I know that Bill Maher can be crude and insensitive, but I admire the way he blends his brand of humor with skillful panel management on his new show “Real Time With Bill Maher.” He’s very good at giving each panel member his or her time to make a point and treats each guest with respect and civility. What I cannot stand about him, though, is his Islamophobia. It’s not just that he’s against religion in general; he is. But he makes no secret of the fact that he utterly hates Muslims and Islam.
What makes his Islamophobia even worse is that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about. Either that or he doesn’t care if he’s getting it wrong. On his last show (2/18/11) he was trying to make the point that all Muslim men mistreat women, but he kept referring to Arabs as the men he was talking about. If he’d done his homework, he’d know that only about 20% of all Muslims are Arabs.
I’m sure that if I pressed him on this point, he’d answer that all Muslim men want and try to control and even abuse women because their religion teaches them to. In his eyes, Islam is the real culprit. I think he’d also admit that all religions seek to control and abuse women to some extent but that Islam is the absolute worst.
What does he use to prove his point? In this last show he brought up the February 2009 incident where a Muslim man beheaded his wife six days after she filed for divorce. (The man was just found guilty of second-degree manslaughter.) That’s not playing fair. There’s no evidence to suggest that the man used his religion to justify his actions. (His defense was that he was a battered spouse and that he acted in self-defense.) This was not an “honor killing,” which many people insist is a hallmark of Islam. It was the act of a sick person. I can’t count how many cases of domestic violence I’ve read about over the years where the man killed his wife or girlfriend because she left him, or was threatening to. In fact, there was a case just recently of a Swiss man who allegedly killed his twin girls and then himself because he was distraught over his separation from his wife. No one suggested that he did it because of his faith. But if he had been a Muslim, you can bet that his religion would have been blamed for his actions, especially by the likes of Bill Maher.
Bill Maher contended that Arab nations won’t ever be ready for democracy as long as they treat their women so abysmally. One of his guests, Tavis Smiley, countered by saying that if we were to judge nations by how they treat their women, the U.S. doesn’t exactly win any prizes. Maher was outraged that Smiley would even suggest that American women have it as bad as Muslim/Arab women. (If he hadn’t prefaced his comments by saying how dangerous Muslims are, you’d think he was just targeting Arabs.)
Smiley responded that any mistreatment of women is inexcusable, even the kind that is not obvious. Yes, we let women drive cars in America. No, we don’t punish women (or men) for infidelity (except perhaps in some divorce courts). But as Smiley said, “The patriarchal system is live and well in America.” We might find some of the restrictions on women in other countries and cultures as incomprehensible, but that doesn’t mean that Americans are blameless in this area.
We have Christian women who never leave the house without their husbands’ permission. No one talks about them. We have women who are expected to have as many children as possible (see my post, “The QuiverFull Movement: Family Non-Planning“). We have plenty of domestic violence (including murder) and rape and incest. We have women being underpaid and rarely promoted. And no one can deny that we sexualize our females (even little girls) for the gratification of males.
I’ve met many Muslim women who have healthy, mutually respectful marriages and they’re not just the ones who were born in America. I know Muslim women (from Libya) who work, who are doctors and dentists and optometrists and scientists. They are funny and outspoken and politically aware. They have not settled for second best. And they definitely are not in fear for their lives.
It’s not all bad that Maher is so vocal about his Islamophobia. In tweets the day after the Feb. 18th show, many people commented on his “hate-filled rant” and his bigotry about Muslims. Maybe if people see how unreasonable, even ridiculous, he is about Muslims, it will make them question their own preconceptions and prejudices about Islam. One can only hope.