Muslim women from Albania to Morocco to Indonesia to Palestine to Tunisia to Pakistan to Egypt to Jordan choose whether or not they want to wear hijab. Well over 50% of college students in Iran are female (women make up 70% of Azad University’s Applied Physics Department graduates) and women hold high level jobs in all kinds of professions; they are business owners, university professors, filmmakers, artists, writers, and Cabinet ministers.
Unfortunately, Maher’s image of Islam seems to stop short at the Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sayyid Qutb-inspired fundamentalism of Al Qaeda, and the Taliban’s Afghanistan. It’s apparently irrelevant to him that many Muslim countries, from Azerbaijan to Bangladesh to Niger to Lebanon to Gambia to Turkey, are secular presidential republics and parliamentary democracies or that women in Muslim Kyrgyzstan were granted voting rights two years before women in the United States. Obviously, no mention need be made about the eighteen female MPs elected to the Turkish Parliament in 1935, at a time when women in a significant number of other European countries had no voting rights whatsoever, or that women in Switzerland (a country so enlightened it banned minarets) couldn’t vote until 1971, or that Benazir Bhutto was twice elected Prime Minister in the Islamic state of Pakistan while the United States has never had a female president or vice president.
Maher rightly insists that separation of church (or mosque) and state is integral for a free and democratic society to flourish, yet seems to promote the idea of legally banning Islamic dress in Western societies, as is the case in France and, soon, Belgium. Oh, the irony.
But Maher still wasn’t finished. “I’ve got to tell you,” he said. “Civilized people don’t threaten each other…Threatening, that’s some old-school desert shit.”
By “civilized,” Maher clearly meant “American” or, at least, “Western” people, as opposed to the backwards, savagery of the Islamic world. One can only assume he was referring our civilized overthrow, both overt and covert, of dozens of sovereign nations by the United States in the past century. Maybe Maher meant our civilized practice of “enhanced interrogation,” waterboarding, and torture. Or our civilized indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, extrajudicial assassination, black sites and secret prisons, and inhumane SAMS detention practices.
If Maher is so worried about threats, perhaps he should have mentioned the harassment US Congressman Bart Stupak has received lately by anti-choice nutjobs disappointed in his support for the new health care bill (which, incidentally, offers absolutely no federal funding for abortions). “In the past few weeks,” Stupak recently wrote in Newsweek, “I’ve received so many death threats that I was advised to get a security escort around Washington. My wife, Laurie, has had to unplug our home phone to avoid drunken messages from people screaming, swearing, and generally acting profane…One day I got 1,500 faxes, all hate mail.” Maher could have talked about the cancellation of a Texas college production of the Terrence McNally play “Corpus Christi” (which features a homosexual Jesus character) after the school was inundated with “threatening calls and e-mail messages.” Glenn Greenwald reminds us that this is “same play that was scheduled and then canceled (and then re-scheduled) by the Manhattan Theater Club back in 1998 as a result of “anonymous telephone threats to burn down the theater, kill the staff, and ‘exterminate’ McNally.”
He also could have discussed the medieval Hebrew curses hurled by Rabbi Mordechai Aderet at a household of Iranian Jews in Great Neck, Long Island, the invective spewed by those offended by Danish artists Surrend who recently posted maps of the Levant all over Berlin with the name “Ramallah” replacing “Israel” and a title reading “The Final Solution” at the top, the desecration of the graves of Muslim WWII soldiers in a French cemetary, or the death threats, hate mail, and defacing of the home of outspoken Israel-critic Rabbi Michael Lerner by right-wing Zionists who disagree with his vocal anti-occupation stance. Maybe Maher should warn his viewers of the dangers of Israeli Rabbis like Yitzhak Shapira and Yossi Elitzur of Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar near Nablus, who last year published a 230-page guide to Biblical laws governing the killing of non-Jews. Maher could point out that the yeshiva itself is funded by tax-deductible donations from America. He could also throw in some information about the Israeli Jewish Rabbinate which, during the 2008-9 Gaza massacre, indoctrinated young Israeli troops with pamphlets claiming that they were holy warriors fighting to expel the “murderers” (all Palestinians) who are “interfering with our conquest of this holy land.” The rabbis preached that showing mercy was “terribly immoral.”
One might think Maher would mention the ecstatic Jews in New York City, who danced in the street in support of the Israeli military’s slaughter of over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza. Or the signs posted around the wealthy Riverdale section of the The Bronx which advertise “Camp Jabotinsky,” a self-described “Jewish Survival Camp” in Upstate New York where “Jewish youth learn how to shoot,” in addition to learning “karate, legal and proper weapons training, street fighting and how to be a proud Jew who can defend the Jewish people,” boasting that “the Nazi Scum better watch out.” It’s not a joke.
Neither is the fact that Maher’s beloved “only democracy in the Middle East” isn’t actually a democracy at all and that a recent Tel Aviv poll revealed that the democracy-loving Jewish Israelis (remember, the ones serving as a civilized vanguard against the barbarous Muslims of the Orient?) don’t care much for Maher’s much-touted Western values. The survey found that over 57% of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, the majority felt that “there is too much freedom of expression” in Israel, 43% said “the media should not report information confirmed by Palestinian sources that could reflect poorly on the Israeli army,” 58% “opposed harsh criticism of the country,” 65% thought “the Israeli media should be barred from publishing news that defense officials think could endanger state security, even if the news was reported abroad,” and 82% said they “back stiff penalties for people who leak illegally obtained information exposing immoral conduct by the defense establishment.”
The poll also found that “most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment.” Additiontally, of those polled who said they were right-wing, 76% said “human rights groups should not have the right to freely publicize immoral conduct on Israel’s part.” How “civilized.”
It’s true that the “civilized” people Maher praises sometimes don’t issue threats, as he claimed Muslims do. More often, they just drop bombs and shot bullets at the viciously brutal Muslims. For example, it may be difficult for Maher to pick out the most civilized massacre committed by US troops in Iraq when given a choice of so many, from the 1991 Amiriyah shelter massacre to the more recent massacres in Haditha (24 killed, ages 1 to 76 years old), Fallujah (over 600 killed), Ishaqi (11 killed, ages 6 months to 75 years old), and Nisour Square (17 dead), not to mention the rape/murder of a 14-year-old girl and the murders of her family in Mahmudiyah by US Army soldiers and the bombing and shooting of a wedding party in Mukaradeeb that killed 42 civilians. And that’s not all.
Maybe Maher was speaking of the “civilized” – dare someone say “righteous? – invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, where the enlightened US troops just can’t seem to stop murdering hundreds of civilians and then trying to cover it up.
Maybe the “civilized” thing to do is to murder hundreds of Muslims via remote-controlled Predator drones. Perhaps though, like US General Tommy Franks, Bill Maher doesn’t “do body counts.” Or maybe, like George H.W. Bush, Maher should just declare, “I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are!” Moral superiority in the face of genocide has been a staple for Western civilization for a while.