Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bill Maher Is Used To This. It Has Happened Before.

Here we go again. There is a drive to boot Bill Maher off the air, reminiscent of his expulsion from ABC after he maintained the terrorists of  9/11/01 who remained in the airplane when it hit the World Trade Center were not "cowardly" while “we have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly.” 

Now, thirteen years later, the knives (though not goaded this time by the mainstream) are out again, precipitated by Maher's remarks (video below) on HBO's Real Time about Islamic terrorists. Ironically, this goes to demonstrates one of his points- the importance of freedom of expression- made on the October 3 program.

Writing on Salon, Myriam Francois-Cerrah argues that after conclusion of an interview on CNN in which  Iranian-American scholar Reza Aslan criticized Maher, co-host Chris Cuomo maintained Aslan's "tone was angry..., which is just another term used to invalidate someone's position by attempting to root their arguments in emotion rather than rationality."  She should have stopped there.

Ad hominem attacks against Aslan are unnecessary to refute him thoroughly.  Also in Salon, Jeffrey Tayler,resorting to facts, took care of that. However, Francois-Cerrah is easily confused. She refers to her topic as the "recent opening of the Islamophobic floodgates during his 'Last Word' interview with Sam Harris and Ben Affleck," yet the segment was not a "last word" interview, nor even so characterized in the Real Clear Politics piece to which she links. It was, as you wish, part of the panel discussion or an interview with Harris in which Affleck participated.

Similarly, Francois-Cerrah commends Affleck for being "spot-on when he queried whether Maher had somehow determined the 'the codified doctrine of Islam.'”  But as the video on the Real Clear Politics site makes clear, Afflecks's challenge was aimed not at Maher, but at Sam Harris. 

Critiquing comments which drew upon religion and politics, Francois-Cerrah invokes race, claiming  “'liberal victimhood' ultimately serves — just like white victimhood serves to undermine anti-racist struggles — as a way of delegitimizing the very real and enduring struggle against institutional racism and individual prejudice experienced every day by Muslims." Perhaps, but Maher and Harris said nothing about race.

Affleck presented a valiant and vigorous defense of the Muslims Worldwide Are Identical to Everyone Else position. Nonetheless, Francois-Cerrah defended Aslan as ‎someone "who’s (sic) subaltern identity meant he required approval from the anchors in order for his arguments to be given credence, Affleck’s white privilege allowed him to express a similar sentiment to Aslan in far cruder and more assertive terms, yet without being dismissed."

"Subaltern," it should be noted for the 98% of us who have never heard the word, is defined here as "of lower status."   However, the reasons Affleck was not patronized are a) Bill Maher is not Chris Cuomo; and b) Affleck is is the same line of work, show business, as is Maher, which suggests a kind of professional courtesy.  The idea that any difference in treatment was due to race is preposterous, a figment of Francois-Cerrah's fixated mind, and belied by the reality that Aslan in appearance would not strike most people as especially non-white.

This fixation is indirectly reflected in Francois-Cerrah's argument about hate crimes directed against Muslims,  She cites "the sheer recklessness of claiming that Muslims share 'too much in common with ISIS' as contributing to the apparent rise in hate crimes directed at Muslims. (It's unclear whether she accuses Maher or Harris with this phrase, which neither did.) She linked to an article from The Guardian, which in turn links to an article in which Azi Paybarah notes (consistent with Francois-Cerrah's claim) that there have been 17 anti-Muslim crimes in New York City thus far this year compared to 11 in the same period last year.

Aside from the obvious difficulty in generalizing from one (albeit huge) city to the country as a whole, there are two factors which largely negate the significance as seen by Francois-Cerrah.  Only three of the 17  crimes occcurred prior to the war in Gaza and the emergence of ISIS as a major story. Further, "since that time," Paybarah writes, "there has been an average of 18 anti-Semitic cases a month."  Somehow that escaped the attention of Francois-Cerrah.

In the end, we ought to defend Bill Maher's set of liberal principles: freedom of speech, of practicing any religion without fear of violence, and of leaving a religion; and equality for women and minorities, including homosexuals.  It's a good list to which one more, with which Maher and Harris would agree, should be added: freedom from government establishment of religion or any religious belief.

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