Bill Maher recently did an interview with Salon Magazine, where he addressed his contentious debate on Islam and liberalism on last Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher. In the debate, Ben Affleck was visibly disgusted as the talk show host and author Sam Harris criticized the inaction of liberals to fight the conservative, and sometimes violent, views within the religion. Affleck called Maher and Harris' comments racist and over-generalizing, but as Maher explained to Salon, he is not a bigot.
Friday's segment started out with a statement that Bill Maher has made many times in the past: Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles, and that includes in the Middle East. Maher and Harris went on to imply that Islam was opposed to liberal ideals like the freedom to leave a religion or rights for women and homosexuals, and that true liberals needed to support "nominal" free-thinking Muslims.
As author Sam Harris pointed out, criticizing Islam regularly gets conflated with being racist against the peoples who practice the religion. At that point, Ben Affleck chimed in, accusing the author of denying the existence of Islamophobia, and finally saying the argument was "gross and racist."
After that point, the debate spiraled downward, with both sides frustrated and yelling.
At one point, Bill Maher said Islam was 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."
Affleck countered, accusing the host of over-generalization.
When asked about the anger that broke out on the show, Maher explained the situation to Salon.
"I think we all feel frustrated because I think we feel like the people who are arguing with us are not listening. We're liberals. We're not crazy tea-baggers, y'know, and so it's kind of hard to be making this case — based on facts, based on polling, I think based on what everybody really knows... I mean, do the people arguing with us, would they really open a lesbian art gallery in Ramallah? [Laughs] Or Karachi? Or Cairo? I don't know if they would back up what they're saying with actions."
Had Friday's debate really gotten into the polls and facts Maher keeps referring to, Affleck may have been proven right for accusing the host of over-generalization.
Harris and Maher repeatedly referred to a Pew Research poll showing that over 80 percent of Egyptian Muslims favored the death penalty for leaving the Islamic faith as a sign that Islam was opposed to liberal principles. Yet, in the same poll, only 5 percent of Turkish Muslims felt the death penalty was appropriate. Overall, the poll shows that support for severe punishments for social and religious crimes was at least partially related to country, rather than being a strictly religious matter.
The full debate from Real Time with Bill Maher can be found here.
[Image Credit: Angela George/Wikimedia Commons]