below) in last weekend’s episode of ‘Real Time’ went beyond typical antipathy and included 5 points that were simply dead wrong:

1. “Not a Few Bad Apples”

Bill Maher insists that extremism and intolerance are problems that afflict Muslims at large, and not just “a few bad apples.” Of course, if anyone compiled a list of violent acts by Muslim extremists, the list would undoubtedly be troublingly long. But the Muslim world is far too vast and diverse to collapse into Maher’s narrow perception of it. It is a world of 1.6 billion Muslims, so even thousands of extremists would be a fraction, and would in no way justify an indictment against Muslims in general. To think along analogous lines, there are more than 10,000 murders and 80,000 rapes every year in the U.S. The Ugandan fanatical Christian LRA group is responsible for the kidnapping of some 66,000 children (a lot more than Boko Haram). In the West Bank, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live on stolen Palestinian land, and many carry out acts of vandalism and violence against Palestinians. But just as none of these facts justify broad indictments of “The Americans,” “The Christians” or “The Jews” as being terrible people (that would be transparently bigoted), the same applies to Islam and Muslims. The acts of a relatively small group of extremists, even when they’re more frequent than we’d like them to be, should never taint entire societies.

2. Brandeis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Maher, Matt Welch, and Dinesh D’Souza were all troubled by the fact that Brandeis University rescinded its invitation and offer of an honorary degree to anti-Muslim activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. D’Souza complained that surely even the controversial Michael Moore would’ve been allowed to speak, while Welch noted that Tony Kushner received the same award a few years back despite having allegedly made derogatory comments about Israel’s supporters. This may sound like a reasonable point, but only until you think about it for more than 2 seconds and realize that these are ridiculous comparisons. Michael Moore and Tony Kushner never suggested that, for example, Judaism should be crushed, or claimed that all devout Jews support murder (I wonder what Welch and D’Souza would think of honoring such people). By contrast, Hirsi Ali didn’t just take controversial political positions; she actually did hate-monger against an entire faith group. She said that “we are at war with Islam,” that we have to “crush [it] in all forms,” and that “There is no moderate Islam.” She alsoinsisted that 9/11 was “the core of Islam,” and even claimed that “Every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam” approved of the 9/11 attacks. Can anyone dispute that this foments hostility towards Muslims in general, and goes beyond merely holding a controversial opinion?

3. Female Genital mutilation (FGM)

In the course of explaining what’s supposedly wrong with Islam, Bill Maher noted that Ayaan Hirsi Ali “underwent genital mutilation, which almost all women do in [Somalia] and many other Muslim countries.” This seems to indicate that Maher is under the impression that FGM is a Muslim problem, which it absolutely is not. In the overwhelming majority of Muslim countries, the practice is virtually unheard of. If you look at the World Health Organization’s map of where FGM is prevalent, you’ll notice that all of the top countries (except Yemen) are in Africa, including Christian-majority countries. For example, Eritrea is a Christian-majority country, yet the FGM rate there is 89%. So if you insist on generalizing, you may be able to get away with saying FGM is an African problem, but it most certainly isn’t a “Muslim” one.

4. Where are the Buddhist suicide bombers?

While making the case for the uniqueness of the threat we face from Muslims, Dinesh D’Souza said, to audience laughter, “you don’t see a whole lot of Buddhist suicide bombers.” Perhaps D’Souza is not aware that, to quote Human Rights Watch, “Burmese Buddhist mobs attacked Muslim communities” killing dozens and destroying property last year. Or maybe he’s not familiar with the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the radical Buddhist monk (also known as “the Burmese Bin Laden“) who stirred the violence. But if it was “suicide bombings” specifically he was concerned with, it certainly is worth noting that it was the Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, not Muslim, who were the “innovators” of suicide bombings, and were responsible for hundreds of them over the past few decades. But if it’s the threat to Americans in particular, it is also worth noting that since 9/11, right-wing extremistsclaimed more lives than “jihadists” have in America.

5. Islamophobia

Bill Maher quoted Sam Harris mis-attributing to the late Christopher Hitchens the silly description of ‘Islamophobia’ as “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.” This turned out not to be a Hitchens quote, but a slogancreated by a provocateur, and used by bigots to get cheap applause from idiots. You cannot be a sensible person and look at (a) the hike in anti-Muslim hate crimes after 9/11, (b) the hysteria that breaks out around the building of mosques in America, and (c) the use of anti-Muslim rhetoric in political campaigns and conclude that Islamophobia is manufactured. Islamophobia is real; it is destructive, and it should be confronted by all people of conscience.

Why All of This Matters

Ultimately, this isn’t about scoring points against Maher or his panel; this is about making this world a better place.

The Muslim world is incredibly diverse, and can by no means be reduced to a single cohesive unit. From Eastern Europe to the horn of Africa, and from Lebanon to Indonesia, we are talking about fundamentally different societies and cultures. Some of these societies are more socially progressive than others; but in all of these societies, there are Muslims who are fighting for women’s rights and against extremism and violence, and they deserve our support against their reactionary opponents. To lump them all together under an ugly stereotype that’s defined by the Muslim world’s worst elements only alienates our progressive allies in Muslim societies and makes their causes all the more difficult to advance.

If Bill Maher wants to take his progressivism seriously, he should really let go of reckless rhetoric and join the real fight to advance progressive causes within and without Muslim societies.

Do critics actually read the Koran?

Ramadan is upon us – a time of fasting, charity, prayer…and fighting off Islamophobia. Norweigian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 76 innocent people in a demented campaign to destroy Islam. Comedian Bill Maher recently called the Koran a “hate-filled holy book.” Evangelical atheist Sam Harris insists, “on almost every page the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers .” And Peter King continues his anti-Muslim campaign to become the 21st century Senator McCarthy.

So here’s the $1 million question: Do critics actually read the Koran?

Well, consider our American leaders as an example. On the surface, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama might seem vastly different in policy. But, these presidents have each read the Koran.

Jefferson, a Founding Father, valued his personal Koran. Bush, a conservative Republican, called the Koran “a very thoughtful gift.” Obama, a Democrat who is not a Muslim, studied the Koran, even as a child. Jefferson, Bush, Obama—why not follow their example?

Canadian Irshad Manji releases new book

News Agencies – June 10, 2011

 

Canadian author Irshad Manji writes in her new work, Allah, Liberty & Love, that she has moved from “anger to aspiration.” A rallying cry to readers to question orthodoxy without fear, the book concludes with the suggestion they get together to trade ideas. Manji even includes a recipe for chai tea to fuel such discussions. Anger was at the centre of The Trouble with Islam, her 2003 worldwide bestseller decrying her own religion’s entrenched prejudice against Jews and injustice toward women. The book earned her many fans but also hate mail, pinched-face cranks calling her the daughter of Satan, and even a smiling man who leaned in to shake her hand but instead spat in her face.

 

Manji now lives in a book-filled apartment — she calls it her Manji cave — in New York’s Greenwich Village, where she moved in 2008 to launch the Moral Courage Project at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. In the course, she encourages students to “challenge intellectual conformity and self-censorship.” A regular on Bill Maher’s late-night HBO show — the audience cheers when she comes on the set — and on the networks MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Al Arabyia and, occasionally, FOX, she’s seen all over America and around the world. Manji writes twice monthly for The Globe and Mail, and contributes to The New York Times op-ed page and The Wall Street Journal.

Despite Manji’s wide audience in the U.S., her work has not resonated in parts of Canada’s mainstream Muslim community. “I don’t know why, but there seems to be little mention of Irshad in Muslim circles in Canada,” says Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

 

FoxNews.com: Are Burqa-Inspired Fashions Glorifying Female Oppression or Encouraging Women to Dress More Conservatively?

The fashion industry has always thrived on pushing the envelope — but the latest accessory gracing the runways and magazine editorials is the increasingly controversial burqa, or a traditional Islamic headdress.

Some, apparently, are concerned that presenting religious garments as “exotic” novelty items strips these of their intended purpose, or diminishes what some view as the oppression inherent in being forced to don such clothing. Then again, still others express joy that conservative Muslim women can also be seen as fashionable or elegant (while avoiding being simultaneously sexualized by the fashion industry).

Fox’s article, lists several instances of the conservative Muslim garb finding its way among the pages of fashion magazines like French Vogue – noting, of course, that France recently banned burqas (which covers the wearer’s body from head to foot) and niqabs (which is a veil that covers the wearer’s face), making headlines from European runways, and even parading across the set of Bill Maher’s show, then asks, “But is turning these conservative Islamic garments into a fashion statement a novel idea or simply tasteless?”