Friday, December 05, 2014

Bill Maher: "We should own the First Amendment the way right-wingers own the Second"

An interview with Bill Maher on VF Daily:

VF Daily: To some people this wasn’t big news—you’ve said some of these things before. But it wasn’t maybe in such strong or stark terms. Did something change or something spark this for you that made you speak out more strongly?

Maher: No. I’ve been saying the same thing for years and years. What changed was Ben Affleck...when an A-list movie star gets involved in the debate, everyone cares. If it had been Kim Kardashian it would have been even bigger.


If you said everything you said but said it as, “I’m critiquing radical Islam,” I don’t think it would’ve sparked so much controversy. It seemed to be the implication that you’re applying your critique to the entire religion. In your mind is there moderate Islam?

Well, it depends on what you define as moderate. They would say there is moderate Islam, and I’m sure there are moderates in Islam. But again, if you speak out against the oppression, there is every chance that the people who are not so moderate will take it out on you...The irony of the Berkeley situation is I thought campuses were places where free speech was championed. And one of my problems with Islam is that they are not that big on free speech, which so offended the Muslims at Berkeley they wanted to ban my speech.

There’s lots of polling and there’s lots of research on this subject that connects, lets call them the rank-and-file, with the extremely illiberal ideas of Islam. Like, if you leave the religion, it is the appropriate response to have death visited upon you. That’s not an outlier in the religion. A Pew poll of Egypt done a few years ago said, I think, 90 percent of Egyptians felt that if you leave the religion, that’s the appropriate response.


You know, one of the arguments I hear a lot from people on the other side of this debate is: “Bill, don’t you know that Islam was more tolerant in the 9th century or the 14th century?” We’re living in the 21st century and I am the first one to admit that, yes, Christianity was the bad religion in the 14th century. That’s when the inquisition was going on. And in the 16th century, that’s when the Protestants and the Catholics were slaughtering each other all over Europe, just the way the Shiites and the Sunnis are now.

But as many people have said before, Islam is the religion now that needs a reformation and that needs an enlightenment. I don’t know if you saw the open letter to Ben Affleck that that Pakistani woman wrote?

Yes I did. What were you gonna say about it?

She said, “Thanks for for standing up for my peeps. But all you did was close off a conversation that we need to have.” That’s one reason I’m glad this happened. We need to have this conversation. And she said, “I want to join the 21st century, too. Why can’t you be on my side in my quest to do that?” And she ended the letter by saying, "You know, I’d love to have a drink with you sometime to discuss this, but (a) I’m not allowed to drink and (b) I’m not allowed to leave the house unless I’m accompanied by a male guardian."


The religious scholar Karen Armstrong did an interview with Salon and talked about what you and Sam Harris said. And she said that your comments fill her with despair because this is “the sort of talk that led to the concentrations camps in Europe. The sorts of things that people were saying about Jews in the 30s and 40s.” That’s gotta sting, especially coming from her.

It doesn’t sting because it’s beyond stupid. Jews weren’t oppressing anybody. There weren’t 5,000 militant Jewish groups. They didn’t do a study of treatment of women around the world and find that the Jews were at the bottom of it. There weren’t 10 Jewish countries in the world that were putting gay people to death just for being gay. It’s idiotic.

What do you want to say to those kids protesting you at Berkeley?

My message is: be a liberal. Find out what liberalism means and join up. Liberalism certainly should not mean squelching free speech. And by the way, that petition was online, so anybody could sign it. You didn’t have to go to Berkeley to sign it, you could sign it more than one time...So it was kind of a bullshit thing to begin with. Even people who don’t agree with everything I say about Islam certainly were on the side of letting me speak. The comments I read were just almost embarrassed for the kids.

And I would just say to all liberals: we should own the First Amendment the way the right-wingers own the Second.

Thanks to Salon.

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