Race / Religion / TV

Bill Maher’s Islamophobia is 9/11 Deja Vu

affleck maher and harris

September 11th wasn’t that long ago, so it amazes me that some people need a refresher (what happened to “never forget”?). Following the 9/11 attacks, there was extreme unrest, xenophobia, and a great amount of racism that emerged against both Middle Eastern and South Asian American citizens, tourists, and immigrants. Young men and women who had previously worn religious items of clothing, such as the turban or hijab, felt pressure to change the way they dressed, and some were bullied and faced overt racist harassment. Every anniversary of September 11, articles are released from Muslims who have faced discrimination, hate speech, harassment, and state-backed violence:

I was 13 when 9/11 happened. My teacher announced that a Muslim might have done it, and that there might be hatred against Muslims. I felt 9/11 when I came back to New York for Ramadan break. Altogether, there were six classmates who had to get on a plane to come back. At that time, we covered our faces. I couldn’t believe the looks. Everybody was scared, pointing. We got extra screenings, our bags were checked, we got pulled to the side. I’ve never had racism directed toward me before. – Adamah Bah

Now, it’s easy to write off the people who victimized Muslims in the US as merely intolerant, reacting from the trauma of the event, and irrationally thinking any brown person could be a terrorist. But every once in a while, I see these attitudes emerge again, the renewed anger, the paranoia — and it’s not from the people you would think.

Disregarding the obvious problem with three white American dudes talking about Islam, Bill Maher has been on my shit list for a while now, ever since I saw clips of Religulous. That unrelenting enlightened expression, which conveyed the absolute burden of his privilege. But he always seemed like low hanging fruit, so I never bothered to write about him because it would mean having to stand watching him. As expected, since his early work, very little has changed. Bill Maher is an icon for some liberals, and as I’ve written in the past, a poisonous aspect of liberal identity. He embodies these problems so absolutely that I could use his name as shorthand for any time I mean to say “smug, wrong, liberal dickwad.”

“It’s the only religion that acts like the Mafia. That will fucking kill if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”

Despite Maher’s self-expressed enlightenment, he was the one moderating the conversation between him, Sam Harris (another known Islamophobe), and Ben Affleck last week, and his rhetoric was dominated by such similar racism to the post 9/11 treatment towards Muslims in the United States.

When I first found the Bill Maher video, I couldn’t help but notice the comments were mixed. People seemed put off by Maher’s dogmatic approach to discussing this topic with Affleck, but they also readily put Affleck in the dumb actor category for simply pointing out what we should all know. Most people seemed to think Maher’s and Sam Harris’ arguments were well reasoned. Not long after, I found a an article about Radio Bro Extraordinaire, Adam Carolla, defending Maher’s point of view. Maher’s Islamophobia is cloaked beneath his blanket dislike for all religions. Pundits like him or Harris often claim to attack all religious thought in the name of “reason,” when in fact Islam gets special attention because of how marked it is as “other” and threatening, and synonymous in Americans’ minds with violence, war, and terrorism.

drones mural

Maher’s most outrageous quote has to do with the idea that Muslims want Americans dead. The irony, of course, is that this is being said while the US bombs and conducts numerous drone strikes with so much frequency and so little consideration for who ends up dead. In our effort to control the Middle East, we have left thousands of civilians dead or injured, and so afraid of our country that the children no longer think of the sky the same way. The quote above is the same fear mongering, racism, and paranoia (“they will fucking kill you”) attributing the threat of violence to a small minority, when in fact, statistically, our government is far more likely to victimize, blame, and kill Muslims.

These are the same thoughts we are so quick to condemn paranoid conservatives for saying. We do not hesitate to label these people as racist and ignorant. We do not hesitate to point out that they are grossly misrepresenting and overgeneralizing a group of people they don’t know the first fucking thing about. And yet, when these same sentiments are repeated as liberal ideology, as enlightened, anti-religious thought, and when these same sentiments are not aimed at our own soil, but at a country on the other side of the world, suddenly they become reasonable.

It’s important that we do not backslide into the same pattern. The Middle East may seem removed from us, but our country is incredibly involved.

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4 thoughts on “Bill Maher’s Islamophobia is 9/11 Deja Vu

  1. Hey there, like the blog but think you’re dead wrong on this issue. It’s off-putting that you’d casually label Maher and Harris as Islamophobic (the latter w/o evidence). Islam is a religion, a set of ideas, attitudes and behaviors, and it isn’t bigoted to argue against it (regardless of the veracity/strength of those arguments). In this video Harris makes clear that it’s ideas that he opposes, not people. Maher may have spoken crudely and overstated his case, but his arguments aren’t inherently hateful. It may be true that Maher and Harris give special attention to Islam (though they haven’t shied away from criticizing Christianity), but it’s disingenuous or myopic to insist that Islam doesn’t face a unique crisis in our current moment. Reflexively condemning Maher and Harris’s critique of Islam as racist or bigoted ends the conversation in the same way that the Israel Lobby/Anti-Defamation League shut out criticisms of Israel by evoking antisemitism.

    • Thing is: When you’re discussing Islam without anybody of that religion there, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re not having a balanced discussion. That alone, that he thinks it’s okay to have three white dudes talk about a religion that is mostly practiced by PoC speaks volumes.

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