Comic Bill Maher displayed a shocking level of ignorance on his show “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Oct. 3 when he and a panel of guests discussed the absence of liberal principles in the so-called Muslim world. Even by the normally glib Maher’s standards, this segment was particularly cringeworthy. Maher and author Sam Harris discussed how the Muslim world lacks “liberal principles” such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality for women and LGBTQ-plus equality. In doing so, Maher and Harris displayed a laughably misguided perception of what constitutes the Muslim world.
The problems the group referred to are mainly prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, which, according to the Pew Research Center, comprise roughly 20 percent of the global Muslim population. It is of the utmost importance not to conflate a geopolitical problem with a religious one, which is exactly what Maher and Harris did.
Muslim-majority countries across the world have managed to avoid the sociopolitical problems seen in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan—Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia are prime examples.
It is also worth noting that the countries with extremist governments have a history of collaboration with the United States. Saudi Arabia––who we have supported and relied on for oil for decades––is one of our closest allies in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, the Taliban—responsible for so many of the egregious institutions Maher and Harris cite—was trained and armed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s to combat the Soviet Union invasion.
Maher and Harris continued to call on moderate Muslims to condemn extremism and for the U.S. to help equip moderates to take power. This is offensive in its own right. Asking Muslim moderates to apologize for the actions of extremists aligns the two groups in a completely nonsensical manner. Christians do not feel the need to apologize for the words of the Westboro Baptist Church; that organization’s doctrine is so far divorced from that of mainstream Christianity. Furthermore, how can moderate Muslims be expected to work with Americans when our rhetoric is so disgustingly ignorant?
The talking points Maher and Harris brought up were sadly not controversial. In fact, audience members responded with applause. Americans have let post-Sept. 11 anxieties of terrorism blind them to the reality that Islam is a fundamentally peaceful belief system inasmuch as Christianity, Judaism or any other mainstream religion.
When we allow our basic understanding of Islam to be misconstrued, innocent people suffer. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, hate crimes against Muslims grew by an unnerving 1,600 percent following Sept. 11. In order to make the U.S. and the world a safer place to live, we must start with a more tolerant and informed view of Islam.υ