When Bill Maher recently made remarks, some of them on his HBO show "Real Time," that radical Islam might just be responsible for the anti-democratic principles prevalent in the Arab (and, presumably, Persian) world, he got a lot of flack.
Most of it came from what can loosely be considered the left or more specifically, advocates of identity politics. Rula Jebreal referred to "TV info-tainers such as Bill Maher who insist that the problem lives within Islam itself." Patrick L. Smith condemned "ignorant vulgarians such as Bill Maher pretending to careful deliberation, only to gush the primitive prejudices that pass for knowingness in the cultural mainstream." In a more thoughtful analysis, Digby argued the comedian "seems to think the Muslim religion is at fault for acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam."
Completely irrationally, though, was the claim from Karen Armstrong that Maher is guilty of "the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe." (The latter critique is breathtaking in its ignorance.) Students at Cal-Berkeley circulated a petition urging their university to rescind the invitation it extended to Maher to be a commencement speaker. (The university boldly declined and Maher did speak.)
But that didn't mean that the right would defend Maher, a usually-left, atheistic libertine. David Brooks, for instance, slammed "the jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher at the kids' table."
One of the relatively few defenders of the comedian was a friend, filmmaker Michael Moore, who put Islamic extremism and Christian right terrorism in context as he explained
W]hen he bravely ridicules and attacks Christian assassins of abortion doctors who cite the Bible as justification for their evil acts, we heartily applaud him. But when he mercilessly stomps on Islamic assassins who cite the Koran, we grow uneasy, Sure, I can make a daily list of all the horrible things so-called Christians still do in this country. Rarely, though, do their actions involve decapitation. But if you’re a Dutch filmmaker who makes a movie about violence against women in some Islamic countries, or if you’re a Danish cartoonist who draws an image making fun of the Prophet — well, you are then either shot to death or you are now in hiding.
Moore thus highlighted the instinct to defend violence as long as it's committed by the good guys rather than the bad guys. And Moore thus recognized what Maher understands, as the latter demonstrated (video below) on Friday when he maintained
'Hurt Locker' made 17 million because it was a little ambiguous and thoughtful. American Sniper'] is just 'American hero! He's a psychopath patriot, and we love him'....
Eisenhower once said I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can. I just don't see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower. If you're a Christian, 'I hate the damn savages' doesn't seem like a Christian thing to say.
It's a little shaky for anyone to label as a "psychopath" someone he or she has not met. Still, Maher noted the real American sniper, Chris Kyle, asserted in his autobiography
- (about the Iraqis) "I hate the damn savages and I've been fighting and I always will."
- "I love killing bad guys."
- "Even with the pain, I loved what I was doing."
- "Maybe war isn't really fun, but I certainly was enjoying it."
At first impression, there is a disconnect between the conservative notion of holding Islamic fanaticism responsible for worldwide terrorism and a liberal's refusal to hail a gleeful killer as a hero.
But there need not be. Arguing (unfortunately) in favor of atheism recently, Maher emphasized the value of making decisions based on science and facts. It's a nasty habit he refuses to break.