Bill Maher makes no secret of his contempt for religion. Via his comedy routines, his political commentary, his film Religulous, and his duties as host of Politically Incorrect and now HBO’s Real Time, Maher has long warned of the dangers and exploitation of organized religion and how incompatible dogma and doctrine are with the scientific enlightenment of modern society.
Inadvertently and less eloquently paraphrasing Voltaire, who once wrote that “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities,” Maher has said that the belief in religion, which he calls “a neurological disorder,” in our society “stops people from thinking” and “justifies crazies.” In a 2008 interview with Larry King, Maher stated that religion is “the ultimate hustle.”
Maher’s critique (or outright bashing) of religious doctrine, dogma, and zealotry is admirable – or would be, if only he weren’t such an arrogant hypocrite. While Maher himself claims to be “an equal opportunity offender” who thinks that “all religion is stupid and dangerous,” he clearly believes that some faiths are more equal than others. Even though his condemnation of Christianity, notably Catholicism, has won him the animus of bible-thumping bigots like Catholic League head William Donahue and he has excoriated the intolerance of Pat Robertson and reveled in the death of Jerry Falwell, Maher has consistently saved his most virulent attacks for Islam and its followers.
While, in Maher’s estimation, Jews are somewhat quaint and silly and Christian dogma relies on outrageously absurd fairy tales, Muslims – as a rule – are all brainwashed and violent. Whereas other religions are sometimes co-opted by a minority of extremist elements that represent misguided fundamentalism, Islam, according to Maher, is inherently radical and terroristic. For example, during a February 2007 broadcast of Real Time, Maher stated,
“[Religions] are not all alike! [Islam] was extremist to begin with. Mohammad was a warrior. The big lie is that all religions are basically alike. They all preach the same thing. Well, of course the Bible is full of a lot of violence. I mean, God in the Old Testament is a psychopath – he just kills, kills, kills, for no reason, good reasons, bad reasons, he’s jealous, he just wants to kill…But he doesn’t seem to aim it so much at outsiders. He wipes out the Jews except for Noah because they were bad to him or whatever. But he doesn’t keep saying…it seems to me that in the Qur’an, God keeps saying, if you’re not one of us, you’re an infidel, and burning would be too good for you.”
With this unusual statement, Maher clearly demonstrates a striking level of ignorance about both the Qur’an and Judeo-Christian scripture, particularly the Old Testament, especially for someone who talks about religion all the time and then made a movie about it. The Old Testament manifestly overflows with divinely-mandated genocide and the deliberate ethnic cleansing of non-believers in the so-called Holy Land. Take the mythology of Exodus, which sees Yahweh deliver his people from Egypt and promise them a land “flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3.7-8) What is commonly left out of this uplifting tale of deliverance, freedom, and chosen-ness is the rest of Verse 8, which states plainly that this promised land was already “the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” As such, due to the inconvenient presence of a large and diverse indigenous population of non-Hebrew peoples, Yahweh declared to Moses and his followers:
“When my angel goes in front of you, and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods, or worship them, or follow their practices, but you shall utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces.” (Exodus 23.23-24)
Unfortunately, for the native inhabitants of historic Palestine (or their modern counterparts, for that matter), things didn’t get any better. When the kingdom of Heshbon was conquered, the Bible states, the Israelites “completely destroyed every inhabited city, and we killed all men, women and children; we left no survivor; we left no one alive. Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured.” (Deuteronomy 2:31-35) The kingdom of Bashan fared no better, as Moses’ army devastated 60 walled towns, “totally destroying every inhabited city, and we killed all men, women and children. But all the cattle, all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.” (Deuteronomy 3:3-7) As usual, Yahweh’s instructions were clear:
“When Yahweh your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites…and when Yahweh your God gives them over to you…you must utterly destroy them…Show them no mercy…For you are a people holy to Yahweh your God; Yahweh your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”(Deuteronomy 7.1-11)
Moses certainly took God’s orders to heart, as he later told his followers:
“But as for the towns of these peoples that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as Yahweh your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against Yahweh, your God.” (Deuteronomy 20.16-18)
Furthermore, the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, including “the women and the infants” were slaughtered by a 12,000-strong army of marauding Hebrews (Judges 21:10) and, as revenge for waylaying the Israelites as they returned from Egypt, Yahweh ordered his people to “go and strike the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them, but kill men and women, children, infants and suckling, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” (1 Samuel 15:2-3) Needless to say, there are many more examples of Hebrew aggression throughout the Bible (read about the exploits of Joshua, Aaron, David, Elijah, and Samson, for example), all of them commanded by the Lord Almighty, and all of them against non-Jews. So much for Maher’s contention that the Hebrew god “doesn’t seem to aim [his murderous wrath] so much at outsiders.”
(Incidentally, Maher also appears to be ignorant of certain Muslim rules of engagement, found within the Qur’an, Hadith, and Sunnah, that expressly prohibit the killing of women, children, and the elderly, the cutting or burning of trees or orchards, the slaughter of livestock except for food, and the pillaging, plundering, or destruction of residential areas. Clearly, Yahweh’s own battle conventions were far less strict and more closely resemble the tactics of the Israeli military.)
Perhaps Maher’s decision to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the biblical Hebrews upon the indigenous people of the Levant, in favor of demonizing Islam and its adherents, should not be surprising considering his outspoken support for Zionism and the fact that he is a self-avowed “big supporter of Israel,” who believes not only that “Israel is a democracy in a part of the world that has none” but also that American blood and treasure should be spent in order to ensure the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
Almost a decade ago, in the midst of the Second Intifada in late 2001, Maher hosted a panel to discuss Israel and Palestine on his round table talk-show Politically Incorrect. Rather than act as moderator, though, Maher wholly represented the Zionist perspective, complete with revisionist history and the constant invocation of Zionist mythology. After attempting to contextualize his first question by claiming that 4.5 million Jewish Israelis, armed with superior weaponry and a nuclear arsenal, are surrounded by a sea of 280 million hostile, bloodthirsty Arabs, Maher asked, “What if for one hour…the Arabs had the ability to annihilate the Jewish state? Do you think things would be different? Do you think they would show the restraint that Israel has for over 50 years?” One can only wonder what kind of “restraint” Maher was referring to considering Israel’s history of asymmetric aggression, apartheid-style oppression, disdain for international law and human rights, and settler-garrison ethnonationalist policy.
The rest of the show consisted mostly of Maher talking over his guests – the Arab ones anyway – and claiming that there really is no Israeli occupation of Palestine, that Palestinian rejectionism is to blame for statelessness, that Zionism is not a racist ideology, that Palestinians are better off under Israeli authority than under Arab rule, and that the forcible displacement and systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by Zionist colonialism and military expansion shouldn’t be a big deal considering that, in his view, there are plenty of other places for the indigenous people to resettle. “Here is Israel, this little bit of land,” Maher said, pointing to a map of the region. He continued,
“Here’s Syria. Here’s Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Sudan, Libya. Look at all this. Now, the Arabs purport to be brothers, that’s what we always hear. It’s one Arab nation divided into falsely drawn countries by the colonial powers. If this whole bit of land are all brothers, how come at the time of the partition when they refused to share the land with Israel, and there was only 600,000 Palestinian refugees, how come they couldn’t find any home in this whole area?”
Later, when confronted by one of the panelists, a Palestinian student at Georgetown University whose family was forced out of its home and into a refugee camp in 1948, who asks how such displacement and aggression can be justified by Israeli apologists, Maher stepped in to explain, “Because your people were offered half the land, and you said no and chose to try to annihilate them, instead.”
Aside from Maher’s awkward understanding of international law, the rights of refugees, and complete disregard for the illegality and immorality of both the annexation of land by conquest and the forcible transfer or deportation of populations, he demonstrates a distinct lack of historical knowledge and perspective required to speak on this matter with authority. He seems to either forget or simply not care that Israel was established in 1948 on land that was already inhabited by an indigenous population. In 1947, despite representing no more than 30% of the total population of Palestine – a percentage reached only after decades of illegal mass immigration to the region – Jews were to be given 56% of the land for their own state as part of the UN Partition Plan, which was accepted only as a non-binding recommendation with a vote of 33 to 13 (and 10 abstentions) after much international bullying by both the US and Russia. As part of the Plan, the “Jewish” state was to be granted control of much of the best land, notably the fertile coastal plain and the hilly northeastern Galilee and Jerusalem was to be an internationally-administered city populated by an equal number of Jews and Palestinians.
While Maher is correct that the Jewish leadership at the time accepted the UN proposal (albeit reluctantly), the Zionist intention was never to live side-by-side an independent Palestinian state. As Israeli historian Benny Morris wrote, “large sections of Israeli society…were opposed to or extremely unhappy with partition and from early on viewed the [brewing 1948] war as an ideal opportunity to expand the new state’s borders beyond the UN-earmarked partition boundaries and at the expense of the Palestinians.” (Tikkun, March/April 1998.)
Zionist pioneers and Israel’s founding fathers were actually quite explicit in their goals. In 1937, before the horrors of Kristallnacht, Jewish pogroms and ghettos, and The Final Solution of Nazi-occupied Europe, Ben Gurion stated, “the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them,” and elaborated elsewhere that, “if we have to use force to guarantee our own right to settle in those places…then we have force at our disposal.”
The next year, Ben-Gurion, who would soon become Israel’s first Prime Minister, stated that “after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine… The state will only be a stage in the realization of Zionism and its task is to prepare the ground for our expansion into the whole of Palestine.”
A decade later, Ben-Gurion told Yoseph Weitz, director of the Land and Afforestation Department of the Jewish National Fund and head of the official Transfer Committee of 1948, “The war will give us land. The concept of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts, only, in war they lose their whole meaning.” This is the same Yosef Weitz who, in 1940, wrote in his diary, “It should be clear to us that there is no room in Palestine for these two peoples. No ‘development’ will bring us to our goal of independent nationhood in this small country. Without the Arabs, the land will become wide and spacious for us; with the Arabs, the land will remain sparse and cramped.”
In 1948, after Jewish authorities had agreed to the UN Partition Plan (which was never internationally accepted or legally implemented) and Israel had declared “independence” with total disregard for international law and the self-determination of Palestine’s native population, leader of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun and later Israel’s sixth Prime Minister, Menachem Begin chimed in, declaring, “The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel] will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And forever.”
Maher expunges from his own truncated history lesson the fact that Israel achieved “legitimacy” with the backing of Western world powers and gained “independence” as a colonial state through violent transfer of the native inhabitants, systematic ethnic cleansing, and the massacres and intimidation of paramilitary death squads. Immediately after declaring its creation, Israeli militias fought a war of expansion and annexed an additional 22% of Arab land as its own.
Maher also declines to mention, probably due to his historical ignorance, that immediately following Israel’s unilateral declaration of independence in May 1948, the United Nations reassessed its approach to the partition of Palestine and appointed a mediator, Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte, to come up with new proposal while taking into account “the aspirations of the Jews, the political difficulties and differences of opinion of the Arab leaders, the strategic interests of Great Britain, the financial commitment of the United States and the Soviet Union, the outcome of the war, and finally the authority and prestige of the United Nations.” While Bernadotte’s second proposal was produced in consultation with British and American emissaries, then-President Harry Truman undermined its progress in the UN due to pre-election Zionist influence in the United States. On September 17, 1948, the day after the second proposal was presented to the UN, Bernadotte was assassinated in West Jerusalem by members of the Zionist terrorist organization Lehi (also known as The Stern Gang).
For the next 17 years, Palestinians in Israel were subject to martial law. In 1967, Israel launched a unilateral, unprovoked, preemptive strike on its Arab neighbors and militarily conquered the remaining 22% of Palestine. It has brutally occupied the entirety of historic Palestine ever since.
Later in the program, Maher stated his support for continued Israeli occupation and Jewish colonization of the West Bank due to his incorrect impression that area conquered in warfare becomes property of the victor. When asked about what Israel’s responsibilities actually are under international law, Maher quickly changed the subject and blamed the Palestinians for their own victimization.
Before signing off for the evening, Maher also made sure to claim that the Palestinian use of suicide bombing had more to do with religious dogma than desperate resistance to illegal Israeli occupation maintained by American money, weapons, and equipment. “There is a big difference in the religions [Judaism and Islam], come on, between this life and the other life,” he declared. “Muslims are a little more like the Catholics, ‘It’s gonna happen after you die.’ The Jews are more like, ‘Let’s make the deal now.'”
Little has changed for Maher over the years. Anti-Muslim sentiment is a staple on Maher’s HBO show Real Time, as is easily evinced by looking at a list of his guests, which includes notables such as Ann Coulter, David Frum, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Jonah Goldberg, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Even though Maher’s Real Time panels include “liberal” and “progressive” guests to off-set the right-wing commentators, anti-Muslim rhetoric is rarely challenged, and is more often reinforced, especially when Maher’s guests include such notables as the Lebanese-born neoconservative Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz crony and Council of Foreign Relations board member Fouad Ajami, literary blowhard and ridiculous fatwa-victim Salman Rushdie, “Muslim refusenik” and author of “The Trouble with Islam Today” Irshad Manji, and Muslim-turned-atheist and fellow at the war-mongering, imperialist think tank the American Enterprise Institute Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
In early 2007, when Maher hosted Hirsi Ali, whom he introduced as his “hero,” he asked her the extremely leading question, “Is Islam a religion of peace? You are one of the brave people who say it’s not really a religion of peace.” Hirsi Ali eagerly responded, “It’s not a religion of peace. Immediately after 9/11, they should have said, ‘it’s not a religion of peace, we’re up against Islam.'”
Strangely enough, less than three months later, Maher was seen advocating the words of his “new hero,” Congressman Ron Paul, who had impressed Maher during the recent Republican presidential debates. Maher praised Paul, saying, that he “spoke real truth about the war on terror, about 9/11, about Iraq. He said, ‘y’know what? They hate us because we’re over there. They don’t hate because of our freedom or any of those stupid slogans the Bush people put out.” Regarding Paul’s analysis of 9/11, Maher continued, during a satellite interview with Senator Chris Dodd,
“He [Ron Paul] wasn’t saying ‘We were asking for it.’ He was saying was ‘Maybe we should listen to our enemies. And maybe the reason they’re mad at us is because we have been meddling in the Middle East. We were in Saudi Arabia, that’s what Bin Laden was mad at us for. Now we’re in Iraq, and we’re screwing up that country. Maybe if we listen to them instead of just saying ‘We’re always the good people,’ we would actually make ourselves safer.”
Later in the same show, Maher repeated his agreement with the assessment that “They hate us ’cause we’re over there, we’re meddling in their affairs.”
Later that same year, however, Maher seemed to step back from this view during a conversation with the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, Michael Scheuer, who suggested,
“America is fighting a war that doesn’t exist. We’re fighting because our leaders tell us that the Muslims hate freedom and hate liberty and hate women in the workplace, and that’s got nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with what we do in the Islamic world, what our policies are, and what our impact is there…”
Whereas Maher replied by saying, “I believe what you say and I think it’s more about our policy than our way of life,” he continued,
“but, would you grant me this, as long as there is an Israel in the world, and I’m a big supporter of Israel, as long as America backs it, the kind of Muslims that take their religion that seriously that they would strap on a suicide belt are always gonna be out for us and always gonna be trying to kill us?”
When Scheuer stated that he didn’t think Israel was “worth an American life or an American dollar,” Maher was flummoxed and almost speechless at the prospect. Unable to fathom how anyone could not support Israel, he just barely managed to respond by repeating Scheuer’s proposal in the form of a question, “You don’t think the existence of Israel in the world is worth an American life or an American dollar?”
“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.
“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”
Nevertheless, Maher has long advocated the perspective that Judeo-Christian culture is superior to Islamic and Arabic culture and that Israel is a necessary “rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.” As such, any violations of human rights, war crimes, or crimes against humanity committed by “Western” countries against Muslims are not only justified, but also encouraged.
In 2003, during his comedy special “Victory Begins at Home,” Maher unabashedly supported the treatment that Middle Eastern abductees were suffering at the hands of the US government in the gulag of Guantanamo Bay. “I don’t feel bad for those 300 killers we’ve got down in Guantanamo Bay, always crabbing about how we don’t respect their religious practices,” Maher declared, as he strutted around the stage. “Y’know what? You lost, eat what we eat! Here’s a cheese-filled snausage, enjoy!”
Maher seemed not to care that the overwhelming majority of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay were not, in fact, “killers,” had absolutely no connection to the Taliban, let alone al Qaeda, all were being held as combatants in the Bush-manufactured “war on terror,” and some were subject to, not only torture, but murder at the hands of their American captors.
In case Maher’s central thesis was lost on his audience, he stated plainly, “You have to understand, you have to embrace the values of Western civilization. They’re not just different, they are better.”
More recently, in the wake of the much-hyped controversy over an episode of Comedy Central’s cartoon South Park which depicted the prophet Mohammad in a bear costume (sort of) and resulted in the show’s creators receiving veiled death threats posted on the internet by a group called Revolution Muslim, Maher felt the need to restate his case. As part of the “New Rules” segment that closed his April 30th show, Maher stated that the South Park controversy “served, or should serve, as a reminder to all of us that our culture isn’t just different than one that makes death threats to cartoonists, it’s better.”
What followed was a vitriolic and humorless tirade against all Muslims, not just so-called “extremists,” wherein Maher suggested that as bad as some elements of Western culture may be, nothing compares to the myopia and violence inherent in Islam. When he was finished, Zionist Congressman Anthony Weiner, who was a Real Time guest that evening, leaned over to Maher with a broad grin and could be seen saying, “That was great. That was great.”
Maher began by stating that, in reference to the threats levied at South Park, the developing world’s “religious wackos are a lot more wacko than ours.” What Maher failed to point out is that the group on whose website “Islamists” made the threats is based in Brooklyn, New York, that the threats were made by 20-year-old Virginia-native Zachary Adam Chesser (a recent covert to Islam who now goes by the name Abu Talhah al-Amrikee), and that the group itself was founded by “American-born Jew formerly known as Joseph Cohen who converted to Islam after attending an Orthodox rabbinical school.” According to journalist Maidhc Ó Cathail, in 1998, Cohen moved with his wife and family from Brooklyn to the ultra-Orthodox Israeli development town of Netivot where he was a supporter of the ultra-racist Shas political party of Mizrahi Haredi Jews. After he became “disillusioned with Israeli secularism,” Cohen apparently embarked on a two year “theological dialogue” in a Jewish internet chatroom with a persuasive sheikh from the United Arab Emirates and was duly transformed from being a staunch Zionist to a “sudden admirer of al-Qaeda and Hamas” and changed his name to Yousef al-Khattab. Perhaps Maher didn’t feel this information was relevant.
Maher continued by urging his audience to “think about the craziest religious wackos we have here in America…take the worst, the worst is the Christians who bring their ‘God Hates Fags’ signs to soldiers’ funerals. Can’t get worse than that. Now multiply that by infinity and give it an army, that’s the Taliban.” Here, Maher’s comparison is spurious at best. While he rightfully condemns the recent suspected actions of the Taliban involving the poisoning of schoolgirls in Afghanistan, he claims that it’s closest Western analogy is some ignorant bigot holding an offensive sign?
Maher chose not to mention that there have numerous instances of Jewish settlers poisoning water supplies and grazing grounds of Palestinian towns, resulting in the deaths of livestock and illnesses such as liver infections in children. While Maher warns of the tactics of the Taliban, which at its height of power in 2001 boasted a strength of about 45,000 troops, including the elderly and children (a level which has been cut in half in the past decade), there are currently over 400,000 heavily-armed Jewish settlers, subsidized by the Israeli government (and therefore US tax dollars) living in illegal fortified colonies and garrison-outposts all over Palestinian land in the West Bank. These messianic settlers have repeatedly been known to burn Palestinian crops and mosques, throw rocks at Palestinian children on their way to school, and murder Palestinians in cold blood (and sometimes have monuments erected in their honor).
Incidentally, the number 400,000 is applicable elsewhere. The new Quadrennial Defense Review published by the US Department of Defense in February 2010 states, “Including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, approximately 400,000 U.S. military personnel are forward-stationed or rotationally deployed around the world.”
Furthermore, Maher’s claim that Christian fundamentalism only goes as far as waving stupid banners and pales in comparison to Islamic extremism is absurd. Perhaps his team of writers should have reminded Maher of Jim D. Adkisson who, on July 27, 2008, walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church with 76 rounds of buckshot and a shotgun in a guitar case, opened fire on the 200 member congregation as they watched a child performance of Annie, killing two. His stated motive was that “he hated the liberal movement” which, along with Democrats, African Americans and homosexuals, was destroying American institutions. Maybe Maher’s mention of anti-abortion, right-wing Christian Scott Roeder, who murdered doctor George Tiller in the lobby of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas on May 31, 2009 because he felt “preborn children’s lives were in imminent danger” (and whose actions elicited praise from other American fundamentalists) was cut from his script due to time constrictions. Doubtful.
Additionally, Maher failed to address the fact that George W. Bush was a born-again Christian who often claimed his imperial foreign policy agenda was divinely inspired. Five days after the September 11 attacks, as plans to invade and occupy both Afghanistan and Iraq had already been drawn up, Bush declared that “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.” Five months later, as he addressed American soldiers in Alaska, he spoke again of “this incredibly important crusade to defend freedom.”
In 2003, Bush even declared to then-Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath, “I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.”
And what about the reports that Bush’s top-secret daily briefings, the Pentagon’s Worldwide Intelligence Update, prepared by US General Glen Shaffer, and delivered by hand by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, routinely had images of American military might and warfare juxtaposed with inspirational verses from the Bible?
But Maher was just warming up. He continued,
“Now, I’ve been known to make fun of Christians, but I have the perspective to know that they’re a lot more evolved than people who target girls for going to school…And that’s because Muslims still take their religion too seriously.”
It can only be assumed that Maher didn’t mean the “enlightened” Christians who subscribe to “biblical discipline,” a form of corporal punishment intended to “train” children to be more obedient to their parents and God, which recently resulted in a Montana couple beating their adoptive children to death. Obviously, Maher also meant to exclude “enlightened” Mormon fundamentalists like brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty who committed double murder or Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, all in the name of God.
Naturally, Maher also didn’t feel like telling his audience about the more than 280 kindergartens, schools, and universities that the “enlightened” Israeli military deliberately destroyed during the 22-day assault on Gaza or about Palestinian children like Abir Aramin who are murdered by “enlightened” Israeli soldiers on their way to school.
Maher also makes sure to clarify that he wholly endorses painting all 1.2 billion Muslims, one quarter of the world’s population, with the same brush, by declaring, “It should, in fairness, be noted that in speaking of Muslims, we realize that, of course, the vast majority are law-abiding, loving people who just want to be left alone to subjugate their women in peace.” With this statement, Maher reveals his true agenda. He is not simply talking about a fundamentalist approach or extreme interpretation of a religion; he is stating, quite plainly, that all those who practice that religion are themselves fundamentalist and extreme. (Perhaps Maher would think it fair to claim that all Catholics are child molesters or all Jews are Ariel Sharon?)
This narrow-minded approach to Islam and its followers proves Maher’s bigotry. Apparently, in Maher’s view, all Muslims are misogynistic men and a poor, brainwashed, and beaten women. To Maher, all Muslim majority countries are oppressive dictatorships and Muslim culture is a monolithic entity that remains identical across thousands of miles, different geography, countries, ethnic backgrounds, races, and traditions.
He seems to think that all Muslim women are forced against their will to wear burqas and veils by their domineering and repressive husbands and fathers. Disproving this assumption hardly seems worth the time; nowhere in the Qur’an does it say that women must cover their hair or wear a veil, only that women (and men, for that matter) should be modest in their dress and actions. Incidentally, both Judaism and Christianity preach the same. Some Orthodox Jewish women shave their hair and wear wigs. Depictions of the Virgin Mary invariably show her in hijab. Does Maher feel that Catholic nuns are unjustly subjugated?
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.
How else could all those “civilized” American soldiers bear to call their supposed adversaries japs, nips, gooks, ragheads, camel jockeys, sand niggers, and hajjis, or simply scum while they were busy killing journalists, women and children and using gruesome chemical weaponry like depleted uranium and white phosphorus against civilian populations? If the troops weren’t so “civilized,” how else would they be able to rape all those women in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and within their own ranks? Is it any wonder that, in our “civilized” nation, the unemployment rate for military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has reached 14.7% (nearly 50% higher than the national rate), on any given night well over 100,000 veterans are homeless, and the chilling reality is 18 veterans commit suicide every day.
Maher must be aware that the “civilized” United States will have a military budget of over $767 billion next year, a staggering total that, if allocated elsewhere could single-handedly eradicate world hunger for our planet’s 1.02 billion undernourished and starving population for almost four years. But that obviously won’t happen since “civilized” people believe that murdering half a million children under five, that committing “genocide,” that “destroying a entire society,” through economic sanctions is the price some have to pay for the rest of us to remain “civilized.” As one of the leaders of “civilized” America declared on behalf of the Western world, “We think the price was worth it.”
In 2006, when the first free democratic elections in the Arab world brought Hamas to power in Gaza, democracy stalwarts Israel and the United States decided that they didn’t like the results and would place heavy economic sanctions on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the already besieged Strip to punish them for their brazen self-determination. The Israeli prime minister’s advisor reportedly joked to a team of government and military officials, “It’s like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.” The crowd rolled with laughter. As a result, 95% of businesses have been shuttered, unemployment is over 60%, and more than 80% of Gaza’s residents are dependent on food aid when they’re not being murdered by Israeli soldiers with American weapons in their own homes. Is this the Western civility of which Maher speaks so fondly?
Perhaps Maher forgets that Fascism, Nazism, and Zionism are all Western – not Muslim – ideologies. Or that Muslims didn’t drop two atomic bombs on innocent Japanese civilians. Nope, superior American values did that.
Yes, Bill Maher is a comedian. He makes that clear whenever he derides Catholics, Mormons, and Jews, by quickly following up his jab by saying, “I kid, I kid!” But he doesn’t ever do that with Muslims. Why? Because he’s not kidding. Unfortunately, as a comedian, Maher should have more perspective and less invective.
It seems that Bill Maher’s major problem with Muslims is not so much that “they” are more inherently dangerous and violent based on their chosen religious affiliation, but rather that he is more scared of them. As a result, rather than being the clear-headed, out-spoken realist that he’s conjured himself to be, Maher winds up being more of a holographic torchbearer of truth, a peon of moral relativism rather than a champion of moral obligation.
As such, Maher is not the “equal opportunity offender” he claims to be since he clearly discriminates against one group of people and holds other groups of people – groups he belongs to – as superior. In this way, he is no better than the zealots that so offend him. Just last Friday, in response to the bogus justification for aggressive imperialism, We’re fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here, Maher made sure to remark, “There’s already millions of Muslims in America. The problem is in their head.”
American literary critic and political theorist Fredric Jameson wrote in his Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, “This whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world: in this sense, as throughout class history, the underside of culture is blood, torture, death and horror.”
It is with this in mind that Maher’s insistence, addressing an audience on premium cable from a Los Angeles television studio, that “our system is better” rings hollow and shameful.
John Lennon once said, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” As usual, John is right. Especially if that TV is tuned into Real Time.