Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Bill Maher, A Thumbs Up

M.J. Rosenberg is angry and annoyed. On last Friday's "Real Time with Bill Maher," the host interviewed Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of the United States Congress, and the distinguished (really) leftist/progressive blogged

I can't wait for HBO to dump Bill Maher, which they would have done years ago if he directed his hate at African-Americans, gays, Jews, Latinos or pretty much any group other than Muslims.

Rosenberg observed Maher telling Ellison, who converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam at age 19, "I didn't even know you served time in prison" and "spewing one anti-Muslim canard after another."

Understandably, Rosenberg neglected to identify the repeated "anti-Muslim canards." The interview (video below) centered on Maher's contention that "there are other groups that pose a terrorist threat to the U.S.... I would say that the threat, potentially, from radicalized Muslims is a unique and greater threat."

Rosenberg, a supporter of Arab Palestinians, failed to say what part of Maher's reasoning he disagrees with. Certainly, the comedians' belief that "it takes only one" terrorist act from a radicalized Muslim to have a devastating affect on American society is a widespread, and probably majority, view in this nation. This contrasts, Maher asserts, with terrorism from the right, more common but more limited in scope. I think he is right- but that doesn't matter.

Maher may be right or he may be wrong about this and his view that the Koran is a hate-filled book taken too seriously by many Muslims. But that doesn't matter.

What does matter, however, is:

1) Maher's perspective is not only a popular one but legitimate- well within the bounds of reason, justified or not; and

2) Although obviously there is no constitutional, or otherwise legal, issue of free speech involved, a liberal/progressive should pause- and then pause some more- before urging the dismissal of an individual from his job, even in broadcasting, for expression of a belief he finds noxious.

We've been down this road before with Maher. Hosting "Politically Incorrect" on ABC, Maher responded to President Bush's characterization of the 9/11/01 terrorists as cowards by commenting "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." After the firestorm of criticism, the program lost sponsors and not long after was terminated.

Maher never denied or doubted the evil of the terrorists, only their cowardice. Nevertheless, his career suffered because he had the temerity to express views which offended powerful interests. His dedication to free expression and voicing unpopular views is one which Rosenberg, cool to the one democracy in the Middle East, presumably would welcome. But apparently not.

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