Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In.

I don't wish to belabor the point. Bill Maher does not wish to belabor the point. But some on our team do.

Under the  headline "Anatomy of a 2014 Villain:: Bill Maher" Salon assistant editor Joanna Rothkopf decries the "yelling match" Maher and Sam Harris allegedly had with Ben Affleck and Nicholas Kristoff over Islam and offers the advice "It might be too much to wish that he’d learn from his mistakes. But maybe this time around he’ll pick the right New Year’s resolution: “Be less of a bigot.”

Rothkopf argues Maher "blurs the lines between comedy and outright prejudice. He speaks often about freedom of speech, to the point where he even defended Donald Sterling’s right to privacy after his racist remarks were publicized."   She writes "that's why he's featured here," though Maher's remarks about Islam- including those so exorcising Rothkopf- have been far more commentary than comedy.

Evidently, among Maher's offenses is tweeting "Isis- 'one of thousands of Islamic militant groups' (NYTimes) beheads another. But by all means lets keep pretending all religions are alike."  Offering no counter to Maher's assertion, Rothkopf merely quotes Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, who claims "Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism, is going to be violent.”

That might come as a surprise to the roughly 80% of Pakistani Muslims who would support stoning for adultery or the approximately two-thirds the death penalty for individuals who convert from Islam.  While varying among nations, Muslims in the most volatile region(s) of the world support sanctions for deviating from the faith in numbers which would be unimaginable for adherents of the other two major western religions, Christianity or Judaism, anywhere.

Reality can be confronted (and effective policy generated) only when acknowledged. In an article in the quarterly of the hawkish Middle Eastern Forum, Timothy Furnish concedes

Islamic civilization is not a historical anomaly in its sanction of decapitation. The Roman Empire beheaded citizens (such as the Christian Saint Paul) while they crucified non-citizens (such as Jesus Christ). French revolutionaries employed the guillotine to decapitate opponents. 

Still, he points out

Nevertheless, Islam is the only major world religion today that is cited by both state and non-state actors to legitimize beheadings. And two major aspects of decapitation in an Islamic context should be noted: first, the practice has both Qur'anic and historical sanction. It is not the product of a fabricated tradition. Second, in contradiction to the assertions of apologists, both Muslim and non-Muslim, these beheadings are not simply a brutal method of drawing attention to the Islamist political agenda and weakening opponents' will to fight. Zarqawi and other Islamists who practice decapitation believe that God has ordained them to obliterate their enemies in this manner. Islam is, for this determined minority of Muslims, anything but a "religion of peace."

"Maher's panel," Joanna Rothkopf maintains, "featured Sam Harris, Nicholas Kristof and Michael Steele, (and) devolved into a yelling match. " She really ought to get out more.   As the video below indicates, the argument was nothing like a "yelling match" but really quite restrained, given that the intertwined topics were politics and religion, subjects traditionally best avoided by people wishing to avoid discord. (Not coincidentally, they are my favorite topics.)

A writer based in Brooklyn, Rothkopf on her "about.me" page explains "my left eye is bigger than my right" and describes herself as a "sometimes performer." It is no excuse.

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