As he is rather fond of racial and gender stereotypes masquerading as “humor”, I am not exactly the biggest fan of Bill Maher. I couldn’t seem to avoid mentions of him this weekend, when he, along with Sam Harris, disagreed with Ben Affleck about Muslims and Islam (I’m with my fellow FtBer Avicenna on what Maher said).
There was also what happened last week with Maher on his show, Real Time. My EXMNA colleagues Sarah and Muhammad debunked Reza Aslan’s response to him in defense of Muslims over at The Friendly Atheist.
I would be remiss if I were to continue without a reminder that more nuanced discussions and arguments about this very topic have happened and will continue to happen among people far more qualified to talk about the issue. As the participants aren’t famous white men making soundbite-ready generalizations on network television, you probably won’t hear about them and most people will continue to not care about them.
Nuance and expertise were definitely the missing pieces when both the Maher/Harris and the Affleck side chose to discuss the world’s one-and-a-half billion Muslims (as in nearly a quarter of the world’s population). Maher and Harris would have you believe that violent “jihadists” à la ISIS / ISIL / IS / [insert other initialism permutation of your choice here] represent all Muslims, while Affleck would have you believe that most Muslims are far more liberal than the data shows.
I disagree with both the racialized criticism of the Maher/Harris types and the gloves-on “Not All Muslims” tactics of the Aslan/Affleck types. The former reinforce the kind of generalizations that make my life as a non-white person of Muslim background more difficult in the Western world, since racist bigots who target me hardly pause to ask me if I’m an apostate before they harm me. The latter overemphasize the “nicer” Muslims and parts of Islam in a misguided attempt to respect collective beliefs in a way that harms individuals.
Racism that calls itself criticism of religion or racism that hobbles efforts to extend human rights to all people in all cultures? I pick neither.